Life in Community

Letter to a Friend

Women in Community

July 27, 2021 by

Below is a letter to a friend that attempts to address her questions regarding the role of women at the Bruderhof. Can women hold positions of leadership and exercise authority? Why do they dress so differently? Are they really equal?

Dear Elizabeth,

Thanks for sharing your questions: it’s great to think about them.

When I think of our community’s understanding of the relationship between men and women, I wouldn’t exactly term it a doctrine – that is, a highly developed theological perspective. I think of it more as reading along with the Bible, trying to get the spirit of what God has in mind regarding men and women.

Men and women are different, but they are meant to help each other fulfill God’s purpose. Together they express the full image of God. The basis for every relationship in our community is first and foremost submission to God, putting ourselves completely into his hands – to paraphrase Paul, we give ourselves first to the Lord, and then to the church (2 Cor. 8:5). Also, as Jesus is described in Philippians, that even though he was God he did not count equality with God as something to be held onto, but took on the position of a servant to all (Phil. 2:6–7). No matter what roles or responsibilities we have, this is the basic attitude we all, men and women, are meant to have among us.

WEmbedThe author and her husband, Charles.

So, that’s the start. If we’ve entrusted ourselves completely to God, then we can take risks in serving and submitting to one another. And this is a mutual calling, both for brothers and sisters.

I believe that God is a God of peace. He thus wants an orderly church. And so, in every area of our community life, someone has to be responsible for the oversight, whether it is in the kitchen, in the office, or on the farm. All of us, however, are still responsible for the care of the community. It’s just that we acknowledge that in smaller, different circles of service someone needs to take on the leadership. And the role of leading is meant to be done in humility and to reflect Christ’s relationship to the church. It involves the humble sacrifice that aims to lead others to obedience and submission to God’s will. True leadership strengthens love and unity. Even though we ask the men to take the lead in the family, and to spiritually lead the church, in both cases this is done more as a husband-and-wife team – we do not see or experience leadership as having more power than others or as exercising authority over them. True authority lies in the united feeling we have together about God’s will.

I think this is the beef that most of society has with patriarchy – the idea of unilateral authority and the abuse of power. The divisions and heartaches that so often exist between men and women can, if we keep the Cross in the center, come crashing down. If people are to live freely together, as a community, then such a life must be based on laying all our own personal powers down and serving one another. (Don’t get me wrong, we all struggle every day to lay our personal powers down! We can always have clashes of opinions, willful exchanges, personal agendas, etc., but then we have to struggle through to peace and a Christ-like attitude.)

One thing is clear: women are not seen as “less” than men. Men and women together express the image of God. Men and women are asked to do their tasks based much more on practical necessity and individual ability than on whether or not they are a man or woman. The bottom line is the readiness to serve.

We also try to respect and protect motherhood. Our common work takes into consideration carrying children and tending to them. But because we all participate in the work and raise our children together, women can be mothers while still engaging in other meaningful work in the company of other adults. Ever since our community began in the 1920s, the sisters have had equal employment without having to think of their children as a burden or taking a pay cut.

In terms of work, “professional” jobs are not determined by sex. In the early years of England and Paraguay, when our community lived a very primitive life, men worked in both the bakery and the laundry because of the grueling labor. In our schools, we deliberately have male and female classroom teachers with each age group, and we have principal and vice principal couples. We have both men and women dentists, doctors, and architects. As we see abilities and aptitudes, together as sisters and brothers in Christ we try to use them in the service of all.

In our meetings women are just as responsible to speak about anything they are concerned with or inspired about. Since we don’t really have traditional sermons, every member is responsible for expressing what is on his or her heart. Although brothers are asked to lead meetings and to perform certain church actions (like weddings and baptisms), women are always free to express themselves in meetings. They are just as needed when it comes to the spiritual life of our community.

(Wow – short question – long answer!)

Now for the clothing. Our current style of dress was adopted decades ago, when our community had more interaction with the Hutterite colonies in Canada and the Dakotas. Although we no longer have a formal relationship with the Hutterites, the clothing style has mostly continued for our sisters, partly just because of the simplicity of making the clothes, and having too many other things to think about. It’s not because we can’t or won’t change – in fact, in the last few years we decided that head coverings would be optional.

I think each of us sisters has found her own reasons for wearing what we do with conviction; I know I have my reasons. But it doesn’t mean I feel wearing a different style of clothing would be wrong, or unchristian. Modesty, simplicity, and a sense of reverence before God is, for me, the bottom line for both sisters and brothers.

Well . . . definitely enough said! If I’ve missed anything please feel free to get back to me. I welcome pointed questions.

Warmly,

Leslie


Leslie Moore lives with her husband, Charles, at Columbine House, a Bruderhof in Denver, Colorado.

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