Don't miss this incisive Q&A with author and fisherwoman Leslie Leyland Fields, as she talks about discipleship, this crazy election cycle, and what frees her to write hard truths in the Kingdom of God. #CrossingtheWatersRead More
"They have largely succeeded in keeping us from leadership," she said. "And you must run into it on a regular basis. Why do you think it is bothering you now?"
My mentor's question came on the heels of me attending a church leadership event that was geared for white males. This event happened the day after the recent weekend the "Trump tape" hit the news media. I was still physically sick to my stomach over the degradation of women and others made in God's image that Trump espouses.
But I was soon to realize our first speaker at the church conference came from a tradition that does not allow women to be pastors.* I am a part-time female pastor, and our church was the only one with women in attendance. We have our lead pastor to thank for including us. There were five of us women, and about 60 or 70 males.
This, combined with the overt endorsement by many white male evangelical leaders of Donald Trump, even in the face of the radical devaluing of women, people of color, immigrants, and others, made something inside of me die.
In hindsight, something deep inside of me died while something else was set on fire.
As a female pastor and a person who deeply believes that so many of us are entrenched in this political season in a search for power—a thirst for power that Jesus warned us against—I am fighting an internal battle for sanity, hope, and the courage to face another day.
Pastor Abigail Gaines described her struggle and mine so well on The Junia Project blog this week:
And is this not what a pastor does?
To sit in the tension between the dark moments of the human existence, while holding steadfastly to the wondrous light of resurrection? To wade in the pool of death while keeping hands firmly gripped onto the life-filled hope and joy of Christ? Is it not to say, I will be present there because God is present there? . . . The pastor is willing to die in the places where God comes alive as her cry becomes, “If death is what is necessary for resurrection, take me with you Jesus!”
I am also fighting another battle. Because I believe the message of the Kingdom of Jesus is good news for girls and women as we wrote in our book Reclaiming Eve, I can no longer stand by and participate in a script that is exclusive and privileged, white and male.
Gaines' blog post went on to quote a woman in seminary who echoes my state of mind these days. When given clarity of what was pleasing to God through her journey and studies, "she was unable to return to former scripts and patterns not in alignment with the heart of God for her."
My mentor's question still haunts me: "Why do you think it is bothering you now?"
That was hard for me to say. Probably because I keep silent far too much. This woman who is mentoring me did me a great service in naming one of my most constant struggles. Where do I belong in this church Jesus came to build? And if I often wrestle with where I might belong, how can I winsomely make the case that other girls and women belong here, too?
And now you know what Jesus and I wrestle with in our conversations; you have been given a window to my soul's cry.
"We know this is not the way of Jesus," my mentor said.
And I sighed as I remembered this truth, as I remembered the truth of the Kingdom and how far away from it we wander.
In the past, I have sometimes been dismissed casually when I mention that I believe our treatment of—and subjection of—women in our churches contributes to the devaluation and abuse of women in homes, churches, and society.
This is a biblical interpretation issue on which well-meaning people disagree, I'm often told. It's a secondary issue to the gospel.
But not from where I sit. From where I sit, from the Bible I read, from the Kingdom I witness through the pronouncement of Jesus in which the oppressed are to be set free and the blind made to see, this is the gospel. This is part of the good news!
I was raised in a culture that designated women to a role and rules that would keep them secondary. For this reason, I am the first to believe there is room for growth and discovery, for a new understanding befitting the ways of Jesus. I believe we are placed in male and female bodies for a reason, and that it can be a delight to discover how we can minister and live together, complementing each other in a mutuality only Jesus could have designed.
And I know that change is still happening in white male evangelicalism, though it may be rare: my former pastor, one of my father's best friends, just changed his 50-year position on women in the home and in ministry, and you can hear his sermon here.
In a season when many evangelical women have been turned upside-down and inside-out by political candidates who have a stained record when it comes to the value and abuse of women, and when "good Christians" endorse and stand by them, I am not always sure how much longer women currently in the church pews will stay there.
