During my first semester of seminary, a woman in my Greek class said she could see me as a pastor. Unsolicited, she came right out and just said it. I laughed. As it turns out, though, she was right. But I wouldn’t know that until five semesters later.
I’d enrolled in the required preaching class for all MDiv students. I was terrified of the class and probably would’ve put it off until the very last semester of my degree had the professor teaching it not been about to retire. Incidentally, it’s also a class I wouldn’t have been allowed to take had I chosen to attend a different Baptist seminary.
In the span of about six weeks, I went from being tentative about preaching to downright exuberant. I fell in love with the process of crafting a sermon. I fell in love with reading and talking about Scripture like I never had before. And when it came time to preach, I fell in passionate love with that, too.
I slowly realized that God was calling me to be a pastor. Me. The girl who grew up in a fundamentalist church and heard from the pulpit that women should be silent, not exercise authority over men, and be submissive to their husbands. The girl who entered seminary with no specific calling. The girl who, until her mid-40s, hadn’t seen a woman in the pulpit do anything besides sing.
I entered seminary with fundamentalist beliefs about gender roles, God, and the world, but everything changed during my first semester. The professor of my introduction to theology class assigned an article called “On Women and Men Working Together in the Church” by Thomas Oden. Everything in the article subverted my fundamentalist view of gender roles and women in ministry.
Dr. Oden reviewed the typical problem passages concerning gender equality in the church. He shared context, word meanings, and gave examples of women who played important ministry roles in the Bible. My fundamentalist brain reeled. But after a time of study and reflection, I could no longer deny that women are called to preach, prophesy, and otherwise minister all through the Bible. And that God still calls women to this work today.
With my change of heart came a devastating realization: My entire life as a Christian woman had been a lie. My theology was built on a few Bible passages purposefully interpreted to support patriarchy. And worse still, I’d suffered abuse in my first two marriages because I’d always been taught to submit to my husband.
But what if I’d never been taught that? Or, what if I’d learned the truth sooner? Maybe I would’ve never been abused! The weight of these theological lies was immense—as was the freedom I felt when they were lifted from my shoulders. I began to question if I’d been taught other lies too. A wild, eye-opening journey lay ahead of me.
Each new class in seminary brought new theology and new interpretations of Scripture. It also inspired (and equipped) me to wrestle with new ideas and perspectives, rather than being told what I must believe. There were times when I just wanted someone to tell me the “right” answers. But today, I’m thankful that my professors chose to stand back and instead let God guide me. They empowered me to form my own opinions.
My faith was stripped bare in those early years. At various points, I even questioned whether God was real. Sound terrifying? It was. But I kept going. Slowly, I let go of the harmful beliefs I’d held since I was a little girl and embraced a new theology—one with room for doubts, one that allows me to question assumptions without guilt.
I’m free now. Free to read the Bible with fresh eyes. Free to reject attempts to abuse, suppress, and control me. Free to leave abusive people and churches. Free to leave fundamentalism behind and move beyond the confines of my upbringing. Free to read theology from people who don’t look like me. Free to use my gifts without shame or restraint. Free to speak out against injustice and oppression. Free to start over.
And the best part of the story is this: relinquishing my belief that women weren’t to preach or be pastors allowed me to find and embrace my life’s calling—as a pastor! My calling to ministry has breathed life into my past suffering and pain.
I‘ve also built a deeper, richer faith. I’m no longer content with knowing the “right” Sunday school-answer. I revel in knowing there’s more to faith than the black-and-white of fundamentalism. Today, my faith is a kaleidoscope of blues, reds, greens, purples, and pinks. It’s a coat of many, many colors. And to me, it’s beautiful.