I recently saw a movie that reminds me of the situation. It was called Jarhead. I don’t recommend the movie, but it may offer us some advice. It was about some soldiers trained, equipped and sent to the front to fight in a war. The problem was that they were never deployed. The government that sent them wouldn’t give them permission to engage the enemy (they were caught up in political talks) and so the soldiers sat on the ground - trained, equipped and stuck.
Not able to engage the enemy - not able to shoot, fight or even die - they started doing other things. Trying to keep in shape, wasting time on the decorations in their bunkers, learning to cook in different ways and getting angry at each other. It was a picture of soldiers stuck. And every married women officer-leader lives the same reality. So we busy ourselves on the ground… taking courses, watching our weight, picking on each other, over-organizing every women’s event and project… all the while simply trying to create some meaningful existence for ourselves, convincing ourselves that it isn’t our fault that we can’t lead, but having no way to prove it.
Now I’ve had this conversation enough times with enough people to tell you the responses:
Why do you need to lead on a positional level… are you hungry for power? This suggests that every leader wanting to stretch her ability to lead is hungry for power. It is an argument already lost by the practice of many godly men who long to lead well and lead bigger to mobilize forces and take more ground for God. Stop insulting us by considering any godly ambition for women leadership to be a Jezebel-inspired desire for control. It’s embarrassing.
The women’s ministry department is a valid leadership area. Good one. If that’s valid, then why can’t even the top dogs in the ghetto qualify to lead the Army? And considering that any single woman General can simply add the duties of World President of Women’s Organizations to her other responsibilities as international leader of The Salvation Army, this hardly seems like a division that needs to stand on its own.
The Army’s great strength is in “team leadership.” Married couples should work together and the women shouldn’t need a position to be able to lead with her husband. Yeah, this one really works, except when it comes to any administrative position where there is only one head, and except when it comes to an organizational culture that dismisses women from the boardroom and power positions. It’s such a nice offer to let us women “influence” the final decision made by men anyway, but let’s be honest: no signing authority, no positional authority, and no real authority means no authority.
Don’t get me started on headship. Anyone who still holds to this view needs to read the Bible again. Here’s a hint: look deeper. Not only that, but our movement has already established Army theology (even if it remains unimplemented), so if you believe in headship limiting women leaders, join another movement.
It has the potential to wreck marriages. Nice marriage. There is nothing like a union that insists on one of the members stuffing her gifts and abilities down inside of her for fear of her partner looking smaller in light of them. This behaviour insults the purpose of marriage and makes men look bad. Grow up and get a healthy ego. Stop needing your women to be smaller than you to feel good about yourselves. Actually, to take a more pastoral note: get some counselling.
I’ve heard that there were once attempts to make some married women officers department heads, and one couple was called in to see if they would accept. This is insulting. I’ve never heard of a couple being called in to see if it was okay to offer promotions to men. Never. Ever. The marriage is never considered and often is compromised when it comes to promotions. Think about it. The Commissioner calls me up and says, “We’ve been thinking about promoting your husband but were concerned about how that would affect your marriage. Would it be okay with you?” Yeah, that’ll happen. But when it has potential to work the other way, we ask first and then call it off! What happened to equality… what happened to the greater work of the war trumping our personal preference? Come on.
Women don’t want to lead. To that, I would point out that the women’s ministry department in many territories have the most success at getting converts and then building disciples by making soldiers. This means that even from the ghetto, women are leading and leading well. Perhaps the shrinking program departments around the western world should take note. There might just be a married woman who could grow a whole programme department… imagine!
While I’m on this one… does it matter if a male officer doesn’t want to lead? Don’t sign up. Kick women out who don’t pull their weight. Don’t use lame women leaders as an excuse to paint us all with the same brush. It’s pathetic. Honestly, I’ve known some male officers who lack the muster to work hard… it doesn’t seem to make a difference on the ones who do.
Here’s the best one of them all: In many cultures and situations this is not culturally acceptable. I can’t help but chuckle as I imagine Catherine Booth in Victorian England scandalizing the country and even herself as she spoke the scriptures publicly for the first time. It was as counter-England in her century as you could find. Now come with me to America as 16-year-old Eliza Shirley leads the charge, or how about the Marechale opening the Army as a young woman in France. And on and on I could go. We have never been a culturally relevant movement; we’ve been the very opposite. We were a threat to the established church culture, we were a circus to the thinking class, and we were a sign and a wonder for the average person on the scene. When did we start thinking cultural sensitivity was our calling? If there is an evil part of culture, let’s do everything we can to offend it. I suggest that subjecting women to unequal treatment and opportunity is an evil to be challenged, not a relevancy to be followed. Let’s go buy ourselves some courage and return to the war ready to actually fight!
How do we change it? With so many women of bad theology and bad practice, how do we turn the tide now?
Writer: Capt. Danielle Strickland is currently the Social Justice Director of the Southern Australia Territory. She digs traveling, reading, running, speaking, basketball and movies. Her passion is grace, mercy and justice… and all the stuff in between. Her favourite question is ‘how hard can it be?’ and most of her days are spent answering it. (While waiting to enter Training College as an accepted Candidate, Canada, she helped pioneer the work in Moscow, Russia.)