"For our struggle is not against flesh and blood," Paul wrote, "But against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms" (Ephesians 6:12 NIV)
I have never been more sure that we are engaged in a spiritual battle, and that what is at stake is not only the dignity of women but the effectiveness of the Kingdom when over half of its workers are crushed, sidelined, or dismissed.
One of the things I see happening when a woman's agency is stripped from her, that quality that is to define an image-bearer representative of the living God—is that she will struggle to give voice to the injustice she witnesses in a meaningful way. (Evangelical women are pushing past this barrier, thanks be to God, due to their voices being amplified via the Internet, as Beth Moore recently proved, and this HuffPost article reviews.)
But restore a girl's or a woman's voice, give her a platform to witness to God's power to set the oppressed free, and truth will ring out that will bring revival to our churches and homes, to our schools and our businesses.
Yes, give us a platform and we will prophesy:
Girls and women are not objects for men's lust, but created to do good, representing God and his interests. We are created as "strong powers" or "ezers" as mentioned in Genesis 2:18. We are coworkers with our brothers in the Kingdom of righteousness and justice Jesus announced, sustains, and will bring to completion. We will stand against the sexual harassment, assault, and diminishment of all females in the name of Jesus. And in his name, we can pursue mutual leadership and relationship with our brothers that leads to healing, hope, and life not only for the U.S., but for the nations.
May it be so!
* Clarification: I checked on the conference presenter and confirmed that on the pastoral staff of his megachurch there are no female pastors. They do not, however, have a formal statement about female pastors on their site, and so I apologize for not simply stating that they have no female pastors. My discouragement was with their practice and not any formal statement. Although not identified, I believe this church is doing some great work. I am hopeful for the day when both men and women will be working side-by-side on pastoral teams at this church and others. And I am blessed to be at a church where men and women faithfully partner together in leadership for the Kingdom's sake.
For further reflection:
Post and Podcast: "Locker Room Talk, the Power of Words, and the Hope of Revival, Theology on Mission
Word by Word: Creating and Destroying the World by Leslie Leyland Fields
"Reclaiming Eve" talk by Suzanne Burden at Taylor University
Your turn: Are you discouraged and why? How might the gospel of the Kingdom of Jesus restore your hope?
Divisive political comments will be deleted. Kind engagement encouraged.
Personal Note and update: The book Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God and the Small Group DVD continue to stimulate discussion and impact both individual lives and the Church as a whole. Cara's story was posted over a year ago, but for some reason my new squarespace blog removed it. Her story touched me, because gender reconciliation has been and is such a huge area of first pain and now healing in my own story. Read an update to her ongoing story here.
The whole series of can be found here. And many thanks to Cara, who shines light today on those aha moments that lead us to go about reclaiming Adam even as we are reclaiming Eve. Cara Strickland is a writer, editor, and food critic in Spokane, Washington. She writes about singleness, food, feminism, and the way faith intersects life (among other things) on her blog Little Did She Know. Come say hi to her on Twitter. She likes making new friends.
What would it take for me to believe that men are the beloved of God?
When I started reading Reclaiming Eve, I didn’t expect to be confronted with complicated feelings about the Eden story. I’ve always felt a certain compassion for Eve, and I clad myself in these feelings as I flipped through the pages. There was only one problem. I might not have a problem with Eve, but I do have a problem with Adam.
I’ve been through a long journey, through many kinds of churches and theologies. I was uncomfortable with female leadership in church until late in my college career before slowly picking up pieces of the beautiful heart God has for women, and finding freedom in how I saw myself and other daughters. But though I had started attending a church whose senior pastor is a woman, and begun to find healing from many hurtful ways of thinking I’d gleaned in my youth, I still hadn’t forgiven Adam.
In those churches from my formative years, I was taught that men were there to protect and defend women. I learned that women were weaker and smaller and slightly less important. But in Eden, I saw no sign of that sort of man in Adam. He didn’t even seem to be the main character in the story of the fall, and he certainly wasn’t looking out for Eve.
