I was fortunate to be raised by parents who valued and encouraged education for their daughters. Growing up in a family of three daughters with a fairly egalitarian father, I never knew the sting of boys being favored over girls in anything—sports, education, career, or ministry.
My parents cheered me on at my athletic competitions and proudly supported my academic accomplishments. My father administered the oath of office when I was commissioned as an officer into the military. I enjoyed the full support of my parents as I earned two master’s degrees and a ministry diploma. My father wanted his daughters to be educated women of character, capable of supporting themselves.
The importance of girls and women receiving a good education seemed obvious to me. I could not envision a father who would not want his daughter to be self-supporting.
Some women never marry because they have difficulty finding a suitable mate or they simply wish to remain single. Some women experience the life trauma of a shattered marriage or the untimely death of a husband. And of course, an educated woman is an asset in any marriage.
More importantly, it seemed natural to me that a father would want his daughter to learn how to learn, to think like a free person, to stand up for her own rights as well as those of her own daughters and sons.
Imagine my bewilderment when I encountered those in my own country who worship the same God, who revere the same Jesus, and who recognize our Creator-endowed worth, yet deny or discourage their own daughters from pursuing education, the foundation of a free people.
Lord Chancellor Henry Peter Brougham said it best: “Education makes a people easy to lead, but difficult to drive; easy to govern, but impossible to enslave.” An educated people are typically a free people. Likewise, a lack of education makes it easier for those who are abusive or controlling to step into one’s life, church, or nation and restrict personal or national liberty.
The idea that women should not pursue higher education is fostered in some complementarian homes and churches. The root of this discouragement is not necessarily resource or ability-based, but is derived from the expectation that all women should marry, raise children, and live with a loving husband who fulfills the role of protector and provider outlined in “biblical manhood” theology. Yet when this ideal crumbles, lack of education can leave a woman trapped, without skills to provide for herself and her children.
Withholding from or discouraging education for women is unhealthy for women, families, and the church. Education assists women and men alike in becoming intellectually and spiritually mature. We know from Scripture that women served as leaders in the home, over nations, in churches, and even in times of war. Such leadership does not occur without education.
How could Lydia of Thyatira be a businesswoman if she were not educated in the laws of trade? How could Deborah, judge of Israel, give just rulings if she were uneducated in Hebrew law? I find it disturbing that religious leaders of our day write off Deborah and other women in Scripture as an anomaly or simply God’s “Plan B” because no man stepped up.
Looking at the history of the world and the inclinations of the human heart toward power and prestige, is it realistic to believe that no man in the entire nation of Israel was willing to lead? Is it possible that Deborah was divinely chosen to lead Israel, not in spite of her womanhood, but because she was educated in the law, mature in the use of her prophetic gift, respected by all the people, and confident in her capabilities?
God’s people have devalued their daughters by depriving them of education.
As Christians, the clear commonality in our theology is Jesus. Jesus respected women, engaged them in theological discussions (remember the woman at the well?), and even created scandal around his ministry by allowing a woman to sit at his feet as a disciple, learning the same things the men were learning.
The same one who said “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life” also said “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” Education is the pursuit of truth, exploring our universe and its mysteries. From the writings of King David to the epistles of Paul the Apostle, Scripture reiterates the glory of God. Education immerses us in the beauty of all creation—science, math, the arts, craftsmanship, language, social studies, theology. And it all points to Creator God.
Jesus valued and encouraged education for women, and we as Christians—“little Christs”—should follow his example.