By George Werner
My father died in 1994. The day of his funeral was significant for me. Not because of my loss, but because that was the day my sisters confronted the remaining men in our family, my two brothers and me. We had gathered for a meal after the service and social time with friends and extended family. When the meal was finished and the second cups of coffee were poured, the brothers got up from the table and began to make our way to the living room as the men usually did after a family meal.
Just as I was about to sit, one of my sisters called out sternly, “Stop right there, you guys. Dad is gone now and so is the chauvinism in this family. I am not cleaning up this meal. You are.” The other ladies agreed - this was not their job.
That day, for the first time I can remember, I became aware of a dark attitude that lurked deep in my being. Somehow - I couldn’t explain how - I had come to believe that women serve men. My brothers believed it, too.
We cleaned up the meal, the three of us and our sisters’ partners, while the women sat in the living room and enjoyed their drinks. Their conversation and laughter filled the house. The grief of our situation had given way temporarily to some lighthearted banter and joking.
In the kitchen, the men were less talkative. Fewer comments, more imperatives. Less politeness, greater directness. We were not angry about that night’s changed roles, nor were we offended that the women had spoken up. We were dumbfounded - at least, I was - having had a mirror held up to our lives and not liking what we saw. After all, I loved my mother and my sisters. I adored my wife! How did I end up like this?
I had been shaped by my upbringing. My father was a very generous man in his lifetime. People he had employed decades before attended is wake with tears, saying he was the one who had given them the break they needed. He had loaned or given them money. He advocated for them when they needed a stronger voice. But, Dad was also very adamant about roles — men provided money and did the heavy work while the women did everything else. I came to understand that there were very clear roles in life based solely on gender.
I had also been influenced by the culture of my church where men led and women served. My pastors were all male. The missionaries who visited, the denominational officials who spoke, the leaders who recruited me as a young volunteer - all men. It became obvious that it was ordained for men to hold authority and for women to act on their decisions.
But, I had not intentionally examined either my upbringing or the church’s influence. I felt safe and validated by what I had experienced. There was no obvious conflict in either context. My parents got along and had a seemingly healthy relationship. The church appeared to function well, growing in size and in impact in the city and internationally through missions commitments. What was there to challenge or scrutinize in either case? What I had experienced and learned in my childhood worked well for me into my adulthood.
Until I began to look intently into that mirror my sisters had held up on that day.
I did not like what I saw. There were blatant inconsistencies and double-standards in my stated beliefs and my actions. I said mankind was created in God’s image, but my actions said the male version held greater importance. I agreed with the Apostle Paul that, in Christ, there was neither male nor female, slave nor free, and that spiritual gifts are given to all to whom Christ is Lord. But, as a pastor, I limited the opportunities for women to exercise their God-given gifts and abilities.
I did not want to acknowledge that my life and leadership were driven by insecurity and fear more than they were by conviction. I feared that I would lose esteem and dignity among my peers - all male peers - if I was upstaged by a woman. I did not want to feel like a failure for not having been the provider in all circumstances. Deep down, I was afraid of the loss of control over my circumstances and the privileges that I enjoyed with my control.
My blatant egocentricity was abhorrent to me. I actually liked being served by the women in my life. It’s not that I did nothing for them, but I realized I lived with an expectation that I would ultimately receive more than I had given. This realization drove me to repentance.
I was not like Christ, at all. By His own words, He came “not to be served, but to serve and to give [his] life…”. In truth, I was not a loving person to the women in my life.
All these years later, I think I have changed and grown. I still need my spouse to remind me from time to time that if I want clean underwear, I ought to do the laundry. A spiritually-empowered posture of servanthood, modeled after Christ Himself, has made all the difference.
I have had the privilege to serve under excellent, visionary leaders. I have served as a leader to teams of skilled and effective individuals. I have collaborated with bright, creative people who are changing the world. And, along the way, many of those people have been women.
NOTE: This story originally appeared on the Annesley Writers’ Forum on July 13, 2017. We republish it here with their kind permission.
George has had the privilege of serving God and His Kingdom in a wide variety of ways over his lifetime. He is most passionate about his calling as husband to Eileen, and parent to their family of four children, whose families live across Canada.
He has over 32 years of ministry experience, as a pastor in both Ontario and British Columbia, a national leader with church networks in Canada, and as an international worker in Europe. George has recently concluded a role with World Vision Canada to join the pastoral team of his local church in Waterloo, ON.
George is a proud Canadian, who in his spare time loves to cook, write, play music and ride his bike.