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What is diakonia?

(The following text is extracted from No Boundaries to Compassion? An exploration of women, gender and diakonia, by Myra Blyth and Wendy S. Robins (1998, WCC Programme Unit on Sharing and Service).

In this chapter, we attempt to come to some understanding of the meaning of diakonia in the late twentieth century. This will be done by considering the comments of women from around the world on diaconal service and relating these to definitions used in current ecumenical and theological discussions.


One of the first hurdles in trying to come to a definition of diakonia is the obvious one of overcoming the word itself. To some, in some contexts, it means a lot. But, it clearly does not mean the same thing to everyone, and to some the word means almost nothing at all, although the concept itself is real. Thus, in this opening chapter we have chosen to focus on diakonia as Christian service. We have come to this working definition in conversation with the women from around the world with whom we have been working. As we have noted as the chapter progresses we will work from the comments of the women to help us to move towards a contemporary definition of diakonia.

What is Christian service?

There exists, from the ecumenical perspective, a clear challenge to the churches to reclaim an understanding of service, not only for the church, but for the world. An International Consultation on Diakonia was held in Larnaca in 1987. Known as Diakonia 2000 it's message can be summarized in the following:

Larncaca affirmed the poor, the oppressed and marginalized as the centre of Christian diaconal concern. Diakonia is the 'active expression of Christian witness in response to the needs and challenges of the community in which Christians and the churches live'. Or, in Orthodox terms Diakonia at heart, is the sharing of suffering, the carrying of one another's hurdens, thus fulfilling the law of Christ". Diakonia in all its many authentic forms cannot be separated from the struggle for justice and peace; from the empowering, transforming, liberating and suffering Diakonia. Diakonia as the expression of Christian love and sharing is inclusive; 'it includes social struggles and development activities as well as environmental concerns, as witness in action.'

(Report to the first meeting of the Sharing and Service Commission after the Canberra Assembly, 1992)

The experiences of this group of women from around the world would seem to echo the need for and desirability of holistic definitions of diakonia:

When thinking about Diakonia I see a wholistic picture. If you only see Diakonia from a church view it is too narrow. If we are going to see Diakonia from a holistic perspective it means the administration of everything including our body our life our time our land. When speaking of a woman's vision of Diakonia we need to keep in mind that the majority of women in the world are not powerful through money or property but are very close to the essential things of life. Because of our gender and its socially induced role we learn very early to administer life, this is the view to which I proscribe.'

Diakonia is faith put into action. This is done through applying Christian principles'

For me Diakonia is not just a matter of caring. It is more an opportunity to know more about what God is. I see God, I experience by encountering someone who is different. When I say someone who is unlike me that does not mean that they are not African American because I have met some African American women who are certainly the opposite to me. My motivation is to encounter God.

I feel as a Christian that we have to share the resources of life. I'm not thinking about agency resources but our own human resources in India. Promoting self esteem is a fundamental thing for promoting life. In India because of pollution and deforestation the ozone layer is very thin. We have made it so dangerous for the next generation to live.

Diakonia is social service, mercy, love for mercy.

As is evident from the quotations the group of women who discussed these issues together believed that the work of service encompasses the whole of women's lives. Gathering things together, making the best of what they have and sharing with others defines who they are and how they live.

For them diakonia does not have simply to be the service which the church considers it offers. It can be any form of service that they offer to other human beings, any expression of love and concern for another.

Diakonia and koinonia

The actual expression of the definition of diakonia that each women would give is understandably different. However, it would seem that for women the interconnection between diakonia - Christian service - and koinonia -fellowship - is very strong. This notion gains approval and acceptance regardless of the women's context. For them service is complementary to the building up of the community. The effect of the service which is called for by their Christian commitment is only really worthwhile if it helps to ensure the growth and development of the community and benefits all. Service is not self-serving; not designed to make those who serve feel good. This may be a side effect but it's aim is to bring greater well-being and justice to those who are served.

