If it wasn’t for my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teacher (Mrs. Gaffney), I would not be writing this blog post. When I was young, they were the prominent people in my life cultivating a deep love for the written word – both reading and writing it. In college, when it came time to choose a major, I recalled my constant practice of emulating my mother’s beautiful handwriting, my grandmother’s delight in my ability to read, and Mrs. Gaffney’s validation of my ability to write in front of the entire class. With all of them in mind, I chose a degree in English literature. I do not regret it for a second.
I bring all of this up because there has been a recent stir within the social media world, at least recent to me, about women in positions of teaching and authority. No, I’m not talking about teaching in school or even in Sunday school. I’m talking about female pastors and speakers at conventions. I’m talking about women having the same abilities as men to speak, teach, and lead congregations in the ways of God. Some might deem this discussion as heresy, but I think we should have been having this discussion a long time ago.
Nevertheless, I’m wading into it. When something becomes popular, especially if it has a rebellious flare to it, it is easy for me to hop on until the popularity fades. Not to say that feminism is the popular thing to do or that this recent rise of it within Christian circles is merely a fad. Ideas and beliefs amongst “Jesus feminists” (a label I’m considering) are not popular in the main streams of Christianity. Yet I have the tendency to treat things like these as if they were mere trends and nothing more. With the particular topic of equality between women and men, however, I don’t want to treat it as nothing more than a trend.
What this involves is finding something within the movement that will endure. If I am to be a part of a movement, it’s best if I find where the movement is a part of me. And this is why I began this post talking about my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teacher. If I am going to take the stance that women do not belong in pastoral roles, then I may be attacking my own upbringing. No, my mother, grandmother, and fifth grade teachers were not pastors or elders in my church growing up (I didn’t even have a church until I was in the eighth grade). But by their teaching, guidance, nurturing, cultivation and validation, I fell in love with reading and writing. Imagine if they had been teaching me about Jesus.
I understand that there are verses in Scripture that seem rather explicit – like 1 Timothy 2:11-14, where Paul states that he would not permit a woman to have authority over men. But these verses have some issues revolving around them. First off, scholars question Paul’s authorship of 1 Timothy (and 2 Timothy, 2 Thessalonians, Ephesians, Colossians, and Titus). It’s believed that someone wrote under Paul’s name and maybe even under Paul’s school of thought, but that it wasn’t Paul. But perhaps that’s an issue for another time. Second, if it was Paul writing this, he apparently forgot what he said in 1 Corinthians 11 where he talks about women prophesying in church. The issue there isn’t women with leadership roles; it’s women without head coverings.
Discussing Paul’s letters and where they talk about women in leadership positions is only a small part of the Scriptures that either give or forbid female authority. We also see in the Gospels where Jesus was cared for by women. And when He rose from the grave, it was women who carried the message to the Apostles (and these stories were kept in Scripture in spite of patriarchal societies transcribing them). Reading through the Hebrew Bible we find plenty of women who rose up to accomplish God’s purpose rather than men. It’s a much more nuanced discussion than it appears.
What my mind keeps coming back to, though, is what Jesus says in Mark 10:42-45;
“And Jesus called them to him and said to them, ‘You know that those are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be our servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” (Emphasis mine)
I can’t say with absolute certainty that those who argue against women in leadership are attempting to lord their male authority over women, but it certainly feels that way. Micah J. Murray recently admitted in his blog that he used to define feminists as women with an authority problem. But if it is true that males are lording their authority over females, then, as Jesus points out, it isn’t the feminists who have an authority problem. (By the way, Micah, in the same blog post, also identified himself as a “Jesus feminist.”)
Although I don’t talk much about it, I am half Cherokee. One thing about the Cherokee people is that, before the arrival of Europeans, lineages were traced through the mother. To this day, women play a prominent role amongst Native tribes – particularly in leadership. Perhaps we could take a lesson from our Native sisters and brothers. Perhaps we could stop attempting to make cookie-cutter Christians and instead let Jesus create the kind of people he wants to. Perhaps we could let go of our “God-given” or “divine right” authority and let the one who is called lead the way, regardless of their gender.
If being an advocate for equality amongst genders makes me a Jesus feminist, then I suppose I am one. Right now it sort of feels awkward, but it’s because I’m still defining what it looks like for me. I’m still figuring the parts of the movement that are already a part of me – the things that will endure when something like this stops being trendy. Not so strangely enough, those elements of this movement look a lot like Jesus.
May we all learn to serve our sisters and brothers equally.