On a recent tour of Germany I came across the Stolpersteine Project. Stolpersteine (stumbling stones) are small brass-plated blocks or stones embedded into the streets to commemorate victims of Nazi oppression. Each stone is made and laid by hand. They are usually placed just outside the place where the person named on the stone was forcibly taken from their home or business. Each stone begins with HERE LIVED…… One stone. One name. One person. The idea came about while German artist Gunter Demnig was painting a white line through the city of Cologne to commemorate the historical deportation of 1000 gypsies. The line would show where they had been chased to the train station. One day an older woman stopped to scold him, insisting that there had never been any gypsies in Cologne. Shocked, he investigated and found evidence that in the 1930s thousands of gypsies, as well as Jews, had lived side by side with Germans. To combat the human tendency to forget, he designed the first stones. To date, over 48,000 stones have been laid in more than 20 countries. In a sense, The Junia Project is very much like the Stolpersteine Project.
Women have always played a crucial role in the establishment of the Christian church, but I’ve noticed that their contributions are often footnoted and forgotten. When we read philosophy and theology addressing the roles of pastor, apostle, disciple, missionary, etc., we subtly assume a masculine context unless women are specifically brought up. In this post […]
I never thought I would ever write a book about politics! But as my husband (and co-pastor) and I led our congregation through the election season of 2012, we were confronted with the fact that there is no way to NOT be political. We have to live with people and in communities and what happens to those people in our communities, big and small, matters. That’s why we wrote Kings and Presidents: Politics in the Kingdom of God.
Churches have political structures as well. These structures are intended to care for the people and communities living in the Kingdom of God. They ought to look different than the structures of this world. But too often we see the same kinds of power dynamics at work within the church that we see on the campaign trail.
And this is bad news for women in leadership in the church. Advocating for women in ministry has never been more important. Here are my recent reflections on women in church politics:
We had been considering writing a post about the recent visit of Pope Francis to the U.S. when we came across this column by Molly Marshall in the Baptist Global News. We think you will appreciate the way Dr. Marshall, who is the President of Central Baptist Seminary, gets to the heart of the issue.
A bit of sadness crept over me as I watched the departing ceremony of Pope Francis. His presence in our midst has called each of us to a more joyous and merciful way of living. As a nation we have watched him embrace persons in wheelchairs, kiss children, visit those in prison, meet with victims of clergy sexual abuse, reprimand bishops, chide those in political power, and call for us to turn away from a consumerist culture. I miss him already!
When I was a pastor in the nondenominational world, most conversations around gender and church leadership revolved around whether women should preach from the pulpit, teach men, serve on an elder board, or hold the title of pastor. Complementarians claim these roles are reserved for men only, while egalitarians believe that women may lead in these ways. This is the conversation I lived in for many years, first as a complementarian pastor of a nondenominational church for 17 years, and then as an egalitarian, having shifted to an egalitarian view about ten years ago.
Since joining the Anglican Communion six years ago (a Christian community that is more sacramental in its theology), I have been introduced to a new set of conversations about gender and church leadership.
Sacramental Christians include Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, Anglicans and Lutherans. These four groups alone represent more than 14 million Christians worldwide . In this context, conversations about gender are quite different than in evangelical settings. (This is not to say that sacramental Christians cannot also be evangelical – I certainly am both.) For example, many sacramental complementarians have no objection to women teaching men or serving on governing boards. It is not uncommon to find women in complementarian congregations instructing both men and women in matters of theology, Scripture and spiritual practices. These roles are usually not a matter of contention or debate.
What is a matter of debate is whether women may preside over the Sacraments (serving communion), which can only be administered by ordained clergy . Sacramental Complementarians insist that women should not preside over the Sacraments; thus, they should not be ordained as priests or bishops. Egalitarians in sacramental congregations insist that women should preside over the Sacraments; therefore, they support the ordination of women.
Complementarianism looks different in sacramental churches, and centers around keeping women from administering the sacraments.
There are three arguments for this restriction that I want to address:
Here is the fourth and final installment of “More than Footnotes” a series on influential women in church history.
With the influence of the First Great Awakening of American religion (1730s-1740s) as impetus, women in American Christianity were driven by the experience of conversion to transcend prescribed roles and self-understandings.
Here is Part 2 in our series on women in church history.
According to the small handful of literate monks, bishops, and noblemen in the middle ages, the status of women in medieval Christianity was quite the polarizing issue. In Her Story, Barbara MachHaffie notes that on the one hand, women are “denounced in strong terms as wicked and inferior” leading in the worst of cases to witch-hunts throughout the fifteenth to eighteenth centuries (HS. 49). On the other hand, women were also praised by Christianity and idolized as symbols of the Virgin Mary as illustrated by the ideal women preserved for us in the well-known tales of medieval chivalry (HS. 49).
Many Christians have inherited the supposition that the Church has been built on the backs of men. Masculine, courageous, and often oddly wigged men.
