I love the story in Luke 10 where Jesus affirmed Mary’s presence at his feet rather than in the kitchen with Martha. Mary was treated as an equal among the male disciples. I imagine her participating boldly in the theological discussions ensuing from Jesus’ teachings.
But Martha was not to be outdone by her sister. In the story of her brother’s death (John 11) Martha also entered into a theological discussion with the Rabbi. She was well versed in messianic prophecy and resurrection theology and Jesus engaged her fully as he did men like Nicodemus.
The space at Jesus’ feet had no gender restrictions.
The title of this post is adapted from another post by Leslie Keeney, “Where Is the Voice of the Evangelical Academic Woman?” She asks why theologically inclined women are not participating in conversations taking place on theology blogs or academic blog tours.
Keeney offers five possible reasons:
- Women don’t like the spotlight and shy away from self-promotion.
- Women avoid verbal confrontation and expressions of ideas that may invite criticism.
- Women are more comfortable in an all-female environment and avoid sharing power with men.
- Women are fed up with the “old boys’ club” and have given up trying the change the power structure.
- Women think about and discuss theology differently than men. Keeney implies women therefore are not understood, valued or included.
I found this list of reasons why women are not speaking up in the academia applicable to why women are not speaking up in churches, more specifically evangelical churches that limit women to certain roles. However there are a few differences between the two arenas.
Keeney recognizes there is more freedom for women in academia to pursue studies and teaching positions where it is “theoretically a level playing field.” That is not the case for evangelical women who believe they are called to non-traditional roles in the church. Men dominate the high ground of leadership and circle wagons around the pulpit.
Also many make a distinction between church and educational institutions that teach the Bible. Therefore certain passages in Scripture like 1 Timothy 2:12 are not applied in the classroom. That distinction permits men to learn from a female professor while they resist teaching from a gifted female teacher in the church.
Lastly academic women who do not comment on blogs or participate in public theological discussions are still able to do what they have been called to do – teach and encourage discussion in their classrooms. Not true in the church. Not speaking up results in the perpetuation of traditional thinking and practices. If women do not voice their objections or challenge the system, then men, in general, will continue to dismiss or marginalize them.
I know that this is not true of all men or all churches. There are men who recognize women’s giftedness and who speak up for women, advocating for their inclusion. There are male pastors and elders who have rejected the traditional views of women and have embraced a full partnership with them. I am grateful for these men, including my husband.
But there are not enough of them. And I know there are many women who are silencing themselves.
However, lately I am hearing a rising chorus of voices. Gifted voices. Intelligent voices. Passionate voices. Female voices that do not have to sound male to be heard. Confident voices that do not shrink back when accused of not being “biblical.”
Keeney believes “there has to be a middle ground for women who are called to storm the gates with intelligence, grace, and love.” Though she is referring to women in the academia, her statement is also true for women sitting in pews.
Most of the women I know who are in the pews have these qualities but they hesitate to “storm the gates” for one main reason. They lack the confidence to voice their objections to hierarchical structures because they have not been encouraged to learn theology or to engage in theological discussions. Many do not know there are alternative readings of Scripture that allow more freedom for women than what has been granted in male dominated leadership. In order to challenge the traditional structures, an increasing number of women are realizing the need to study what Scripture has to say about their place in the church.
There is a woman in Portland who is committed to equipping women to speak up. Her name is Pam Hogeweide, the author of Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church. She hosts “theology camps” where women can learn what the Bible has to say to them. Pam is taking a proactive role in helping women find their voices. What would happen if theology camps for women popped up across the nation? I believe increasingly informed female voices will make a significant difference in the church.
So I say to evangelical women in the church…
- Speaking up and declaring what you believe God has given you in terms of gifting and calling is not self-promotion. It is obedience to Christ.
- Offering a different perspective and idea or confronting hurtful attitudes is not criticism. It is speaking the truth in love.
- Sharing power with men or partnering with them in kingdom work is not creating sexual temptation or weak men. It is fulfilling the mandate of Genesis 1:27-28 to rule together as co-image bearers of God.
- Challenging the power structure or old boys’ club is not rebellion. It is living the kingdom principle of equality and mutual submission.
- Thinking about and discussing theology from a woman’s perspective is not heresy. It is a deepening of our understanding of who God is and how he works.
Where is the voice of the evangelical woman? It is rising slowly above the din of debate, above the walls of exclusion.
It is a voice of intelligence, grace and love.