I have been thinking a lot, recently, about the relationship of the Women’s Center’s mission to the Women’s Center’s program.
The Women’s Center’s mission is lofty. According to our mission statement, the Women’s Center exists “for the equality and dignity of all women, including in religious professions.” The vision that informs the Center’s being is the vision of a world in which the central premises of women’s divinely-created humanity inform daily life and practice — namely:
- each individual woman is an instance of the humanity divinely created in the image of God;
- women as such are full, equal, and constitutive members of the entire humanity divinely created in the image of God;
- humanity as divinely created in the image of God incorporates sexual difference without disparity.
None of those premises is controversial; they all follow straighforwardly from Genesis 1:27; I’d be surprised if any of them would generate much argument. But what they imply, concretely, about how to organize our common life in its gendered dimension is seldom what we as a society — or even as the church — practice. (We still pay women less, or nothing at all, for the work they do; we still listen less attentively to women’s words; we still tolerate a culture in which 1 in 4 women will be the victim of intimate violence during her lifetime; we still ponder whether God said, precisely, “Women should keep silent in the churches”.) That means that there is still work to be done, to bring to light and examine the contradictions between what we say we believe, what we really do believe, and what we also, actually believe and act on, to the detriment of women and finally, of all human beings’ full flourishing.
In different words, there is still work to be done to show how far-reaching and challenging, in practice, it is to take entirely seriously that women’s issues are human issues and human issues are women’s issues.
Of course, the task of the Women’s Center at LPTS is to get busy, pitch in, and do some of that work. But which part of it? I’m chronically reminded of the saying (made famous by the Children’s Defense Fund) “the sea is so wide, and my boat is so small.” There is so much that it would be good to do, it’s sometimes hard to see what to do first.
So I’ve been thinking about the relationship between our mission — which is, really, about changing the world — and our program — which is, really, about keeping the Seminary’s conversation around gender going strong. About keeping the Seminary’s conversation around gender interesting, engaging, provocative, challenging, insightful, probing, inspiring. About making the Seminary’s conversation around gender hopefully, finally, life-altering and practice-transforming.
Our mission is to promote the equality and dignity of all women.
Our task — the concrete how, and where, and what, we contribute to that lofty mission — is to cultivate among the teachers and leaders of the church who are called to our neighborhood the radical awareness that women’s issues are human issues and human issues are women’s issues.
Because the church’s mission, too, is to change the world, the way mustard seeds and leaven do, the way the builders of highways through deserts do, in preparation for God’s realm of justice and peace. We want everyone to remember, and to keep on reminding the wider church, and the world to which it is called, that one of the directions for that change lies along this compass point: “the equality and dignity of all women.”