I spent this past weekend in Austin, Texas learning from leading voices in the “women in leadership debate” within the conservative evangelical church. I enjoyed every minute of it. Almost everything that was taught served as a confirmation that I really am hearing from the Holy Spirit. My brothers and sisters, who are much smarter than I am, are reading the scriptures in the same way that I have been.
To be honest though, I learned the most from those who were attending the conference.
I sat with one group of young women who grew up in strong complementarian churches. For the first time in their lives, they were discovering that maybe there is another way to be faithful to the Scriptures – a way that leads to true freedom and security for both women and men. They had not yet arrived at the egalitarian position, but they were involved in new church plants, and felt God calling them to lead in some way or another.
One woman in her 20s stuck out to me the most. As we conversed, it became clear to me that she had a calling and a desire to preach. She told me that she was asked to preach this coming mother’s day and how nervous she is. “I just want to do really well,” she said. What I heard from her heart was, “I just want to be really faithful, ya know?” My heart said, “Yes, sister, I know.”
Many women who grew up in the evangelical conservative church have never seen a woman preach in their local churches and have never imagined that God could ever call them to preach. The scary questions boil down to these: “Am I good enough?”, “Will God be pleased or displeased?”, “Will others reject me?”
The truth is that women inside the evangelical church, in mainstream traditions, and even out in society have found themselves caught up in social constructs that make them feel as if they are “less than” men. These social constructs of “gender roles” are made into religious teachings, backed by theology meant to belittle and control, and stamped with sacred sounding phrases like, “Biblical Womanhood.”
Yet, if we are honest, the Bible is filled with all sorts of different types of women. I personally relate to Deborah, as she is a prophetess that sits under the shade of a tree, but deep within, she has a warrior heart and is always ready to go to battle for her God and her people. If Deborah were living in 2016, I imagine she would be sitting in her air conditioned home, with her amazingly secure husband, writing prophetic blog and Facebook posts.
Then there is Mary and Martha, who Jesus considered close friends. Could the two be any more different from one another? Martha is a people pleaser and I imagine her as a kind and patient soul. Her heart is to serve others and she easily accepts and embraces the social constructs of her day. Martha struggles to understand her sister, Mary, who always seems to have her head in the clouds.
I imagine Mary as sweet and kind as well; she doesn’t mean to break the rules. She just doesn’t fit into the social constructs of her day, and someone with authority comes along who allows her to believe it might be OK for her to simply be herself. After all, Mary took the posture of one of Jesus’ disciples (which was a major “no no” for women in her day).
I am not surprised by this; women who are in love with Jesus and have tasted the freedom He offers, will often escape the heavy weight of social gender roles (especially when their personalities and gifts don’t naturally fit into those roles).
Then there is Priscilla, who was born to preach. The Apostle Paul obviously favors her, as he mentions her name before her husband’s five times out of seven in his letters. It was a big deal to mention a woman’s name before her husband’s in the setting of the early church.
Priscilla was the exception to the social rule, which leads me to believe she was quite the evangelist. Of course Paul would favor any woman or man who preached the Gospel effectively. We all know that Paul was obsessed with spreading the Gospel to the Gentiles; of course he would not silence a female preacher who was helping to save souls.
Heck, Paul even named a female apostle, who was Junia (Rom. 16:7). Would Paul really permit a woman to be at his same level of leadership? Wouldn’t his manhood be threatened by a woman giving direct and personal commands? Of course not! Paul was secure in Christ, not some cultural idea of manhood.
Oh, but Bible translators for the last 500 years were not so secure in Christ. They could not fathom the existence of a female apostle, so they added an “s” to create the masculine name, “Junias” (a name that did not even exist at the time of the early church).
Bible translators began to revive Junia’s true identity in the 1970s. Now, insecure Christian men are trying to claim that Junia was not an apostle; but rather, a woman who just sort of hung out “among the apostles.” It’s funny how everyone simply believed Junia was an apostle when she was thought to be a man.
The Apostle Paul would roll over in his grave if he knew how women are being silenced and underutilized, for the sake of the Gospel, in the Church of 2016.
The modern, hyper-focus on “male headship” has made Christian women desperately insecure. Women have been convinced to make themselves smaller than they actually are so that insecure “church men” can feel better about themselves.
The Church has taken just a few Scriptures and has created an entire theology in order to uphold social constructs, but I am here to tell you today that the Bible is a very big book with much more to it than hierarchical gender roles.
In fact, dear sisters, as God’s chosen ones, the Bible would say to you…
The LORD will make you the head, not the tail. If you pay attention to the commands of the LORD your God that I give you this day and carefully follow them, you will always be at the top, never at the bottom (Duet. 28:13).