While government is calling for 50-50 women representation in leadership positions, many worship temples seem to drag their feet on equalising the gender balance. In this interview, our reporter, WATIPASO MZUNGU JNRengages leader of the New Life Pentecostal Bible Church, Lynord Kantwanje, on what the church is doing to balance the roles and responsibilities that men and women carry in the church.
Briefly, can you share with me the background of this church before I introduce the topic of our discussion?
Just like many other Pentecostal churches, we are coming from a fellowship background. This church has no specific founder, but suffice to say I am among the founders. Initially, we were members of the Apostolic Faith Mission and, honestly speaking, we had no problems with our church. But our hunger for spiritual growth led us to start fellowshipping early 1993.
As the fellowship grew, the temptation to form a church came in. However, we couldn’t because the then [one-party] government would not let us. So, we kept fellowshipping until 1994 when the new government opened doors to freedom of worship. So, we got registered as a church in 1994 by 10 like-minded families.
Now, gender equality is one of the contentious topics in most churches, with others blocking women’s access to the pulpit. What is the stand of the church on gender equality?
We don’t discriminate based on gender. We treat all members equally. Even women are allowed to stand on the pulpit to proclaim the gospel. Of course, I should hasten to say that the church doesn’t have a female pastor currently. Again, I should emphasise that it is not every woman as it is not every man that is allowed to stand on the pulpit.
From time to time, church elders assess who should preach according to their calling, whether male or female.
Some people believe that Corinthians 14:34 forbids women to stand on the pulpit.
What is your own take on this?
I think that is a misrepresentation of facts. Christians must understand that Apostle Paul was addressing his letters to Corinthians who were worshipping goddess Artemis. Let me tell you that in Ephesians and Corinth, women were more powerful than men because of this goddess. And through this letter Paul intended to empower men so that there is equality in the church; hence, he wrote and I quote: “let the women keep silent in the congregations, for it is not permitted for them to speak, but let them be in subjection, even as the Law says.”
At first, men used to keep quiet and were in subordination to women because their god was female. Paul wrote this letter to simply avert the situation in Corinth and Ephesus. This letter doesn’t apply to Christians of other nations where women are at par with men. One thing you must note is that Paul used to go from place to place and would write according to the needs of each nation.
I don’t think Paul would write the same letter to Malawian Christians because already women are in submission to men.
Is there anything you have done to promote women in your church?
Not in a specific way. I should explain that we don’t just promote for the sake of it. We look at their capabilities. We have a number of women who preach in our churches despite them not being pastors.
A number of women are holding senior positions in the church such as committee chairpersons. We are doing all this with the spirit of gender equality.
The church is over 20 years now. Do you think this is all that women deserve in your congregations?
No, it’s not. We are going towards training female pastors. Very soon, we may have female pastors serving in some of our churches. But as I have already indicated, our actions will not be motivated by the need to equalise gender, but to serve the Lord.
This means that only those with a call and vision can be trained as pastors. As long as we see a woman with a calling in our midst, we will certainly mould and promote her to be a pastor.
Away from the temple, do you have programmes that specifically aim at economically empowering women?
Yes, we have a number of them. Recently, we were implementing a rotational livestock distribution project with assistance from our partners from abroad. Under this project, we distributed pigs, goats and chickens to needy women and widows in an effort to empower them economically.
This was a pilot project and over 20 women of our members benefitted.