"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.