I remember exactly where I was when I first started to truly question the hierarchical views on women in the Church.
Unlike many who go through their rebellious phase in their teenage years, I had managed to skip it completely by being “on-fire” and “plugged-in” and “enrolled in Christian schools my entire life”.
Of course, by “skip it completely”, I mean “delayed it until a much, much more inconvenient time”.
So there I was – late twenties, at a faculty bible study, 20 minutes before the start of the school day, suddenly having an epiphany.
Or falling headlong into a detour.
Or getting stuck in the mental muck of doubt.
Regardless of the metaphor I choose, the reality was that I walked back to my classroom to prepare to teach middle school religion and social studies and literature, feeling a bit drunk. Not, actually drunk, but the feeling of being slightly dizzy, of being off-kilter, of being confused.
This particular week we were reading Colossians 3, which defines the roles of men, women, slaves, and children within the Greco-Roman culture.
I was, obviously, quite familiar with this chapter. Suddenly, though, it hit me in a new light.
We read about the slaves and conclude, at least in modern times, this passage is not condoning slavery.
It is expressing the duties and responsibilities of a Christian within the context of the culture in which they lived.
It’s about how to live as a Christian wherever you find yourself in the social order.
Christianity is for all: The Husband, the Wife, the Slave, the Child. all submit to Christ.
My thought process, unbidden, suddenly went like this: So. If slavery is not condoned, why then do we use the same passage (and others similar) to understand the headship of man over woman?
And so I studied. It’s not the only reference to male headship, but I noticed that all of them are rooted in the culture of their time.
But what was Christ’s relationship with culture?
Christianity was usurping the household code of the time by charging the “head of the household” to respect and show compassion to those who were beneath him in the social order. It’s the upside-down kingdom, lifting up the lowly, the outcasts, the women, the children, and the slaves.
Christ did not come to overthrow Rome.
He did not come to establish a Jewish State.
He did not come to usurp the Greco-Roman household codes or to uphold them.
Jesus came as Immanuel, as the Word made flesh, as the Gospel with skin and bones.
I could no longer ignore the fact that I was sitting in a Bible study that I was not permitted to lead; yet, due to an interesting turn of events, I did lead it a few years later.
Did the church change their doctrine? Did they begin appointing women to the same leadership positions as men? Did I move to a different church?
We simply ran out of men to make the system work practically!
Our new principal was a woman, and nearly all of the rest of the staff were women. To ask the men only to lead Bible study would be to ask them to bear quite a bit of extra responsibility, since there were only a few of them.
So, the rotation was opened up to all who were interested in leading.
This wasn’t the first time I’d seen this strategy.
Women were not allowed to lead chapel at my Christian high school. However, as our school numbers dwindled and our faculty shrank, there were only a few men left. So, the rules were changed.
Our assistant principal, a woman, was recruited to join the rotation. But on those days, we were told: it was not a sermon, it was a message.
As a pregnant working mom with young children myself, I needed extra responsibility like I needed a hole in the head, but I put myself on the list to lead.
What message is being conveyed to women, about women, when we use them as a last resort?
What does this message model about Christ?
Was Mary Magdalene Jesus’ last resort to deliver news of the resurrection, chosen because all of the other disciples were already too busy in the rotation of responsibility?
Was Mary, Jesus’ mother, the last resort to carry the Son of Man into the world simply because no men with uteruses were available at the time?
Was Eve the last resort to complete humanity, the answer to Adam’s loneliness, only after God auditioned the land, air, water, and animals?
Mary Magdalene was uniquely suited to deliver the news of the resurrection because she was passionate and present, even when things looked over and done, and even when she was all alone. She’d listened and learned along with the rest of the disciples, and was the first that Jesus appeared to. It was her words that spread the message that Jesus had risen from the dead.
Surely, the Lord of the universe, who had raised His Son from the dead, could have spread the news with the mouth of a man, had he so desired.
Mary, the Mother of God was uniquely suited to deliver the Christ Child because she was faithful, and because she willingly obeyed.
She’d grown up in a broken and violent world along with the rest of them, yet was the woman chosen to carry the Son of God. It was her body that brought the Immanuel into flesh.
Surely the Lord of the universe, who had arranged for the salvation of mankind, could have brought forth the Savior in another way if He had so desired.
Eve, the first woman, was uniquely suited to complete humankind because she too was borne of God’s hand and breathed of God’s breath, designed in God’s image.
She’d been formed out of star-stuff and dust and bone just like the rest of us, yet was drawn up and gifted life specifically to stand with Adam. It was her very being that made the human race complete.
Surely the Lord of the universe, who had created everything out of nothing, could have trained a bonobo monkey, dolphin, or crow, if a subordinate assistant was all that Adam needed.
These women were not God’s last resorts, and neither are you.
You, too, were created in the image of the Divine, gifted a Savior, included in the genealogy of Immanuel, called to a unique purpose, and promised a fulfilling life.
Our stories as women matter because they are part of God’s story; our story of linking arms and answering calls of Christ in small and big ways:
With our words like Mary Magdalene.
With our bodies like Mary, the mother of Jesus.
With our whole selves, like Eve, the mother of all creation.
And just like each, we are flawed, yet fully redeemed.
We are not a last resort; we are cherished children of the Most High, disciples, and often, called leaders.
Be bold sisters, and put yourself on “the list” to lead.
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Rachel Roth Tapling is a wife and mom in Metro Detroit. Like no one else you know, she’s a former social studies major who now stays at home with her three boys, likes coffee and wine, watches a lot of female-driven comedy and craves chocolate. A former teacher, she’s using her oodles of extra time these days to write and to travel the world virtually by marketing and selling fair-trade products with Trades of Hope. You can find her blogging at http://rachelerothtapling.
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