Their sense might best be summed up in the words of Bishop Leslie Boseto of the Solomon Islands who says:

Koinonia without Diakonia is dead. A community which does not understand itself in and through service for the other is without value.
For the women in the group koinonia and diakonia are part of an inseparable whole. Diakonia does not exist outside of fellowship and fellowship which does not find within itself an expression of diakonia is impaired and incomplete fellowship.

Service which does not arise from spirituality runs a great risk of being functionalist and worse still self serving. A fascinating phrase which sticks with us is that of the Orthodox notion of 'the liturgy after the liturgy'. Here is a very clear indication of the notion that the Christian should be motivated to serve because of their faith and the response to God that this demands. The liturgy gathers together the worship of the community and feeds the individuals of which it is composed. It prepares them for what follows and causes them to continue their praise and worship in the service that they offer throughout the week.

In the South (and in certain places in the North) the emphasis of Diakonia is on communitv not on institutions.

For me diakonia means sharing resourcesces from a communitarian perspective. It means understanding why we share resources in an atmosphere of mutual partnership Informed by our faithb Cbristians do not recognize the divide between the haves and have nots. So, that sharing is never condescending but where you give because that is what you know you should do. It is a response to the dictates of your faith.

The churches in the Middle East have developed a kind of Diakonia that goes beyond regular charity and expresses the basic values of Christian faith and life through sharing, solidarity and community building.

In my local language there is a saying "God's work to do." God's work implies that you need the acknowledgement of the existence of God. In my language we have a saying that nobody introduces a child to God. All that is valuable, all that is good and all that is beautiful, is synonymous with God, and if God is good then people should be good. So to do God's work means that you are promoting all that is good and doing the services that will accomplish this end. That to me is Diakonia. It is ecumenical in nature. Whatever vou are, because you are part of God you should promote what is good and what makes the world good. So, it is regardless of your spiritual belief and your standing in society.

For the middle European churches and their mission societies it represents a powerful tradition of social service paid for by the state and organised by the church. In that same context, in the last century and the first half of this, the great motherhouses and large forces of Diakonische Schwestern (diaconal sisters) formed a significant pietistic order. Women gave their lives to senvice. There also exists alongside these institutional and ecclesial expressions significant movements of the laity who stress Christian service in the world by the whole people of God.

For many of the historic churches in Europe practising a threefold ministry the word diakonia has an ecclesial significance, ancl raises many voices in heated debates about second class ministry and about whether its primarv significance is liturgical or social.

'Within the reformed context deacons exist in each congregation and model their role on the early church function of administration, with a bias towards caring for the needy.

In various parts of the world and in different confessional situations the expressions of diakonia are different and in some senses the women's understandings are varied. Yet, whatever their experience or understanding of diakonia the women sensed common threads in the way that they understood the need to stand alongside those who suffered and or were in need and to utilise the resources within a community to their best effect.

Alternative models of diakonia

In seeking to discover a working definition for diakonia it is important not to ignore the history of the word and the concept with which we are dealing. It would seem that traditionally the word diakonia has been clearly related in people's mind, if at all, with the notion of the servant. The diakonos - those engaged in diaconal service - are seen as the servants of the community. They are seen as those who work to ensure that the necessary social tasks are carried out and that those in need both within and outside of the community, are cared for and remembered.

Much has been written about Christian service and here the group would like to refer to the work of John N.Collins in his book 'Diakonia'8 In this publication alternative models of diakonia are explored. Collins is concerned not simply with the definition of those who are engaged in diaconal action being seen as servants. Rather, his intention is to try to uncover, possibly even to recover, a broader set of meanings to the word.

His exposition of diakonia is based upon an exhaustive study and re-interpretation of ancient sources and his findings lend strong support to the WCC's ecumenical search for alternative models of diakonia. As we have seen earlier the WCC has recently searched for a working definition of diakonia. In so doing, the eleven ecumenical guidelines were developed as an attempt to express this difficult and varied concept for today's world. As a whole they try to give a way of approaching Christian service which takes account of the nuances which are necessary if one is to give a rounded picture of the concept today.