I read about the ezers on an airplane—the Hebrew word used for Eve indicating she is a strong power—and as I did so, I wept. Step one, for me, has been learning that women are beloved by God. Step two seems to be learning that men are, too.
My father is not a terrible man, but he learned to parent from imperfect people. As a result, I learned from a very early age that I am too much or not enough. For a time, my father was also my pastor, further confusing my young mind about how God felt about me.
Over the years, I have dated people who were a lot like my impression of Adam: not quite the main character of the story. I have looked and hoped for a wonderful man to partner with in marriage, and have been disappointed many times. As I read about the way adams and ezers are meant to ally, I realized that I haven’t believed that this was possible. I have given God credit for making the daughters of Eve full of potential and Image, but not for doing the same with the sons of Adam.
I’ve spent many dark nights crying out to God, wondering why I’m single still, after all this time hoping. I’m beginning to think that the hurt I felt as I read this story again might be why.
I have spent time frustrated by my feelings of being on the outside as a single, childless woman. Those panes of glass often exist, of course, but the wives and mothers are not always putting them up by themselves. After all, they have chosen to love and partner with people that I have difficulty trusting. That makes it hard to trust those women, as well.
This all leads back to God, as everything does, sooner or later. I don’t know what to think of a God to whom I attribute the creation of the sort of Adam I imagine. I cry out for a lovely man to partner with, but I haven’t believed that one exists. This is the tragedy of the fall. Not only did sin alter the way the sons of Adam thought about and treated the daughters of Eve, but it changed the daughter’s of Eve’s perception of the sons of Adam, standing in the way of the partnership God intended, trickling all the way down to me, so many years later.
Since I read them, these words have been continuing to resonate in my mind: “For him [Jesus] if something were to be perfect, it would fulfill the purpose for which it was created.” (87) I let out a deep breath at that, reaching all the way to the bottom of my perfectionist soul. For so long, I’ve been trying to do the right thing, to check all of the boxes. It is easy to think that it is the failure to do these things which stands in the way of the life or relationships I want. It is not so great a leap to think that those imperfections are keeping me from my vocation, from my purpose. If only I always said lovely and affirming things, then I might be considered worthy to be a wife. If only I were more traditional, or nurturing, or soft-spoken.
But I have a few ideas about the purpose for which I am created, and it looks a lot like the easy yoke Jesus describes in Matthew. I sighed because though I’ve read similar things over the years, they haven’t ever struck me like this. The freedom to be exactly who I am, turns out to be exactly what I need to remind me that God dreams of that freedom for everyone, woman and man.
: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author,
Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
Reclaiming Eve Small Group DVD sample here. Includes print Bible study piece.
There are some moments you never forget. Speaking to 1,000 Christian university students about why women matter to God is one of them.
If that wasn't enough, the morning started off with a bang: my nephew, who is a freshman at Taylor, read Genesis 1:26-27 and part of Genesis 2, reading of God's intentions for men and women in the Creation narrative. #proudauntmoment
My husband was sitting to the left, throwing all of his support my way. My sister-in-law showed up with my other nephew and her brother. And my new friend Char, someone who is becoming a mentor to me, sat close by, praying all the way. Campus Pastor Jon Cavanagh got up to introduce me and spoke of the importance of reclaiming Eve. And then...
The chain my husband and my nephew and I began to form at the end, uniting with the praise band, symbolizes the essential and ideal team God desires to use—his daughters and his sons, side-by-side, building his Kingdom together.
After the talk, a young woman rushed from the bleachers, tears streaming down her face. I caught her hand, and I saw weight coming off her shoulders as she shared this was just what she needed that day, that God was doing something in her heart, that he was setting her free.
Things only got better from there as I engaged in honest conversation with students and faculty over lunch, mulling over the possibilities of God's ideal team of men and women working together everywhere.
