I enjoy addressing the contributions of women in history at Christian colleges or universities. When invited to speak, I often make an effort to learn something about the school, particularly their founders and graduates. In doing so, I have discovered an impressive number of women graduates who were trained by these former Bible institutes (today's Christian colleges and seminaries), and, having the full support of the school's founders, went on to become leaders on mission fields all over the world. I usually do not have to work very hard to recover these histories.
Typically these schools have archives that are filled with letters and journals written by their female graduates. Women were great letter writers, and they loved to report on their gospel work around the world. These audacious women were not interested in becoming "Miss Captivating" in order to attract "Mr. Wild at Heart" because, well, they had their own wild hearts, hearts that were wild about Jesus. Their passion for Christ was itself riveting and captivated the special attention of secular journalists eager to record women's unprecedented leadership all over the world. What is more, the Bible institutes that trained these women were proud of the wild-hearted way in which their female graduates served Christ in dire circumstances and without much support. Their efforts were enormously successful and God blessed their work. Because of this, these Bible institutes celebrate their female graduates without reservation.
Missiologists, like Dana Robert in her book American Women in Mission: A Social History of Their Thought and Practice, argue that
By the final years of the twentieth century, more than half of all Christians were to be found outside the region that had been the historical heartland of Christianity for nearly 1500 years. New centers of Christian strength and vitality were now to be found where missionary initiatives were focused in widely scattered places in the Americas, Africa, and Asia.
This was the direct result of the emphasis evangelicals placed on evangelism and conversion, and women were the driving force behind it, outnumbering men on the mission field two to one. These women not only founded mission organizations, but they also funded these organizations and occupied all levels of service and leadership. Even so, as I retold the gospel work of these women, the Bible faculty in one school refused to attend my lectures. Why? Their reason was that, as evangelicals with a high view of scripture, they do not believe that women should preach or teach men, even though entire communities learned about Christ because of their female graduates! These women helped contribute to one of the greatest expansions of Christian faith in history, and they were compelled to do so by scripture-to preach the good news.
"But how are they to call on one in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in one of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone to proclaim him? And how are they to proclaim him unless they are sent? As it is written, 'How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!'" (Romans 10:14-15, NRSV).
The question becomes, will the real evangelicals please stand up? Does scripture, anywhere, rebuke women for preaching the good news? While Paul asked chattering women to ask questions of their husbands at home (1 Corinthians 14:34), or told women they may not exercise abusive authority over men in the church (1 Timothy 2:11-12), scripture celebrates the women who publish the glad tidings of Christ's completed work on Calvary. We can support the gospel work of women with confidence, just as Paul did when he celebrated their service as prophets, evangelists, teachers, and even one who was prominent among the apostles.
Can we not give women the freedom Paul gave Junia the apostle (Romans 16:7), Priscilla who taught Apollos the way of the Lord more perfectly (Acts 18:24-26), the women prophets at Corinth (1 Corinthians 11:5), Phoebe the deacon (Romans 16:1-2), and those who labored beside him as missionaries (Romans 16:12, Philippians 4:2-3)? Friends, if we hold scripture as authoritative, let us include women to the extent Paul did.
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."