In his book Collins' work suggests that the current usage of the word diakonia arose from erroneous dictionary meanings propagated in the 1930's. His work presents a challenge to re-think the idea of the ministry of diakonia, and to redraw the profile of 'the servant church'. Here it is clear that in seeking to re-define diakonia Collins is looking for a way to reclaim the perception of the churches role. Certainly the church, the gathered worshipping community of God is to serve, but this task, both for the individual and the community, should not be seen as menial Rather, as one of the reasons for the churches existence, it should be seen as strength and not as a sign of weakness.

Collins suggests that the word diakonia and related words can be seen in ancient sources, including scripture to have three meanings:

  • to be a go-between, an envoy, a messenger
  • to be an agent of change
  • to wait at table, to serve.
  • The most popular perception of diakonia throughout history has been that of the third meaning, waiting at table. As such it has been little valued and primarily regarded as women's work.

    It is always difficult to ascertain why one meaning took ascendancy over others and the reason for this may not be especially significant. However, in seeking to understand the three strands of meaning which can be found in ancient sources it might be that we can find new ways of understanding diakonia and Christian service for today.

    The other two roles which Collins outlines, that of the diplomatic-mediator role, or the agent of social change, are not popularly seen as diaconal functions. Nor are they popularly perceived as features of a servant church.

    Meaning one: the go between: delivering a message, spokesperson, courier

    Plato's Republica speaks of a group of people who are constantly communicating things to us, as the diakonos. These persons, Plato says, 'are beyond the functionaries of life'. Amongst these persons whose roles he deems political rather than functionary, are the diviners and priests. Plato writes that 'divining or soothsaying is part of the diakonic skill'. Plato goes on to place soothsaying within the larger function of mediation and even of communicating between heaven and earth.

    This image of the diakonos as the go between carrying or bearing a message has strong echoes with Bishop John Taylor's book The Go-between God9. In this book the whole creation-salvation story is re-told in terms of a God whose essence is communion/communication. Diakonia conceived as a service of mediation, going between peoples and communities is not menial, but godlike.

    In many situations of conflict the church can be seen to have a role as 'mediator'. Here, those from the Christian community will be motivatecl to seek ways of ensuring and enabling justice for all. Yet, many times the part played by the church is not acknowledged for what it is. That is the part played by faith based motivation is often ignored. Indeed, in some situations where the church seeks to become involved in difficult social and political situations the charge is made that the church should not involve itself in such matters.

    There are times, however, when a service of mediation has taken place and is acknowledged to have done so that, in terms of a gender analysis, it is clear that the specific experiences of women have not and do not get taken into account. In many situations in recent history women have stood as messengers and mediators between communities, national, religious and ethnic. They have tried to hold up before humanity the horrors of chauvinism, national, religious and gender related.

    Women in Bosnia Herzgovina worked for peace throughout the war. But, they were not part of the final negotiations which designed the peace. Women who have sustained the agricultural base of communities for hundreds of years are not consulted when new plans and projects are developed and the result is that development projects go disastrously wrong. In most examples the women who work the land do not own it and as such are powerless in the face of negotiations with agencies who can bring resources to agricultural projects.

    In both scenarios a lack of gender awareness brings yet more troubles. Women who are much involved in advocacy for what is just, find empowerment for themselves in what they do, but rarely gain structural power.

    Thus, in seeking to reclaim the first of Collins definitions of diakonia it is important to help the Christian community to recognize the importance of the role and value it as diaconal service. It is also important to enable the church and the community at large to recognize and value the role of women as mediators.

    As we have seen women have a particular concern for the whole of life. They wish to build holistic, integrated lives and communities. This fitsthem particularly to be mediators; to seek the good of all. For women the reclamation of this notion of the work of diakonia as the work of thego-between, envoy or messenger is particularly important. Once recognized and recognized as one of women's particular gifts, its importancecan help to enable women to value themselves more and for their roles to be more valued by the community.

    Meaning two: agents of change

    The second notion or activity which Collins ascribes to diakonia is that of agent to effect, officiate at, or mediate the execution of a task. The activity not of diplomat but manager, a change maker. Someone who doesn't simply talk but gets something done, who makes a difference.

