Today marks the final installment in CBE’s Women’s History Wednesday series. We opened the series by exploring the ways history has tried to erase women. We followed up with three articles on history-making egalitarian women. In this final installment, we’ll lay a path for courageous advocacy in the tradition of the bold leaders who walked this path before us.
I’ve been invested in equal rights for women in the church since I could talk. At eight years-old, I made a tape recording of myself preaching the gospel to imaginary people.
Like a good Presbyterian, my persuasive sermon tackled original sin: “Adam and Eve became sinners, and we became sinners, too!” My little girl voice rings out on the recording with passionate fury. I was full of hellfire and brimstone, and I even slapped my Bible for greater emphasis.
Thankfully, my rhetoric has softened over the years. Now, I’m more apt to tell people that God loves them, the whole of them, even though we’re a broken bunch. And, I’m more convinced than ever that this passionate preacher girl is called to set her ministry table wide and long—to encourage the church to make room for all people in all seasons of life.
The first time I told my kindhearted pastor that I wanted to be a pastor too, he told me that only men could be pastors. Several family friends even exhorted me to become a pastor’s wife. It seems counter-intuitive to encourage women to fulfill their callings through their husbands’ vocations, and yet, many Christians push women to do just that. Women are still urged to go to Bible college just to find their mates. People joke that these women earn their “MRS degrees.”
As a girl, I knew I had my own calling to fulfill, a mission that could not be accomplished through my husband’s vocation. God was quite capable of providing a people to minister to, husband or no husband.
Some Christians accused me of rebellion, calling me a “feminist” as if it was an insult. Despite their disapproval, I pressed on. I set out to tear down barriers to women in ministry, not because I wanted to be rebellious, but because I wanted women to be seen and valued.
Renowned female activist Lucretia Mott also came to her conclusions about women’s equality to men at an early age. Mott was born in 1793 in Nantucket, Massachusetts. In grade school, she learned that female teachers earned half the salary of male teachers.
Outraged at the injustice she witnessed, Lucretia Mott spent the rest of her life advocating for equal rights for all people. She became a strong abolitionist, a women’s rights activist, and a Quaker preacher. She and Elizabeth Cady Stanton were early leaders of the American women’s rights movement.
As I studied the life of Lucretia Mott, it occurred to me that the frustrations Lucretia felt toward society and the church in the 1800s feel devastatingly familiar today.
Yes, we’ve come a long way. Women have the right to vote. I can choose a church where women are ordained as ministers—where they teach, preach, and lead as equals alongside men. I have a wonderful husband who encourages me to be the woman God calls me to be—without fear that my gifts and calling will diminish him. Many churches are intentionally pursuing gender equality.
We have come so very far, and that progress brings relief and freedom. However, there is still so much work to do.
Several months ago, I discovered that a major Christian book distributor refuses to carry female authors’ books if the authors are also ordained ministers. They won’t even put their books on the shelves.
To this day, many strong and vibrant denominations refuse to ordain women, withholding the title of pastor from qualified female candidates and clinging to their patriarchal interpretation of Scripture—all in the name of Jesus and truth.
The issue of inequality in the church has been a burr under my saddle since I was eight years-old. God gives gifts without discrimination and partiality. Male and female, together, make the church. It seems so obvious. So, why are we so slow to hear? Why are we so unwilling to yield and change? Why do Christians insist on a patriarchal model in the church?
As we conclude Women’s History Month, my message to all who believe in men and women’s full equality in the church is this: It’s time to ramp up our courage.
We must be courageous, bold, and loving in our critique of patriarchy.
We must courageously ask our churches to open doors to women and take risks on female leaders.
We must courageously study the God of the Bible and refuse to take a handful of verses out of context.
We must courageously reject a harmful theology that marginalizes millions of people.
We must courageously thank the men in our lives who have made room for women and who advocate for shared leadership in the church, home, and world.
We must courageously walk in the steps of Jesus. We must set the table wide and long and make room for more—more variety, more diversity, and more opportunity.