Women and Religions
by Susan Hyatt
This report by Dr Susan Hyatt, describes her participation as a Pentecostal/charismatic women’s representative at the Colloque Femmes et Religions (Women and Religions Colloquium) in Brussels, Belgium on 11 March, 2001. The Colloquium was organized By Hervé Hasquin, Ministre-Président of the Government of the French Community of Wallonie-Brussels, Belgium. Susan is the author of In the Spirit we’re Equal.
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Women and Religions, by Susan Hyatt:
On February 21, 2001, I received an unexpected invitation from the President of the French Community of Belgium to be a scholarly voice for American Pentecostal Women at a one-day colloquium in Brussels on Women and Religions.
Since I have no desire to travel and since I am fully occupied with ministry at home, my first inclination was to decline. But as I sought the Lord, it became clear that this was not a luxurious privilege being afforded me. It was, rather, a responsibility that he would have me assume. So I agreed to go. I still held a secret hope that I would not be able to go because I did not have a valid passport. But when the Canadian Consulate in Dallas was willing to expedite the process in record time, I was left without excuse!
Obviously, the Lord had opened wide an effectual door for me in Europe and I would go as the single voice of Pentecostal-Charismatic Christianity. On Friday morning, March 9, I flew from Dallas-Fort Worth International Airport, just a stone’s throw from home. After 11 hours in the air, I arrived in Brussels on Saturday morning in time to adjust to the 7-hour time difference and attend the reception that evening.
The site of the event
As a guest of the Belgium government, I was treated like an ambassador. They provided splendid accommodations in Le Plaza Hotel, the site of the colloquium.
Renovated in 1976, this exquisite 5-star hotel provided luxurious surroundings for the event. Its classic banquet room was the site of the Saturday evening reception. Several breakout rooms, equipped with translation booths for English, Dutch, and German, accommodated our round-table discussions on Sunday morning. That afternoon, the 900-seat theater-television studio was filled to capacity for the 5-hour televised debate.
The colloquium was the idea of M. Hervé Hasquin, Ministre-Président of the Government of the French Community of Wallonie-Brussels, Belgium. Motivation for this intercultural dialogue came, in part, in response to the United Nations’ designation of 2001 as “The Year of Dialogue Among Civilizations.” A personal representative of the Secretary-General at the UN Information Center in Brussels carried greetings to the assembly.
The precise date of the colloquium, March 11, was chosen to coincide with the UN’s “Day of the Woman” (March 8).
The site of the event was strategic. Brussels is the headquarters of NATO, the capital of Belgium, and the capital of the new United States of Europe. In this age of globalization, what happens in Brussels ultimately affects the entire world.
In calling this “grand international colloquium,” M. Hasquin provided an important platform for Europe and the world to hear about the status and concerns of women from women of the world’s major religious groups.
Forty women from 20 nations participated in the colloquium. Of these, 9 represented Christianity, 15 for Islam; and 8 for Judaism. Three were agnostics, one a Hindu, and 2 were Buddhists. Two were simply listed as “other.”
The nine Christian women came from six different nations, including France, Belgium, Rwanda, Peru, Chili, and the United States (yours truly). Several were theology or history professors. One was a social anthropologist in South America. Chantal, an executive member of the African Alliance of the YMCA from Rwanda, explained that many in her nation have left Christianity as a result of the horrendous war. Indeed, how can “Christians” justify such racial and tribal hatred?
The most alive and friendly of the Christian women was “Sister” Noëlle Hausman, Mother Superior of the Sisters of the Sacred Heart of Mary in Belgium. She had entered the convent at 15 years of age by special permission of Léon Joseph Cardinal Seunens, the outstanding Belgian leader of the Roman Catholic Charismatic Renewal. I asked Noëlle if this meant that she were Charismatic, to which she replied, “Oh, no! I am afraid!” This, of course, opened the door for me to assure her of God’s love for her!
Generally speaking, the Moslem women tended to be strong, intelligent, and aggressive. Certainly, they were very different from the veiled Islamic women we see in American supermarkets! But I noticed that whenever I would pass by Hawa from Djibouti, she would draw her headcovering more securely over her head and face.
The eight Jewish women were typically confident and conversant. Some were history of religions professors. Others were leaders of national Jewish women’s organizations and directors of Jewish cultural centres. One high profile theologian from Germany, Ruth Lapide, once travelled America with her theologian husband teaching the Jewish background of the Gospels. She now works on ethical issues with the German government and has a German television program promoting the Bible.
