Exploring Asian Female Pastors' Leadership Roles in the Church: Using Deborah's Story

By Lin, Yu-Fen; Li, Chi-Sing et al. | The Qualitative Report, November 2010 | Go to article overview

Exploring Asian Female Pastors' Leadership Roles in the Church: Using Deborah's Story


Lin, Yu-Fen, Li, Chi-Sing, Irby, Beverly J., Brown, Genevieve, The Qualitative Report


Introduction

The Presbyterian Church in Taiwan (PCT) has been striving to promote women to leadership roles within the Church. In the PCT, women can be selected as deaconesses and elders, and women also can be ordained as pastors. Although some of them have assumed such leadership roles, pervasive patriarchal views still dominate the church.

Lin (2003) reports that many Asian Christian women and female pastors are told that men lead the church, and men are strong. Therefore, women rationalize that they should not assume leadership roles in the church. When women do assume leadership roles in the church, many female pastors experience hardships. For example, Sou (2005) states that female pastors need to work twice as hard as male pastors in order to be accepted and appreciated by their congregations. Particular to Asian women, this kind of ideology for women playing a subordinate role is deeply rooted in the patriarchal value of the Taiwanese community (Lu, 1990). Additionally, Se (1996) reports, "The Church often thinks that women should be men's assistants. Women's roles are to support and encourage men [Gen. 2:18]. Women are often too emotional to make good decisions; therefore, they cannot assume important decision-making roles" (p. 14).

Traditional values present challenges for Taiwanese Christian women and, more specifically, for female pastors whose responsibility is to provide leadership in the church. However, the societal expectation for women is contrary to their leadership roles. The purpose of our case study was to give voice to Asian female pastors (AFPs) as they shared their challenges experienced in the Taiwanese Presbyterian Church and as they related those challenges to the experiences in the biblical story of Deborah found in Judges 4 and 5. In our study, we used a phenomenological case study (Creswell, 2003) that included focus group discussions centered on a feminist commentary of Deborah's story which brought forward AFPs' experiences as a foundation to the reconstruction of traditional patriarchal theological thought.

Theoretical Background

We chose to use the story of Deborah (Judges 4-5) as a discussion point for Taiwanese Presbyterian female pastors' considerations of their leadership challenges in the church. Therefore, the theoretical framework is based in this story from the Bible. Feminist theology (1) provides an added dimension to the theoretical framework. We first share information related to feminist theology, then we share the theoretical framework related to Deborah's story from the Bible.

The Rise of Feminist Theology

Greene-McCreight (2000) finds Ludwig Feuerbach (1804-1872) to be one of the closest intellectual and theological forebears of feminist theology. Greene-McCreight quotes from Feuerbach to support his tenet of modern theology: "Since we moderns are committed to the full equality of the sexes, our theology must express that commitment; therefore, we should not speak of God in masculine terms (at least unless they are balanced by feminine terms)" (p. 30).

Feminist theologians read the Bible as an authority with a different perspective than that of traditional Christian theologians. According to traditional historical criticism, the biblical texts were written by priests and prophets; thus, they represent the religious norms of these priests and prophets. Any religious activities outside this circle of these clergies were viewed as heterodox and rejected as deviant (Greene-McCreight, 2000). In contrast, feminist theology denoted that biblical texts were shaped by historical, social, and political factors (Greene-McCreight). Some feminist theologians, such as Fiorenza (1992), question the context of the Bible by noting that all traditional religious names, texts, rituals, laws, and interpretive metaphors bear our Father's names. She insisted that women's self-affirmation, survival, power, and self-determination are the central spiritual and religious feminist quests (Greene-McCreight). …

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