    If service in the world and the community is to effect real change then it must begin somewhere other than with project management. It must have an energy and a passion which is only possible when the people who are to be served take centre stage.

    We need to recognize that local people are the starting point from which we need to do our work. So that sharing and service is mutualand not acting over another. In the Canbbean uf ofoten we talk of service oriented development where it has been the people who bring the resourceswho have determined how the resources are shared and with whom they are shared without asking the people themselves what this should be for and tosee themselves as partners I think it is changing. Certainly over twenty years it has changed. the whole concept of development has been influenced by discussion of terms such as partnership and sharing.

    Again, we have seen from the women's words earlier, they often help to initiate and manage change. In many instances women are responsible for managingthe affairs of their households and of the local community. This too, is part of their diaconal service. Part of the work that they clo in response to God.

    Able to see the need for just, equal, sharing, women can often develop ways of working which are communitarian, involving as many people as possible in thedecision making and this helps to develop the life of the community.

    Once again this is not a passive menial task of 'doing for others'. Rather, it is an empowering task in which others are also enabled to share in the necessarytasks of the community, gaining self-esteem and worth as a result.

    Meaning three the servant

    The third activity which Collins describes is the most traditional and accepted meaning of diakonia, that of one who attends upon a person or in a household.

    The picture is of one who is attending, fetching, going away to do something. The action of waiting at table is dignified because it reflects the central action ofChrist's work of mediation between us and God. It is at one and the same time liturgical and practical, sacred and secular.

    Yet, whilst this role deserves to be valued because of its reflection of Christ's work, it is this, more traditional, servant-like role of diakonia which has on occasions so diminished the notion of the servant and of women. For, whilst the servant should be valued for the tasks they do and the contribution they make to the community, often the role of servant is seen as menial and demeaning: inconsequential.

    This perception has helped to diminish the status of women because, often in the church, the home and community, the woman is the one who organizes and serves. In seeking to broaden the definition of diakonia for the beginning of the new millennium it will be important not to lose the notionof diakonia as service, of the diakonos as servant. But, it will be even more important to ensure that the role and function of the servant is properly evaluated, understood and valued.

    Their motivation is not so much social as spiritual.

    The Christian approach makes Diakonia different from charity..

    Diakonia is in the essence of the church as a continuous and committed discipleship to Christ for the rebuilding of world community and re-creating the fallen world according to the plans of God. Through Diakonia the church becomes one in Christ and at the same time brings Christ to the world.

    The Christian approach has to do with moral values . .those who do the work also think about it in terms of their own salvation. They are not simply thinking of others, they are improving themselves and it is a spiritual approach and they understand that society will not change overnight.

    Here we can see that the women believe that diakonia can be motivated both by the interests of others and in the interests of fulfilling their own identity and calling. As you can see many of the quotations that we offer could easily be examp les of a number of the different types or definitions of diakonia which Collins outlines. However, to bring this material from Collins to bear on the eleven guidelines offered by Unit IV of the WCC it is helpful to look at some of the practical applications of the three definitions. Definitions into praxis

    The eleven guidelines ondiakonia are essentially eleven ethical or descriptive statements. They seek to describe the ethical values inherent in Christian diakonia and are offered for refelction locally to test whether diakonia is experienced differently or similarly in a wide variety of social contexts. In relation to Collins threefold ddefinition of the functions of diakonia, the eleven ecumenical guidelines cold be categorised as follows:

    the go-between

    • promotes mutuality - in that those who serve the needy accept their own need to receive and the ability of the needy to give
    • adds to the power of the needy to control what happens to them
    • remains faithful and does not desert the needy - even when there are difficulties
    • gives an account of him/herself to those served
    the agent
    • shares the resources that promote life
    • respects the needy's own judgement as to what their needs are and how best they are met
    • responds to immediate needs whilst understanding, resisting and transforming the systems which create and aggravate them
    the attendant or servant
    • acts with those he/she claims to serve and not for them or about them or over them
    • puts the least advantaged first
    • acknowledges the inevitable cost as well as well as gain
    • sets no boundaries to its compassion

    This chapter has sought to offer contemporary definitions of odiakonia from women from around the world; to link these definitions into a look at one commentator's work on reclaiming diakonia. Collins' work is laid in turn against the eleven guidelines on diakonia.

