I owe a great deal of my understanding of feminism to my alma mater, Mississippi University for Women. With its rich history of educating and empowering women, this gem of a school stands tall in my world and in my identity as a woman.
I enrolled as a product of contemporary Christian culture, surrounded by media and resources that were more interested in taking the Bible’s English translations literally than in making room for the questions of an ever-shifting cultural understanding of the world and of God. Like most everyone who transitions from your safe and predictable faith understanding and enters through the doors of liberal education, I felt a clash between what I had always thought and what was being presented to me, and it wasn’t long before I had to ask myself: why hadn’t I thought of that before?
It really began in the spring of my sophomore year when I took Western Women’s Roles in Religion as a way to dip my toe in religious studies as a minor. But I was immersed in a whole new realm of questions and ideas and thoughts. Looking at the lives and stories of women in Judaism and Christianity opened so many doors for new ways of looking at things, and I can’t imagine how I was once without this knowledge.
I very quickly began to grow cynical of how certain church traditions were never questioned because “the Bible says this,” and I began to realize that “the Bible says this” can mean exactly whatever you want it to mean when you don’t dig any further, when you ignore the fact that cultural applications can’t be understood the same way they were thousands of years ago for specific instances that aren’t happening now or with specific instances that are happening now that weren’t happening then.
My ideas are always growing, and much of what I believed as an adolescent has shifted dramatically regarding many things in my faith – namely feminism. And at this point, I can now say what I believe about women and the church, and women and the Bible.
I do not believe women are less qualified than men for church leadership whether that be in the form of a pastor, and elder, a worship leader, or a children’s director. Women are named in the beginning of Luke 8 among Jesus’ disciples. Jesus stood up for Mary as taking the place of a student at her rabbi’s feet when Martha wanted to scold her for not doing housework in Luke 10. Paul commended women in ministry in Romans 16. Women were among the first of church leaders as the early church met in homes, and who was running those homes and opening them to their community?
I do not believe in hierarchy in the home upon further understanding of how the household codes in Ephesians 5 and Colossians 3 were culturally conditioned and because of reading beyond those verses to find that Christians are called to submit to one another, and because I have realized that Paul’s instructions for how husbands should treat wives vs. how wives should treat husbands are basically the same instructions using different words that mean the same thing. One thing that has really began to irk me is that so many people want to look at the verses and claim – See! That’s how it’s written! That’s how it’s supposed to be! And I want to squint my eyes and look a bit closer and ponder . . . just because that’s how it was then doesn’t mean that it was God’s ideal. We have to understand that just because the husband is referred to in many of these Scriptures as the sole head of the household, doesn’t mean that that’s how God wanted it. Here’s a thought – perhaps the writer was simply acknowledging the way things already were, and within that, slowly working towards a better way of doing things. Perhaps the writer was instructing husbands to take the lead in bringing this new way of doing things because they already had the cultural power to lead. If Christians are to submit to one another, it has to be 100% both ways. We do not live under the curse anymore with men having the power and women having to manipulate to get what they want in order to bypass that power. We live in a world redeemed by Jesus where we are no longer bound by the old ways of one trying to get power over the other, but we are free to submit and lift the other above ourselves. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ.
And people always want to say – Well, what about when push comes to shove? What happens when someone has to take the lead because there’s no agreement between the two who are in joint leadership? And to that I say – If push has come to shove, then something has already gone wrong. If someone had to take the lead, then things weren’t the way they were supposed to be. I don’t understand why equal leadership has to be a threat to a home or a family.
It is a concern to me that my home church has no women in its executive leadership, and I do know that it has more to do with the fact that we are small and the opportunity for women in some of those roles has not arrived, but it does make me question how active we are in pursuing this equality that we profess to believe in. It is important to me to be a part of a community where women and men share equal roles in the work of the church. And yet, when I sit here and talk and talk and write and write, it is hard for me to feel that I’ve done anything active to put flesh on my words. What can I do to promote this message?
In the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.
Equally a representation of God, equally a bearer of God’s image, equally a partner in God’s mission to bring the world to himself. And we are getting there. I do believe it. Cultural consciousness does not shift overnight. The Kingdom of God is slow, grows from a tiny seed, and then before we know it, has overtaken all that is in our world and overshadows all the other injustices that once ran rampant.
I am grateful to the strong women in my life who demonstrate the diversity and strength that is to be found in lives and choices that honor God. My mother, grandmothers, and teachers all walked their paths faithfully as women who defined themselves not by a career, a family, or a message, but by the love they felt for a Savior who redeems us all from the bonds of curses and oppression and by the love they felt for a world so much in need of the gifts they had to offer.
This post is my contribution to the Faith Feminisms synchroblog which you can read more about here.