When I was 5 years old, I sang in my first church choir. My dad encouraged me to sing loud so he could hear me. I did, joyfully and unconsciously convinced that my voice was wanted and welcomed in my church, as loud as I wanted to be.
When I was 14, I had found a quiet place to read my Bible, away from the people gathered at our home for our church’s Memorial Day cookout. That was the first time I read Ephesians 5, and its instructions that wives must submit to their husbands. Shocked, I marched into the living room, where my mother was talking with several other women, to ask about it.
“Did you know about this?” I demanded. “What does this mean?”
They laughed. I remember one woman laughing particularly hard, her eyes full of merriment. “It means that when you get married, you have to do what your husband says.”
“What? You mean I’ll never actually get to grow up and be in charge of my own life? There will always be someone telling me what to do?”
They laughed some more. They said something about God. I don’t remember what exactly.
So I began to learn that to be a godly woman, I must crush any desire I had to take charge of my life. Especially where boys or church were involved. Never take initiative, I learned. Wait. Be quiet. Prepare yourself to do whatever your husband tells you to do. Since I’m not by nature a quiet or submissive person, this caused no end of difficulties and shame when my “passionate” personality broke through the responsive character I was trying to develop. I was Elsa from the movie “Frozen”, trying to suppress power that I’d never been allowed to understand.
In my quiet times with God, reading my Bible, I felt a constant validation of who God made me to be. But when I went to church, I learned that my natural tendencies were rebellious and I needed to get better at keeping my “opinions” to myself and cultivating a quiet spirit. I was not and would never be qualified to participate fully in my home or churches. I am a woman. My job is to follow.
I continued to sing at church. I took lessons. I sang and sang and sang. I was a backup singer. Even after I earned a degree in music, I was a backup singer. Even when I was singing duets. Even though I sometimes sang solos and directed choirs. I was always considered a backup singer.
Once or twice I read a specific, assigned Bible verse in church – but I was never welcome to speak devotional thoughts. I knew by then that my voice was wanted only when it was doing what it was told. I understood that my voice was a decoration to ornament someone else’s thoughts – never my own tool to convey my own thoughts. Not in church.
By 28, I was married to a sweet man and we had three toddlers. I had met my husband when we were both working as missionaries, but for reasons which I will skip over now, I found myself living as a typical suburban housewife. Isolated in my house most days, arranging my babies’ naps and their many meals, I often connected with people on Facebook. That was the first time I read a Biblical challenge to my understanding of my role as a godly woman.
A friend had posted an article from The Junia Project and I devoured everything I could find after reading it. I learned about Jerome and what he’d done to Junia’s name. I learned about the unusual word authentein, translated as “authority” in 1 Timothy 2. I learned that when I read passages about women with the cultural context in mind, the verses were freeing and affirming of the equal spiritual authority of women. I learned that women had been deacons and apostles and teachers and prophets in the churches of the New Testament. I learned about the concept of mutual submission and I saw how beautifully consistent that concept is with the words of Christ. “Love each other”, says Jesus. “Everyone submit to everyone”, says Paul. “Amen”, say my husband and me.
When I was 30 my family moved to Mexico. One morning at church, a man said to me, “You will be my backup singer for the English, she will be his backup singer for Spanish and we [men] will be the lead singers.” I looked at him and thought, “You didn’t even bother coming to practice. And we’re singing exactly the same thing. Why do we have to have a lead and a backup?” It was a jolt to my heart.
I looked at my sons. I looked at my nephews and my nieces. I realized that I do not want our children growing up in churches where their biology will determine how fully and in what form they are able to worship their God. Where other people will tell them what God can and cannot call them to do. Where they will be taught, week in and week out, that boys are more like God than girls are.
I asked myself, “Is the equality of women in the Christian church and home really a secondary issue?” I started writing and my blog, The Broken Curse, was born. Jesus broke the curse, including the part about men ruling over women! Why do so many of us work so hard to keep living as if that part of the curse were still in power over us? With Paul I say, “No! It was for freedom we were set free! Let us stand firm and refuse to take up the yoke of slavery once again!”
So my family looked for a church where women are encouraged to participate at every level. When we couldn’t find one we started one in my sister’s home. I was praying one day, telling God that I thought it would be nice if he sent us someone who knew how to do “pastory” things.” He said to me, “What are you going to do about that?”
I argued with God. “You want me to be a pastor? “I am not qualified. If I were going to be a pastor, wouldn’t I have known that YEARS ago? We can’t pay for it, you know. We have no extra money – how are we going to pay for SEMINARY?” Over and over I heard, “I will take care of it.” To my every objection: “I will take care of it.”
And so at 31 years old, I started studying for a Master of Divinity degree. With all my heart, I want to join Jesus in bringing good news to the poor and proclaiming release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind! I want to be a part of Jesus’ work to let the oppressed go free and to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor!
And I know now that God made me the way I am on purpose – all my strength, all my boldness, all my womanhood – just so I can do just that. I know again that my voice is beautiful and welcome in God’s house. As loud as I can, I shout – Jesus loves us and has set us free!
[Click here for a Spanish translation of this post.]