My older sister asked, "Isn't it hypocritical that you don't believe women can be the head of the church?" My sister's question sent me back to the bible. Scripture doesn't put limits on women in ministry. The Bible tells stories of women in leaders in the Old Testament. Jesus and Paul affirmed and encouraged women to be leaders - counter to the culture of the time – throughout the New Testament. Here is a great blog about the evidence for women to be Pastors in the New Testament by Kelly Ladd Biship. But as I looked at the evidence in front of me, the lie that women couldn't be the head of the church caused me to doubt my ability to read scripture and to know the truth. Almost like gas lighting, complementarianism convinces people to ignore what the Bible says to make women second-class citizens. And I, like so many other women, fell for this lie.
Denying the Truth The first time I heard about a personal relationship with Jesus, I was at Camp Greystone. Sandy shared with me that I could know Jesus. In college, I joined a freshman small group. Jen taught me to read scripture and to hear God’s voice. That spring, Liz, and Courtney helped me to make a decision to give my life to Christ. Never once during those conversations did any of these women say that my relationship with Jesus was less than because I was a woman. Never once did anyone suggest that my gender restricted my ability to talk about God or where I could talk about God. Never once was it communicated that God's call for me to live a life for Jesus came with boundaries. And yet, as I became more and more involved with the evangelical community, I started to internalize that I was less than my brothers. Churches that only had male speakers, comments about "biblical womanhood," and other subtle messages that communicated women's roles at the expense of their callings created a narrative that there were two classes of Christians – men and women. The narrative that I internalized was that men could have callings. Men were head pastors. Men could have families and careers. Women could be wives and mothers. And even though I was involved with a ministry that encouraged women in ministry, lead a small group in my sorority and later became the president of that ministry, I internalized the message that I was less than my brothers. When I read Paul's words that there was "neither male nor female," I convinced myself that I couldn't fully understand the meaning. When I heard the story of Jesus affirming Mary as a disciple, I dumbed it down to a trite story about busyness. And I ignored every time Paul wrote about the amazing women leaders in the early church. I also added male descriptors to passages. When Jesus sent out the 72, I assumed that they were all men. I assumed that Paul was talking to men when he wrote, "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelist, the pastors and teachers to equip." My cultural biases created lies within scripture. I started to disbelief my own eyes and ears, in favor of a narrative that said I was less than my brothers. Tragically, I also started to second guess God's calling in my life. I knew God called me into ministry, but I looked towards my male friends to affirm that fact. I could hear Jesus say, "Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation," but I doubted his words, because of my gender. I never heard an explicit comment or sermon that said I was less than a man. And yet the message was so pervasive, that I saw myself as less than my brothers when it came to my role in bringing God's Kingdom here.
I am not the only One
Over the past eleven years, I have worked with countless women, who believed the same narrative. Regardless of the degree in which women could be leaders in their church, the message communicated was the same: you are a second-class citizen. I've watched as women allowed men to speak over them, doubt their ability to read scripture and question God's calling in their life because of this belief. The complementarianism communicates that woman are less than men in the kingdom of God and convinces women to distrust their own ability to hear God. This abusive theology is rampant throughout the evangelical world. It doesn't just keep women from the pulpit; it stops women from communing with God. It convinces women that men can teach scripture, understand scripture and know scripture better. And if that is true, then what stops a man from using scripture to break a woman? If a man can understand God more, how then does a woman defend herself against a man? If a man has more of the inheritance, than who will stop him from using a woman's body, if the culture says her voice is not as important?
Finding Freedom When my sister questioned my understanding of women in the church, I dove into scripture. I challenged everything I had heard about the place of women in the church. I read everything about Hermeneutics. I prayed and begged God for understanding. Through my radical dive into scripture, I met Jesus again. I heard him affirm my calling. I heard him say, "Sit by my feet, learn, be my disciple so that you can follow me into the ends of the earth. Be my hands and feet. Because you are my handiwork and I have a job for you." Through scripture, I saw that I was called to follow Mary and testify about Christ, without limitations. And that led to the freedom of seeing myself as an equal. Throwing off the shackles of complementarianism allowed me to embrace my calling as God's daughter fully. I'm lucky that I could study that intensively. But what about my sisters who aren't in full-time ministry? Don't they also deserve to hear that they have an equal inheritance in the kingdom of God as their male counterparts? The church's view of women is like an abusive relationship. It creates a world where women doubt what they hear, read and see. This belief is toxic. And the danger is not that it keeps women out of the church, but that it prevents women from fully embracing their inheritance as a child of God.
Most women do not want to be ministers. But unless we have equality in the church, women's relationship with Jesus will continue to be trumped by the male perspective. Women need to hear their stories from the pulpit, read their viewpoint in Christian books and know that their needs are being heard around the church table so that men and women can have equality in God’s family.
A culture that creates second-class citizens cannot be part of the Kingdom of God. It's time we throw off the oppressive shackles of complementarianism and see women as an equal part of the body of Christ. It's not enough to not say sexist comments; we need to affirm women in every area of ministry so that women can fully embrace their share in the Great Commission.