There are more than a few women in the Bible and in church history who risked their lives for a godly cause. In this post, I look at three brave women who are not in the Protestant Bible. These women were, most likely, not even real people. They are legendary women with enduring and inspiring stories—stories that give us insight into the religious thoughts and aspirations of past generations—stories that deserve to be better known.
What happens when the hall of theology becomes an echo chamber? What happens when half the sky meets God but the church doesn’t want to hear their story? What happens when the theological insights of women are pressed to the margins of Christianity?
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.
Julia Kavanaugh, an Irish Roman Catholic, was a Victorian novelist and biographer. Her book "Women of Christianity" offers the earliest survey of women’s lives in the Christian tradition. This text refutes the frequent charge of trendiness of egalitarianism, as it was written 150 years ago. It confronts male-dominated history (“great events, dazzling actions”) as pagan and transcends the “wearisome similarity” often depicted in saints’ lives. Finally, her book invites connections with contemporary feminist texts.
Without the work of a generous widow, millions of people may have gone without a good translation of the Bible for centuries. This woman had a profound hunger for the word of God, boundless care for the needy, courage to cross cultural boundaries based on gender, ethnicity, and class, and gospel vision to put the values of Christ before the values of empire.
Last week, we told the inspiring story of Shannon Lucid, a woman who persevered against the prevailing biases of her day in order to become part of the first class of NASA astronauts that included women. This week, we will focus on the life and achievements of Dr. Jo Anne Lyon, the first female general superintendent of the Wesleyan Church.