    In doing this, we have tried to give evidence of the breadth, depth and holistic nature of diaconal service.

    In moving into the next part of this exploration we will seek to add a further shaft of light in the the discussion of what it means for the Christian community to be diakonos, to be engaged in diakonia - Christian service - by seeking to explore the notion of diakonia in the Bible.

    Diakonia and Women

    This chapter begins from the premise that women share a capacity to give life and nurture. They also share the feeling that they are marginalized in all spheres of life. The chapter will seek to analyse the causes behind such feelings in relation to women's experience of diaconal work. In order to do this the chapter will offer a definition of gender and a model for gender analysis before proceedingto consider women and diakonia in the light of contemporary experience.

    Marginalized women

    The eleven guidelines on diakonia are ambiguous and take little account of women directly or indirectly. Despite differences women share their gender in common and as such share a capacity to give life and to nurture. Whether biological mothers or not, women in a variety of life experiences, at home and in the work place, experience being nurturers. It appears to be true also that despite geographical and cultural dissimilarities women feel that they are marginalized in all spheres of life.

    This chapter will seek to analyse the causes behind such feelings particularly in relation to women's experience of diaconal work. In order todo this the chapter will offer a definition of gender and a model for gender analysis before proceeding to consider women and diakonia in the light of contemporary experience.

    A definition of gender

    The World Council of Churches Unit IV - Sharing and Service, defines gender as:

    • referring to the roles that society defines for men and women, boys and girls. Sex roles in contrast refer to the biologicalfunction of being male and female.
    • gender roles are passed on by tradition, religious beliefs/ interpretations and the value system of the community. They become institutionalised in social practices, ideas and relationships and become ingrained in the consciousness of both men and women. They are learned and therefore can be unlearned.
    The Gender Guidelines explain the importance of a gender approach (specifically to development, but the notion applies generally) as being that:
    • A gender approach is critical of values that are oppressive. At the same time a gender approach will take into consideration racial, cultural, ethnic and economic oppressions.
    • understanding gender values and practices is central to knowing how societies are organized, how they function and the potential for change.
    • the goal of a gender approach in development work is to attain equitable relationships and thereby change inequality of relationships, gender disparitiesand biases.
    • a starting point in the gender and development analysis is to recognize that women's subordinate position is the outcome of the perspectives of successive cultural, social, economic and political systems throughout history. A gender approach will seek to redress these imbalances. It seeks to empower women and to ensure their full participation in all spheres of society including participation in decision-making processes and the promotion of their human rights.
    (Gender Guidelines - nurturing spirituality in sharing and service, WCC, Programme Unit lV, Sharing and Service P.2. They can be found as Appendix I)

    In the light of this definition and rationale for a gender approach, it will be helpful to lay the definition and rationale alongside the experience of women today in order to see for ourselves the effect of gender on society, and in this instance particularly the church. In order to undertake this task it is important to adopt a model for gender analysis.

    A model for gender analysis

    In seeking to find a model for gender analysis we have chosen to use the following which suggests that the only essential difference between men and women is the biological one, which means that women bear children. Certainly, our discussions with women seem to suggest that their experience as nurturers is of great significance to their way of seeing themselves and how they experience themselves in relationship to others.

    Women are very good administrators because they learn from very young to handle everyday life, children, cooking and all these th ings. I think this way of girls growing up affects their self esteem. It becomes very low because we feel responsible and guilty for others' problems.

    It is as if we wouldn't have limits to protect us. Women, generally speaking have to learn that sharing has two poles which lead to mutuality, not over-giving or over-protecting, so as to deny ourselves.

    Gender studies suggest that the ways in which girls and boys are nurtured and the expectations of society are what determines the behaviour patterns in gender roles. According to this school of thought, as the WCC Guidelines quoted above state, the patterns of behaviour are learned so they can be unlearned.