Of the other women, three were agnostics: a professor of History of Religions at the Free University of Brussels, a secular feminist who is the French Community’s Director of the Office of Equal Opportunities, and the third was Belgium’s Minister of State.
The lone Hindu representative was the Director of the Centre for the Study of Social Development at J. Nehru University in New Delhi. Two others were Buddhist nuns, while two did not state religious preference, one a dancer and choreographer and the other a Tajikistan-born film-maker living in France.
The program was conducted in French with translation into English, Dutch, and German. Although I am quite proficient in reading and writing French, unfortunately my speaking and listening/comprehension skills leave much to be desired! Even with the voice of good translators coming through my headset, I feel I missed much of what was being said!
On Sunday morning, we were divided into four round table discussion groups facilitated by TV news anchors and professional journalists. One group discussed the history of women in the various religions. Another group discussed the place and status of women in the different religions. A third group discussed the ways that religious women express themselves in their various cultures. Of the 10 participants in this group, none were Christians.
The fourth group, the one to which I was assigned, dealt with “where are we and where are we going.” Since the emphasis was political, the ambassador and cabinet ministers were part of this group.
After a brief lunch break, we convened to the theatre for the live, televised debate. I was impressed with the ornate theatre and I was surprised by the enthusiastic crowd of 900 men and women who had gathered for the event. I detected among these Europeans a greater concern and more genuine caring for women than I have observed in America!
As the debate opened, we were challenged to consider certain “underpinning principles” in the relationship between women and religion. These 5 basic opposing elements that exist together within each religion and that are common to all world religions, include the following:
1. All religions contain myths that posit the liberation of women against patriarchal militancy.
2. All religions claim texts that propose gender equality and texts that are gender-restrictive.
3. All religions display power struggles between male superiority, on the one hand, and so-called “mystical movements” ascribing equality, on the other.
4. Fundamentalism in all religions legalistically dictates that men must dominate while feminism calls for the creation of what is new, stating that the patriarchal text of fundamentalism is not appropriate.
5. Religion is seen as an obstacle to women’s liberation, yet religion often is the place where women find liberty.
The voices of women
Although I am aware of the injustices and inequities that women around the world are suffering, simply because they are women, what the various women shared served to remind and further inform me. Here is some of what I heard.
In Djibouti, most women are still illiterate. Women do not have equal educational opportunities and poverty continues to stifle any hope of progress toward a better life. Although genital mutilation has been outlawed, the practice continues.
In Algeria, access to education and increased civic power are seen as the only means by which women can combat the persecution and suffering they are experiencing under the Islamic fundamentalist regime. The Algerians have a saying, “Paradise is under the feet of women,” to which a well-educated Algerian refugee woman responded, “Then lift your foot, please!”
In Niger, more than 9 out of 10 women cannot read. The Islamic fundamentalism of Iran, Iraq, and Saudi Arabia, through the power of oil money, is gaining increased control. Many women simply accept this, refusing to take responsibility for their personal development and settling instead for submission according to the family code of Islam. This whole situation is contributing to the suffering of women in many ways. Girls are no longer permitted education. Women are required to “adore their husbands” and are no longer allowed to be “fashionable,” but must wear veils and long dresses. The Ambassador noted that women must take personal responsibility for improving their condition. In her opinion, the future of Africa is in the hands of women. Unfortunately, many who have the education to run for government positions no longer have the economic means to do so.
Melika Bosnawi, Islamic representative from Bosnia-Herzegovina, unleashed intense anger during the TV debate regarding the horrendous war crimes against Moslem women in her land. These atrocities, of which most of us are aware, reflect badly on Christendom.
The Minister of Culture of Senegal proclaimed, “Mohammed came and brought liberty to women!” The problem, she explained, is that few women in her nation can read and thereby interpret the Islamic texts in terms that would bring the equality that Mohammed intended.
Princess Maria Theresa, a Moslem and highly educated social scientist, said, “Equality of women represents the future.”
Hinduism, explained Madhu Kishwar, teaches a principle of feminine energy, a positive creative force which produces wealth. This leads to the possibility of two different kinds of women. One is a benevolent consort who is attached to a male and the other is a strong woman who is unattached to a male. She is understood to be seeking her own interests and men are expected to bow to her. Within the family structure, mothers and mothers-in-law can become commanding, even oppressive, figures while younger women are marginalized. There is a definite preference for male children. Girls are deprived of education and life expectancy is low. Interestingly, any progress towards bettering the life of women appears to be coming from the initiatives of men.
