We have a tradition of spiritual revolutionaries – women of intense reconstructionistic convictions who were devout in their inner lives. The pages of history bear records of female champions of the faith who were called to transform their society – who knew how to balance social activity with inner solitude.
Biblical feminists, as opposed to other feminists outside and within the church, accept the full authority of all Scripture for all the people of God. But they recognize, with all modern people, that we do not absorb Scripture in its pure form into our understanding. Like anything else we read, reading Scripture is an interpretive process.
What we need is another “Golden Age for Women” with Christian women released to preach the Gospel. This release must start in the sending churches because if the church that supports a woman says it’s a sin for her to preach, she’ll be silent.
Why should we highlight women in Bible times and throughout Christian history? Wouldn’t it be more timely to focus on women in the church today, by discussing their present aspirations? Aren’t twentieth-century movements what will influence not only the contemporary church, but also its future course?
The nineteenth-century secular women’s movement paved the way in many countries for more women’s education, writing, and publishing. The church also benefited by this escalation of women in leadership; many Christian hymnbooks printed material by women for the first time.
Accompanied by her chaperone, sixteen year old Clare would sneak off, without the knowledge of her parents, in order to hear the preaching of St. Francis. What attracted this young, wealthy beauty to the teaching of Francis? Why would she exchange the pleasures of a landed and aristocratic inheritance for the shorn hair, sackcloth, barefooted, celibate seclusion of the female Franciscans?
An anchoress was a woman vowed to chastity and stability of abode. She was enclosed in an anchorhold for life. There was no release from her cell until death, on pain of excommunication. The object of her life was contemplation, the unceasing concentration upon God in prayer.
In prayer this congregation asks for an out pouring of the Holy Spirit, but with an unspoken proviso, that God honor their gender bias: God may pour out His Spirit, but men alone may exhibit the Spirit’s empowering. Yet nothing seems further from the tenor of revival and the passage in Acts where the Holy Spirit was poured out not only on Gentiles, but also on women.
Seven women. Four men. They called themselves The Jubilee Singers. One of America’s most astonishing successes, their music once rang out across the land. They changed the fabric of our culture by introducing spirituals to the American public for the first time. Yet their stories have been hushed.
How do we measure greatness? If by loftiness of purpose, we see Katherine Bushnell going to China as a medical missionary. We follow her across America and beyond its borders to several continents as she worked to reform conditions of human degradation. We read her closely reasoned exposition of Scripture as she tried to establish women in their rightful place in church and society.