We sat outside on the driveway in the cool autumn breeze drawing pumpkins and hearts with chalk, my curly, redheaded, three-year-old boy filling in orange outlines with purple scribbles while his little sister sat sucking her fists in her hand me down Bumbo.
I scratched out:
GOD = LOVE
LOVE = NO FEAR
GOD = NO FEAR
These thoughts had been stirring around in my head and heart since starting the Women’s Bible Study*. I was not reducing God to math, I was weaving together truths I had learned all my life in a new way, and wondering if these were true, why I didn’t really FEEL unafraid?
I had two faiths. One outside that tried to follow the rules and measure up to perfection often fueled by guilt and shame. The other a deep inner knowing driven by love, which felt slightly rebellious but more real. This faith was integrating with my outsides. And it was good. I started to feel whole, and free.
JESUS = TRUTH
TRUTH = FREEDOM
JESUS = FREEDOM
This love and freedom found anew started me on a journey of unknowing, which is a profound way of knowing. And as most journey’s do, mine began in the very midst of suffering. We had given up my teaching career and income, I was home with my two babies (this is such a loaded phrase…how can one explain the joys and frustrations of full-time homemaking?), and helping my husband in the midst of depressive crisis (not a loaded statement at all). But Jesus.
He was alive.
He was present.
He spoke to me.
I started to meet him as if for the first time. Rather than judgement, anger, frustration, his red letter words became his very love, compassion, humor, and tenderness for all who had the ears to hear. I began to understand that much of my evangelical tradition was a reactionary response to the feminist movement, the charismatic movement, evolution, and probably more. So in all its hope to be an anchor of truth, fear slipped in, as well as wariness of too much of anything including critical thinking, the Holy Spirit, and grace that might undermine Christ’s death on the cross. Many of us unintentionally became “received knowers,” ones who depend on authority for knowledge and feared anything outside of that authority. Ambiguity? A sign of not knowing the truth. Doubt? Weak faith. Change? As long as it was “relevant” to keeping the next generation in the seats.
I want to insert here, for those who could see me as ungrateful or vindictive, that there are so many beautiful aspects of the faith I was handed: kind and generous people, singing in harmony, potlucks, encouragement to stay home with my kids, valuing family, hope, Jesus, and, it was a launching pad for me to work out what my own faith will look like…
I struggle with the fact that most of my life so far, I let the tradition of hierarchy based on misinterpretation of the Bible, the overvaluing of certain Pauline scripture, as well as the heritage of reactive fear keep me from developing my gifts of teaching and preaching. And though we are taught men and women are equal, their roles are supposedly clear in the Bible. And women may not preach.
While at ACU, deciding what to study and who I wanted to be, I considered ministry. I remember during my sophomore year standing in the big open hall of the new Biblical Studies building and talking to some Youth and Family majors. I off-handedly mentioned I might want to preach and study preaching and one of them said, “Too bad you’re a girl.” “Yeah, I know,” I shrugged. The only acceptable path of study would have been youth ministry (to be a girl intern) or missions (overseas). I took the Preaching Class just to have a go of it and wrote about that story here.
A couple years later my Rhetorical Strategies prof had us do a project to argue two sides of an issue. I chose Women’s Roles in the Church. I dug in. After a lot of reading the Bible and hours in the library reading Barth, and other male authors I don’ t remember now, I could not land on whether or not it was right or wrong for women to preach. Galatians 3:28 was my stumbling block: “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male or female, for you are all one in Christ.” The new covenant ushered in by the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus to make all things new seemed to override any male/female traditions handed down for centuries. BUT, my experience, however limited it may have been, told me that a woman needed the covering of a man in order to reach her full potential as a Christian.
I even heard variations of this from my female Women in the Church professor. With such good intentions she told all of us young women who desired to minister in church that we would need find creative ways, as we submitted to our husbands (too bad for those of us who would not be getting married any time soon, or ever), to use our gifts. So that would look like serving in the church kitchen, with children, teaching our kids at home, and maybe, if our husbands were pastors, getting to teach alongside him, and giving the church he worked for more of a two for one deal. All of these roles are so important! But, are they the only way women can serve?
I concluded that a woman could preach only if she were married. Because how could a woman lead a church if she could not lead her family? (See Ephesians 5:22-24 for how we got this “head,” “covering” language.)
It became more important for me to tie the knot if I wanted to have a chance at preaching in the typical sense in the KINGdom of God, although Paul’s side remark in 1 Cor. 7:7 “I wish you all would remain as I am—[SINGLE],” always made me curious as to why we clung to some of what he said, but not all.
Also, I went to a Christian University and was required to take four semesters of Bible. BUT, did I learn how to study the Bible? Uh, no. Also, I should say, I spent many lectures writing notes to friends. Yes, notes. Not texts.
Even very recently, when I served in women’s ministry and tried to dialog about women’s roles in church I hear things like:
Women are more easily deceived, like Eve
Women are hardwired to be nurturers
Men are hardwired to be leaders
I don’t really care about this
Why can’t you be happy in the ways you CAN serve?
Why do you need to preach? You can teach women? Isn’t that enough?
You DO preach the Good News, even if it isn’t in church!
Paul did not permit women to teach or have authority over men, it is very clear
Adam exercised authority over Eve from the very beginning by naming her
Women and men serving in ministry together can be dangerous
To which I would now remark: Hell yes it is. It was always meant to be. Just not in the way you believe.
Ironic isn’t it, how generally I hear that Biblical men wish their Biblical women would have more of a sex drive, but then if they are to be working with women they are scared she will have too much of one, or just her presence could “cause him to stumble?” Maybe we need to have more honest conversations about sex in our churches and not let fear dominate that issue anymore either.
Now I am forty-one and I have to acknowledge that I succumbed to fear and tradition. I studied for years since that autumn doing chalk art on the driveway, and prayed asking God to help me understand. To sum up, I hear, “You follow me.”
To you, young women, middle-aged, and mature: it is not too late. Nothing is wasted. You were made an Ezer-warrior as our mother Eve to partner with other Image Bearers in a Blessed Alliance**, to serve alongside each other, and advocate for each other. And if your gifting is preaching, then by all means, get to it sister. I have met many women who chose the preaching path and they did it afraid and I am so inspired by you. You did not listen to the voices of “authority” that tried to keep you from it.
The shift is happening, everybody. Get yourselves ready. You are all one in Christ, agents of Shalom in the KIN-dom of God. I would encourage you to cast aside received knowledge, culture, and tradition, and do your own study.
You who have ears, let them hear.
Does the idea of men and women leading the church together spark new life in you? Please join me and some amazing local Austin churches for She Leads, Saturday, October 28th. Register here. Check out other venues to see if one is meeting in a city near you.
*I first began unpacking the fuller inclusion of women in leadership in the church with stories like Lime Green by Jackie Roese and Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans. I also recommend Blue Parakeet by Scot McKnight and Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey.
**The term Blessed Alliance comes from Carolyn Custis James’ book The Gospel of Ruth. Also read Half the Church by the same author.