Back in the mid-80’s, environmental education trickled down into rural Kentucky. I quickly became a diligent crusader to save the fish caught in the plastic rings that held 6-pack soft drinks together. I carefully clipped the rings before throwing them away. I would even drag uncut ones out of the trash, while earnestly explaining to my parents why it was important to cut the rings apart.
I felt like I was making a difference by keeping the fish safe from becoming trapped in the uncut plastic rings and dying unnecessarily.
What I didn’t consider was that our trash went to a landfill outside Berea. A solidly land-locked landfill, I might add. The fish were in no grave danger, despite my zealous efforts to save them.
Years later, I asked my mother why she allowed me to continue my crusade to save the fish, knowing that the trash was headed to a landfill. Very simply, she replied, “Because it was important to you.”
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m doing the very same thing with my writing. Perhaps I’m just an unnecessary crusader for things that do not matter and worse, I’m not even aware of that fact.
We do, after all, live in a time when women seem to have more freedom than ever before, when the strongholds of patriarchy are weakening, and when little girls have more options for their lives than just marriage and motherhood.
Sometimes, I wonder if people read what I write and simply say, “Well, it’s important to you.”
Then I remember the reality.
There are still countless little girls who grow up believing that their highest purpose is to be a wife, above anything else God might be calling them to do.
I want to be clear. God calls some women to be wives and mothers, and that’s good. But it is not a one-size-fits-all calling. Some women are called to be Bible scholars, teachers, preachers and priests, or leaders in the church. Some women will be mothers, wives, and spiritual leaders in the church, all at the same time. Some will be single and some will never become mothers, by choice, circumstance, or a combination of both.
Women need to know that they are free to choose their path, to follow the course God has laid before them.
Many women truly think there is something wrong with them because they aren’t satisfied with a limited role in the church. They sit in the pews on Sunday, but they’re dying inside because they want to preach, lead, and speak out in church. But they are told that women must be silent, that they must not hold authority over men, and that they certainly must not preach.
Even in denominations that are welcoming to women, white female clergy earn roughly $0.77 to male clergy’s $1.00. Women of color earn even less (source).
Women in both the Old and New Testament were clearly used by God. And yet, they are often all but omitted from patriarchal preaching and Bible studies.
Many Christians are reading biased Bible translations in which translators chose words skewed by patriarchal assumptions. These translations are taught as the Word of God without nuance or qualification for translation bias. And so, many women who trust their leaders implicitly–as they were taught and socialized to do–are none the wiser to the questionable and biased scholarship behind their Bible translations.
Women have played major roles in the spread of Christianity throughout church history. From Junia to the saints throughout the ages, from Deborah, Huldah, Ruth, and Esther in the Old Testament to modern day scholars, preachers, and leaders, women have been and are actively spreading the good news. Their stories are largely absent from male-dominated pulpits, classrooms, and books. Instead, women are left to discover their stories on their own, or hear about them from other women who teach with a patriarchal lens, further skewing the narrative.
We drain the church of its power when we restrict women from full participation in the body of Christ. We lose the full range of God-given voices when we silence women. We reject the vision of those who experience God and life differently from men when we ignore women’s stories and legacy. We forfeit the ability to reflect God’s full image in church leadership when we disqualify leaders based on gender.
Clearly, there is still work to be done.
So, I will continue to write, because my crusade is still necessary. I will add my voice to the chorus of women and men who are challenging the status quo, who are stepping out and changing the way things have been done in the church for far too long.
I will join those who risk ridicule and condemnation and the loss of dear friends. I will add my words to the narrative of leaders who speak across generations. I will fight beside those who have risked far more than I can possibly imagine.
Perhaps one day, my voice will no longer be necessary. Perhaps one day, all little girls will believe they can grow up to be anything that God calls them to be. Perhaps one day, the voices of women and men will be heard equally in the church.
Until then, I will continue to clip at the very real and dangerous patriarchal rings that hold so many women captive, unnecessarily restricting them from doing what God has called them to do. I will do so because it is important to me, but also because it is important that women and girls be free. And because it is important for the church to hear the voices of women whose stories can shed new light on this world.