In his treatment of women as equals, Paul followed Jesus’ lead. Jesus defined servant-leadership in Matthew 20:28 (NRSV), “the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”
Imagine my surprise after becoming a Christian to learn that God does not consider women to be equal with men!
I grew up in a non-Christian home. My mother and father were divorced when I was a year old. Mom remarried when I was three years old, and subsequently had four more children by my alcoholic stepfather. I didn’t realize until much later in life that my mother was also an alcoholic. To briefly describe my world as a child, I would tell you that I was hurt deeply by rejection, emotional abuse and favoritism.
In stark contrast to my early world, becoming a Christian in my early 20s set me free! I will never forget the overwhelming joy when I learned that God loved me unconditionally, that I was his special child, and that he had a plan for my life. I had a hunger and thirst for the Word, and I dug in.
A wise man once told me, “Chose carefully which hills you are willing to die on.” When I first heard that statement, I was not sure what it meant, but as years have passed, I now know well what that man intended to tell me.
My story began as a 9-year-old girl growing up in Colorado Springs, Colorado. One day after school I was standing on top of the jungle gym at the school playground down the street from my house. (I always stood on the top because I thought I was closer to God there.) I was the only person there, and as I looked up at the sky, I sensed a deep longing from within me to be used in some way — in whatever way God wanted — to change people’s lives. I believe God heard the prayer that came from a small girl’s heart, and years later, when I was home for a weekend away from college, I returned to that playground. At that time, I began to feel God’s pull on my life to begin work in ministry.
“Let them come after me,” said Tiger Woods about his competitors when interviewed as to his strategy on holding his 12-point lead at the U.S. Open last summer. “I don’t plan on going to them.” That’s how I feel as a woman: confident in the scriptural knowledge of who I am.
When I reflect on my childhood and young adulthood, it’s not difficult to see why I struggled to understand God’s intent for gender roles. I was surrounded by mixed gender messages from my denomination, my family and my Christian college.
I’m not sure if I ever totally believed that the Bible mandated inequality between the sexes, but that’s just the way it was. I grew up in a church that didn’t necessarily preach such inequalities, but practiced them none the less. By their example I understood that there was a “man’s place” and a “woman’s place.” The men held positions of leadership and the women were in charge of the nursery and potluck dinners.
I grew up in fundamentalist churches where women were taught to know their “place” and stay there. My parents accepted these ideas in theory, but not so much in practice, and at the same time they questioned many of the other things these churches taught. During my freshman year of college, my parents ended their lifelong affiliation with this denomination and began attending a new church.
Each time I read Ephesians, I shuddered inwardly upon reading Chapter 5: “Wives submit to your husbands.” This passage was a neon light blinding me to the rest of the book. I felt the same shame when I read other passages with directives to women regarding silence, submission or authority. The worst was 1 Timothy 2, which implied that a woman could not be trusted with God’s word because of Eve’s deception. “Why, Father, did you make women this way?” I asked again and again.
For those of us whose journey toward understanding and embracing biblical equality has been a winding path full of pain and epiphanies, the immense value of our role models is deeply felt. Sometimes this value is felt so deeply that it may even take us by surprise—a surprise of joy, when through the window of God’s grace, we get a glimpse of just how powerful the impact of these role models has been.