Women at Augusta

Every year the media remind us that Augusta National, maybe the poshest golf club and course in the world, doesn’t permit women to be members, and then they all seem to forget the story the rest of the year. Year-long pressure might be more effective.

Still, there are some legal issues — Does a private club have the right to restrict membership? E.g., Do Christian universities have the right to hire only Christians? And there are some civil issues — Is this right in our world today? And there are some Christian issues — Is it right for a Christian to participate in Augusta?

Caryn Rivadeneira weighs in at Her.meneutics:

I remember three things about the afternoon my parents dragged a 13-year-old me to a famous and local golf tournament: 1.) being bored out of my mind, 2.) having to keep very quiet and 3.) learning what exclusive meant in country club speak.

I’m not sure how it came up, but when it did, when my dad explained that at this clubexclusive meant Blacks, Jews, Hispanics and women were not welcome, I was appalled. I wanted to leave immediately. But my parents insisted we stay. We were merely spectators, they explained. Not members. We weren’t complicit in the bigotry. I disagreed (still do). But at least that day I learned something valuable: that wicked things weren’t always ugly and charred. That they can be lush and manicured and that Christians sometimes stood around and applauded them.

So when I read the story of Augusta National Golf Club holding firm to its ridiculous and misogynist membership rules and refusing to offer IBM’s new CEO, Ginni Rometty, the same membership they extended to her male predecessors as sponsors of The Master’stournament, I expected a familiar furor to bubble up, to boil over. But it didn’t.

Instead something like weariness ran through me.

I suppose I’m just tired of this being an issue. Weary of Old Boys Clubs and “No Girls Allowed” signs. Weary of uber-accomplished women being told they are still not up to snuff—or up to par, I guess—because they are not men. I’m weary of companies proclaiming their misogyny by sponsoring these sexist events. Weary of people buying their products—making bigotry good for business. I’m weary of tradition and fear of change being guiding principles in clubs, in business and—if I’m being honest here—in the church.

But while I can defend Augusta’s—or any club’s—right to exclusivity till the cows come home, the Church can’t be defended for the same. We aren’t allowed to hang up “No Anyone Allowed” signs—not if we want to be like Jesus, at least. And yet we put those signs up. Again and again and again….

I’m pretty sure if we look to Jesus for tips on when to include and when to exclude, we see that there may be a time and a place for taping up our “No Girls Allowed” and “Boys: Stay Out!” signs (good news: since this is a blog by women writers and co-founded a writers group for women). But we need to be careful.

In Are Women Human? Dorothy Sayers writes, “We are much too much inclined in these days to divide people into permanent categories, forgetting that a category exists for its special purpose and must be forgotten as soon as that purpose is served.”

Sayers wrote that 65 years ago. And it’s still true today. Once upon a time, I’m sure prohibiting women served a “special purpose” at Augusta National (though, honestly, I’m afraid to think of what that special purpose was). But it seems to me, since the times have a’changed quite a bit, their special purpose today may leave room for women. At least, I hope it does.

Same with our church ministries or events or committees (or blogs or writers guilds!). There are special purposes—appropriate times and places—for men- or women-only in the life of the Church. But if we want to live out Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbors, we can’t be content to live with segregation as much as do. We can’t allow fear of change or a cling to tradition to keep us from moving or worshiping or serving together as the Holy Spirit might be prompting us.

We certainly can’t be content to claim spectator status and stand behind the ropes and clap when we exclude—when we should be welcoming—one another.


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  • Kierkegaard71

    Is it wrong and outdated and misguided to have separate organizations called Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts? How about Promise Keepers? Christian Women’s Club? The desire to stamp out every expression of sexual differentiation (including among privately owned organizations) is what alarms many of us about egalitarians. Perhaps a little tolerance would be in order.

  • JohnM

    I was going to post a serious comment, but then I remembered – this all has something to do with (yawn) golf. 😉

  • The men’s “social” clubs in cities (e.g., the Union Leagues in Phila. & NYC http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Union_League_Club_of_New_York, Knickerbockers Club, etc.) were places where only men were permitted to be members & they could conduct their networking & business until the ’80’s, over meals & “refreshments”. There were also clubs which excluded blacks & Jews from membership such as the NY Athletic Club.

    Augusta is part of a long line of such places. It’s obviously less amenable to threats… But, IIRC, Tiger Woods was a direct challenge to historical exclusion of blacks at Augusta. The changes in Philadelphia began when more women became executives & sued companies over deals made in men’s clubs.

