During the eighteenth century, the United States was not a particularly welcoming place for women looking to speak their minds—especially not African American women looking to speak their minds. But that did not stop God from blessing strong women to speak his words to people who needed to hear. Zilpha Elaw was one such woman.
May we all be inspired by Rev. Rose Hudson-Wilkin, a woman who not only makes history, but does so with boldness and courage, unapologetically and matter-of-factly confronting sexism and racism on the national stage, to powerful leaders, and in some of the world’s most traditional, white and male-dominated halls of power.
Despite the opposition of medieval theologians who insisted that women were unsuited for leadership because of Eve’s sin, women leaders, mystics, and missionaries offered strong moral, spiritual, and intellectual rescue to the church in the Middle Ages.
When I am invited to speak at a Christian college, I make an effort to learn something about the school, particularly about the founders and graduates. Over time, I’ve discovered an impressive history of women graduates who were trained by these early evangelical Bible institutes, today's Christian colleges and universities, in the 1800s.
The integral inclusion of women in the life of the church continued after the death of the apostles. Preferring rejection, torture, and even death to renouncing their faith, women served Christ as missionaries, scholars, and pilgrims. Women were also noted among the martyrs of the early church, and their astounding courage and faith changed the world.
We can follow these examples of radical acts of loving by making small choices each day: recognizing someone else’s pain before yelling at them for being too needy; giving someone the benefit of the doubt before jumping to conclusions; forgiving someone who has disappointed us.
The tradition of women raising the eucharistic cup is witnessed from the late 100s to the mid-500s, including evidence from the three oldest surviving iconographic artifacts that depict early Christians in real churches.
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?”