Growing up with a single mother, especially MY mother, I learned being a woman and being strong go hand in hand.
Growing up in the Pentecostal church, I learned about the Holy Spirit’s power to give everyone, male or female, the authority and ability to preach the Gospel, live a Christ-like life, and do fantastic works that would bring people to Jesus.
In two formative ways, I learned from a young age that to be a woman is not in and of itself a hindrance to accomplishing anything. Being a woman, in my biological and church family alike, was something to be celebrated. My mother emboldened me to work hard to reach my goals and not let anyone get in the way of them. The Spirit gave me the power to do anything God put in my heart to do.
So of course it was inevitable that I wondered aloud one day if, being the beloved, empowered woman of God, the Spirit was calling me to be a leader in the church, maybe even a pastor.
And then things got weird.
My mom, on one hand, told me there was no question: of course I could be a pastor if that was what I really wanted to do and worked hard to do it.
The church of my youth and evangelical groups I joined, on the other hand, told me to not be so hasty: there were limits to this empowerment, especially for girls. Perhaps the Spirit could have given me the gifts of teaching, but only to teach certain people, like children, youth, and other women.
But to teach everyone, including (and especially) men? God wouldn’t find that quite acceptable, they said. You heard God wrong on that. Maybe instead of being a pastor, you’re called to be a pastor’s wife.
I balked quite a bit at that idea.
So I found myself confused. And in my confusion, I asked more questions.
I asked, “Why would the Spirit awaken such gifts within me only to put odd limits on them for the sole fact that I am female, not male?”
The church answered, “God’s ways are not our ways.”
I asked, “Then why would the Bible contain women like Miriam the prophetess, Deborah the judge, and Mary Magdalene the apostle to the apostles?”
And they answered, “Those women were anomalies.”
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The church told me they were performing these “men only” roles due to a lack of any “worthy” men willing to do the work. So, God used the women because there weren’t any men willing enough to do their jobs.
After all, someone said, if God can speak through rocks and donkeys, God can speak through women, too, when necessary.
So, they told me, don’t interpret those women as the norm. God wouldn’t normally use women to lead and preach and do “men’s” work. God only uses them “In Case of Emergency,” as if those women were put behind a glass case for God to shatter and use when the fire was out of control, and the “real men” weren’t there to do their jobs. Those women kept things going, but then they had to go right back to their “normal” roles upon completing the task.
The message rang loud and clear: the only way women get to be the heroes, in the biblical or Christian story, is when God uses them in spite of their womanhood.
As I’ve shared before, wrestling with my calling as a woman is nothing new. I, along with countless other women pursuing pastoral ministry, have had to defend my desire to preach and the validity of my Christian faith in ways most men will never have to. What I’ve noticed lately, though, is how big of an influence storytelling has been in this struggle.
In the especially difficult times of my faith journey, when I wondered whether I was meant to lead or leave the Church, I turned to stories for solace and inspiration. I read comics and books, and watched shows and movies, some of which featured some amazing female protagonists. Through these pursuits, I found Buffy, Kamala Khan, River Song, Misty Knight, and Jessica Jones, among others.
And I noticed something about these characters, something in how their creators made them that contradicted what the churches taught me about biblical women.
They weren’t anomalies. They belonged in their worlds. They were there on purpose.
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They weren’t there because a man didn’t step up and “do his job,” or because there were no rocks or donkeys willing to do any supernatural work.
They were there because the author wanted them and needed them there, as they were, to tell the story.
This hit me like an Epiphany, the kind that awakens you to what you’ve known deep inside for a long time but haven’t found a way to acknowledge yet.
And this Epiphany shifted my perspective on the biblical women.
Because when I took another look at their stories, I realized they were there on purpose, too.
They, too, were leading the story. They were doing God’s work, because God called them to do it. They did not participate in order to take on some other guy’s neglected burden. God gave them this work on purpose.
Miriam prophesied not because Moses and Aaron wouldn’t, but because she couldn’t hold God’s truth in her and needed tambourines and song to proclaim it.
Deborah led not because Barak wouldn’t, but because leading as a judge utilized the passion and power with which God had already endowed her.
Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb long enough to witness the miracle of Christ’s resurrection out of her own grief and love for Jesus, not so God could spite the other disciples.
And Paul himself described Junia, not Junias, as “noted among the apostles,” placing her not only in league with the male apostles but as one of the greatest of them, because he knew she kept the story of Christ going alongside the men who walked with Jesus.
These and many other women fill the pages of the very Bibles used to silence and degrade women. And their stories keep the tale of God’s radical and inclusive love and justice moving forward, and they continue to proclaim encouragement, empowerment, and love to our sisters in Christ today.
These women were not anomalies. They were heroines in a long line of powerful, important biblical women, and when we honor the heroines of the Bible, we honor the heroines of faith today.
So Church, lift up the female biblical heroes in a world, and even a religion, that continues to see women as second-best and expendable.
Lift up heroines in society and in literature, from Emma Watson to her literary counterpart Hermione Granger. Lift up the inspirational women who have gone before us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, from Deborah to Maya Angelou. Lift them up to remind women that their callings are not anomalies but necessities in this world which desperately needs their love and care.
When we tell women they are heroines, that their leadership skills and strength are needed, they will no longer consider themselves anomalies, and neither will the Church. They will take their place alongside their brothers and lead the world into tomorrow.
And the Church will be all the better for it, because we will be living into the Kingdom the way God intended: together, as equals.