Thinking Out Loud

September 18, 2010

What Canadian Gideons Have in Common With The Catholic Church

Rocky Raccoon checked into his room
Only to find Gideon’s Bible.

-The Beatles

Most of the attention of religious media was focused this week on Pope Benedict XIV’s visit to the U.K., and the oddity of his interaction with a female Anglican cleric, something not permitted within his Roman Catholic world.

So I was surprised to open the online pages of Christian Week today and discover that, within Canada at least, the hotel/hospital/prison Bible people, The Gideons, are in fact officially all men.

Who knew the two organizations shared the similarity of such a patriarchal view of things?

The article begins,

CALGARY, AB—At one of the most significant conventions in Canadian Gideon history, members voting at the Bible distribution ministry’s annual gathering narrowly defeated a wide-ranging set of changes to the agency’s general operating bylaws.

“We lost by 50 votes out of about 2,700,” laments national president Brad Kennedy. “Our members voted 64.5 per cent in favour, but we needed a two-thirds majority.”

If the vote had gone the other way, full membership in The Gideons International in Canada would no longer be restricted to business and professional men, and the agency would be able to distribute a wider variety of Bible versions.

Sadly, the issue of Bible translations — the part of the story I am as a keenly interested in — wasn’t brought up again in the story.   Right now, Canadian Gideons use the NASB (New American Standard Version) which is considered very accurate but not easy to read.   It’s mostly used in Bible Colleges in Seminaries as a reference point or benchmark for checking other translations.

Back to the larger issue…

Women in the organization currently serve under a secondary “auxiliary” status, many exceeding the organization’s official mandate:

For at least the past year, Kennedy and the agency’s national cabinet have been pushing hard to bring Canadian Gideon bylaws in line with some of its current practices and a more culturally relevant model of ministry.

The Gideons face a serious demographic challenge: Nearly half of its members are older than 70, and another 25 per cent are over 60. Only three per cent of members are younger than 40. The average age of a Canadian Gideon is just under 70 years old, compared with 41 back in 1961. The agency is trying to adapt to attract more youthful members.

Indeed, some of the proposed changes have already been incorporated at the local level. Women are serving alongside men in many distribution projects in ways not technically allowable by the existing bylaws. And many active members would not technically qualify as professionals. “We’re trying to correct something that’s lost its relevance in our culture today,” explains Kennedy.

But the history of the organization — unlike the Full Gospel Businessman’s Association, which in most locations is a 50-50 partnership between men and women — is still officially male-dominated:

“A strong component of the Gideon brand is its recognition as a Christian business man’s organization. Unfortunately, if you change from that core value, while you may continue under the banner of Gideons, it will be in name only. It will not be reflective of the Gideon membership worldwide.”

– International Gideons president Perrin T. Prescott in a letter to Canadian Gideons

In other words, the international body is saying if you stop serving Big Macs according to the company recipe, you can’t really call yourself a MacDonald’s restaurant.

My opinion?

Being stuck in the 1940’s culturally and demographically is going to cause a die-off of the organization at a time it is still needed.   In terms of leadership tactics, and in terms of mission, this is an epic fail.

Continue reading Doug Koop’s full article at Christian Week.


Related article:  That other bastion of male headship — the Southern Baptists — caught our attention here exactly two years ago, when the publishing company of female Bible teacher Beth Moore banned distribution of a magazine featuring women pastors.

Related story in USAToday Religion:  An Arizona priest is excommunicated for participating in the ordination of a female priest; although he is now a United Church of Christ minister.

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