women's leadership

Preaching While Female

4Max / Shutterstock
4Max / Shutterstock

A MILLION YEARS ago, when I was 23 years old, I sat in a lecture hall, flanked by college students who tutored at the youth program where I worked. They had invited me to their campus ministry’s worship service. An Asian-American woman named Susan Cho—young (about my age), tall, straight-backed, clear-voiced, and refreshingly funny—stepped to the podium and began preaching.

I sat transfixed. She dove into the scripture and it came alive! She explained what was going on in the world of the biblical characters in a way that made it feel as if they were living today. I felt like I knew them—I understood them. And then she brought home the meaning of the text for our lives in Los Angeles, months after the 1992 riots. This woman gave one of the most dynamic and biblically accurate sermons I had ever heard.

But then a familiar thought came into my head: “This is heresy,” it whispered.

You see, in college I was part of an evangelical ministry in which women could lead behind the scenes and share their testimony during worship services, but we could not preach or, for that matter, teach the scripture—especially to men. Ideas of male dominance were never taught outright, but they were observed like tenets of the faith.

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In the Image of God: Sex, Power, and ‘Masculine Christianity’

A woman stands alone on the stairs. Photo courtesy Kati Neudert/shutterstock.com

Most of us are too familiar with this story: an Upper Midwestern Baptist minister claims that “God made Christianity to have a masculine feel [and] ordained for the church a masculine ministry.” Or a Reformed Christian pastor mocks the appointment of the first female head of the Episcopal Church, comparing her to a “fluffy baby bunny rabbit.” Or a Southern Baptist megachurch pastor in California says physical abuse by one’s spouse is not a reason for divorce. Or numerous young evangelical ministers brag about their hot wives in tight leather pants.

Fewer of us are familiar with this story: Tamar is raped by her half-brother Amnon. Tamar protests her brother’s advances, citing the social code of Israel, his reputation, and her shame, to no avail. Their brother Absalom commands her to keep quiet, and their father, the great King David, turns a blind eye.

What do these contemporary statements above, delivered into cultural megaphones with conviction and certainty, have to do with the Old Testament rape and silencing of Tamar? The difficult answer is, quite a lot. The narrative dominance of these stories rests on power and control, which — whether intentional or not — speaks volumes about whom the church serves and what the church values.

Fierce For Peace

TWO LIBERIAN WOMEN defy the traditional media narrative of violent conflict, which all too often focuses on men who are fighting as the center of the story. In their recent books, Leymah Gbowee (a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient) and Agnes Fallah Kamara-Umunna turn this notion on its head and tell their stories of surviving 14 years of civil war. They are not victims, but central figures in bringing peace and reconciliation to their country.

In Mighty Be Our Powers, Gbowee tells the story of women learning about and fighting for their human rights and becoming architects of peace in war-torn Liberia. In 1990, Gbowee had just graduated top of her high school class and begun studies at the University of Liberia with dreams of becoming a doctor. Then the war broke out and life and her dreams became unraveled and unrecognizable.

As the horror dragged on, Gbowee became involved in peace-building and conflict resolution and transformation. Even as she balanced life as a mother of six children, she worked as a trauma counselor, visiting villages in Liberia where terrible things had taken place and helping people to tell their stories. This dialogue created awareness and helped people to find solutions and work toward conflict resolution.

She eventually brought women together from all walks of life, both Christians and Muslims, to demand an end to the war. Their slogan became, “Does the bullet know Christian from Muslim? Does the bullet choose?” These women announced their alliance with a 200-person march in Monrovia, in which they alternated singing Muslim songs and Christian hymns. They later staged a sit-in until they convinced then-Liberian leader Charles Taylor and the rebel leaders to sit down to peace talks.

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