Two years ago, I made friends with a woman in another state via social media. We communicated through Facebook and Instagram, and sometimes on Twitter. She was thoughtful, caring, and generous. She wrote about her children, her family, and the ways God was working in her life. She has several kids, and always seemed to be laughing about the ups and downs of raising a big family. I admired her, was maybe even a little jealous of her overflowing life.
This year, I have noticed Mary more than usual. One of the things I’ve seen is a very strong person who bucks her culture to be what God calls her to be. That resistance has a hidden cost that the Bible doesn’t record directly.
Most evangelicals are accustomed to the Mary of icons with an emotionless face, the Mary of statues draped in a powder blue robe, and the Mary of piety who quietly and submissively obeys orders. And, if you are like me, you have been nurtured in a faith that, intentionally or not, ignores Mary.
There were some spaces in the medieval Western church where women were free to write theology and have spiritual influence. Yes, patriarchy and misogyny barred women from the priesthood and the great universities that produced scholastic theology. But many women became well-known, admired, and influential in monastic life and through mystic theology.
We should acknowledge that patriarchy and the oppression of women have played large roles in both culture and the church for centuries. In fact, far from being countercultural, many complementarian claims about men and women are echoed outside the church.
We are caught in tension between thanks for progress towards gender equality and dismay at the misogyny we see around us. Gratitude for progress does little to ease the pain of sexism by Christian men who tell women in ministry to “go home.”
I offer here a history of preaching rhetoric with the hope of encouraging women whose calling is the pulpit. We will explore how women have proven their preaching authority and constructed their sermons across time.