well here’s a sincere email i received last week from my 14 year old niece. i got permission from her to share it on this blog so don’t feel like i’m violating some private conversation. i thought it was too important, telling, to just keep between her and i and if it helps challenge us a little, well, it’s worth it. i know you will all honor and respect her for her question. she goes to a conservative christian school:
hey auntie kathy. i was just wondering what your input is on 1 timothy 2:11-15. we were discussing it in Bible class and i thought of you. i’m pretty sure you are a pastor, right? are you doing the right thing? i’m confused on what is right…i just wanted to know what you think. write back….luv ya!
i thought it was amazing that she is actually investigating the issue instead of taking what her bible teachers say part and parcel. what i can tell from our ongoing conversations, though, it is it is very difficult and confusing. she is definitely not sold on what i have shared back in response. here’s what she said next:
i read [your email] and thought that you are right in some ways, but i’m still not sure. i mean, man is made in the image of God (we all are in a sense), but woman is made in the image of man, when eve was created from adam. it just makes sense to me that men are preachers and women are in the audience listening….i mean i understand women being missionaries but do you think that man and woman should be equal in that way by being preachers to a whole congregation??? i don’t know…love you.
oh it was so hard for me to see a sweet smart 14 year old being taught that a few isolated passages in scripture mean that women’s God-given role is subservient to men and we should silence our voice. but of course i can see why she’s confused. it is confusing. i am not in her bible class, so i have no idea how it’s all going down, but i have been around christian schools long enough to know how “this is what these passages definitely means” gets communicated. so kids, or grownups listening to authorities teach the bible, get in our head that there is 100% certainty that that is exactly what that passage means and forget the bigger story. we don’t tend to be taught “hey, there are lots of different beliefs about these couple of passages, lots of perspectives, what do you think?”
i am glad my niece is at least wrestling with this, asking the question. but i do believe so many cards are already stacked against her. you see, over time in these kinds of conservative systems she’ll subtly be indoctrinated with the thought that women are supposed to do this or that and aren’t allowed to do this or that. that “good christian women” are meant for certain things and certain things only. this subtle misogny will have all kinds of effects that are unseen to the naked eye but shape more than we think.
she and i will continue the conversation and i look forward to being another voice into her heart & head even if it doesn’t really make an impact now. i just want her and my daughter and all the other little girls i know to be whatever they want to be.
i am used to some people thinking i am “wrong” for being a pastor. that is really nothing new to me. some were fine when i was the associate pastor or “underneath” the authority of a man, but now that i co-lead, and we mutually submit to each other, well, that’s a different story. and let me clarify an important point like i always do…this is not about my soapbox for women pastors. it is about my soapbox for women, period. you see, i believe the subtle ways women are placed underneath men, in their “God-given roles” they will always be subtly or directly oppressed and undervalued. their worth will always be less-than just because of their gender. i know many people say “come on, it’s not that big of a deal. we want women to do everything except have authority over a man” but i think they’re just fooling theirselves. if power’s not that big of a deal to them, then why in the world won’t they give it up all the way?
and once in a while i hear this from women, either subtly or directly: “well i am not a pastor or a speaker so it’s not that big of a deal for me” but here are my questions in response:
well, what if it’s a big deal for your sister, your daughter, your mother, your best friend?
and, just as important, how does your community support you in living out who you were created to be?
how are they helping you get set free?
do they care about your passions, your dreams, your talents, your voice if they have absolutely nothing to do with advancing the programs of this church or some christian ministry or a man?
who is fanning your true gifts (not just the coveted good hospitality and happy disposition skills) and your real voice (not just audible words) and creativity into flame?
you see, the “we don’t really value your voice” message goes far beyond just whether or not women preach or teach. it’s the subtle ways women don’t have equal power, leadership, value, or voice, where entire generations of misogyny are built upon a few passages of scripture and the liberating message of Jesus gets lost. i am well aware many women have no desire to be a loudmouth like me. but i know they are strong and powerful in different ways and won’t get the chance to step into it “unless it directly benefits the system somehow and it will only be to a point that the men in power feel comfortable with.” women will stay in churches year after year after year after year that subtly or even directly keeps them stuck, limited.
all this to say: i believe it’s time for continued change in this area of christian culture. we have to think about the young girls coming up, what do we want them to believe about themselves and their contribution to the kingdom in the deepest of ways. i realize in many mainline denominations it’s a nonissue but for those of us with evangelical roots, it is far, far, far from a nonissue. i believe for the sake of all 14 year old girls i hope we do much more than just settle for perpetuating the status quo. i hope more and more men and women risk their jobs, their ministries, their hearts, to break down the damage that’s been done over the years to the voices of little girls, grown women.
Jesus is a restorer, a rebuilder, a redeemer. but i believe sometimes we need to actively participate in his redemption. to me, i think it requires speaking out with more than just words against the subtle and direct ways we are silencing and devaluing 1/2 of the population. please, God, redeem this mess we’ve made.
ps: i told my niece and i’ll say it here, too, i love christians for biblical equality because they are smart about the bible & believe passionately in equality for all in the kingdom of God. their stuff is always a great resource. plus, if you want to read about a few of these specific passages in paul’s letters, check out tia lynn’s in-depth study on silent women in church. (this link is to part 1 but there several posts)