“I am used to being invisible. The one with no voice ... but today the oppressed becomes the hero of justice,” Figueroa said.
Figueroa is a pastor in Agua Buenas, Puerto Rico. After her son-in-law challenged her to present her lecture, Figueroa chose to give it in English. A translator interpreted into Spanish for the audience.
Her presentation drew from research completed for her doctoral dissertation.
“My research explored the conflict of women in the pastoral ministry of the Church of God in general, and the Church of God Missions Board in Puerto Rico,” Figueroa said.
During her research, Figueroa interviewed female pastors. Her main question was, “Can you share your understanding of the theology of women’s ministry?”
Figueroa said the female pastors also stated they felt “selected by God” to serve in their current role.
“God is the one calling. It is known for sure what the source of the call is, and knowing this ... then the divine call is inescapable,” Figueroa said.
She said these pastors expressed that God does not play favorites when it comes to calling people to pastoral ministry.
“God looks at the heart and deposits in the heart of the servant the task of shepherding (pastoring),” Figueroa said. “He calls women the same as men.”
Figueroa said women pastors have long been kept out of the highest pastoral leadership positions within the church. Women in the Church of God cannot reach the level of bishop. Women have been kept out of the decision-making hierarchy. Figueroa said there needs to be a change that brings equality for women in leadership.
“My proposal is a feminist one, but don’t be scared. It’s a Pentecostal feminism that favors women collaborating with men,” Figueroa said.
While she was speaking from a feminist theological perspective, Figueroa said she would “not be using the term Mujerista because this is a concept that belongs to the Latinas, the Catholic Latinas in the U.S.”
Figueroa stressed that for Pentecostals it is essential to pay attention to the leading of the Holy Spirit.
“Church of God women pastors are firm in that the work they do is a calling from God — that God has no preferences (of men over women),” Figueroa said. “They understand that the God who calls is the same God who capacitates.”
Conclusions from her research were also influenced by feminist ideology, female Catholic theology and African-American female theology.
From her research and analysis, Figueroa developed a model to change the situation for Pentecostal Puerto Rican women.
“The model seeks to create awareness of the oppression of women in pastoral ministry within the Church of God, and therefore it looks for reconstruction of a church that does justice and promotes the equality of women in the exercise of the pastoral ministry,” Figueroa said.
Under this model, Puerto Rican Female Pentecostal Theology emphasizes equality and that male and female “both have in them the image of God.”
She said such a theology must consider how the Holy Spirit impacts and leads women.
“Also it will have to rely on the Holy Spirit, what it is and how it imposes liberating action,” Figueroa said.
The first step in her model is “an awakening of the consciousness” to the fact that women have been “denied open spaces of leadership.” Figueroa said the hierarchical nature of the Church of God leads many men to view a leadership position given to a woman as one less position available for a man.
She said the system is patriarchal “and dominated by white males from the South of the United States.”
“With respect, we need to mention this,” Figueroa said. “The biblical arguments to support such domination are weak and outdated. Also, in the opinion of this researcher, the structure is sinful and requires repentance ... because it discriminates, because it is making women guilty for everything that happened in the garden of Eden, because it is oppressing the women of the church, because it is playing a game of power.”
“It is vital for the women of this church to become aware of their oppression,” Figueroa said.
This awareness requires “a rereading of the Bible,” Figueroa said. She encouraged women to read the Bible for an experience with the Word of God.
“The encounter will have as its main objective a salvational and a liberating experience,” Figueroa said.
She said women have been taught to read the Bible through the lens of respect and obedience. She encourages them to read it differently in order to find answers to equality in ministry.
Figueroa said many verses in the Bible have been interpreted in ways that liberate, such as verses about men having long hair. Figueroa pointed out that even some male ministers in the Church of God have long hair.
“How have we resolved those parts of Scripture, but we have not resolved the others about women being quiet in the church? So, we have to retake the scriptures [to] ... understand them in a way that liberates women,” Figueroa said.
Figueroa said this can only be done through the leading of the Holy Spirit of God through prayer for direction, then changing the way the Bible is read.
“Certainly, Pentecostal women who become aware of their oppression and then find the Scripture reading that liberates them from captivity must move into action to do justice to others,” Figueroa said. “The dynamic power of the Spirit cannot be limited to personal experiences but should encourage the recipients to be witnesses of the freedom in Christ to their surroundings.”
Figueroa said this should lead to changed attitudes that move a women to action while showing mercy and justice to those in one’s community.