Mennonites and gender

I see some of us are still frozen with horror at the idea that anyone would actually love being a Mennonite.

Or not love being a Mennonite.

I said “sometimes,” alright then?

I didn’t mean to sound arrogant, as though Mennonites have a corner on church life. I recently heard Anabaptists described as the “vanguard of true holiness for the last four hundred years” and I almost threw up. Simultaneously, I don’t like the fact that it’s become hip to bash us from the inside. We are both strong and weak. It’s okay to have some strengths without calling ourselves the pinnacle and embodiment of all Christian virtue. It’s okay to have some weaknesses without calling ourselves the slime pit of Christiandom.

We are who we are, with a wholelota room for growth.

More on that next time.


Over popcorn and iced tea, four of us sat around the living room discussing roles of men and women in the church. Most of us are familiar with the do not’s of Christian womanhood; what our discussion group wanted was a vision for the do’s.  In the words of my son Aarick several years ago, “Guys, it seems like there are too much no-no’s and not enough yes’s.”

Does the church need women? In what way exactly?

And my personal question: if our only word on the matter is “silence,” what is this pastor’s wife thinking with her love of writing?

Here’s what we wrote and ratified—

We believe that God created men and women with equal value and dignity, together reflecting the complete image of God. The genders are unique, complementary in function, each with gifts to develop and offer within the church. The New Testament teaches that men should provide servant leadership, teaching and preaching in the mixed assembly, and involving the entire congregation in decision-making. Both men and women edify each other through praying and prophesying, congregational worship and fellowship, and training of the next generation.

Confession: For a number of months I was pretty sure that God made the second half of the species as a cruel joke. I thought women were given talents but forbidden to use them, born to waste away in oblivion.*

* I have since learned that oblivion has some remarkable advantages all its own. But at the time it looked like the Ultimate Human Tragedy.

That particular falsehood could take me down one of two paths, both well-worn by women before me: resignation and rot, or clawing catlike to the top. I hate what each does to a woman. Limp or barbed: are those the only choices?

Scripture teaches less than I thought on the subject, and some of what it teaches seems to be in contradiction—an injunction to silence in one passage, and instructions for how to pray and prophesy in another.

It’s easy to see Scriptural commands as the bars of a cage, shutting a woman in, when perhaps they are the corner posts for guidance and protection, with much of space and life happening in between—not squeaking guiltily through the bars, but dancing with safety and joy among them.

We sometimes fixate on the aspect of submission as though it is the kingpin, but I wonder. The elder in our discussion group suggested that equal value and dignity is the kingpin, with three outlying values orbiting around it—leadership/submission, complementary participation, and loving relationship.

Remember that all commands to obedience come from a Man who knew how to lay down his life for his Bride. Whatever she lays down, it is a paltry contribution compared to His. Losing one’s life is not to be feared, but embraced.

I like this vision.


I write about women too much, but it’s been a hard subject for me to come to terms with. Plus I don’t know enough about alternate species to make them the subject of extended soliloquy.

How do women contribute to your congregation?

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11 years ago

In my opinion, there is as much to offer in a congregational setting from women, as there is from men.

However, it is up to the men to pursue, honor, and appropriately utilize what women have to offer.

The attitudes men have, and the choices men make in this area of congregational life says much of their own wisdom and understanding.

If there had been a Proverbs 32, surely it would have had a verse along these lines “The fool says in his heart, “I have all the answers because I’m a man and she’s a woman”.

11 years ago

It was like a breath of fresh air to read this. I have long struggled with how these gender roles really should be lived out.

I love the last three paragraphs — lots to ponder and practice. “Losing one’s life is not to be feared, but embraced.” Yes.

11 years ago

I love the thought that equal value and dignity is the kingpin and leadership/submission . . . is part of that. WOW!

11 years ago
Reply to  rosanna

Yes, me, too.

11 years ago

Shari, when I read this today, I thought of you and your blog. I hope it will inspire you to keep on writing from your heart.

