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Published Date: September 5, 2007

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The Story of a Semi-Reluctant Role Model

I believe strongly in biblical equality, but I’m tired of having to be an outspoken evangelical feminist. Instead of writing these words tonight, I want to burrow under the covers with the remote control and watch re-runs of Law and Order, my most recent escape. But I can’t. You see, I have been called. Deep within me is a passion for justice, a burning desire to see women freed and systems changed, to see the playing field leveled for all people, regardless of race, gender, economic status, ancestry, or ethnicity.

It would be so much easier if I wasn’t one of “those” women. For not only am I a feminist, but I’m an evangelical feminist. Take that for a label. If I could just “let it go and go with the flow,” I wouldn’t have to count the number of female speakers at a conference, dash off a letter to the editor, or cringe when singing “Stand up, stand up for Jesus” — the line that says, “ye that are men now serve him” gets me every time. 

If I wasn’t an evangelical feminist, I could laugh at the e-mail jokes that bash men for their lack of prowess in locating the laundry basket, among other things. I wouldn’t have to weep over the skewed messages of shame and seduction our ten-year-old daughters are bombarded with daily, or over the horrors of human trafficking. And if I wasn’t an evangelical feminist, I could simply accept the counsel of Stone Cold Steve Austin of wrestling fame (or infamy): “Know your role and shut your mouth.” But I can’t. I’ve been called to speak out. 

I don’t know what’s worse, being a feminist or being an evangelical. In the rather conservative religious culture in which I minister, being labeled a feminist is seen by some as the kiss of death. And in contemporary, secular culture, the evangelical tag paints me with the wide brush of the right wing conspiracy people in many minds. 

I don’t quite fit in either of those camps, which is all right with me, as I have gotten used to the margins. In their book Living on the Boundaries: Evangelical Women, Feminism, and the Theological Academy, Nicola Hoggard Creegan and Christine Pohl describe the tension and the opportunity like this: “On the margins or boundaries between maps we can bring different questions and experiences to light and…these might, in the end, have a more significant role than the scripts that belong entirely in one place or another.”

So when I wonder about what it means to be a role model in the area of biblical equality, I realize that I am reluctant to consider myself one. After all, my role models are the people I think of when I read Hebrews 13:7: “Remember your leaders, who spoke the word of God to you. Consider the outcome of their way of life and imitate their faith.” They are the ones I look up to, that I want to be like when I grow up. However, at age 52, I am no longer a child, and a light flashed as I realized that in the living out of my ministry, and of the convictions of an evangelical feminist, I too have become one of those leaders, a role model in my church and in my denomination. There are women around the Salvation Army world who know me, who hear me speak or read what I write and look to me as an example. 

That is both frightening and humbling. I feel almost arrogant claiming that place, for I have seen myself primarily as a woman in local ministry, one who has a commitment to my community and to the people I minister to on a daily basis — and one who has made her share of mistakes along the way. Do I really want others watching me? Yet that’s how it happens. As Paul tells the Thessalonians, “you became imitators of us and of the Lord…and so you became a model to all the believers in Macedonia and Achaia” (1 Thess. 1:6–7). 

I have to be an evangelical, and I have to be a feminist, and as such, I will be a role model. I have no choice in the matter. My faith, as I must live it out, calls me to love Jesus, to depend on the Bible, to share my beliefs, and to trust in the power of the gospel and the Spirit to effect change. My convictions force me to seek after both mercy and justice, to lift up the oppressed (in whatever form that oppression comes), and to speak for those who have no voice. Like the suffragists who chained themselves to the White House fence to gain the vote for women, I must stand tall. 

You see, regardless of whether we want to be or not, we are role models, for the children in our church, for our sons and daughters, and for other women (and men) struggling to live authentically as egalitarians in less-than-supportive environments. Even as our intention is simply to be imitators of the Lord, there are others watching, and we will become models in whatever our ‘Macedonia and Achaia’ turns out to be. While it is a tremendous responsibility, it is also an open door to share what matters to us in a way that is both powerful and respectful of others. 

So while I may find myself hesitant to take on the mantle of role model, and at times grow weary of the continued battle to raise awareness and speak to injustice, the Law and Order re-runs will have to wait — I’ve been called to articulate and to live out biblical equality, and it is time tonight to once again give voice to that calling.