My siblings and I were setting the table when we heard an echo from the kitchen. “Honey, please put down that chain saw and come in; dinner is getting cold.” It was a typical weekend growing up in our home. My dad joyfully spent the day in the kitchen preparing us an amazing meal while my mom gladly labored outside building something with power tools.
Besides their career choices– my dad the financial provider and my mom the homemaker–my parents shattered every other “biblical gender role”. In fact, when my parents tried to “fit” into the “right” gender roles, not only were they personally stifled, but everyone else was robbed too.
I witnessed God’s glory and joy shining brightest when they lived from their giftedness, not some generic mold the church tried to cram them into. I wanted to thrive and shine like my parents. So I, too, sought to love God with all my heart and mind and soul and strength, and by using what He put in me, to love and serve others. By the time I was baptized in middle school, it was obvious I had a gift for leading and inspiring people. On my co-ed high school track team of over 150 athletes, I was voted team captain both junior and senior year. As a part of the student government, I thrived on the microphone. The basketball gym would rise and fall with cheers at the direction of my voice. At each End-of-the-Year Banquet, “The Most Inspirational” award was given to me.
Church was no different. I organized and led groups often—both formally and informally. I felt most alive sharing the love of Jesus with others whether it was to a crowd of strangers in San Francisco, or on the high school quad at lunch, or to the girl in Las Vegas caught up in prostitution who became my pen pal.
Every now and then, some of the guys in our youth group would tell me I should not be in leadership because God made girls to be “silent and submissive”. I found it curious. They liked to cherry pick certain verses to enforce while ignoring other ones—even from the same paragraph in Scripture! Interestingly enough, they didn’t seem to care that I was bold and eloquent when it meant I bore pain and loneliness for standing up for the “least of these”. Their conviction for biblical integrity seemed to wane considerably if it meant their discomfort, and grow with zealousness when I was leading something they desired to take over.
The double standard became undeniably evident when I was 18. The speaker at an event challenged each of us to consider God’s call on our lives. I came forward with the conviction to do full-time ministry. I was the only girl among a myriad of boys. The leaders shared all the options for church leadership with the boys. They cast a vision for how to best cultivate the gifts of leadership, preaching and teaching—gifts I had already evidenced with as much competence and authority as any of the peers standing next to me.
But with me, well, they didn’t know what to do or say. “Sweetie, I guess you can be a pastor’s wife or a missionary. If I were you, I would start praying for God to bring a man into your life so you can serve under his leadership. Oh, and you may need to tone down your passion. It’s going to be hard for someone to lead you with all that fervor and strength. ” And that was that.
The confusion, neglect, and rejection I felt at that moment was suffocating. I remember thinking, God, did you accidentally dispense these gifts to me or forget to make me a male? Because if I had been born with different anatomy, I would have been praised for my gifts and ushered into places of leadership. Instead, I was told to “tone it down” so some guys’ “biblical manhood” wouldn’t be emasculated by my passion and strength.
I found it ironic that a woman could do all the hard work of courageously entering a foreign land, building a church in the middle of nowhere, and even teach men with the denomination’s approval as “missionaries”. But God forbid that same woman do anything close to that level of leadership in the American church among white, privileged men.
Something didn’t add up. I wanted to love Jesus and use my life to serve Him. I wanted to be obedient to my Creator. But something in my spirit wasn’t willing to take this notion of biblical womanhood as God’s authority. I wasn’t ready to suppress the best parts of myself in the name of “biblical gender roles”. I needed to see for myself if these assigned roles really were “biblical”. So, I headed off to college to study the source of authority I knew we could agree on: the Word of God.
During my college breaks at home, guys at church would make sure to tell me it was a waste of time for me—A GIRL—to spend college studying the Bible. Did they not read the account of Martha and Mary? Did they forget that Jesus actually praised the very thing they were condemning in me?
These guys, who did the same thing I did from the stage, distinguished that they were preaching and I was just “sharing”. Why? Because women weren’t meant to be leaders or have authority…just be men’s helpers. Did they forget Jesus chose a woman to be the very first person in history to preach the good news of the gospel? Did they not know that the Hebrew word “helper” wasn’t some inferior assistant, but actually the same word used to refer to God as our helper? By the time I graduated from Westmont College with a double major in Philosophy and Theology, my fervor for the Lord had only intensified. What I felt in my spirit was confirmed by Scripture.
The only thing the Bible showed me about biblical gender roles is there aren’t any fixed biblical gender roles. When Jesus said, “Go and make disciples of all nations…” there wasn’t any footnote saying “But women, first go find a man to be your covering!” Nowhere in Scripture have I found something that says the gifts of the Spirit are dispensed based on gender.
At Pentecost, when Peter proclaimed in the last days, “God will pour out His Spirit on ALL people…both men and women,” he didn’t qualify that declaration by informing the early church he was just referring to salvation, not the specificity of gender roles.
It’s time we stop rendering half the church impotent, purely because of gender, and start letting God’s image bearers live fully from the giftedness God has given. Jesus came to redeem us from the brokenness of Genesis and call us forward to the promises of Revelation. Sadly, it seems much of the church would prefer to stay enslaved like the Pharisees rather than walk in the freedom of Jesus. I choose freedom.
By the way, I did end up meeting a boy and getting married. But instead of serving under his leadership, we serve under the leadership of Jesus TOGETHER. He doesn’t just tolerate my strengths; he actually celebrates them.
When we live from our giftedness, that’s when God’s glory and joy shine the brightest. May we ALL walk in the fullness of who God created us to be and let our lights shine so that they may see our good deeds and give glory to our Father in heaven.