By: Marilee Akland
I am not sure when I began to struggle with my place as a woman in the church. I think it was in Bellingham, probably, when I first came awake to the disparity between my church-at-the-time’s stated position on women and the practical reality. I remember being taken aside when I agreed to serve as a worship leader and it being explained to me that I could lead the congregation in song, but I couldn’t preach.
At the time, I wasn’t too concerned, I don’t think. I was more amused that they felt the need to clarify. It was a bit unsettling (in the best of ways) that it wasn’t just, I dunno, taken for granted. I had (and have) no plans to enter the pastoral ministry, and so there was no barrier put up for me personally. But I’d found the glass ceiling. I told most of my close friends about that experience. I won’t ever forget it. One little statement that opened my eyes and, long term at least, played a small but significant part in changing my life.
I don’t want a fight. I really feel little desire to discuss this or argue about this with the people I know will disagree with me or be angry with me. I want them to see things the way I do, because I’m finding such crazy freedom and joy on the other side of fear. But I know how long it took me to walk this road. I know the roadblocks on the way to freedom. Allow me to elaborate for a moment:
1) But the Bible says…
2) But all these really smart and important people say…
3) It’s weird to hear women preaching, so it must be because it’s not natural.
4) What if I choose to embrace women in leadership and it’s wrong? What does this mean for my salvation? Is this a “slippery slope” type thing?
I know about each of these. I’ve worked through these questions (and let’s be real, I’m still working through them) for years. I’ve found that it’s a losing battle to argue with someone who already knows what they believe. They have their reasons, just as I had mine. I was not converted in a day, and it wasn’t one person’s clever argument. It was a process of discovering a deep emotion inside me that embraced my identity as a beloved daughter of God. I began feeling elation and hope any time I read blog articles about equality in marriage or in the church. I began cheering for the “other” team. I began to deeply believe that God desires to bring redemption from the Fall – not to perpetuate its effects – and that this redemption is, although not yet fully realized, something we, as Christ’s body, should work to bring to earth. Your kingdom come, Lord Jesus, Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.
With the fall came weeds and pain in childbirth. We work every day to lessen those burdens. What are we doing to restore the equality of Adam and Eve before God? I firmly believe hierarchy is descriptive, not prescriptive.
I believe in submission. I believe in silence. I believe in servant-hood. I believe in these things because Jesusmodeled them. Have there been times and places where Paul’s instructions to women made sense? Why yes, in that culture. Do the principles behind his instructions still make sense? Yes, in so far as we understand them in their proper historical and literary context. Do I believe that Paul meant for us to copy his instructions to first century Jewish/Roman culture in the present day to the letter? Nope. In fact, we don’t.* So let’s not even begin to pretend that we do or that we should.
And where does this all leave me practically speaking?
I find myself standing in a wide open grassy place with wild flowers blooming like crazy all around me. I raise my hands toward the sky and spin in joyous abandon.
I’m free. I will do my best to follow God where He leads me. I don’t know where that’ll be or what it’ll involve. That’s the crazy thing about following that same crazy call that uprooted Abram from all he’d known and transplanted him squarely in the unknown. Maybe I’ll have kids and stay at home with them. That sounds nice. Maybe I’ll go to seminary and write books and teach college kids. That sounds nice. Maybe I’ll do nothing “important” with my life. That sounds nice, God doesn’t really need me anyway. His promises will prevail in spite of my best attempts to stand in the way. But I want to be faithful to Him in each small choice I make, and I want to have the boldness to speak up when He calls me, in whatever forms that takes.
Here I go.
*head coverings, women speaking in church and leading ministries, to name a few things that come to mind.