I was a student leader my senior year in the youth group I grew up in – a conservative Baptist church. I think very highly of my experience growing up here and don’t at all want to downplay the good it did for me.
But in regard to this specific moment, I remember sitting in the youth offices chatting with the middle school assistant leader at the time about heading to Whitworth University in the fall. He said to me, “Oh Whitworth, you will come back thinking women can be pastors.”
And I remember being taken off guard. What if I already believe that? I mean, I guess it makes sense, all the pastors at our church were male but I never thought it had to be that way.
In my mind even then, it wasn’t a question of male or female – God can appoint either as leaders. It’s not about gender but about character. And I remember thinking this because I believed I was a leader. I spent the entire summer building community with the youth group students, speaking and leading a bible study. And I had never questioned my leadership because I wasn’t male.
This came up a second time when Jeremy and I were going through marriage counseling. All of the “roles” we talked about were gender specific. And I remember feeling frustrated because I didn’t fall into the “female” roles at all. We need to continue to change the narrative in Christian marriages. Jeremy and I are both leaders. We both lead in different ways and we both view the other as an equal.
Too often in Christian history we have talked about topics such as this (along with many other big, important issues such as race, sexuality, gender, socioeconomic status, etc.) with fear and made decisions about them in fear. It’s easier, isn’t it, to take a verse out of context and say, “see, Paul said women should be silenced in the church in that one passage so women can’t lead, or speak, or teach” or whatever. It’s much more difficult to question and imagine a different reality.
But the truth is Jesus wasn’t discriminatory ever. And the Pharisees tried to make Jesus fit into their box of rules because it was easier to discriminate, to judge and to make rules then to live into a free life filled with love and open-mindedness and humility.
Anytime we have a tendency to hold on tightly to our views (probably out of fear) is a sign we need to have conversations about them, revisit them and be open to another possibility. It is when we are willing to have conversations, especially when we disagree, that we are able to grow as a community.
I am thankful for the women and men who are changing the narrative of women in the church – as strong and faithful, leaders and pastors, equal.