Separate and Not Equal
On December 1, 1955, Rosa Parks took the most significant bus ride in our nation's history. Parks, a 41-year-old secretary in Montgomery, Alabama, refused to obey the bus driver when he ordered her to give up her seat after the “whites-only” section was filled. Her arrest inspired a black boycott of the Montgomery bus system that lasted over a year, a boycott that became the first act of the drama of the civil rights movement. The world Parks reacted against was founded on the principle of “separate but equal.” People were seen as theoretically equal under the law, but the races had to remain separate because… well, just because. Well, it shouldn’t take a genius to see that when you force someone to be separate, then they are not equal. But it took dozens of lawsuits and way too much blood before we began to catch on to that truth. When you tell someone where they can or can’t sit or when they can or can’t speak, they are separate and definitely not equal.
The first century church was born into a divided world. It was divided religiously (Jews and Gentiles), socioeconomically (slave and free, one group legally owning the other). It was divided by gender (male and female). OK, this might not seem as much of a division as the other two, but it was. Men had all the power, all the education, and all the legal rights. Women basically were owned by their father until they were married; then they were owned by their husband.
The basic affirmation of the gospel is that all regardless of these differences, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” Therefore, all are united by their need for salvation by God grace through faith in Christ Jesus. Because of that, there is no difference between in the kingdom of God, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28).
It’s time that we started seeing women as full partners in the gospel of Jesus Christ. Some would say they are already equal." Not if there are place where they can't sit (on the podium) or things they can't say (anything in church). No would think of saying to someone because of their race or bank account, “We are all equal here, but you need to sit quietly and not participate.” When we tell women that they are equal but can’t be seen (passing communion trays, etc.) or heard (reading scripture, etc.), then we are telling them that they are separate and not equal.
You know that feeling you get when you see your child serving God in front of the congregation for the first time? Well, I don’t. I have two daughters born into a church that doesn’t allow them to participate fully, a church where they are asseverate but not equal. Most people will admit when pressed there is no “spiritual authority” involved in passing communion trays or reading a scripture text, but we tell our girls and women that they can’t do those things because… well, just because. Because they are separate, but not equal.
You know what we need in church? Rosa Parks!