As my friends would be aware, i consider myself a Christian feminist - that is, i believe that Christian theology (and Pentecostal spirituality) encourages the view that men and women are equal, both ontologically and functionally. More than just believing in equality, I would consider myself a feminist because I actively seek to encourage the liberation and elevation of women to positions of authority and leadership in homes, in churches and in society.
I would contend that this is the orthodox Pentecostal position - despite what you might have been told about supposedely conservative pentecostal persepectives. Pentecostal history shows us that the Spirit empowers people irrespective of gender. As Barry Chant notes, commenting on early Australian pentecotalism, "the first Pentecostal church was pioneered and pastored by a women, Sarah Jane Lancaster, and over half of the assemblies established prior to 1930 were brought into being by women, and often led by women as well"
One of those early Australian Pioneers was Mina Ross Brawner, and i thought it would be inspiring to start this series of posts with some insight from her.
We are introduced to Brawner in the December 1928 issue of the Good News (Good News was the official organ of the Apostolic Faith Mission of Australia, and was published from 1910 until 1936). Brawner was an evangelist, originally connected with Aimee Semple McPherson in Los Angeles Temple, and later moving permantly to ministry as an evangelist in Australia. Her significance for feminism lies in a series of articles she wrote for the Australian journal Good News from 1928 to 1930 entitled “Women in the Word”.
She begins these articles with a testimony, referring to her childhood, and in particular her mother’s egalitarian approach to parenting that Brawner relates to her (probably Presbyterian) Christianity. Her parents were Scottish immigrants to America in the latter half of the nineteenth century, not long after Brawner’s birth (around 1880AD). She recalls a childhood in which she was treated equally to her brothers, both in her giftedness and her rebellion. Likewise, according to her testimony, American society provided her with equal opportunity. Just like men, she could vote, she could study, she could work, and she could pay taxes. She became a physician, ‘and belonged to the same American Medical Association that my brother was affiliated with … there was no difference’. She was converted and baptised in the Spirit at Los Angeles Temple, the church planted and pastored by the radical Aimee Semple McPherson, and as Brawner explicitly observes, the impact of this context ‘did somewhat colour my outlook in life’. She was thus able to say that her status before God was one of equality. She was equally a sinner, equally saved, and equally baptised in the Spirit. In the equality of her salvation, Brawner closed her medical practice, left her comfortable home, and become an itinerant Evangelist. Her response to her subsequent experience of the dominant view of women in ministry is best set-out in her own words:
Imagine my surprise on being informed by older labourers in the Lord’s vineyard, that I had now come to a very sharp demarcation between the sexes. That a women might preach, or sing, or pray in public (provided she wore a hat), but she must not anoint with oil when praying for the sick; must not hold office as pastor, elder or deacon; must not teach men (only women and children); must not officiate at the Lord’s table nor pass the elements; must not solemnise marriages or administer water baptism. I was further informed that if there was no man present to perform these duties, a women might, in an emergency, do any or all of these things (except solemnise marriages), but, of course, if a man appeared on the scene, she must give way.
Let me put the proposition in plain English – The Divine call, unction, education, natural ability, faithfulness in service, must all be weighted in the scale of sex. And the male sex weights more in the sight of God and the Church, than all these qualifications plus the female sex! Charging God with the folly of anointing and equipping His handmaidens for service, and then disqualifying them because they are what he made them- His handmaidens. It was a new idea to me. I must confess to a momentary feeling of impatience at such an archaic viewpoint. “Can it be possible”, I asked myself, “that I, as a women, have less liberty under grace than under law? Can it be that my Lord is less just than my State Government? Or is this only a silly, man-made regulation?”
My sense of justice was outraged, but only momentarily, remembering that I am my Lord’s love-slave, pledged to serve Him in any capacity He chooses, I then and there promised Him to carefully consider the place where He had put me; willing – like the Syrophenician women – to be called even a dog by my master; just so am I my Master’s dog, and with this resolve I opened my Bible to study the status of “Women in the Word”.
Mmm - powerful words that need no elaberation.