Watch and imagine: what could God do if his church brought men and women together, leaning into the redeemed narrative in Christ? Then post your response below. I can't wait to read them.
On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
— Nancy Beach, leadership coach, speaker; author, Gifted to Lead: The Art of Leading as a Woman in the Church
It's not every morning a girl gets to talk about the beauty of God's design for his daughters laid out in the Creation narrative.
A full hour of deep, provocative discussion on how God has designed women to work alongside men, how we are tempted to live up to the fall instead of the reconciliation Jesus ushers in, and why it matters. Don't miss this! (With Lynne Ford of The WBCL Radio Network.)
That is a question for the ages, isn't it? Fortunately, my friend Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman, from the Redbud Writers' Guild, has written an in-depth but practical guide to biblical interpretation. For those of us who don't have a doctorate, but long to know how to interpret what the Bible says on any given subject, Natalie has graciously brought key principles for exegesis—the art and science of getting to what the Bible says—to a lower shelf. And she's done it for "women who want to know for themselves." Genius.
Using the case study of women and leadership in the Church, Natalie gives us a manual for how to discern biblical truth for ourselves. Although we had a few technical difficulties, I managed to pull this video on what a "starting point" is when we approach theology and the Bible. Listen in:
Truth be told, I believe we are responsible for how we wrestle with God's word and whether we are obedient to what we discover. This is best done in our church communities, as we come together to discern, each person's study informing and shaping the discussion.
Although Women, Leadership, and the Bible holds a higher price tag than most books at $31.50 (but only $9.99 on Kindle), it's a go-to guide you'll use for the long haul alongside your Bible. Inside its pages, you'll hear the stories of a variety of women who hold differing viewpoints on what the Bible says about the presenting issue of women and leadership, and you'll easily identify the nuts-and-bolts steps to your own study:
And the appendix in the back will point you to quick checklists that will keep you on track while doing exegesis on a Bible passage and other resources that will enrich your study of women leading in the church. Believe it or not, the author even pulls all of this off with touches of humor and inspiration along the way. At the end of the book, she quotes the movie "Brother, Where Art Thou?" when she writes:
"Congratulations! Now, you are bona fide! You have prospects!"
To which I reply: it's high-time for women to believe and become confident that they can interpret the Bible for themselves, and to be given the tools to do so. Dr. Natalie Wilson Eastman does a beautiful job of equipping us and sending us on our way.
Enter to win a giveaway copy here on Julie Holly's blog through July 14.
Your turn: Are you settled in your mind on what the Bible says on women leading in the Church? If not, what issues or passages are you still struggling with?
Here's a pick-me-up, brought to my attention by my friends at The Junia Project, in thankfulness to women serving Jesus everywhere:
"This is for the women who walk in their call—no matter their gender, their heart is to give their all."
Your turn: What emotions did Jeanette's tribute stir up in you? If you have a video clip of another spoken word performance on women in ministry, please paste it in the comments. Thank you.
On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
I'm tickled to welcome Idelette McVicker, the editor in chief of SheLovesMagazine.com to share her Reclaiming Eve moment today. Hi, I'm Idelette and I wish I could go to every spot, village and city on the earth to meet our world’s women. I was born and raised in South Africa, which created a deep hunger for justice and equality in my heart. I have three children (11, 9 and 7) and SheLovesmagazine.com is my fourth baby. I am African, although my skin colour doesn’t tell you that story. I also feel a little bit Chinese, because my heart still resides there amongst the tall skyscrapers of Taipei and the mountains of Chiufen. I live in Surrey, Canada because I pledged my heart to Scott, a cheeky Canadian, 15 years ago. Give me some sweet chai, vanilla rooibos or pearl milk tea and I’m in heaven. And if you don’t know this about me quite yet: Jesus is my hero.
What a difference a pronoun makes.
One of my girls had a memory verse to learn for church. We lay side by side on her tiny French provincial single bed that her dad had painted a matte black. I loved those little beds: slightly rickety, painted in the garage over many days, with several coats and deep love. The girls moved into those beds when I became pregnant with their brother.
