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We Need to Welcome Adolescent Girls' Hard Questions about Scripture

by Hannah Wilkinson | June 08, 2022

“Is God the reason women didn’t have rights for a long time?”

I did a double take. Shocked by the question a twelve-year-old girl just asked me, it took me a minute to wrap my head around the words she had said.

I have just begun a Big Story study with our church’s younger youth group. With young people aged eleven to fourteen, we are travelling through the whole story of Scripture. From Genesis right through to Revelation, we are tracing the big themes to get a sense of God’s larger story of redemption. At the end of each session I invite the youth to write on a post-it note their “wonderings”— their questions, curiosities, and concerns about the story so far. Then we read out our questions and stick them on a sprawling sheet of paper. Most weeks I leave the questions unanswered. Most weeks the questions are too big for an answer. But this week I watched as a teenage girl clutched her Bible in one hand and read aloud her question:

“Is God the reason women didn’t have rights for a long time?”

The passage that prompted this question was Genesis 3, where God declares, as a result of the fall, that women will experience pain in childbirth and their husbands will rule over them. The previous week we looked at the creation stories in Genesis 1 and 2. In that session a teenage girl had asked why God created women second.

Two sessions in and I am already seeing a striking pattern. Girls as young as twelve are asking about their place in God’s creation, all too aware of the way women are treated in society, history, and, heartbreakingly, the church.

In response to these questions, I say all the things I know to be true to my youth group. Both women and men were made in the image of God, and that means something. I believe God fiercely loves and calls women and girls of all ages. And patriarchal oppression is a result of humans turning away from God—not part of God’s plan or intention for women’s lives.

Several years ago, during my first year of seminary, I was horrified and confused to read the story of the rape and dismemberment of the unnamed woman in Judges 19. I was 22 and had grown up in church my whole life, yet I had no idea the Bible included stories of sexual violence toward women. I found myself questioning: questioning God, questioning the role of Scripture, and questioning a lectionary tradition that had hidden these stories from me.

Scripture is complex. It holds out hope by testifying to the living God, who takes on human flesh in a great act of love to be with and redeem creation. But in the midst of this it is not afraid to depict the horrors, violence, and oppression that result from human sin. In many instances, Scripture witnesses to a world which does not reflect God’s intention, design, or kingdom. This is a profound gift of Scripture, but this gift must be used carefully.

In my sessions with youth, I am becoming increasingly aware that I cannot—and should not—shield them from the messy or difficult aspects of Scripture. As I listen to girls’ questions about Scripture, I have come to realize that a crucial aspect of my role as a youth pastor is to create a culture that encourages them to explore these deep theological questions.

“Is God the reason women didn’t have rights for a long time?”

I pray that when a girl asks you a question like this, you are able to recognize that she is wrestling with her place in an unjust world. It might be easier for us to dismiss her questions with well-meaning reassurances or gloss over texts that are difficult, troubling, or even horrifying. But when we ignore the hard questions from girls, we run the risk of teaching them either that they are second-class citizens by divine design or that Christianity is inherently sexist, and they would be better off without it.

Imagine how much richer our congregations and seminaries could be, in the next ten to twenty years, if we started investing in girls by creating spaces for their difficult questions. What would happen if we raised up a generation of girls whose questions were welcomed, who were taught to explore the hard theological and Scriptural issues, and who were confident in God’s love for them and their callings as strong girls of valor?

I reckon it would be groundbreaking.

Photo by Anna Shvets on Pexels.


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