It is Friday afternoon and my 14-year old folds her tall frame into the passenger seat. “Mom, I am so angry.” Uh-oh. My mother’s heart braces for teen-age trouble.
“Today in class, Mr. X. said that women cannot be pastors because they are inferior to men. And Mom, when I told him I think God has equipped women to be or to do anything that God calls them to, including pastor, he told me I was wrong and that my perspective was unbiblical.”
As third-culture kids, our four girls have spent their lives in mixed culture, mixed denominational, mixed theological settings.
They are well-schooled in the fact that many Christians, some that we call close friends, disagree with our Wesleyan stance on women in ministry. We are learning to inhabit space where we are obedient to God’s call yet respectful of other opinions. This is healthy. But Mr. X crossed a line with his blanket statement that left no room for conversation and no respect for women.
There are aspects of motherhood that are enormously challenging. The messy bun and french braid that she is counting on me to pull-off tomorrow. The decisions about how far to push chores. The ten breaths I force myself to take before I intervene in passionate sibling interchanges. But raising independent, compassionate, and called young women has been more joy than challenge.
Please don’t read ‘joy’ and infer easy or flawless, or smooth.
Working alongside my girls in refugee camps across the Balkan peninsula last summer was pure joy. Watching my girls play with Roma children in Bulgarian villages has been pure joy. Including them in theological conversations around the supper table with visiting professors has been pure joy.
Our girls have soaked up and soaked in the air of ministry and it has never been attached to their gender.
They are fully feminine and often fearless to a fault, but my most fervent mother’s prayer is that they will be fully available to God and his call on their lives. Full stop. Because God wants women in the pulpit, in the seminary classroom, and in the streets where freedom dies every day just as much as he wants us in the kitchen.
Luke 10 gives us the story of Mary and Martha to clarify something essential for us. The role of a Jewish woman in first century Israel was as a second-class citizen, at best. They were slaves to the needs, desires, and whims of their master who was either father or husband. But, in this passage, we find Mary in the posture of a student who is sitting at the feet of the Rabbi Jesus for the purpose of learning.
From our 21st century perspective, there seems to be nothing fearless or radical about the feminine presence in the classroom or even the response that Jesus gives.
The key here is that if we are not careful, we filter all of scripture through this 21st century perspective. But Mary and Jesus are giving birth to a revolutionary, system-altering, cultural shift in this passage. Mary is doing what women in that culture were forbidden to do. She is being taught, she is being trained, she is being prepared for ministry that would reach beyond the kitchen. And Jesus is unlocking the door.
As an ordained woman living, ministering, and mothering in cross cultural settings where the roles and freedoms of women are often complicated, I am aware of how cultural morés form invisible roadblocks. Like the interlinked pavers of a stone sidewalk, they become impenetrable walls, foundations, and ceilings. We repeatedly hear, “God only calls men to pastor.” But, is this what we see in scripture?
In the Mary and Martha story, we find ourselves called to serve a wall-demolishing, roaring lion of a God who does the impossible, the unexpected, and the miraculous. “Martha, Martha, you are worried and troubled about many things. But one thing is needed, and Mary has chosen that good part, which will not be taken away from her.”
If God wants to call women to pastor, he will do it. He is doing it.
We live in a historically fascinating and hope-filled point. God is roaring and the walls of cultures and religions that have hushed the Christ-message are being deconstructed. It should not surprise us that they are often also the walls that silence the voice of women.
Over the last two years, more than 1 million people with non-Christian backgrounds have swept through the traditionally Orthodox and Catholic Balkans. These are the same locations where 25 years ago, Communism had unequivocally proclaimed ‘God is dead.’ Let’s not miss what God is doing. These very diverse cultures share one commonality: a failed attempt to control and domesticate the wild, roaring, powerful presence of God.
Even as I write this post, I am drinking a latte on the corner of a now peaceful Maidan Square in Kyiv.
This is where Ukrainians dug up the very pavers of the square’s sidewalk to shield themselves from bullets in 2014 and 2015. Just down the street is an empty pedestal. It once held Lenin’s statue which had somehow weathered the storms of the fall of communism in the 1990’s.
This square evolved into a global proclamation of the Ukrainian will to speak in the fall of 2014. Unarmed Ukrainians with the sheer numbers of common, ordinary people and the force of their will dismantled Lenin’s statue to send a clear message to the channels of power. “Our young people will not be treated with violence and disrespect.” The embryo of the Maidan protests began with a group of peacefully protesting Ukrainian youth.
I want young women and men to speak up when they see injustice. I want young men and young women to use their feet, their arms, their mouths, and their minds to proclaim peace and well-being in a world where hope often bleeds in the street.
And I want young women and men to pastor and preach when they sense God’s call on their lives.
As a follower of Jesus who happens to be a woman, an ordained elder, a missionary, and a mom, it is my responsibility, my privilege and my call to not only be present in the streets proclaiming peace but to also be a common, everyday Mary who makes space for others at the feet of Jesus.
To imagine that God does not call women into ministry? There is nothing more unbiblical. May God give us fearless hearts and grace filled actions to answer his call wherever he leads us.
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