In Judaism, women are free and can enjoy independence both economically and socially. Today Jewish woman tend to seek responsibility in the community. They are demanding a rereading of the texts that have been used force them into secondary social and religious roles. Inequity in divorce is a concern since it is producing hardship for Jewish women in some nations.
As Chili makes a transition to democracy, human rights issues are coming to the forefront, but there is no women’s movement. Roman Catholicism is the majority religion which means that women are to be subject to men and socially secondary. In 1989, the government instituted a Ministry of Women’s Affairs, but women are still second class citizens. Divorce is not allowed. “Women work but men still rule,” said the Chilean representative.
In Peru, it was noted, Christian evangelism allegedly lowered the status of women in society. Now, with the re-establishment of Peruvian culture, two things are happening: 1. Women are emerging in areas of leadership; 2. Native religions are being restored.
Summary: It can be said that women, regardless of religion or culture, continue to struggle and suffer in ways that men do not simply because they are women. Illiteracy and lack of educational opportunities remain hindrances to progress. Religious fundamentalism is seen as restrictive and sexist. Many expressed the need for equity in divorce because of the hardship that comes on women who experience this tragedy. Several women noted that women themselves must take personal responsibility for equality with men, regardless of their religious affiliation or current cultural climate.
M. Hervé Hasquin’s Observations
In closing the debate, M. Hervé Hasquin, who also serves as a History Professor, summarized what he had heard the women say by making 8 observations.
1. The history of women and religions is a history of the silencing of women. It is time to break that silence. This is possible only in the context of political democracy.
2. In history, religion has always been a way of asserting ones identity when freedoms are denied. 2. Women seek refuge in religion.
3. Women tend to be in denial regarding the restrictions placed on them by religion.
4. Religion can be liberating for women, but restrictions normally arise based in tradition and fundamentalist expressions of that religion. Every case is unique but the economic and social context remains an influence on women’s freedom.
5. When women experience advancement toward equality, men tend to feel deprived and to exhibit the need to return to those things that are certain. This gives rise to an increase in religious fundamentalism, which is perceived as a necessary defence against revolution.
6. In evaluating history we must be modest. The writing of history is a constant rewriting because the questions we ask in writing history are informed by our own context and we therefore search history on the basis of context-driven questions.
7. Ultimately, a person’s relationship to faith is a personal issue.
8. The number of women in the colloquium from different backgrounds enabled all to express themselves without imposing their position on others.
M. Hasquin’s final statement — his thesis, if you like — was that, in his informed opinion, in spite of its imperfections, the concept of separation of church and state remains fundamentally the best way to organize society.
I had carried with me a copy each of Eddie’s book (2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity), my book (In the Spirit We’re Equal), and my teaching manual (The Spirit, The Bible, and Women—A Revival Perspective). As M. Hasquin was presenting his closing remarks, I felt that I should give him these copies. He graciously and enthusiastically accepted them.
Generally, throughout the day, the voice of the Christians seemed to me to be dull and inconsequential. One Protestant representative was almost shouted down at one point, but she rebounded with, “Just because I am a Protestant doesn’t mean I should not be able to express my mind!”
Personally, I felt no such opposition. It seems, perhaps, that most of the people present did not know what a Pentecostal/Charismatic was and therefore, at least out of curiosity, gave ear to what I said.
The assignment given me was to state briefly “where we are and where we are going” as women in Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity. We know that a uniform trend is not obvious. Many Pentecostal-Charismatic women are embracing a traditional, subordinate role. But many, like myself, are unwilling to be disobedient to the Holy Spirit by obeying the dictates of distorted Christianity. We are discovering that Jesus taught the equality of men and women in every respect, including substance and value, privilege and responsibility, function and authority. We are uncovering the truth of biblical equality and we are proclaiming it far and wide by every possible means. Nevertheless, we are not driven by such a cause; rather, we are seeking to be led by the Spirit in all that we do. Following, then, is what I shared during the colloquium.
During the round table discussion, I was free to say whatever I wanted to say, and I had a clear sense of what that needed to be.
The moderator immediately opened the door for me to make a clear statement of the Gospel by asking me to define “Pentecostalism.” In the entire event, no one else was asked to clarify their “religion.” Again, at the conclusion of the round table, the moderator reminded me to reiterate the definition of “Pentecostalism” in the TV debate. In fact, his first question to me in the debate was, “What is “Pentecostalism?”
