What the example of Deborah reveals about gender authority: As women have gained increased influence in society, and as Bible scholars offer a consistent egalitarian interpretation of Scripture, gender traditionalists have had to work harder and more creatively to justify the subordination of women within the church and family—even to themselves.
Often, those outside of the social justice activist community can feel overwhelmed by the concepts and terminology of justice work. Many Christians want to understand these terms and concepts so they can do justice well in their communities and in the world.
It is undeniable that women are negatively impacted by patriarchy. I can go round after round on how patriarchy teaches women that they are peripheral and secondary in the grand story of God’s relationship with humanity. I can argue for days that gender roles and sexism limit and oppress women. I can write about femicide and gender-based violence, rape culture, female identity, female giftedness, mutuality in relationships, and the consequences of purity/modesty culture on women.
I’ve known for a while that I just don’t fit. I don’t fit the prescription for biblical womanhood. I’ve squirmed and I’ve stretched, impatiently, hoping to slide easily into the mold. And even then, after years of barely squeezing myself into the category, I’ve still found the box too constraining.
In my last article, "4 Sexist Myths That The Church Should Reject," I did my best to dismantle four sexist myths that have caused significant pain and division in the church. I wasn’t going to add to my list, but after many of you responded with sexist cultural myths of your own, I could see that another list was in the works—with me or without me. So, here goes, people.
Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4–5, NASB)
Eight boys and three girls played in the cul-de-sac where our family used to live in the Pacific Northwest. Add the numbers, weigh the ratios (8:3; 3:8), and imagine the drama. I’m not one to stereotype, but boys in baseball caps frequently ran around shooting homemade toy guns, and girls donning fairy wings often retaliated with glittery wands. Boys seemed prone to scuffles; girls tended to avoid them. Boys excluded girls from street hockey. Girls shut boys out of makeshift clubhouses.
A couple of years ago, I preached on the topic of singleness at my church and during a post-sermon question-and-answer session, I was asked a rather unexpected (given the topic) and baiting question about the merits of egalitarian versus complementarian marital relationships.
Human beings begin to develop gender identities very early in life as they pick up on cues and clues given off from the sociocultural contexts in which they find themselves. As people and institutions demonstrate socially appropriate ways of being male or female, children become apprentices and learn what it means to be a boy or girl in their culture.