And there we lay on that ordinary night, an exhausted Mama and her young daughter, taking just a moment to do the right thing and practice a memory verse, printed in black and white on a square card.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. -2 Corinthians 5:17
We practiced Bible verse and address. We stood before centuries’ worth of wisdom and truth. We honored the holy words and did our part to pass it on to another generation.
But I’d been learning about how much God loves women, even wrote 40 days’ worth of prayers and statistics and stories, so more women could know it.
I gently asked: "Do you know we can put ourselves in these verses? We can put our own name inside the verse and know that God intends these very words for us.”
I repeated the text in my head. We practiced the words together.
Then I said it out loud, one more time, but this time I made it personal for us:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation.
She is a new creation.
We, from Eve right through to the two of us that night on that little black bed with the pink duvet. We get to become new creations.
And suddenly it felt like an earthquake was rumbling through my very being.
If anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation.
If anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation.
If anyone is in Christ, she is a new creation.
I’d placed my name inside of a verse, but I’d never before replaced the pronoun. Substituting a “he” for a “she,” for the first time ever in my life, I felt like I was meant to be included in those words, not stand outside of it. Always reverent, hopefully obedient, but always excluded.
Quiet tears were streaming down my face. My body shivered with the recognition.
I had said those words so many times in my life: “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.”
But until that moment, it had always felt like I was standing on the outside of those words. I honored them as good, holy, lifegiving, even Spirit-breathed words.
Following Jesus on the cross, these words were for me, but I also felt outside of them. I guess I imagined this was simply part of my cross to bear. The way things had always been. These were the things we didn’t question.
Until that moment of simple yet radical inclusion, it had always felt like I was Eve, still banished from the garden.
Us, women, we’d been shown the gates and it felt like my bible translations made it very clear—we didn’t deserve to be on the inside.
Those words were for all the he’s in the world.
But us “she’s,” it wasn’t for us. It wasn’t intended for us to be newly shaped, newly created, beautifully invited in.
We’d messed up. The she’s still had to pay the price.
But what about that Grace, paid for so dearly on a cross?
Including my feminine self into the core language felt subversive. It even seemed dangerous.
A good kind of dangerous.
A right kind of dangerous.
It felt like a single word—one pronoun—in that instant had ripped through eons of established thought. That single word managed to tear down a veil.
I felt beloved. Included. Invited not only into the ways of Jesus, but welcomed into the vast promises and a revolutionary way forward.
I am no longer content to stand on the outside, looking in, because on that holy ordinary night on that little black bed, I was invited into the center of the story. I was no longer relegated to the margins. Neither are we, the daughters and sisters of Eve.
Ancient gates creaked loudly and swung wide open: Welcome, Daughters.
Your turn: Have you read Scripture with feminine pronouns? How does including women in the reading of Scripture in this way affect you?
On #ReclaimingEve: “I recommend this resource for every daughter of Eve!”
The other day I got an email from a friend, a well-educated woman I respect. It said this: "I attended our local IF gathering both Friday and Saturday. I have to admit I didn't expect much, and was very pleasantly surprised."
I couldn't have said it better myself. It was easy to look at the pictures of all white, trendy women on the promotional materials and to feel a little "meh." It is hard for me to get excited about women's conferences, because I am basically looking for a place of spiritual depth, theology, diversity, of passion for the whole gospel, where the Holy Spirit moves, and anything else just doesn't feel worth the time, effort and funds it takes to get there.
But then the IF:Gathering did the amazing thing, simulcasting their broadcast not only into churches across the country and around the world, but into our homes. For free. Did you catch the free part?
(It was a special joy to see all the photos and videos from women all over the country: moms at home with babies, friends around the table, churches filled with women.)