Here, in essence, is what I said.
“A ‘Pentecostal-Charismatic’ is a believer who has a born-again experience with Jesus Christ and an ongoing, dynamic experience of the presence and power of His Holy Spirit in life.
“In the history of Christianity, there have been 2 streams: Institutional Christianity and Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity. The institutional stream. has always tended to be hierarchical and to restrict women. The Pentecostal/Charismatic stream has always tended toward egalitarian relationships and equality for women.
“Due to the 20th century global explosion of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity, there are now 600 million Pentecostal-Charismatics worldwide. In the United States, 20% of women profess to be Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians.
“As a Pentecostal-Charismatic woman in America, I enjoy unfettered freedom and opportunity to advance the truth of biblical equality. Pentecostal/Charismatic women know in their hearts by the indwelling Holy Spirit that they are equal with men in terms of substance and value, privilege and responsibility, function and authority. However, because of cultural and religious baggage, most do not know this truth in their heads. This discrepancy between head and heart is the cause of many struggles for Pentecostal-Charismatic women. My job is to give the biblical truth that brings harmony between the head and heart.
“To this end, my husband and I teach, write, and operate a publishing company. His first major book, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, [I held it up for all to see] validates the existence of the Pentecostal/Charismatic stream of Christianity as opposed to the institutional stream. My book, In the Spirit We’re Equal, and course [I held them up for all to see] present an historical and biblical argument for gender equality.
“Others are also advancing this truth among Pentecostal/Charismatics. For example, the leading periodical for women in the movement in America is SpiritLed Women [I held up a copy for all to see]. You will notice a recent lead article entitled “10 Lies the Church Has Told Women” by a leading male Pentecostal/Charismatic editor and writer, Lee Grady. This is an example of an encouraging partnership that is developing among some Pentecostal/Charismatic men and women to bring about biblical equality for women.
“Also serving in various ways to advance the truth of equality throughout the Pentecostal/Charismatic Movement are 2 different organizations: Christians for Biblical Equality and the Society for Pentecostal Studies.
“In general, we are seeing 2 important advancements. Slowly we are seeing a release from gender-defined roles for women to gift-defined living. And we are seeing a greater sense of egalitarian partnership between men and women.
“We are seeing an increase in Pentecostal/Charismatic women taking leadership positions in various areas such as communication and the arts, education (including theological education), business and technology, law and government. Pentecostal/Charismatic women are also increasing their influence in dealing with domestic abuse, pastoral counselling, and medical concerns.
“The one great stronghold of inequality among Pentecostal/Charismatic believers is the home. I, for one, am working to bring the equality Jesus taught to this important area.”
The TV Debate
During the TV Debate, the moderator asked me 3 questions.
Question 1. What is a “Pentecostal/Charismatic”?
My Answer. “A Pentecostal-Charismatic is a believer who has a born-again experience with Jesus Christ and an ongoing, dynamic experience of the presence and power of His Holy Spirit in life.
“In the history of Christianity, there have been 2 streams: Institutional Christianity and Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity. The institutional stream has always tended to be hierarchical and to restrict women. The Pentecostal/Charismatic stream has always tended toward egalitarian relationships and equality for women.
“Due to the 20th century global explosion of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity, there are now 600 million P/Cs worldwide. In the United States, 20% of women profess to be Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians.”
Question 2. What is the greatest area of struggle for Pentecostal/Charismatic women?
My Answer. “The greatest struggle for Pentecostal/Charismatic women is the process of renewing their minds in the knowledge that they are equal with men. Changing the mind is one of the greatest struggles we all encounter, and I would say that this is the crux of the struggle for both men and women in Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity, whether they realize it or not! What we think about women determines our behaviour in relation to womanhood.”
Question 3. George W. Bush, a professing Christian, has just been elected president of the United States. What is the position of Pentecostal/Charismatic women in relation to liberal and conservative, Democratic and Republican politics?
My Answer. “That is a question I do not feel I can answer adequately. I am a citizen of Heaven and a citizen of Canada who is privileged to reside in the United States. I know several Pentecostal/Charismatic women who are active at various levels in the political arena, but I am not adequately versed in that subject to be able to answer your question.”
I have been listening to the Lord about why he had me there and what he would have me learn, say, or do as a result. Here are a few thoughts.
1. Christian women need to shake off the shackles of religion masquerading as biblical Christianity. So much of what is taught about womanhood among Pentecostal/Charismatic Christians is no different from what is taught in various other religions. For example, the idea of male authoritative rulership and female subordination, servanthood, and subjugation is a characteristic of religion. It is not a legitimate principle of biblical, Spirit-filled Christianity.
