Posted by: julesejones | November 3, 2016

When in Rom(ania)

I know I mentioned this in class a while ago, but this summer, I had the pleasure of going on a mission trip to Romania as part of the Kairos Missions Initiative. The goal of the program was to raise leaders in missions and ministry through this trip to Romania.

If you know anything about the history of Romania, you may know why this could have posed a challenge for the women on our team in particular. Romania was under strict Soviet occupation from 1944 to 1958, a time in which the Eastern Orthodox Church was essentially under its power (Romania). The Eastern Orthodox Church at the time in Romania had not only been largely corrupted by the Soviet occupation, but had also become very traditional in its expectations of families and gender roles. Although Romania is obviously now free from the Soviet occupation, many of the problems with the Eastern Orthodox Church still stand—in particular, their gendered expectations. Although Romania has a relatively low Hofstede masculinity value (42%), its uncertainty avoidance value is 90%, indicating that they have strict codes of behavior. People who behave in an unorthodox manner (in this case, literally because of the power of the Orthodox church) are not tolerated very well (Geert Hofstede).

When my team prepared for our trip to Romania, we were warned that we were heading into the “Bible belt,” a place that was still pretty patriarchal because of the traditionalism of the Eastern Orthodox Church. Even though we were going to support Romanian Baptist churches, the culture around the churches had already been established. We were told to bring dresses for church, and were warned that the men and women on our team might be separated for seating at church, and that there would be some jobs the women would be discouraged (or prevented) from doing.

Fully prepared to encounter these obstacles, our team flew to Romania. I was surprised to find that many of the problems about which we were warned had been overemphasized. Yes, women were expected to wear dresses to church. However, the church also had a full orchestra, choir, and brass band, and the men were dressed suits; I assume the expectation that women wear dresses is more about the formality of church than the patriarchal expectation that women must not wear pants. As for being separated from our male colleagues, the Romanians didn’t even hint at such a thing. Our group was kept together for most of the trip, and when we were split apart, it wasn’t on the basis of gender. Finally, while we had been particularly warned that some jobs were only for men, I found that the pastors were happy to accept the help of both men and women for most of the tasks (except lifting heavy things like suitcases, which I think was more out of chivalry and hospitality than the belief that we shouldn’t do it).

That is not to say that leadership in Romania wasn’t gendered. While I was surprised to find that I personally had few obstacles as a leader being trained on this trip, I noticed that the native Romanians did have gender expectations. Women did not preach, for example; we were free to give our testimonies, but all the pastors at the churches we went to were men. Their wives had their own sort of leadership; they were essentially the leaders of the church women, and were kind, caring, and nurturing. Both the pastors and their wives were very hospitable, but I noticed that the women tended to have more of a communal role. Emma, a pastor’s wife in Hateg, was in charge of caring for the elderly, mentally disabled, and sick at the hotel/old person home at which we stayed. She was our hostess and made “magic tea” for everyone on the trip who was too sick to go out that day, while the pastor went with the team to do work. I would certainly say that both were leaders, but I definitely noticed that their leadership was gendered, as were the expectations for their actions.

This trip leads me to ask multiple questions. What is the context of women in leadership like in other cultures? Is it gendered or not? Would I be able to lead differently than the people who actually lived in that culture if I weren’t from America? How much impact does the church setting have on the culture in which I operated? Perhaps you have answers to these questions as well. I would love to hear your responses.

Geert Hostede. (n.d.) Retrieved November 02, 2016, from https://geert-hostede.com/romania.html.

Romania: History and Background. (n.d.). Retrieved November 02, 2016, from http://education.stateuniversity.com/pages/1254/Romania-HISTORY-BACKGROUND.html.

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Responses

  1. Wow! First off yayy to you for following a calling God placed on your heart! I know packing up and going to another country can be scary! I have always found it interesting the men and women take in churches. It usually is the man who leads the entire church as the pastor/ positional figure and then it’s their wives that tend to lead relationally. We tend to say women are more communal and that they tend to be better at relationships. Is this the reason why women are always the ones having small groups and bake sales? Does community mean more to women? In my own experiences I have definitely seen more activities at church/ bible study geared towards females. Sometimes I feel the boys just aren’t interested in it? Or maybe that’s an excuse we use to make ourselves feel better about excluding them haha. I definitely think being a pastors wife is a very important role and requires a lot of dedication and grace. People tend to judge them more harshly so they constantly have to be on guard. I think being communal and relationship driven is a beautiful thing. Making friendships and loving other people is one of the biggest blessings in life! We shouldn’t be as critical of those who dedicate their lives to such work.