    The model that we have adopted analyses this situation in the following manner: although traditionally men and women have different roles it is possible for each of them to undertake the roles of the other except in the reproductive sphere. What happens, however, is that the majority of the roles which women fulfil are in the private domain and those in the public domain, which are more highly respected, are undertaken by men.

    The model suggests that if we are to work for a more just and equal society then what needs to happen is for women to become more involved in public roles in society and for men to become more involved in private roles within society and admit to doing this. So, for example, it is possible to see that many men in certain cultures take increasing responsibility for child care matters. Yet, they are often reluctant to admit to this publicly thus perpetuating the notion of the women having the main responsibility for this aspect of family life.

    The diagram (above) indicates that gender is socially constructed and can therefore be changed; that sex roles (male/female) are biological and cannot (easily or often) be changed; Women often participate in all the roles in the private and social/public spheres, but whilst their private roles are visible and recognized those public roles are less often acknowledged.

    Therefore it is suggested that for society to change women's roles must be made more visible.

    Women are nurtured at an early stage to serve. Young girls are taught to look out for their younger siblings and are always told to be there for the whole family. They are consequently told to be good in order to be worthy wives and mothers. Consequently their role as women is blown out of proportion and everything pales into insignificance.You may find a few women getting out of this gender-stereotyping and developing personality characteristics of their own. To these few Diakonia may not be a duty but service with love and dignity.

    I think it is difficult for my male counterparts. I try to make it easy for them and because I grew up in a male environment I think I can. But still, it is difficult for them to understand what it means for me to build and control my own destiny as a woman, as a person of colour. Even though they want to they find it hard to let go of the traditional image of women, not in the priestly class so much as in the more traditional roles of the church.... Similarly, I find it is hard in my prison ministry with African-American sisters for me to let go of my maternalism to allow them to take control of their own destiny.

    Women are a gift to the church, they add a richness to life....Slowly the churches are moving, they have recognised the impact of women. In the Caribbean - in my country Antigua we recognize that women are the backbone of the church. They make up the vast majority of the church. They raise funds; they clean; they do all the resource sharing and everything, So, practically speaking there is no problem. But, when you ask the question what happens to the leadership in the church? Why are women neglected there? Then it's a different discussion.... The church still preaches that it is the man who gets the resources before they go to the women, even if it is the women who have raised the funds and will ultimately make the difference. So, I think the roles are changing but still very reluctantly and very slowly.

    The only place where women cannot enter in participation is the hierarchy of the church. It is never even discussed because women accept that this is not a possibility for them. The issue has never arisen in the Armenian church. I can say that with 100% certainty. We have intellectual women or women theologians but they do not see themselves in the hierarchy. Mainly because there are so many things for women to do...

    Women are all scapegoats, marginalized and share less equal rights.

    These quotations illustrate women's experience in both private and public spheres and demonstrate, to a large extent, how they feel that they have been socialized into these gender defined roles. In most cases women would wish for public roles to be open to them and for their participation in them to be more freely acknowledged.

    But, the quotes above also show that in some societies and confessions the role of women as it exists is thought to be acceptable even though other women, from different contexts, would not find it to be so.

    The question here becomes why this is? Is it possible to suggest that some women, as some men, are afraid to confront the realities of trying to change society and thus shy away from such feelings. Or, would it be right to suggest that differing contexts mean that different realities are proper and acceptable. It is this sort of tension which will exist throughout any discussion on the nature of a just and equal participatory society, where faith, theological insight and social context meet and react together.

    Having briefly examined the use of this model of gender analysis to show that women's experience is one of being marginalized within the church and society as a result of their gender, it is perhaps important to recall that the Gender Guidelines suggest that gender roles are learned and therefore can be unlearned.

    This model of analysis would suggest that the biological function of being male or female should make no difference to the possibilities open to both men and women.

    Before moving on to look further at how we move to a more just and equal society for men and women, it would seem important, simply to consider briefly whether it is possible to say that biological differences really have no effect at all on the roles that men and women fulfil except in terms of reproduction.

