If you had asked me four years ago about whether women could serve in ministry, I would have likely responded from my unexamined assumption that was built upon the patriarchal hierarchy I grew up around. It wasn’t that my family was particularly sexist or adherent to stereotypical gender roles; in fact, I grew up being told that men can be nurses and women make great doctors. But outside the plethora of women Sunday school teachers, including my mom, I saw only men in church leadership.
So when God called me into ministry, I was suddenly thrust into discussions and reflections about scriptural tensions regarding women in ministry. Did women have to be silent in church? Was there indeed no difference between male and female in Christ Jesus? Could women teach adult men? Could they teach teenage boys in Sunday school (and where was the distinction)? Were women truly made in the image of God, or more susceptible to deception? I wrestled with complementarian views which held that women are to be subservient helpers, allowed to serve only in designated roles.
My eyes were opened, and I began to ponder questions of justice, equality, and oppression. Had God’s original design been so fully overcome by sin that it was unable to be redeemed and restored? I asked questions I had never before considered—questions that couldn’t remain generic and hypothetical because I had to wrestle with how my gifts, talents, and calling fit with my developing understanding. Would God call me to a ministry forbidden by his Word? Had I completely missed the path on which he was leading me? And how could I understand women who intelligently and willingly held complementation views.
Shortly after we brought our adopted daughters home from Haiti, I was helping at a youth basketball tournament at our local community college. While I worked at the concession stand, my younger five daughters played with other kids in the gym. After a short time, my daughters returned to the concession stand, despondent and angry. The girls’ playmates, upon seeing my Haitian daughters, had declared, “We don’t play with people like THAT!” For the first time, our children faced the ugly realities of racism. It wasn’t that racism hadn’t existed before that day, but it was the first time they had personally faced it.
This example with my adopted children helped me to realize that perhaps women who hold to complementarian views fit completely within that complementarian perspective. Perhaps their understanding of Scripture fits where they find themselves, and where God has called them to serve. And, perhaps they have never been exposed to women who are truly called differently.
Had I not experienced a call to pastoral ministry, I don’t know if I would have questioned a system that afforded me no opportunity beyond where I was comfortable, called, and content. Perhaps some of us require the challenge of needing to wrestle intellectually with this issue in a personal way. Perhaps I may not be the only one whose views changed only when faced with a new reality.
Isn’t that, after all, how change happens? Our blinders and filters shift, and we are faced with resolving the tension between our current reality and our faith. I’m reminded that once our eyes are opened, we can’t pretend we don’t know what to do. God, who weighs our hearts and keeps our souls, knows what we know, and holds us responsible to act” (based on Proverbs 24:12).
Change happens. We grow. We understand new things. God calls us to new places. God calls us to greater understanding. Our faith does not stagnate. And in the process, our complementarian views are challenged by God’s call.