As to women in Menno settings . . argg, As a NMB woman, I never felt that I fit in as a child or teen or young adult. Because I felt I didn’t “fit” and was not a “proper woman” in the Menno circles I hated who I was . . . as I have gotten older, and hopefully wiser, I have learned to embrace much more how God made me–to see myself as having a unique nitch and to worry much less about whether or not I fit the typical “sweet, quiet Mennonite woman who cooks and cleans like a pro” image. I have learned the truth of the Bible verse, “Wives, submit yourselves to your *own* husbands as you do to the Lord.” (Ephesians 5:22) Realizing that if God and my husband are happy with me, then it’s all good, has freed me mentally and emotionally a lot. There is a reason that phrase “your own husband” is in there. 😉 And the happy news is that for the last number of years, I have been in a (Menno) church where there is respect and a realization of the value of women. I no longer feel marginalized as a woman. So yes, the attitude the church takes as a whole is very important, but I think our own realization of who we are in Christ, and our own attitudes of acceptance of who God created us to be is equally important. . .

Jo Yoder
11 years ago

“It’s easy to see Scriptural commands as the bars of a cage, shutting a woman in, when perhaps they are the corner posts for guidance and protection, with much of space and life happening in between—not squeaking guiltily through the bars, but dancing with safety and joy among them.”

Amen, sistah, oh AMEN!! Thank you!

11 years ago

So… I have a question.

In your church statement, it says “The New Testament teaches that men… involving the entire congregation in decision-making.” Just curious about chapter and verse on that one. I agree with it– just not sure if my own church practices that, and I know a lot of other churches don’t: such as “heads-of-home” meetings. I was even curious about your own application then: do you have no more “men’s meetings”?

I really do have a burden for our sisters who are left out of meetings; decision-making or otherwise. We have many single sisters, widows, one separated wife: how are they to help in decisions– or even hear the decisions that were made– or how they were made. Testimonies that were given, hearts that were shared, histories delved into: none of us sisters know that stuff, and this lack of knowledge probably contributes to the feeling of “the bars of a cage”.

I guess some of these “men meetings only” ideas came from previously having too many bossy women at meetings?

Or maybe the verse that says “they should ask their husbands at home”.

11 years ago
Reply to  Renita

Good questions, Renita.

We have brothers meetings for accountability and discussion. Church decisions are not made there–always at members’ meetings. If there’s a sensitive issue at hand that the men of the church discuss alone, we try to assign someone to talk privately to each woman who does not have a male representative.

We don’t have a chapter and verse for “involving the entire congregation,” except that God made a point of saying He would pour out his Spirit on both men and women, and both would prophesy (Acts 2:16-18)—which means women also have Holy Spirit wisdom to bring to the church. Since we believe it should not happen with public teaching in the assembly, how does it happen? Are we inviting it?

Rachel S
11 years ago

As an ex-Mennonite, you could say I have “been around the block”. I have seen and been part of churches with strict religion and stifled spirits, but more recently, the opposite side of the ditch. A church where “being religious” was scorned and any sense of propriety and order was to be run away from. Where “hearing from the Spirit” trumped any common sense and logic. That church dissolved too, in a heart rending demise. So now, hopefully with added wisdom and experience, I can say from a perspective of having lived both sides, that your last 2 posts are excellent. The bottom line is: No matter what church group you support or you hate, EVERYONE DRAWS LINES. How you police those lines and your core beliefs about judgement and mercy, will end up determining how much TRUTH there is emanating from your life. I love that your group can sit around popcorn and tea and decide how you will draw your lines. And I love that there is plenty of room for individual households to work out the details on their own. While I have become rather jaded with “church” in general, it seems to me that this is the best thing I’ve heard in awhile. It just might work!

11 years ago

I would recommend this to a feminist or a chauvinist. God bless the third way.

11 years ago

I’ve seen limp and barbed both in myself. I’m also on a quest to find what it looks like to be a godly woman and found this inspiring. “Losing one’s life is not to be feared, but embraced.” I’m understanding this more, but still have so far to go.

I like the way your church discusses things and allows the members to be a part of the decision process. I would like to visit your church someday. 🙂

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