This past week the Pentecostal Assemblies of Canada released a Statement of Affirmation Regarding Gender Equality in Leadership.
This is significant. Not because it highlights the need for gender equality within pastoral leadership (which is always important), but because it highlights the unwillingness of PAOC church culture to practice gender equality when considering senior pastoral candidates:
Two decades later, we recognize that although our accepted, official position is one of equality between men and women, that position has not translated to reality. Women continue to be vastly underrepresented both as vocational pastors and in governing roles at District and National levels, despite female students consistently attending our Bible Colleges in significant numbers. There is a gap between our official position and our lived reality.
As such, by their inaction, many PAOC churches are refusing to acknowledge the egalitarian theology enshrined in their denomination’s constitution. In a very real sense, PAOC Churches have failed to practice what they believe.
This is not a problem unique to the PAOC however, I have witnessed this disparity within my own denomination, the Pentecostal Assemblies of Newfoundland and Labrador. Despite the best efforts of our denominational leaders, and despite the threat of a pastoral shortage, many of our churches will not consider a woman for senior pastoral positions. There are a few wonderful exceptions, but as a cultural “rule of thumb,” female credential holders are more often overlooked on pastoral search committees (I don’t sit on every church’s PSC, but in a denomination where a little over 2% of assemblies are pastored by women, the evidence speaks for itself). I don’t believe this is a result a malicious intent, but rather, a lack of appreciation for what a woman could offer a church in a senior pastoral role. It is simply not part of the cultural language or practical theology of those who are part of the pastoral search process.
Gender issues aside, this recent statement from the PAOC has highlighted an ongoing theological issue within North American Pentecostalism: a gap between what we believe and what we practice. As often is the case, this gap evolves because the beliefs enshrined in denominational constitutions are just that: denominational. Beliefs at an individual level are more nuanced, muddied by context, experience, and tradition. This is why, globally, most Pentecostals can believe in Spirit Baptism, but may disagree on whether speaking in tongues is the initial evidence of Spirit Baptism (least we Classical Pentecostals think we own the market on Pentecostal belief). So, in terms of gender equality, it is not unsurprising that many PAOC churches, which are comprised of individual Pentecostals with various nuanced beliefs, do not hire female senior pastors.
Now, one could argue that those PAOC churches refusing to consider female candidates for the position of senior pastor are hypocritical (again, not in a malicious sense). Some of those same churches would cry foul over a pastor who held views on eschatology or evangelistic methods that differed slightly with the denominational constitution, but would defy the constitution themselves by overlooking viable female candidates for senior pastoral positions. If this is the case, I’d recommend caution to any church, delegate, or member who would get up in arms over issues of the constitution yet completely disregard it when it comes to gender equality and church leadership. You can’t have your cake constitutionally and eat it too.
The most significant aspect of PAOC’s statement is that it confronts deeply held and erroneous attitudes towards women in ministry. Pentecostals of most stripes have historically celebrated the role of women in ministry, and as the statement suggests, we have, in recent decades, become incredibly worldly in our belief that women can’t lead churches. This sin needs to be addressed if we are to move forward as Pentecostals. Underscoring this statement is the greatest theological and practical truth of the PAOC’s statement: theological change in church culture will not happen by changing the denominational constitution, change happens through tough conversations about our theological weaknesses. But some of us, I fear, are unwilling to push for dialogue on most theological issues, especially ones as important as gender equality and church leadership. Thus, female credential holders become the causality of our unmovable religiosity, which is non-negotiable because our religion has become synonymous with the Gospel itself, except in the area of gender equality.
If anything, this statement is a wake-up call to those of us who pride ourselves on being theologically sound at a denominational level, great “company men or women” if you will, but in truth, subscribe to only to those parts of the constitution that don’t interfere with our contextual, experiential, and traditional sensibilities. Let us be sure to not only embrace one aspect of what we claim to believe, and actually practice all of it.
Authored by: David D. Kentie