I have been receiving brickbats and kudos after my piece appeared in
this forum (Digest # 424). More brickbats from members of our church.
(Since women are not technically members of the Church, I do not have
to specify 'male members'). Of the many responses, both inside this
forum and outside, the one from Mr Varghese Thomas (Digest # 426)
deserves a specific response.
Mr Thomas has three major points in his arguments regarding the role of
women in the Church.
1. "Family is the basic unit in the Kingdom of God, not the individual".
From my limited understanding of Christianity and other religions, the
relationship with God is on an individual basis. Each individual
encounters one's God and establishes
a relationship with God. "The immense ideality and effort of being a
Christian consists, in being related to God as an individual" wrote
Soren Kierkegard, the great Danish philosopher and Christian thinker.
That is why we have individual prayers, and sacraments. The sacraments
are received by the individual, not by the family. Certainly, we worship
as a community of believers, both 'the quick and the dead', in the
Church. If man is the "head" of the family and he can represent the
family before God, he (only) should be receiving the sacraments on behalf of
When a woman enters the married life she is not required to give up all
her rights, thinking ability and reasoning power and her relationship
with God. With marriage a woman leaves her family and becomes a member
of her husband's family. A woman gives up familiar surroundings which
was part of her being from the day she was born. She accepts and adjusts
to the new surroundings and to the members of the new family. Thus she
begins her new way of life, giving up part of her being. Has she to
give up all her rights as a human being, on the doctrine that "man is
the head of the family"? Oh, no, not in 21st century. Marriage is a
partnership, not a dictatorship, where both men and women are equal
partners in establishing a new life. They share their dreams and
aspirations and grow together as friends through happiness, sorrow,
sickness, and disappointments. The husband should be prepared to see his
wife as a person with feelings, concerns, dreams, and intelligence. He
can't expect his wife to see him as the head of the family who will make
all the decisions by himself. I wonder whether this "head of the family"
attitude is the cause of increasing number of divorces in our community.
If the man is the head of the family and has the sole right of
representing the family in all church activities, who represents an
unmarried woman, a widow or a divorcee? Does it mean that they do not
have a "head"? In other words, a woman has no place in the church
unless she accepts the authority of a man. Is not belittling a woman?
God created both men and women as intelligent human beings with freedom
to choose and exercise their responsibilities. Women are, or rather
should be, entitled to exercise these faculties in the church also.
The church is the last place you expect discrimination. Reality is
I hope reasonable enlightened men and women will have the courage to stand up for rights of women.
2. "A dress code has been developed for male and female ..." says Mr V.
Thomas. We have come a long way from mundu and shirt for men, mundu
and chatta for women. Now we see men in pants and jeans; women in mini
skirts, salwars and sarees. Women in chatta and mundu are rare sights
even in village churches in Kerala. Mr Thomas can't be blind to these
changes taking place in our society. In a few years women in saree will
be another rare sight. Change is part of a living society. I have seen
changes in the behaviour and attitude of Malayalee Christians in North
America during the last 35 years. Many members of our church organize
Christmas and New Year dances so that younger members will not go out to
the local clubs. But the same members who felt free to dance in the arm
of the opposite sex, part company with their life partners when they
enter the church and move to different "allotted" sections in the
church. Women sit away from their sons and husbands and cover their
heads. I wonder, why this false piety in the church? In all our social
life, most of our people follow the dictum "When in Rome do as the
Romans do". Well and good. When we come to the church we want to
transplant Pongamthanams and Kunnamthanams to North America and other
places, as it was when we left it in 50s or 60s. The immigrant
community seldom realize that the places they left behind have changed.
Modesty is not something you show only in the church. It has to be part
of one's being. Why only women have to be modest? Young women often
speak about the harassment they receive from "poovaalans" in the church
and other places. I am yet to hear some one preaching modesty to them!
3. I am glad that the Thomas family members are happy with the present
situation in our church. I know that there are activities for all age
groups in the church. Women need more participation than we have now,
so that we can contribute in all aspects of church life. The basic
question is, Whether we treat the female half of our population just as
we treat the male half? If everybody is happy with the status quo,
women would not have achieved voting rights, maternity leave, pay
equity, etc., etc. Nor would we have achieved the developments in
medicine, science or technology.
If we want any change to happen in the present situation in our church,
we have to bring the issues to the forefront so every one can perceive
the problem and realize the need for change. Of course we Christians
should pray together so that we will have the grace of God to see women
as human beings and not as second class members of the community.
How many members of our community, male and female, know that women are
not members of the congregation now. Not to speak of membership in the
Church. Yes, we are considered members of the invisible "Body of
Christ". Not to do anything with the organized, visible Church. Majority
of men and unfortunately some women too, do not see issues regarding the
role of women in our Church as a problem. First we have to accept the
reality that half of our congregation (more than half according to the
general census), have no right to sit in the general body meetings. The
next step is whether we are ready at least to discuss this issue in our
congregations without strong objections from the male members. I hope
and pray that the younger generation will have the openness to face this
issue and discuss it objectively.
Until the late forties in most of our churches, boys stood in the front
row and men behind them. The place of girls was behind men and women
took their place at the far end of the church. Our fathers had the
wisdom to change that tradition, in spite of objections from a
minority. It shows that there is nothing sacrosanct about the
seating/standing arrangements in the church. It also brings to mind the
fact that we are not averse to changes in general. Women's issues, it
seems, are totally on a different level for the leadership of the
Happy Easter to all members of the Discussion Forum.
Mrs. Shanta Thomas, Hamilton, ON, Canada