The Ministry of Reconciliation
No greater work can be given to us than “the ministry of reconciliation,” to use Paul’s phrase (2 Cor. 5:18). And the first and foremost word we are given to speak to a broken and alienated world is, “be reconciled to God” (2 Cor. 5:20). This is the first word, but it is not the only word. How urgently we today need reconciliation between races, reconciliation between nations, between people groups, between social, economic, and educational classes, and more. And on the human level perhaps the area most desperately in need of reconciliation is between women and men.

Sexism is the most common and close-at-hand form of discrimination we have. Friends, this is a bigotry straight from the pit! To deny a human being opportunities of service and ministry based solely on gender is the most dehumanizing of acts.

And it will not do to claim equality based on creation while postulating different ministry roles based on gender. We cannot with consistency affirm gender equality theoretically and at the same time limit the roles and self-determination of women. Men and women share different, though complementary, roles in such obvious matters as procreation. Also, we are given different roles based on intelligence, giftedness, and calling. But to deny a person ministry opportunity based on gender is to affirm the inequality of the sexes.

Today, in certain religious circles it is popular to reject the idea of the inferiority of women but still argue for the subordination of women. This simply cannot be done, at least not with consistency. The argument is a non sequitur which, in effect, says (a) woman is in no way inferior to man, (b) yet she is different from him, (c) therefore she is subordinate to him. The “therefore” simply doesn’t follow! To say that woman must of necessity be subordinate is to say that she must of necessity be inferior.

Gender equality in privilege, responsibility, service, and ministry is a gospel imperative. It is an imperative rooted in the creation narrative, fulfilled in the revelation of Jesus Christ, and explained in the fundamental expression of Christian liberty given to us in the Epistle to the Galatians. It is an imperative well summarized in 1852 by the first woman ordained in the U.S., Antoinette Brown: “The Bible recognizes the rights, duties, and privileges of Woman as a public teacher as every way equal with those of Man: that it enjoins upon her no subjection that is not enjoined upon him; and that it truly and practically recognizes neither male nor female in Christ Jesus.”

The great challenge is to bring the full implications of this gospel imperative into everyday practice. In churches, in homes, in offices, in marriages, in parenting, and more. The resources on the following pages are meant to help you on your way.

Peace and joy,

Richard J. Foster

Growing Together
Below are simple questions and practical exercises to help you work on the issue of sexism in our day. They are categorized under the Renovaré streams of devotion.

Contemplative: The Prayer-Filled Life
• Meditate on Paul’s revolutionary declaration, “There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
— What racial and social and gender prejudices do I find in myself?
— What does this meditation teach me about my church and denomination?
— Is God calling me to any specific action steps?

• Prayerfully consider the various people you interact with in the course of a given week to see if there are ways you value them superficially.
— Do I devalue people who are less physically attractive?
— How does the age of a person affect my valuation of them?
— Is God calling me to any specific action steps?

Holiness: The Virtuous Life
• Be aware of actions or attitudes at office or home that reveal sexism.
— In business meetings do I interrupt women speakers more readily than men?
— Do I defer more quickly to men than to women?
— Is God calling me to any specific action steps?

• Watch for ways you project an attitude of superiority or inferiority around others.
— Does the way I dress express hidden fears about my worth?
— Do I regularly come into meetings late?
— Is God calling me to any specific action steps?

Charismatic: The Spirit-Empowered Life
• Study the amazing events in Acts 2, giving special attention to the all-inclusive nature of the Spirit’s action, e.g. “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, … Even upon my slaves, both men and women, in those days I will pour out my Spirit,” etc.
— What does this passage teach me about the Holy Spirit’s lack of partiality and my tendency for partiality?
— When have I seen the Spirit freely ministering through “sons and daughters, men and women”?
— Is God calling me to any specific action steps?
• Watch in the next month for opportunities to engage in the ministry of reconciliation. Look to the Holy Spirit for wisdom and power to step into difficult situations.
— Where have I seen the deepest divisions among peoples?
— How have I been used as an agent of reconciliation? Are there things I would do differently next time?
— Is God calling me to any specific action steps?

Social Justice: The Compassionate Life
• In relationships, community life, and media be sensitive to any violation of basic justice—especially as it relates to blatant sexism. Consider actions in which you can be the voice for the voiceless, e.g. writing letters, informed confrontation with injustice, etc.
— How is this experience sensitizing me to issues of sexism in speech and action?
— Am I a safe person for those of the opposite sex to be around?
— Is God calling me to any specific action steps?

Evangelical: The Word-Centered Life
• No one knows the human authorship of our New Testament book of Hebrews. Some scholars have suggested that Priscilla (see Acts 18) may have written the book which could account for its anonymity as well as its frequent use of feminine perspectives. This question can never be answered with any assurance, but it can be a good exercise to read through Hebrews with the thought of Priscilla or some other early Christian woman as the author.
— Does this approach to Hebrews teach me anything new regarding the content of the book?
— Does it teach me anything new about myself?
— Is God calling me to any specific action steps?

• Consider the gospel mandate of evangelism (see Matt. 9:35-38 and Matt. 28:16-20).
— Would Jesus exclude more than half of the Christian work force from critical areas of this mandate?
— Am I clear to include all God’s people in this mandate?
— Is God calling me to any specific action steps

Starting Soon: The 2018-19 Renovaré Book Club

How do we read for transformation, not just information? Choose books that stir the soul and have an enduring quality. Then read with God and others at an unhurried pace, attentive to what the Holy Spirit wants to teach. The Renovaré Book Club is designed for transformative reading. It runs October 2018—May 2019.

Learn more >