But besides leveling the playing field and offering the conference for free by donation, they did so many things right. I just sat there in my pajamas giving praise to God as I watched women preach with conviction, pray with boldness and fire, and sing with joy and unabashed praise. At one point I got down on my face on the carpet, praised God and wept.
The ezers (strong powers, Genesis 2:18) were in the house, and they kicked some proverbial butt. It felt like a Reclaiming Eve extravaganza.
Here are three reasons I'll be tuning in again next year:
- Diversity. There's a saying that you "vote by your hiring." IF voted by assembling a crew of diverse woman, then inviting Pastor Latasha Morrison to lead a live panel on bridging the racial divide with ladies of different skin colors and backgrounds. Afterward the comment was made, "I feel like we were just a part of something that could change generations." But the conference did one better: they had LaTasha create a .pdf for churches and individuals called the "bridge-building guide," a free way to lead groups into discussions on how to raise up reconciliation in our midst. You can get your own copy by filling in the info. at this link. As 90% of Christian churches are segregated, my husband and I have been moved to reconciliation and diversity in our own lives. To the point that we've chosen a church to attend that is diverse and is moving toward greater diversity—this is what the gospel of Jesus looks like. Jesus is beautifully writing this into our soul-DNA.
- IF is not a performance. One of the first things Jennie Allen said was "this is not a performance. We're making much of God, and we want God more for our generation." Speaker after speaker challenged and preached:
- "The great thing about God being your heavenly Father is that it's his responsibility to get it through to you. That's what a Father does." -Jo Saxton
- "We live out God's Kingdom to the same fullness that we believe in it." -Jen Hatmaker
- "We need a generation that loves the word, that knows the word...that is full of the word of God." -Christine Caine
- Some honest, heartbreaking stories were shared, including the story of April Smith who lost her two young boys last year in an Arkansas tornado. Every woman who shared pointed back to the faith walk that we take as we wrestle daily, not by sight but by faith.
- IF wants to do good in the world. Through partnerships and opportunities that uplift women and children around the world, IF models what the whole gospel looks like. They unabashedly proclaim Jesus and encourage us to bow to his lordship while also freeing people to flourish through the love of Christ. They also offer a free daily Bible study and a resource called IF: Table that encourages you to gather women around the table in your home for a meal and fellowship each month.
Finally, women speakers, who make up a paltry three percent at some church conferences, are given a voice at IF. While the church is trying to catch up to utilizing women as more than "token" speakers at large conferences, IF leads the way in giving them a platform and empowering women to speak up and serve wherever they are planted.
If you haven't done it yet, I hope you'll check out the IF: Gathering. It has my two thumbs, way up.
Your turn: Did you watch or attend IF? If so, what was your response?
A few weeks ago, on the first Sunday of the year, I had the privilege of preaching a sermon on the book of Ruth at Fairhaven Mennonite Church. In the sermon's first moments, I began by lifting a scarf over my head, and delivering a dramatic monologue from the perspective of Naomi, Ruth's mother-in-law. (Which made one guy think I believed I should only speak in church with my head covered. True story.) The sermon contains:
- Naomi, whom scholars call the female "Job"
- clinical depression
- homelessness, hunger, great loss and marginalization
- a faithful woman who felt God was her enemy!
Most of all, though, it's a story of reversal: God's hesed (Hebrew word for loyal love) follows his people, no matter what comes. Grab your Bible, turn to the book of Ruth, and enjoy!
[audio mp3="http://suzanneburden.com/wp-content/uploads/2015/02/Naomisstory.mp3"][/audio] See the amazing painting "Whither Though Goest" here. Be sure to check out The Gospel of Ruth—Kindle edition only $3.99— a fantastic resource by Carolyn Custis James that I consulted in my study. You won't regret this surprising look at how God raises up his daughters alongside their brothers to build His Kingdom.
Your turn: Can you relate to Naomi's story of bitter disappointment or surprising reversal? How are you tracing God's hesed—or lovingkindness—toward you these days?
Looking for a speaker at your church, conference or retreat? Contact me here to inquire.