Cara Meredith is a writer, speaker and musician from in the greater San Francisco area. She is currently tweaking away at her first book when not on the hunt for the world’s greatest chips and guacamole. She loves people, food, reading, the great outdoors and her family. She and her husband, James, try to dance nightly and live life LARGE with their two young sons. Find her online at carameredith.com, on facebook or on twitter @caramac54.
Maybe you can relate to this: as I grew older, my relationship with Eve grew more and more tangled.
I started out believing there was nothing “funny” about women. The church of my youth held a rather esteemed (and I now realize, exceptional in the evangelical world) view of the role of women, so much so that I wasn’t aware of the argument over women in ministry that marked theological conversations of the 80s and 90s. Females served in every capacity of my church: as preachers and worship leaders, as elders and on the deaconate board, as baby holders and spaghetti sauce-stirrers for Wednesday night dinners. I remember with disdained fondness when one associate pastor (who just-so-happened to carry around an XX chromosome), pulled me aside after delivering her Sunday sermon, and said, “Cara, you know you could do this someday. You should be a pastor.”
I stared back at her, my thirteen-year-old self simultaneously repulsed by the prospective nerdiness I perceived in her role as Professional Christian, while secretly overjoyed that she would see me capable of such an esteemed role.
Nodding politely, I wrinkled my eyebrows in disdain, likely providing her with a dismissive “thanks, but no thanks”of a reply until her words came predictively true fifteen years later. I entered full-time ministry, although church walls didn’t bind my own pastoral role, but instead freed me to work alongside the church, as a director within a Christian outreach organization.
Because the ministry wasn’t connected to any one denomination, it remained free to believe what it wanted to believe about the roles of women. And women, its leadership esteemed, were just as capable and qualified as men to serve in any capacity.
Hallelujah, as it should be.
But proclamations from the pulpit and actual, transpiring events were not always of the same accord.
I remember taking middle school students to camp one summer, to a week we as leaders and staff promised would quite possibly be the best week of their lives. And for many of these friends, it was nothing short of transformative: they were introduced to the God who is for them, to Christ whose death and resurrection proves Love’s worth, and to the Spirit who lives within our hearts, reminding us daily of this power. Lives were changed spiritually and emotionally, physically and mentally.
On our last morning, the whole camp gathered together in the clubroom, arms hanging loosely around swaying shoulders. We sang one last round of “Lean On Me,” wholeheartedly believing that those who had journeyed with us in the past week would continue to walk with our New Selves.
As a staff person, I knew that the ministry believed women just as qualified as men to deliver the gospel proclamation, to break down walls from the front of the room, to make teenagers laugh and cry and think and feel. But as I looked onto the stage, to the leadership team guiding us in final song, it hit me.
There were two commonalities present in those on the platform: they were all white, and they were all male.
What unspoken message did this communicate to the young women (and, certainly, to the adolescents of color) in that room? You are free to love Jesus—but leading others to love Christ is something best left to the white males among us. Thank you for your time! While this memory remains cynical at best, I am convinced that no matter the differentiating factor, whether gender or ethnicity, cultural or socioeconomic background (to name a few), when leadership fails to correctly guide the flock they serve utilizing the diversity of the church body they represent, we all suffer.
A grave injustice against humanity, in opposition to the very ones Jesus came to set free and reclaim, is instead proclaimed.
And we, as the church body, disgrace and disservice the adam and the ezer meant to serve and to work together, side by side, shoulder by shoulder. Of God, “What he proposed, what pleased him,” writes author Suzanne Burden in Reclaiming Eve, “was to make humans resemble him” (24). So what keeps us humans from executing the Creator’s actual intention?
For me, as I stood surrounded by sweaty, sticky thirteen and fourteen year olds, that morning’s realization changed me.
I began to study Jesus’ response to both men and women, and I poured over those passages I’d previously labeled “tricky,” simply because I didn’t understand the historical context of women in second-temple Jewish culture. I started (and eventually finished) seminary, mind expanding through the words of feminist and black theologians, Latino and Asian Christ-thinkers. And I began to speak up, fighting that the very stages I hadn’t seen filled with women and people of color be staffed next to their equally qualified Caucasian brothers.
Because it matters.
It matters that we right the tangle we’ve made of Eve’s reputation and abilities, for ourselves and for future generations of the church. It matters because to do anything else denies the Creator’s good intentions and purposes for his sons and daughters. And it matters that we live as the reclaimed, restored human beings that we are, because we are to function as one reconciled Body, with and for each other, shining a unified light into a watching world.
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