Back in the mid-80’s, when environmental education filtered its way down to rural Kentucky, I became a diligent crusader at my house for saving the fish that might get caught in the plastic rings that held 6-packs of soft drinks together. I carefully clipped them before throwing them away, sometimes even dragging uncut ones out of the trash, earnestly explaining to my parents why it was important to cut the rings apart. I felt like I was making a difference, keeping the fish safe from the unfortunate end of dying unnecessarily, stuck in a plastic holder for Mountain Dew cans.
What I didn’t consider was that our trash went to the landfill outside Berea. A rather solidly land-locked landfill, I might add. The fish were in no grave danger, regardless of my zealous efforts to save them. Years later, I asked my mother why she let me continue on my crusade for saving the fish, knowing that the trash was headed to a landfill. Very simply, she said, “Because it was important to you.”
Sometimes, I wonder if I’m doing the very same thing with my writing. Perhaps I’m just a diligent crusader for things that do not matter. We do, after all, live in a time when women have more freedoms than ever, when the strongholds of patriarchy are weakening, when little girls have more options for their lives than ever before. Sometimes, I wonder if people read what I write and simply say, “Well, it’s important to you.”
Then I consider that there are a lot of little girls who grow up thinking that their highest calling in life is to be a wife, rather than to be whatever else it is that God calls them to be. It’s fine that God calls some to be wives and mothers, but it is not a one-size-fits-all calling. Some are called to be Bible scholars, teachers, preachers and priests, or leaders in the Church. Some will be single and some will not become mothers, either by choice or by circumstance or by a combination of both. Women need to know that this is a freedom we have – our calling may well be something besides marriage and family.
I consider that there are a lot of women who question what is wrong with them and who sit in the pews dying inside because they want to preach or lead or speak out in church, and they are told that women must be silent, that they must not hold authority over a man, that they certainly must not preach. There are times when all of us should be quiet and listen or when we should submit to those around us, but the whole of the Bible does not support applying this with a broad stroke to all women all of the time.
I consider that, even in denominations that are welcoming to women, white female clergy earn roughly $0.77 to male clergy’s $1.00 (see article here). Women of color earn even less. There is still work to be done.
There are more reasons that my voice needs to join the voices of others who speak out for women.
There are stories of women in both the Old Testament and the New who are clearly used by God, but which are omitted from most conservative preaching and Bible studies.
There are Bible translations in which translators choose words that are skewed toward a patriarchal reading, even though those are not the best words to use in translation. These translations are then taught as clearly being the Word of God. Women who trust their leaders – as so many are taught and molded to do – are none the wiser to the questionable, biased scholarship.
There are women throughout Church history who have played major roles in the spread of Christianity, from Junia – referred to as an Apostle – to saints throughout the ages, from Deborah and Huldah, Ruth and Esther in the Old Testament to modern day scholars and preachers and leaders. Their stories are largely absent from male-dominated pulpits, classrooms, and books. Women are left to hear about them through their own reading of scripture or from other women who also often teach within the patriarchal context – to do otherwise would put their opportunity to teach at all in jeopardy.
The most important reason to continue to speak out, though, is that we are draining the Church of its power by limiting women from full participation. We lose the full range of God-given voices if we silence women. We lose the vision of those who experience God and life differently from those who grow up male in a patriarchal society. We lose the ability to reflect God’s image more completely in Church leadership when we disqualify leaders based on gender.
Therefore, I will continue to write. I will add my voice to the voices of the 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 join the voices of those who have spoken across the generations, risking far more than I can imagine.
Perhaps, one day my voice will no longer be necessary. Perhaps one day, little girls will understand that they really 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 very dangerous patriarchal rings that hold so many women captive, unnecessarily restricting us from doing those things which God has created and called us to do. I will do so because it is important to me, but also because it is important to women and girls in this generation and in those to come. And because it is important for the Church to hear all the God-given voices that tell all the stories of all that God is.