  2. Wow, Praise God for the opportunity to lead in a different country! Your question “How much impact does the church setting have?” really stuck out to me because this topic is one that I have struggled with while being in women and leadership, and also being a member of a church. Recently, my sister was married by a woman and some of the older and more traditional people at the ceremony were not happy with the idea of a woman marrying my sister to her fiance. I thought at first how sexist those comments were and how much they conflicted with my ideas about women being able to be whatever they want. However, it was normal for them to question it because men are typically leaders of the church, and the Bible itself appoints men to these positions. Women are definitely capable of leading a church of believers. I know this isn’t a biblical class or maybe not even a really biblical post but when we get down to it, many Christians who are in the older generation believe that women can’t and shouldn’t be pastors. While I disagree with that belief, I do believe the cultural differences you experience in Romania may have been just the result of long-standing traditions in a church setting. It may not have been representative of the entire culture, either, but I have never been there to make that judgement. Anyway, your post really inspired me to think deeply about where women stand in the church and how your leadership made an impact in a culture who isn’t used to seeing such a drastic change from their norm.

  3. Tradition is a hard thing to combat. I do think it is best to respect tradition even when you do not agree, especially if you are a visitor from another nation. When traveling, it is best to follow the local norm as long as no one is being hurt by your actions. It can be frustrating when you know you are capable of a task but men step in instead. I have events at my house on a regular basis which requires that my living room furniture be moved out of the room. I know how to safely lift furniture and am moderately strong yet my male friends either try to talk me out of picking up something heavy or literally stop me from lifting items by rushing in front of me. I believe that they are doing this to be polite or chivalrous but it can be annoying when it interferes with my intention of moving a table.

  4. My initial reactions were two distinct things. First, I believe that many religions are heavily rooted in old ideas about gender equality. Therefore, the equality part is often lacking. This can be seen in church related events, or at church itself. However, the ideology that our society has constructed about dresses being more “formal” is sexist in itself. I personally believe that women can be formal in dresses and in suits.
    Also, the next thing that came to mind is I remember my freshman year at CNU in 2013, and my roommate was unable to attend President Trible’s dessert dinner because she was wearing a pants suit. Thus proving that sexist ideologies are still common among us today. Since dresses are highly associated with femininity, it creates a strain when women whom are suppose to act in a feminine way deny that femininity.

  5. Wow- your trip sounds amazing! You pose interesting, reflective questions that I think are great to think of. I think that it is important to try to always view leadership with contextual lenses. Romania has a very different history than that of the Westernized US. The orthodox church is a societal institution of its own that has accompanying leadership effects and systematic organizational effects on the culture and society of Romania. These influences bleed out and can be noticed and have an effect on other aspects of society. Even in America, there are tangible influences from the Protestant Christian churches. Many of these influences are stated in our laws, but others are simply implied based on the organization and structure of the “norms” of society and culture. There are even cultural differences amongst different regions of the US that have an underlying root back to the church. For example, in the “Bible Belt,” the mid-west, and the southern regions of the US, there are stronger, more obvious influences of the church that are even reflected in the gender rolls for familial roles, leadership rolls in the church, teaching positions, etc. It is interesting to objectively look at other countries and its influencing factors, apply the impact to yourself and the context that you carry, and decide which traits and characteristics to display would make for the most effective woman leader.

  6. I’ve also been interested in how context plays into women in leadership. I think a lot has to do with the countries history and it’s beliefs. Romania seems like it is very progressive in a lot of those areas considering where it ranks. So maybe the religious context plays a larger role. But I think that more research needs to be done in this area to see how women fair in different countries and if the experience is similar or vastly varied.

  7. Culture definitely influences gender in leadership. I am currently taking and African Art class and we have studied that in most African cultures there is more of a matriarchy rather than a patriarchal society. The women have a lot of power within the family and the community. Therefore there is a higher regard for these women in leadership positions. In contrast to more western cultures where the patriarchy is the leading cultural norm women have a harder time gaining respect in positions of authority. The norms of our culture make it more difficult to be open towards women leading in diverse contexts.


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