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.
Throughout history, charismatic men and women of God have risen up, almost out of nowhere, to lead spiritual movements and shape theological discourse. These leaders often build churches and large followings before the institutional church pulls them in for a chat. The air is tense, awkward. At some point in the conversation someone asks a deceptively simple question: “Who gives you the authority to do the work you are doing?”
My first lesson on the dangerous pitfalls of sexual sin and subsequent public scandal came one ordinary day in 1988. I arrived home from church to my dad sitting in his comfy chair, mesmerized and leaning close to the television. Popular televangelist Jimmy Swaggart was confessing to millions of people that he had sinned against God with a prostitute. He knelt on the podium with tears streaming down his face and beseeched God to forgive him.
As a fourth grader at a local public school, I got into a classroom debate over the rights of women, and in particular, the right of mothers to work outside the home once they have children. The other outspoken Christian in my class, a boy hailing from an extremely conservative home, stated with deliberate clarity that a woman’s place once she had children was at home, tending to said children.
In the past few years, numerous people have asked me why I make such a big deal about gender equality. Have I experienced such extreme inequality? What traumatic experience drives my activism? Why am I so passionate and outspoken about this issue? People often assume that a tragic event in my personal life led to this behavior.
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.
Imagine a four-day road trip and a diverse group of thirty-four evangelical leaders from eighteen states. Imagine a collection of prophetic women who have the ear of ten million social media followers traveling from Seneca Falls to Washington DC. Picture a bus of female authors, activists, and pastors immersing themselves in the historical struggle for women's rights. This was the #RubyWooPiligrimage.
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.
The oppression of women spans centuries and borders. In virtually every country and culture in the world, women have less-than-equal status to men and they are often relegated to subservient and submissive roles. Women suffer from domestic violence, job barriers, lack of control over their bodies, and fewer options for healthcare. They often do not have a voice in matters as broad as politics or as narrow as what happens within their own families.