Do you find yourself reluctant to attend women's retreats because they tend to focus on things like fashion, women's emotions, crafts, and new forms of stomach exercises? Are you confused by so-called Christian blogs for women, where again, the discussions center on fashion and emotions? I was recently invited to develop a women's track as part of an international conference for evangelicals, only to learn that the conveners intended to include workshops for women on fashion, beauty, and women's emotions. Is that what inspires us today as Christian women?
When I consider how Christians might better mentor women today, I reflect upon prominent Christian women such as Sojourner Truth (1797-1883), Pandita Ramabai (1858-1922), and Catherine Booth (1829-1890). How did they edify women in their day? They called women (and the world as a whole) to resist the temptation to see all of life in terms of gender. They believed that the most important factor in the equation of life was not gender, but our newness of life in Christ!
Sojourner Truth -- a freed American slave -- challenged those who suggested that because Christ was male, women may not vote or preach. Like other prominent theologians such as Gregory of Nazianzus and Karl Barth, Sojourner Truth believed in the universality of Christ's sacrifice, affirmed by scripture, the creeds, and the church councils. The point of the incarnation is that Christ became flesh for all people, not just for males.
Consider Pandita Ramabai, a Hindu woman who came to faith and established the Mukti Mission -- considered one of the best examples of Christian faith in action in all of India. Ramabai was convinced that gender should not limit the service women might perform. An outspoken advocate of women's intellectual ability, she and other women not only translated scripture from Greek and Hebrew into Marathi -- a prominent Indian dialect -- but her mission also printed and distributed the scriptures in Marathi. Though women were not well-educated in her day, Pandita's newness of life in Christ completely reframed her self-identity as a woman, not according to cultural standards but according to scriptural standards. Pandita's rebirth in Christ gave her new vision for service, and she used her intellectual gifts to bring the world a Bible translation in her language. For Pandita, newness of life meant that women's gifts and achievements are as limitless as the power of the Holy Spirit.
Remember Catherine Booth, co-founder of the Salvation Army with her husband, William Booth. Catherine spent most of her life preaching and working among prostitutes and the poor in London's East End. As part of her passion for the good news of the gospel, Catherine said, "It would be a happy day in England when Christian women turn their attention from poodles and terriers to the poor and destitute."
Perhaps today, like Catherine Booth, we should make a similar declaration. It will be a happy day when churches, blogs, and Christian conferences view women not through gender roles and expectations but through the power of the Holy Spirit, turning women's attention from self (fashion and emotions) to the lost, the abused, the friendless, and to those who do not know the saving and sanctifying power of the Holy Spirit! From the women who proclaimed the Lord risen on Easter morning, to the great evangelical women of the 20th century, women's newness of life centers not on their gender, but on the power of the Holy Spirit active in their lives. Let us consider the outcome of their lives and imitate their faith, as Hebrews tells us (13:7).
Mimi Haddad is president of Christians for Biblical Equality. Join her this July 24-26 and consider these themes more closely at CBE's 2009 conference, titled "Are Men from Mars and Women from Venus? A Biblical Response to Gender Difference."