    I agree with Rivadenaira that churches should be the last places where such exclusion should occur. We’re all on the journey of being reconciled to Christ and to one another, participating in the mission of God in our neighborhoods. Yet, I’ve heard so many of the same arguments in church-lingo that I’d encountered in Philly business circles in the 70’s-80’s, that not being cynical or “weary” is difficult. The arguments have similar shapes on this continent and the other 2 where I’ve lived/spent time. Genesis 3 is born & re-born every day, and we need the gospel the Lord brings into our lives.

  • There’s nothing at all wrong with boys’ and girls’ clubs— for little boys and girls. And clubs.

    But whether it’s the unfair advantage in business or the church, such clubs become a violation of not only ethics but the very kingdom of God, where “the greatest” are found at the bottom rather than the top. “Not so among you” is not to be thrown out the window when women are present.

    But if it would seem ridiculous to debate today the reasons racial bigotry is wrong, so also is it ridiculous that we are still debating today the reasons gender bigotry is wrong. “Separate but equal” never worked for the former and will never work for the latter. Though scripture can be used to turn slavery into a divine institution, we long ago saw through this sophistry as a violation of the very core principles of our faith (see this article). And if the reasons for the NT teachings on slavery were to avoid upsetting the social order and giving the faith a bad name, then so also should the same principle apply in our society where women are equal to men in every respect. Now, ironically, it is the teaching and practice of treating women as large children (needing “daddy” to watch over and correct them) that give the faith a bad name; a few hours in various message boards will bear this out, and show a multitude of “former Christians” who were driven away by this very thing.

  • Chris

    Actually I would like to see single-gender organizations stamped out. To me, it’s just as offensive to have a e.g. “Christian Women’s Club” as it would be to have a “White Christian’s Club.” Gender bigotry is one of the last results of the curse of sin, that has not been adequately addressed in the church as what it is: division. Division, as opposed to unity.

    As long as we continue to separate and segregate the sexes, that long will we fail to understand our fundamental sameness. I don’t really care if hierarchalists are alarmed at the thought that we might all be the same. Good! So were white people a century ago alarmed at the very thought that black people might be the same as them. All the specious arguments used to prove how whites and blacks were created with different traits and different God-expected roles are now being used to perpetuate this last great division among God’s people: gender.

  • Good point, Chris. And if equality of blacks doesn’t make whites less white (or indistinguishable), then equality of women doesn’t make men less manly (or indistinguishable). If whites are afraid of black equality, then males are afraid of female equality. And as I’ve often said, there are more differences among men and among women than there are between men and women. It’s a personality/gifting issue, not a gender issue. It’s all too easy to exclude or limit people not like us.

    Of course, there are always exceptions, people who embrace and even fight for their subservient and less privileged place in society. They will say that they’re only standing up for what God has ordained, but that’s the point under debate: did God in fact ordain genetic privilege in the Body of Christ? (But of course, as soon as the question is asked, we are immediately assaulted with the “temptation of Eve” line, as if anyone who disagrees with genetic privilege is trying to defy God.)

    Yet all of this would vanish if we just grasped this fundamental principle: Christian leadership is the LOWEST position, a place of humility and service. And if it is objected that Jesus modeled/taught “servant leadership”, then he did so for ALL believers: Jew and Greek, slave and free, male and female.

  • BradK

    Or maybe we could just allow people to congregate and associate with whomever they please without condemning them for it? Of course the church should never be exclusive. But is it wrong to have men’s ministries or women’s Bible studies? Should women-only fitness centers and women-only colleges be abolished? It troubles me when I see people wanting to use governmental regulation to try and force people to change their thinking. Who decides which kind of thinking is appropriate and what gets regulated?

    Fwiw, I’m an advocate of women in ministry, I don’t believe in any sort of male superiority in the home or in the church, and my manager and my organization’s VP (who will almost certainly be my company’s next CEO) are both women. My current manager is one of the two best managers I have had, the other also being a woman. So I have no personal axe to grind here. It just seems weird to me for people to get so indignant over something that is really none of our business. If we don’t like Augusta National’s practices, we can refuse to join their club. We can also refuse to watch the Master’s. But why should anyone think they have the right to meddle in the personal, private decisions of who others associate with is a little troubling. I may not like prejudice, but I believe people have a right to wrong thinking.

  • BradK, the issues here are:

    1– The CEO of IBM was denied a membership that all other IBM CEOs have been offered.
    2– When private clubs make or break important business deals, they have an unfair advantage over non-members.

    So the real issue re. Augusta is not that it’s just a boys’ club, but that by being so it can keep women from the same business advantages as men while hiding behind the “no gurlz allowd” sign. Take away the private business dealing and you might have a point. Or set up an equivalent “deal track” for women CEOs. Good luck with either option. 😉