    Limitations to the model

    The model which has been outlined above seeks to suggest that the only biological difference between men and women is their different roles in the reproductive cycle. Clearly, this is the only absolute difference. However, it would seem to be important to consider the effect upon this model of some recent, and rather unpopular, research which seeks to suggest that the development of the person from the womb is slightly different for each biological sex. This research goes on to suggest that the effect that this has is that some men and women might, naturally, have somewhat different gifts and abilities.

    What is certain is that individuals are born (mostly) with a clearly definecl biological sex. They are not born with a gender ancl all the socially constructed assumptions that this brings but rather have a gender and its social assumptions assigned to them as a result of their biological sex.

    In suggesting that research might prove that there may be more innate differences between men and women than the reproductive cycle, we are not suggesting that such differences mean that men and women are not equal. Relating it to the model, it might suggest that in seeking to find ways to move towards a more just and equal society it is necessary to take account of more than the differences brought about by the reproductive functions of men and women.

    Simply put it might be that, no matter how awkward the notion that there are certain other developmental differences between men and women is, it might be that in seeking to balance society we need to take into account the fact that everyone is different and has different skills which come to them easily. What the current research may suggest is that certain men and women might learn to do certain tasks more easily because of the way in which their brain works. This is not to deny that all can learn to undertake all tasks but to ask the question concerning how this may be accounted for in a model which seeks to re-balance the power structures of society.

    As we move on through this book we shall see that women often feel cut off from the power structures which exist. But, in saying this it will be important to ask what type of power women want.

    The argumentation in the book will suggest that most women want to see different uses of power and authority - different power structures. They are asking for a change in the way things are done, not simply in the focus of who has the power. It could therefore be suggested that they naturally do things differently from their male counterparts and one must ask the question why this might be so. It might be that the current research may help to provide some of the answers to such questions.

    Challenging the existence of power structures makes the world more womanist...out of women's participation new models develop....women want to be given the power to make choices...power is the process that leads to decision making.

    In the workplace gender stereotyping often relegates the woman to an inferior position. Sexual harassment, discrimination etc., makes the relationship a difficult one. Where the woman is lucky to occupy a high office she encounters resentment and hostility from the male employees or colleagues.

    Women's nurturing roles definitely contribute to their non-structural roles. Their multi-faceted roles affect their ability to rise to great heights in society.

    Women in Latin America have a strong participation within the church because they are the majority but we need to revise the quality of this participation. The usual role of women within the church is not a recognized or valued one. Their duties are commonly secondary. It is the same in catholic churches where nuns are not part of the hierarchy, but they may perfectly substitute absent priests in remote communities. In a few churches the woman's role has been changing. We now find women as pastors. It has been a slow process and somehow hard for the congregation and the pastor.

    Not only do women often seem to feel disenfranchised from the power structures but they often seem to feel that they are responsible for much of the diaconal activity in their churches without this being recognised, or, if it is recognised, it is devalued.
    In Russia today women are losing their equality, they are being devalued and I am afraid that the devaluation of the image of women in society will lead to the devaluation of the image of women and diakonia in the church and thus to tbe devaluation of diakonia in general. So associating it with the women's issue is verv dangerous.

    As we have seen in Chapter Two: The Bible and diakonia, Jesus' attitude to women would seem to suggest that he would wish to give them equal status to men and an equal right to make decisions about their own destinies. It could be argued therefore that Jesus would wish to see the role and status of women and their diaconal work fully valued and recognized, not least by giving them an equal place in the decision making processes, within the diaconal and other work of the church. Throughout his ministry, as we have seen, Jesus was willing to challenge the roles and traditions dictated by his society. He was more than willing to turn these roles on their head and to point people to new ways of being which led to full humanity for all.


    So far in this text the authors have tried to show an historical and biblical view of diakonia influenced and shaped by the experience of women today. The group which met and talked together came to believe that Jesus requires a greater degree of justice in society than is evident at present. The group feels a call to help in the development of more just and participatory structures and the use of power. It is this which we will discuss further in the next chapter as we seek to discuss women and power.








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