2. The favour of man over woman is typical of religion, but not of Jesus.
3. Spirit-filled women must take personal responsibility to develop their abilities, gifts, and talents, including their intellectual ability through educational opportunities. This is a responsibility, not a privilege, and must not be left to men alone.
4. Women in all religions are struggling because of doctrines that teach the primacy of the male. Marriage is, perhaps, the main stronghold of inequity. Divorce that favours men seems to be a global problem.
5. Women in all religions have gender-defined roles that provide them with social power of some sort. This social structure inevitably produces a climate of manipulation by women which produces power for a few and hopeless depression for many.
There is no reason why, in this era of Pentecostal/Charismatic outpouring of God’s Holy Spirit, that we should succumb to religion. We must realize that the Spirit of God does not come to confirm that what we believe about everything is right and that what other Christians believe is wrong. Rather, the Spirit comes to help us in our human weakness, to empower us, to comfort us. And the Spirit comes to guide us into all truth! That is to say, the Spirit comes to open our understanding and to help us change the way we think.
It is my prayer that we will allow the Spirit of God to change the way we, who profess to be “Spirit-Filled” Christians, think about womanhood. May we shed our religious thinking and think about womanhood the way Jesus wants us to think! According to the Gospels, accurately interpreted, that means thinking of women as equal with men in terms of substance and value, privilege and responsibility, function and authority.
An overlooked mission field
In my brief encounter with the French Community of Wallonie-Brussels in the new European Union, I sensed the dynamic power that always seems to accompany a new venture. The EU is in its formative years. It is looking ahead to what it can become. It is searching for the best way to order its society. This is refreshing! But are Spirit-filled Christians as aware and alert to the need and to the opportunity. Europe has had enough of the Christian religion. Now they must see Jesus!
I have often said that many Christians will go to the ends of the earth to reach the uneducated masses. This is good! But will they go next door to reach the educated feminist who is turned off by patriarchal Christian religion? I have no doubt that the EU’s French community in Belgium is genuinely concerned about women—including the feminist—and about what role religion should play in advancing the equality of women in their state and the emerging European Union. What a place for the Presence of God through people who can rub shoulders with the decision-makers!
Regardless of the teaching of some Christian prophecy teachers regarding the EU, perhaps the Church should embrace the fact that something that will influence the future is, in fact, emerging in Europe. And instead of smuggly dismissing the EU as an emerging evil empire, perhaps we should dismiss our own stagnation and take a lesson from our European friends.
Perhaps we should examine American Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity and realize that our methods need to be brought back to the standard and means of Jesus Christ. The fruit of our authority structures and spiritual formation methods reek of religion and have little scent of Heaven!
Perhaps we should be less concerned about music and entertainment, about flamboyant preachers with extra-biblical theologies. Perhaps we should be less concerned about funding TV programs and building cathedrals and networks of personal power.
I have no doubt that the Lord wants us to purge the message we teach and preach so that it comes into line with the Message of Jesus. I have no doubt that the only means the Lord would have us use is the power of the Holy Spirit. Everything else is secondary and superfluous—and often a hindrance.
I hope this report has troubled you, challenged you, and inspired you! And perhaps Mary’s words in John 2:5 can take on new significance for each of us: “Whatever He [Jesus] says to you, do it!”
If you would like to know what I am doing and become a part of it as the Spirit leads, please, let me know. And if you are reading this and are already taking action, I would be interested to know who you are and what you are doing.
Susan’s book, In the Spirit We’re Equal, is reviewed in this issue of the Renewal Journal. Her husband Eddie’s book, 2000 Years of Charismatic Christianity, is reviewed in Issue 12 of the Renewal Journal. These books and other resources are available from them:
www.icwhp.org – International Women’s History Project and Hall of Fame
www.godswordtowomen.org – God’s Word to Women
www.eddiehyatt.com – Hyatt International Ministries
Mailing Address: P. O. Box 3877, Grapevine, TX 76051 USA
© Renewal Journal #18: Servant Leadership (2001, 2012) renewaljournal.com
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Contents: Renewal Journal 18: Servant Leadership
Jesus on Leadership by Gene Wilkes
In the Spirit We’re Equal by Susan Hyatt
Firestorm of the Lord by Stuart Piggin
Early Evangelical Revivals in Australia by Robert Evans
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