It is 1942. The pilot steps into the cockpit, straps in, and nervously heads down the runway. This is the chance of a lifetime. Only the very best of the best will wear the coveted uniform and bear the name of this elite, groundbreaking unit. Flying straight and level simply will not cut it.
The pilot pulls back on the stick, easily lifting the plane into the air. Now for the mission!
A quick move forward, a tight bank to the left, pushing the aircraft to its limits as if dodging ground fire over hostile territory. Confidence grows as the pilot skillfully handles the plane, the tension flowing away with each flawlessly executed maneuver. Finally, the test is over and the plane lands. The pilot steps out of the cockpit, walks to the evaluators, and removes the helmet.
She did it! She is now a Women’s Airforce Service Pilot (WASP)—one of the top five percent of the nation who had the “right stuff!”
And so the adventure began. She was one of many women who served in vital roles to secure the Allies’ victory in WWII. The WASPs ferried planes from factories to military installations, tested overhauled planes, and towed targets while soldiers below and male pilots in the air practiced their gunning with live ammunition. They lived and trained under the same conditions as the men and were held to the same performance expectations. However, they received less pay and no insurance or GI benefits. When they were killed in the line of duty, as thirty-eight of them were, their friends and family bore the burial expenses.
It must have been amazing—the excitement of a new adventure, the difficulty of mastering a challenging task, and the fulfillment of successfully navigating the delicate balance of entering a new world as a minority, and an unwanted one at that.
Though many people questioned the WASPs’ integrity and undermined their reputations as they entered and excelled in a man’s world, they did what was necessary for their nation to win the war. They had hope that one day they would stand on equal footing with their male peers. They answered the call, and only asked that their nation’s commitments be honored in return.
Unfortunately, their nation did not honor its commitment to them. The assurance that they would become military members evaporated with a political firestorm in Congress, who refused to grant them military status despite their honorable service.
Finally, their request was granted in 1977. However, the Army rescinded their eligibility to be inurned at Arlington National Cemetery last March, starting yet another political fight that continues today.
How things have changed. Over twenty-five years ago, I was a young woman entering the Reserve Officer Training Corps with a full scholarship and no understanding or appreciation for what my predecessors had gone through.
Here I am now, a Lieutenant Colonel with equal pay, opportunity, and entitlements because of brave adventurers and pioneers like the WASPs. Because of these women and their supporters who never gave up. Because of heroes who have been fighting this battle on and off for the better part of a century, trying to attain justice before the last of these trailblazers die.
Despite the amazing progress the armed forces have made toward the integration of women, there is still work to be done. There is still honor to be given to those who earned it. There is still recognition that must be granted to those forgotten. There are still wrongs to be set right.
What does this have to do with biblical equality?
I see a very similar pattern in the Western church. Women in ministry volunteer, train others, and certainly come under “live fire.” They are expected to excel in all they do. They go to ministry school, living and training under the same conditions as the men. Yet they receive less pay, if they receive any pay at all, and certainly less opportunity.
Women enter seminary or pursue ministry leadership to fulfill their creator’s calling on their lives. They sometimes suffer, as I did, at the hands of people who oppose their calling, from those who spread misinformation, undermine their reputations, and question their integrity.
They are essentially told, as I was, that their work has no value. Yet they continue to forge a path forward with the hope that one day, they will stand on equal footing with their male peers. They answer the call and do what must be done to accomplish kingdom work.
Over twenty-five years ago, I was a young woman entering military service with no thought of ever becoming a pastor, and with no appreciation or understanding of the obstacles female ministers face.
Here I am now, a female church planter in the Bible belt who has experienced firsthand the challenges women all over the country face when pursuing ministry leadership.
Without the love, support, and tenacity of my husband, it would have been very easy for me to let the voices of the religious nay-sayers ring in my head forever: “You don’t have what it takes.” “You are too old.” “Your contributions are not worth paying for.” “You have too many children.” “Your husband makes too much money.” “You are a woman.” “You will not do this.”
I am here because of brave adventurers and pioneers like Lydia of Thyatira, Junia the Apostle, Aimee Semple McPherson, Heidi Baker, and many more women who decided that listening to the call of God was more important than heeding the commands of men. These women decided to take a risk even if the only outcome of their efforts was that they forged an easier path for future generations of women.
I remember that moment in my own struggle. I surrendered to God’s call even if the sole purpose of my obedience in church planting was to make way for another, perhaps more anointed and skilled, woman. So be it.
Just as the Women Airforce Service Pilots of the last century believed that the armed forces could be integrated with equal pay and benefits for all, I believe in a future of equality between men and women in the kingdom of God.
As I watch this debate over Arlington unfold so many decades after the unquestioned success of these female pilots, it makes me realize how far the church still has to go as well.
The WASPs eventually won recognition as veterans. Now I believe it is only a matter of time and persistence for them to regain eligibility to be buried at Arlington.
Yet I wonder just how long it will be, and how many more battles must be fought before we, the body of Christ, embrace women in whatever roles and gifts the Holy Spirit calls them to.
“For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free man, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galatians 3:27-28).