Why are so many Bible studies, conferences, and events in the church exclusively for one sex or the other? Why the gender divide? At a church I attended for awhile, even small groups that met in the home divided up into men and women after the initial few minutes of socialization. The Sunday service may be one of the only places where men and women are together. Perhaps your experience is not so extreme, but I’ve observed and experienced a great deal of this gender separation. (I’m in the southeast USA.)
Someone may be quick to reply that men and women need to be separate at times. Well, of course. I am not implying that there should never be gender separation. [Read that sentence again, okay.] For certain topics or times, it may certainly be beneficial or appropriate for men and women to learn apart from one another. But I observe a gender divide that takes place more than is necessary, and is even pervasive.
So, who cares? Why my concern?
With pervasive separation of men and women, the Body of Christ can end up feeling like two bodies! It is like women and men are in parallel universes.
Men and women together reflect the image of God. Not just men, and not just women. We both reflect and reveal God in unique ways. When men and women are always sequestered off into separate groups, we limit the influence of God’s image. We can end up with lopsided or truncated perspectives without even realizing it. Men and women need each other!
*An additional thought that the post’s comments brought out: These parallel universes may actually exaggerate or distort gender differences and create problems or stereotypes that may have never been there. While there are gender differences, men and women also have much in common. How can we be the “blessed alliance” when there is so much separation? *
Beyond this, I do not see this gender divide in the Bible. Most of the New Testament is simply written to…Christians. There are a handful of passages directed to one sex or the other, but the majority of teaching in the New Testament is simply for Christians – regardless of their sex. It is not “how to be a Christian woman” but just how to be a Christian. The way some churches divide up men and women, you’d think that Paul wrote Galatians and Ephesians exclusively to men, and Philippians and Colossians exclusively to women. Or you’d think there was a verse that says, “verily, verily, I say to you that men and women must learn separately.”
We can also inadvertently end up with our focus on womanhood or manhood, rather than on Jesus Christ.
Instead of a women’s conference and a men’s conference, why can’t there just be a united conference for both? A conference for…Christians! Where men and women can learn together and be exposed to the same teachings. Certainly there could be “break-out” sessions for issues that might be more applicable to one sex or the other.
My spouse and I got tired of all the separation, and were pleased to find two church groups that were mixed sex this past year. It has been great to be together in a group. We are on the same page with what we are learning, and can encourage each other in it.
I also wonder if the church is perhaps wasting valuable time by all the separation of men and women? Sarah Bessey, in her recent book Jesus Feminist, hinted that she wondered if distinct women’s ministry is even necessary anymore. My take is this: think of all the time and effort for a church to have both a men and women’s ministry. It takes people, time, and resources. Instead of 2 separate ministries, why not blend them into one? Simply have studies and events for Christians. Resources would not be stretched so thin, and more time would be available for influential kingdom work. Let gender separation happen naturally. Perhaps a group of ladies (or men) might gravitate toward a certain project or study and do it together. Great!
On a final note, I don’t observe all this mandated gender separation in other areas of life.
At your place of employment, are meetings strictly for one sex or the other? Is there a staff meeting for the male employees, and a separate one for the females? Is there a manual on “how to be a female employee of this corporation” and a separate manual for men? I rather doubt it.
As someone who has always had an aversion to anything labeled “for women” in the church, I suppose it is easy for me to suggest these things. I know some women really love women’s events or studies, and have certainly been helped by them. That’s fine, and there is a place for these things. But I’m just pleading for a bit more unity and togetherness. Thanks for listening. Your thoughts are welcome…