“I think she’ll be a good pastor,” I said. We were talking about my friend, who was headed to seminary. The reply came swift, full of certainty and disapproval. “The Bible is clear that women can’t be pastors, so if she gets that wrong, what else is she going to get wrong?”
I am a theological mutt. My childhood was formed in the memorization of verses at the Baptist church. My teenage years were formed in the Holy Spirit shenanigans of the Assemblies of God. I went to a Lutheran school for a couple of years, attended a Brethren in Christ church, my genealogical roots run deep in Quakerism, and there was a multitude of non-denominational churches along the way.
The churches that formed me all had theological differences, but a major common thread was that they were all run by men. Men in charge, women at home and deferring to men was the normalcy in my life growing up. I was never taught there were other viable options.
When the crap hit the fan in my life and my faith was hanging by a thread, I dove into the vision of Jesus as presented by Rob Bell. Because of that, narrative theology entered my vocabulary. It was different, and I thought I was holding it at arms length, but over the years, I unconsciously absorbed it.
In the spring of 2010, in a maddening spree of reading spiritual books (I read over 50 books in 6 months), I read an oddly titled book called The Blue Parakeet. Because of my soaking in narrative theology, Blue Parakeet just made sense. I loved having a concise book that explained how to read the Bible as story. My only problem was the last third of the book, where Scot talked about women in the church. Men in authority, women in submission at home as the only way to be a Christian was so ingrained in me, that I just couldn’t accept what he said.
I started getting nervous that I was running down the trail of apostasy. Was all this questioning and learning going to end with me leaving the faith? What if I started getting the Bible wrong? But Scot made a couple of observations that clung to me, in spite of myself, over the next few months. ‘What Did Women Do’, and ‘do we live in light of Genesis 1 or Genesis 3?’
One of the best things about being a visual person is I can look at a blog post from 2 years ago and know if I’ve read it or not. Which is how I know the first post by Rachel Held Evans that I ever read was on June 28, 2010. And it linked to a post that, I didn’t even realize until now, set the stage for me to question the role of women in the church.
For a few months I was a sporadic reader, but eventually I learned how to use an RSS reader and I fell in love with the blogosphere. And then Rachel profoundly changed how I saw the world.
She was another voice saying that it was ok to wrestle.
She pointed out that when it comes to gender, Christians only focus on certain verses.
Rachel reinforced the idea that the Bible is a conversation starter, not an ender. Ask the questions.
She pointed out the lack of women speakers.
She encouraged me to be open to the other, to love them and engage them.
Her post about being a lousy evangelical made me realize you can be like that and still be a Christian.
The steady drip, drip, drip of Rachel’s questions and answers and wrestling of what it meant to be a woman in the church slowly started changing my mind. She was showing me that it was possible to be a woman and have an opinion, and Jesus was ok with it.
Month after month she fleshed out the questions that Scot had raised.
I came to understand that it was a legitimate biblical understanding to believe in the equality of women, inside the church and marriage. But I still couldn’t call myself a feminist. I still couldn’t bring myself to say out loud that I supported feminine equality. That just sounded too radical, and surely the issue wasn’t that important, was it?
I love physical books and refuse to ever own a Kindle or any other e-reader. But somehow, I found myself buying my first e-book. It was a short book, written by Scot, called Junia Is Not Alone. That book completed my journey. I still wouldn’t use the phrase ‘feminist’ until reading Julie Clawson’s excellent series 7 months later, but after Junia, I was one in everything but name.
Junia revealed how men had single-handedly erased a female apostle because they didn’t theologically agree with it. After that, I was done. I was just DONE with patriarchy and misogyny and chauvinism.
In the past 9 and a half months, I have found so much freedom in relaxing and being myself. I’m not worrying about being the right kind of woman, the right kind of Christian. I can just be. I can think deep thoughts and contemplate theology without worrying I’m straying into masculine territory. I can enjoy homemaking without worrying that it defines me.
Being a Christian feminist is freeing me of the choke-hold that other’s opinions have on me. I still care what people think of me, but the people who don’t understand me and don’t want to, well, their opinions are just becoming less and less important to me.
Before, I had believed everything I had been taught. I wasn’t taught to question or wrestle. I had not been taught there were varying interpretations and cultural contexts. So now I analyze and I can be too cynical, and I’m always looking for the other side of the story.
If my Christianity is defined by how I interpret certain verses or by what activities I engage in, then I want no part of that. I am opting out of a system that puts everyone in a box based on their chromosomes. I am embracing a system that values humanity solely because they are created in the image of God.
My path to feminism started in the spring of 2010, and ended on December 4, 2011. Thanks to Rachel and Scot, and a couple of strong posts by Sarah, I’ve realized the underlying thread tying my theological buffet together is Jesus, not gender.
This post is part of the Feminist’s Odyssey Blog Carnival on Faith and Feminism.