Greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus! I warmly embrace you as my family in Christ. I realize that He who unites us is greater than he who would aim to divide us. Therefore, as your sister, I wanted to share some concerns with you in regard to your complementarian understanding of the Bible from the perspective of a black Christian woman.
You prescribe to what you call “biblical manhood and womanhood.” You believe that men are the leaders in God’s kingdom, while women are called to respond and support men’s leadership. I know that, for you, this belief is closely linked to the Gospel. However, as a black egalitarian woman, I find your theology concerning; not only from a biblical standpoint, but also from the historical stance of many black Christian women.
The catalyst that moved me to contemplate all of this is Harriet Tubman. She was recently chosen to be the new face of the $20 bill, and I rejoiced that a woman would be so honored, let alone a black Christian woman! Then it dawned on me that if Harriet had followed your theology, she would have spent her life trying to be a “biblical woman.” You possibly would have labeled her unfeminine.
The world would have missed out on her awesome testimony and the power of God. Considering Harriet Tubman’s testimony alone, I am mystified that complementarian theology is being pushed in the black Christian community by certain leaders and church planters, and that it is being combined with the Gospel message. Complementarianism would have stopped God’s plan for Harriet’s life.
Allow me to explain.
Harriet Tubman was born a slave in Maryland somewhere between 1819 and 1822. Great records weren’t kept of slaves’ birthdates. After all, the purpose of a slave was to breed and make their master rich. Harriet had a hard life under her master, who regularly rented her out to others. She was frequently beaten, hungry, and sick. At a young age, she suffered a severe head trauma from her master that left her narcoleptic. Some of her family members were sold, and she never saw them again. She said, “Slavery is the next thing to hell.”
Remarkably, Harriet was still a devout Christian. In fact, she claimed to have had visions and dreams directly from God. She said that God told her to escape slavery and head to the free North.
In 1849, Harriet got word that her family’s master might begin selling off more of them. She knew it was time to escape. She urged her husband to go with her, but he, being a free man, refused. Regardless, she decided to go. She escaped one night with her brothers, Ben and Henry; however, during the journey her brothers became afraid and went back.
Faced with the dilemma of following her brothers or continuing on alone, she chose freedom. Following the North Star, she crossed over into Pennsylvania and became a free woman.
Amazingly, the dreams and visions never stopped. God led her to make 19 trips back into slave territory, helping over 300 slaves escape. She also served during the Civil War as a soldier. She was the first woman to lead an armed expedition, which liberated more than 700 slaves in South Carolina. In all, she helped to free thousands of enslaved Africans. She became known as the Moses of her people.
Although she was illiterate, she was a dynamic public speaker. She spoke about Christianity, freedom, women’s rights, and the needs of the elderly. To top it off, she helped to organize the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church.
My Complementarian family, I have some legitimate questions: How does your theology fit into the life of Harriet Tubman? Would you consider her unfeminine, being that she didn’t follow the lead of the men in her life? Did she fail at being a “biblical woman”? Would you encourage women to follow her example? I notice that you often link your theology to the Gospel. Did her life help or harm the cause of Christ?
My concern is that you would cast her aside as some special exception to “God’s norm” and continue to enforce strict rules against women fully participating in God’s work. There are many “Harriets” among my people and the world, of whom history simply forgot.
Harriet is not an exception, but an example of what God does with a woman who is sold out for Him. God gives her dreams and visions. He empowers her to do His work. She doesn’t sit around waiting to be directed by a man because she has already been called by God. As Harriet said, “Twant me, ‘twas the Lord. I always told him, ‘I trust you. I don’t know where to go or what to do, but I expect you to lead me,’ and He always did.”
In love, I say that Complementarianism is a detriment not only to the women of the world, but also to the world that Jesus longs to reach through them. I am so thankful that Harriet Tubman listened to God and fulfilled His mission for her life.
As a black woman, I take this very personally because the same Bible verses that were used to enslave my ancestors are now being used to make me a mere breeder in the family of God, responsible for producing “leading men” and “acquiescent women.” Jesus came to set the captives free, not set up a gentler hierarchy. This is the Gospel we should be preaching.
A final thought, Harriet Tubman’s face won’t be the only face on the $20 bill. The face of Andrew Jackson, the 7th U.S. president, will still appear on the back. He was a white Christian man. He owned hundreds of slaves. He signed the Indian Removal Act that forced the Cherokee people to give up their land and migrate to what is present day Oklahoma.
Their heartbreaking journey is called the “Trail of Tears.” Ironically, it would be more probable for President Jackson than Harriet Tubman to be able to attend your conferences where you talk about leadership and “sanctified testosterone”. He, perhaps, could preach at your services and sit on your elder boards and be considered a leader. Harriet Tubman would not be so privileged.
When the bills are circulated, I hope that you will look at both of their faces, and think about your theology. When you pull out your $20 bills in the future, I pray that you will look at it, and make some change.
Your co-laborer and sister,
Leah Ross, wife and mother of 4, loves volunteering and everything health related. You can find her running in a race or in the organic section. Before she was an outspoken women’s rights advocate, Leah was a little girl whose only dream was to hear Jesus say, “Well done!”. That hasn’t changed.
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