The Middle East is not known as an area where it is easy to be a woman. Patriarchal structures run deep, not only among Muslims, but also among Christians. Therefore, it is remarkable that the National Evangelical synod of Syria and Lebanon recently decided to ordain their first two female pastors. For the National Evangelical Church of Beirut, it was cause for celebration. On their website, it was noted that “People were very happy and pastors were proud to see an equal female minister with them”.
However, the reason for the ordination was not only a sudden shift in theology. In the conflict zones in the Middle East, many male pastors have immigrated, fled or worse. It is not easy to find qualified people to replace them. However, there are theologically educated women who currently have no leadership roles but are willing to take them when asked.
One of these two freshly ordained women, Rola Sleiman, had been taking up many of the pastoral responsibilities in her home church after the male pastor had immigrated. When after a long search no other pastor was found to replace him, the church leaders decided to put Sleiman forward to be ordained.
This acceptance of women as leaders in the face of a shortage of male leaders, can be seen in many places in the world. The Chinese church is one such example. The lack of men in the church in general, and particularly the lack of men available for ministry, has led to women being put in pastoral positions. Likewise, of the courageous Chinese missionaries who evangelize in the 10/40 window, many are women. Even within the Western led modern missionary movement of the past centuries, there have been roughly twice as many women as men serving, about half of them single women. These women, though vulnerable, but were often sent to the most dangerous places because they were also considered as less threatening and less conspicuous.
For some Christians, all of this is bad news, since they believe those leading and teaching should be men. Others may still feel it is injustice when women only get to teach and lead if there are no men available, and not because God has given them gifts of calling to do so.
It is a difficult theological discussion, however, if we look at the world-wide church it is undeniable that without the faithful and sacrificial service of women, the church would not be where it is now. And we may well wonder if the prominence of female Christian leadership in difficult places is not typical of Gods ways, who always uses what is despised to shame the powerful.
Would it be possible to put an important theological discussion aside for a moment, to offer a prayer of thanks for all those women, who against all cultural odds, and with great personal sacrifice serve the churches as teachers and leaders in some of the worlds hardest places?
Kajsa lives and works in Korea with her family and writes about the political, economical, and spiritual development of the country.