I did it to myself. I chose to join with my coauthors to write a reflective, Jesus-centered message about why we believe the Bible and the Kingdom of God set women free. The whole thing started in a church Bible study, and women of all ages testified to their newfound freedom in Christ. It seemed like a timely message, joining a chorus of other voices who were encouraging God's people to step up and treat women with the dignity God has bestowed on them. To get all hands on deck in the building of God's Kingdom of love and justice.
A number of people the evangelical world respects endorsed the book. People that love Jesus and value scripture and long to see God's women released alongside their brothers and to see women and girls around the world treated with the dignity God intends.
Even as I write, women are participating in Reclaiming Eve Bible studies and book groups. I hear from them regularly, usually via private message, about the way God is wrecking their hearts and knitting them back together again. They are eager to join with their brothers in God's Kingdom work. They want to say yes and not no to everything the Holy Spirit is stirring in them. They affirm that "God has a plan for each of his daughters, and that we are defined by his intentions and not by our current circumstances."
But a question an interviewer asked just as the book was about to be released still haunts my days and my nights: "Don't you think you're going to get a lot of flack for this?"
Oh, you have no idea. The personal cost has seemed nigh to unbearable at times.
I suppose I didn't realize how strongly our evangelical power structures can reject the idea that women not only have equal being in the sight of God, but that he designed them to be released fully to witness to His Kingdom work.
Even I was surprised at how "controversial" this idea can be, how tightly the Church can cling to the cultural instructions in 1 Timothy 2:12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35, and how easy it is to ignore or minimize God's promise that men and women will prophesy, that there is no male or female in Christ Jesus, that the practice of Jesus himself set woman on a whole new trajectory of freedom—see Mary Magdalene, and Mary of Bethany, and the Unclean Woman. And all of this in opposition to the systems of the world.
I am particularly troubled at the way our views on gender in the Church and home contribute to the silencing of women who are being abused in the U.S. (1 in 4 by their significant other, according to the National Association for Domestic Violence)—and millions of women around the world through gendercide, and slavery, rape and abuse, genital cutting, and the sale of child brides. (If you're not sure what this looks like, I commend the book and documentary Half the Sky to you; the reality is chilling.)
And yes, I do believe there is a link between what we believe and teach about women and how we treat them and advocate for them. I believe we are so often still hung up on a false theology that says "Eve was solely responsible for bringing sin into the world," therefore there is something inferior and dangerous about every woman. Believing this, we tarnish the essential nature, role and position of girls and women in our churches and our world. And I am not alone in noticing that women are not always treated as image-bearers of the living God, as Anne Graham Lotz notes in her article "Women Like Me are Abused Worldwide. Here's Why."
In some ways, I assumed the journeys and perspectives of others would follow my change of perspective as I tearfully and prayerfully searched the scriptures and the life and example of Jesus. (See When I Opposed Women in Ministry.)
But here is the truth from where I sit: the Church is still mostly silent on the issue and it is the people in the margins who are screaming:
"Yes! Jesus has freed me! I am his image-bearer! I didn't know it before, but I matter just as much to God as my brothers."
I cannot count the number of people who have whispered in my ear, What you have said is so important. Thank you for sharing it. I am tracking with you. But their voices never raise above a whisper; they may have power, but they aren't quite ready to use it on this issue; they see the need for the Church to change, but not right now. There is so much pressure to maintain the status quo.
So back to those beautiful people on the margins. They are a diverse bunch from all ethnicities and walks of life. And some of them are experiencing homelessness. I received this note today from my friend Veronica:
"I was originally introduced to Suzanne and the Reclaiming Eve book and Bible study through my work at Charis House in Fort Wayne, IN. As I sat through the groups and participated as if I was one of the residents here at the shelter, my eyes were opened to my own “Eve Issues." Suzanne presented the material in a way that enabled any woman, in any walk of life, with any kind of past; to really gain a sense of freedom and independence from whatever could be holding them back so they can truly and fully experience their placement in God’s kingdom.
...with [Suzanne's] help, we were able to create a curriculum that empowered and freed the woman in a way that was powerful, inspiring, and Spirit filled. At its completion, the women were asked to express how this book and Bible study has affected them. Some of the responses were:
“This book gave me goosebumps!”
“I always assumed I wasn’t an equal member in my own household, until now. Now I see that my work is just as valuable and my role in God’s kingdom is just as powerful.”
“I AM beautiful; I am God’s image-bearer!”
So for a minute or so I forgot that Jesus came from the margins (Nazareth), went to the margins (Samaria, etc.), and primarily uplifted those on the margins (tax collectors, prostitutes, those who needed healing, the captives to be set free). My bad. Please forgive me. Will you join me on my course correction?
With God's help, I'm determined to watch the smallest mustard seed grow to become a tall tree, sheltering birds in its branches.
And I'm now watching for just a little bit of leaven to work its way all through the dough. (Matthew 13:31-32)
I'm more sure than ever that Jesus has already set women free, and I believe it is those on the margins who have been appointed—first and foremost—to spread this good news. Will you join me in speaking up on behalf of girls and women around the world?
How do you see women and girls being set free in Christ in the margins? How might you feel called to join God in what he is doing there?
Resources: -Reclaiming Eve book and Small Group DVD (with print Bible study) and Reclaiming Eve sermon -8 Video Shorts on Women of the New Testament -"Women Like Me Are Abused Worldwide. Here's Why" by Anne Graham Lotz -"#WhyIStayed: Why Some Churches Support Spousal Abuse" by Boz Tchividjian -"Why Avoid Talking about Gender?" by Dorothy Greco