Today was a very special day. Not only is it the last day of my 2+ weeks in Egypt, it was also the day that Rev. Dr. Farouk Eldeiry proclaimed his views (publically!) about women and ordination. Permit me to tell you a little bit about Pastor (Assis) Farouk: He is the father of Fady, Joy, and Sylvia… I was introduced to him through Fady in November 2010 during my first trip to Egypt. I learned that he was the founding pastor of Ibrahimi Evangelical Church in Alexandria in the 1960s and served there through 2001. He has a Master of Arts in religion and a Masters of Theology… and also an honorary doctorate. He has taught Systematic Theology (oh, my!) at the Evangelical Seminary in Cairo for the past several decades. He is currently launching a new ministry called Anwaar (lights) which focuses on responding to the needs of the poor in Malawy and Deir Abu Hennis. As I have gotten to know Farouk over the past several months, I have been amazed at his energy and passion. He is in his 70s and is starting a new ministry that takes time, energy (and money!); and is committed to mobilizing the church in Egypt to respond to the needs of the poor and the oppressed. Farouk and I have had many lively discussions – including academic “debates” about predestination, the revelation of God, and other questions of theology. Whenever Farouk has mentioned (remotely or directly) the question about women in leadership and the ordination of women – I have quickly said, “I don’t want to talk about it. Talk to Dr. B!”
I have pointed Pastor Farouk in the direction of Gilbert Bilezikian (Dr. B), a mentor, friend, and brilliant New Testament scholar who taught at Wheaton for many years. Dr. B wrote the book “Beyond Sex Roles” in 1985 and has since been a stalwart advocate of women in ministry. Dr. B, in his writing, teaching, and every day life, has been an amazing support… and he has the biblical expertise, training, and patience to continually address the theological and practical questions surrounding women in ministry. I do not!
I have found being a woman in ministry a very painful (and often lonely) journey. There are limited places where women are free to completely use their gifts without question in regard to gender – sometimes things are worse in the U.S. than in the Middle East! On a weekly (if not daily basis), I am reminded of these limitations. I could tell many painful stories: People in the community thinking that I was the church secretary and not one of the leaders on pastoral staff; The surgeon in a hospital where I was serving as a pastoral chaplain who asked me if it was Haloween because I was wearing my clerical collar – even though it was February!; Not being able to serve communion because the church does not acknowledge that women are free to officiate ceremonies of such spiritual significance… I could go on… These are just some of the challenges that women continue to face as ministers of the Gospel around the world today.
Pastor Farouk, while always supportive of women using their gifts, has consistently repsonded to the question of women and ordination by affirming women, but then asserting that he is “undecided” about whether or not women should be ordained. In fact, I heard him say these very words to me last week when we were ministering together in Upper Egypt. Thus, I was shocked by the events that unfolded today!
Today I was invited to preach at Attarine Evangelical Church in Alexandria, Egypt. In speaking with the congregation, I talked about what an exciting time this is in Egypt and around the Arab world as revolutions are continuing to overturn authoritarian regimes and challenge current political authorites. As the youth of Egypt have cried for righteousness and justice; we as Christians must look to see what the Scriptures say about these two things. I shared about my love for Egypt and encouraged the church to engage with their community as the Scriptures have commanded us to do.
After I finished preaching the sermon, Pastor Farouk had the opportunity to share a few words. He shared in Arabic and the man sitting next to me translated the words that were being spoken… Pastor Farouk affirmed that we as the church must respond to the current situation in Egypt. We must care for our personal and corporate relationship with God and also be actively engaged with the needs of society (my sermon was about righteousness and justice). As he affirmed the words in the Scripture message, he also made a declaration – for the first time – about his views of women and ordination. He stated that the authority by which we speak does not rest in the person sharing the message – but rests in the authority of Christ – and that it doesn’t matter if the person delivering the word is a man or a woman, as long as the truth of God is being declared. Pastor Farouk publicly declared that he affirms women in any role of leadership within the church including that of eldership and a pastoral role. As he shared his words of affirmation, I was very moved. His declaration was totally unexpected and a great gift to me! Pastor Farouk is a leader in the Christian community in Alexandria and throughout the Arab world. He has taught hundreds of seminary students, many of whom are now pastors, and has great influence. His public affirmation of the ordination of women and women in pastoral roles is a very significant one! Serving alongside of this man the past two weeks, I have been honored by his humility and his committment to caring for the needs of people around him. Although some may consider him to be more ”advanced” in age… Farouk is young in spirit. His affirmation of all people – including women – has greatly encouraged my heart.
For further resources about women in ministry:
Beyond Sex Roles: What the Bible Says about a Woman’s Place in Church and Family, Gilbert Bilezikian (Baker Academic, 2006)
How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership: Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals (Zondervan, 2010)
Discovering Biblical Equality: Complimentarity Without Hierarchy (InterVarsity, 2005)
Another great resource is Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE): www.cbeinternational.org.