When we read philosophy and theology addressing the roles of pastor, apostle, disciple, missionary, etc., we subtly assume a masculine context unless women are specifically brought up. Yet, failing to recognize the essential role of women in Church history is, in my opinion, to wrongly conclude that we should interpret our own story through the broken lens of “he shall rule over her” (Gen. 3:16) in place of humanity’s original commission for partnership (Gen. 2:18). Like the post-Fall curses of death and toil, the curse of unequal partnership is certainly worth fighting as Christianity seeks to understand the leadership behind our historical identity.
In this series I will examine the role of women in different phases of Church history in order to offer a truer picture of Christianity which will benefit women and men alike. In each installment, I will briefly highlight the gender-relevant context of a section of Church history before overviewing important female figures. I will be primarily citing two works called, Her Story(HS) and Discovering Biblical Equality (DBE) for reference. My hope for these posts is to simply offer readers a more complete picture of Christian history which by focusing on the women who are too often footnoted and forgotten.
The term “feminist” gets thrown around a lot in the Christian debate about “a woman’s place”. Having been involved in this debate on the Christian blogosphere for the last year and a half, I have noticed that while many like to talk about feminism, it seems that very few actually know much about it. In fact, I’m not sure any word is more misunderstood and misused in evangelicalism today than “feminist.”
Last year I taught a college course on Women in Politics where we spent 4 weeks going over the history of the women’s movement. We also evaluated egalitarian theology, and the stories of women who were personally touched by feminism. This seemed to help my students understand the power dynamics between men and women in society and have more educated discussions on the topic in class, so I thought it might be of help to others as well.
I really never understood the sister relationship. I grew up as the only daughter and only granddaughter on both sides of my family. But in the past 21 years I have had a crash course in what it means to be a sister through my four girls.
I have learned that sisters can be very similar and still very different. No matter how many times this one may borrow that one’s sweater, she will never know when it was ok to take it without asking. I have learned they may fight with you at home but anyone else will have to deal with them first hand if they speak poorly about you.
I have learned that even the best of sisters try hard not to compare themselves to each other, but often fall into this trap anyway.
Consider the story of Mary and Martha. In the Church we have often compared these sisters to ourselves and others.
There is no evidence in the bible or church history to suggest that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute or the wife of Jesus.  The Catholic Church formally rejected this characterization of Mary in 1969, yet this tarnished picture continues to be perpetuated through books and films like Jesus Christ Superstar (1973), The Last Temptation of Christ (1988), The Passion of the Christ (2004), The Da Vinci Code (2006) and most recently, Risen (2016), a new Columbia Pictures film starring Joseph Fiennes.  Since Mary is not around to defend herself, I’d like to set the record straight.
Throughout history, the church has been characterized by a male-dominated social hierarchy. This worldview has been so pervasive that some even consider it to be “God’s created order.” In light of the prevalence of this pattern, some people have asked me, “Has there ever been a female-dominated culture?”
A 1st century B.C. historian by the name of Diodorus Siculus provides us with the following information:
“Beside the river of Thermadon, therefore, a nation ruled by females held sway, in which women pursued the arts of war just like men…. To the men she [the nation’s Queen] relegated the spinning of wool and other household tasks of women. She promulgated laws whereby she led forth the women to martial strife, while on the men she fastened humiliation and servitude.”
… no one who drinks the old wine seems to want the new wine. ‘The old is just fine,’ they say.” Jesus in Luke 5:39 NLT
I’m not much of a wine drinker, and will admit to being a lousy judge of quality. But I do know that you drink what the host is pouring. To politely refuse what is provided is reasonably understandable. But to insist on being served a different blend – one that you prefer, and definitely aged longer – would be incredibly rude.
The most prominent of my ancestors was a cousin, Elias Hicks (1748-1930), who brought Quakerism to a famous schism in North America. Though he overshadows my female ancestors in history, I recently discovered that the women preceding him were outstanding in their own way. Take for example, one of his great-grandmothers and my 7th great grandmother, Phebe Willets.
I don’t know how to put it less bluntly – I almost missed Phebe because I made the mistake of focusing on the male names in the family, even though between Phebe and myself, there are only two males in 7 generations.
It is all too easy for the loudest and most prolific voices to dominate what a young Christian hears about gender relationships in the Christian church and family.
My twenties were found during the 1990’s. Looking back on that era now, it seems like there was a considerable amount of effort directed toward Christian men to “reclaim” what it meant to be a godly man. As a young husband and father, I recall going through parenting workshops and reading family and parenting books emphasizing ideas I now understand to be based on patriarchy and complementarianism to varying degrees.
On the surface these ministries, classes, and books made quite a bit of sense to a young Christian wanting to live right and “biblically.” And I was almost taken in by them. Almost. But there were things that continued to bother me. They taught what appeared to be a singular vision for what a godly man, a godly woman, and a godly family looks like. The implication was that anything else was less than the biblical model.
For over a decade I didn’t know what to do with the discomfort I felt about what was taught to me as the traditions of gender and family in the church. Then a few years ago I began to encounter blogs and books showing there are other ways that Christians interpret and apply biblical texts, including those dealing with gender.