Recent revelations in the news and social media have once again highlighted the discriminatory and sometimes dangerous environments that women must navigate, both in the world and the church. Women expect to face discrimination and mistreatment in the world, but we hope to find comfort, shelter, and respect in the church.
Too often, this is not the case.
Too often, women are devalued in their church communities. They are told that their role is "equal but separate,” and they should only use their gifts under the authority of men.
Too often, women are relegated to strictly supportive roles in the body of Christ rather than fairly considered for preaching, teaching, and leadership positions.
Too often, women are pushed to the sidelines despite their clear gifts and calling. They are forced to operate within the gender-biased boundaries of the church when they should be free to work toward the fulfillment of the great commission.
Too often, the church restricts teaching and leadership gifts in women not because of sin or immaturity, but simply because of gender.
Humans place constraints on the gifts God has bestowed upon his daughters! Can you imagine how a parent would feel? To give a wonderful gift to your child, only to have her sibling undermine it and attack her for wanting to use it? It is heartbreaking.
I so admire the persistence of women who push through barriers to use their God-given talents to advance God’s kingdom. More often than not, it seems this work is done in the context of a restricting and discriminating church culture.
A few years ago, I met some of the Tuskegee Airmen of World War II, known as "Red-Tails" because of the distinctive red markings on the tails of their planes. I was honored simply to be in the same room with these heroes. These brave men endured brutal racial discrimination in the military, yet they persevered.
In the civilian community, the “Red-Tails” were treated as second class citizens. They were subjected to Jim Crow laws and racial discrimination by the very people they were fighting to protect. In the military community, white men with less experience and training were placed in positions of leadership and power over them. In the midst of insults, threats, and isolation, they chose to stay and be catalysts for change in the very institution that was discriminating against them.
They worked hard, trained hard, and built an impressive record when they were finally permitted to deploy and fight over the skies of Europe, North Africa and the Mediterranean. Bombers often requested them as mission partners, calling them the "Red-Tailed Angels" because of their skill in safely escorting bombers through enemy airspace.
However, the Tuskegee Airmen did not quietly endure discrimination and violation of Army anti-segregation regulations. They demanded equal rights and fought long and hard for justice, sometimes at great personal and professional cost.
Why did they stick with it? Why did they persevere in the face of adversity and discrimination?
They knew who they were and what they were called to do. They knew they were created to be more and do more. They knew that God’s vision for their lives far outstripped the racist ethos of their culture.
I see similar patterns in the church with women in ministry. Skilled women with grit, determination, and confidence in their calling are rising up and demanding to be heard. We’re demanding justice. We’re demanding that the church of Christ begin to reflect the heart of Christ, who broke the curse of sin over all humanity and set women and men free.
Women in ministry leadership are becoming "Red-Tailed Angels" of the church. They’re building an impressive record despite an oppressive system. They work hard, train hard, and demonstrate excellence when they deploy as mission partners.
Women are rising up to meet their destiny in Christ. To those who are spearheading the work: Be encouraged by the testimony of the Tuskegee Airmen! They accomplished what appeared to be impossible, paving the way for black men and women to be fully integrated in the military. Their sacrifice and perseverance shone a light on the racist ethos of US culture and opened the doors of opportunity for generations after.
So it is with you, dear sisters. As you pursue your destiny in Christ, and as you endure attacks on your character, integrity, theology, intellect, and even safety, know that your sacrifice has opened and will open doors of opportunity for future generations of women.
You are the battering rams that will crush the gates of hellish theology that says women are less than God created them to be.
The vision of a fully unified body of Christ, with men and women working side by side as equals, is worth fighting for!