After a week of vacation and a week of study leave, it’s time to finish up the consideration of the recommendations made by the study committee on women’s roles in the worship of the church, which were adopted at the PCA’s 45th General Assembly. All that is left to consider is the eighth recommendation which reads:
That sessions, presbyteries and the General Assembly consider how they can affirm and include underprivileged and underrepresented women in the PCA.
The language of the recommendation is structured in such a way that no action is required or suggested, except for the action of considering. The courts of the church are asked to reflect on a specific issue: affirming and including underprivileged and underrepresented women in the PCA. The first thing to be done in order to understand this recommendation is to clarify the meaning.The recommendation does not clarify where these people suffer from underprivilege and underrepresentation. However the rationale included in the report clarifies who is in view.
When the report speaks of the underrepresented, it refers to the racial emphasis that has become part of life in the PCA. When introducing the idea of reaching the nations in the ministry of the church the report states: “Unfortunately, the PCA, though it upholds the mandate to make disciples of the nations, has yet to see the demographics in diverse communities reflected in local churches.” (2463). In other words, underrepresentation is seen by the report as a lack racial representation of certain ethnic minorities within the church. Whatever ethnic groups are underrepresented should be affirmed and included in the church courts.
The report also clarifies who is in view when it comes to being underprivileged. Again, in the rationale provided by the committee, it cites Mary, the mother of Jesus, as an example of the underprivileged. When defining her place the report does so along class lines: “To use today’s language, her family was not middle class, yet she participated in the church in a unique, yet honorable and God-glorifying manner (cf. 1 Tim. 2:15).” (2463). From Mary’s unique place as the mother of Christ, the report concludes that women should be affirmed and included no matter what their income is: “The committee affirms, therefore, that even if women are in a lower tax bracket, they are to be embraced as valuable, of equal dignity and worth, and included in various ministries of the church.” (2463). The report is calling the church courts to affirm and include people based on their income.
It is difficult to know how to respond to this rationale and recommendation because it seems to be stating the obvious. It is true that the church should embrace all tribes and tongues and nations. God is Lord of them all and has sent the church to make disciples, baptize and teach them all to live in obedience to Christ their Savior (Cf. Matt. 28:19-20). It is true that the church is living in sin if it shows favoritism to the rich (Cf. Jam 2:2-4). So, it seems the report recommends to the church something that is properly basic. However, I think the recommendation itself has an unhealthy emphasis. Part of me wants to say that if we are speaking of the church it is impossible to speak of underrepresentation and underprivilege. I know that at times the church has sought to exclude those of different races or has shown favoritism to the rich, but those are not, in my experience, the sins that characterize our denomination.
To single out people in the church based on their ethnicity or income levels does something that Scripture explicitly works against. It breaks the church into groups of people rather than unite it as the body of Christ. Take for example, Gal. 3:28. This verse denies the very categories the report seeks to exhort us to recognize. In Galatians Paul says that in Christ’s view of his justified children there is neither Jew nor Greek (racial or ethnic divide), nor slave nor free (class division). To single out a specific group to affirm and include them seems to be contrary to that view of the body. We are in Christ. We are called Christians and there is no hyphenation in the body of Christ.
Therefore if the report felt the need to exhort the church on this point, I think it would have been better said that the church should enfold, include, love, labor for, seek to serve all its members, whether male or female, wherever, and in whatever circumstance they may be found. To divide the church into male and female, and introduce the categories of underrepresentation based on race or underprivilege based on income seems to be an unhealthy distinction not found in Scripture. We are Christians, the body of Christ. All members of the body should be loved, included and affirmed.