The Rev. Henriette Hutabarat Lebang, the first woman general secretary of the Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), has asserted that churches should make serious efforts to support women in positions of authority.

“It is not right to exclude women from the leadership of the church and community,” said Lebang. Founded in 1957, the CCA includes 17 national councils and over 100 churches in 21 countries.

Lebang spoke to ENInews first while she was in Bangalore in April for the quadrennial assembly of the National Council of Churches in India and later through email communication.

“The patriarchal mindset in the churches is still an obstacle. It may come from man, and also from woman. In some places, women also often become an obstacle for the enhancement of women participation in leadership,” Lebang said. She belongs to the Gereja Toraja (Toraja Church), one of the Reformed churches in Indonesia with half a million members.

However, Lebang pointed out: “This is understandable as both man and woman are the children of patriarchal society, have been socialized in such context, and often uncritically accept and apply the mindset of patriarchy.”

Lebang took over the mantle of CCA general secretary in 2010 after serving in the CCA as its associate general secretary from 1991 to 2001. She noted that at times, she has had to caution male church leaders “politely” about the comments they make and their attitude to women.

“It is no different from the society,” she said. Lebang is a pastor’s daughter who was ordained in 1992 and has served as vice-president of the World Alliance of Reformed Churches and a member of the Joint Working Group between the World Council of Churches and the Roman Catholic Church.

Lebang recalled a recent conversation with leaders of churches that do not accept women’s ordination and one of them reasoned that “many women refused to accept a woman pastor.”

“My church shared the similar situation many years ago. When I finished my training in an ecumenical seminary in Jakarta (in 1977), my church had not ordained women,” said Lebang.

Asked about the steps she has taken to end gender bias in the churches after taking over the CCA position, Lebang said that her strategy has been “to make intentional efforts to promote the partnership of man and woman in the ministry and encourage women to share their gifts, work together with men to address the issues of gender justice.”