As I pull up a chair to this virtual table, I am humbled to be a part of such a great group of people and to join in the conversation about women, especially in regards to their role in the Church. This issue is one of great importance to me, and it is an area where conversation is needed.
My story begins in east Texas, where I grew up in a rural, Southern Baptist church where my dad served as pastor. My mom was supportive of my dad’s ministry and performed the typical duties that many pastors’ wives at that time filled – pianist and Sunday School teacher. It was also in this American evangelical context that I was introduced to the gospel.
At a very early age I felt a “call” to ministry; basically, I began sensing a desire to serve God in some full-time capacity. As a seven- or eight-year-old girl, I didn’t know what complementarian or egalitarian meant or that there was even a debate about what women could or could not do. All I knew is what I saw lived out in my context. I had a fierce desire as a young girl to preach the gospel, and if not for my gender would have said at age eight that God was calling me to be a preacher. Instead, I distinctly remember crying to my mom, “Why didn’t God make me a boy so that I could be a preacher?” I simply assumed that God would make me into a missionary because that was the only calling I knew women doing, even though I had no desire to plant churches or go overseas (you see, even my understanding of being a missionary was limited).
Despite what I saw around me for women in ministry, which was almost nonexistent, this desire to commit myself to a ministry of the gospel only increased with time. I also credit my parents for affirming me so that I would follow my calling. They never framed the discussion about my calling around my gender, but instead taught me what it meant to be faithful.
I vocalized my call to ministry when I was 15, followed this calling to a Baptist college to major in Christian ministry, and then continued on to higher theological education at Beeson Divinity School where I received an M.Div.
(As an aside, I wanted to go to seminary because I believed that even as a woman called to ministry I needed the same training as my male peers. I also believed I was called to a high calling that deserved the best training, and I did not want to give my male peers any reason to question or doubt my call or teaching of Scripture.)
It wasn’t until I was in college that I was introduced to the debate about women in ministry. One defining moment for me took place in a theology class where we were to debate a fellow student on a topic. I was assigned the egalitarian view of which I was to defend against the complementarian view. In order to prepare for the debate, I read a book that has impacted me the most in regards to this issue called, Two Views on Women in Ministry. Craig Keener, one of the contributors, had some rather convincing arguments from which I drew upon for the debate. That debate coupled with my own calling ushered me into this journey of exploration on how to understand Scripture concerning women and on what roles within vocational ministry were available for women like me.
To be honest, despite my calling, I was resistant to want to push my own desires and experiences onto Scripture. I wanted Scripture to inform my views (not the other way around), and the complementarian arguments from 1 Timothy seemed too compelling. Yet, I was open and curious as to if I, as a complementarian by default, had been misreading Scripture and if a compelling case for egalitarianism or something not as strict as complementarianism could be made from Scripture. One of the many aspects that I loved about Beeson was that I sat under professors who were complementarian, others who were egalitarian and still others in between, which allowed me to hear voices from all sides and made me more well-rounded. It also was during my time at Beeson that I heard compelling egalitarian views from N.T. Wright, in particular on his interpretation of the 1 Timothy passage. Yet, I still was unsure as to how to interpret Scripture on the issue.
By far the most influential person on this issue for me has been my husband. We met when I was finishing up my M.Div. He was a new, New Testament professor at Beeson. We later dated and married. He is a very competent scholar, has a high view of Scripture and is characterized by humility. His nuanced understanding of Scripture on this issue has helped me work out some of my own beliefs.
So where am I today?
In regards to my views, I find myself on a journey where I am not quite on board with all the complementarian views and yet neither completely on board with all the egalitarian views. I am open to my views being challenged and reshaped if a convincing and compelling argument from Scripture is made. This past summer and Fall we lived in Cambridge, England for my husband’s sabbatical. While there we were part of a small, Anglican church which had ordained women ministers on staff and who would preach on occasion. Being part of a church committed to Scripture and which used both men and women within the worship service was a beautiful picture of the Imago Dei and challenged me in several areas.
One part of the current debate that has bothered me is this idea that you must be either/or. On both sides I have heard that there is no middle ground or grey area. I disagree.
Like the other contributors have voiced, I, too, am tired of and discouraged by the attitudes and tones that have for too long dominated the conversation. For too long the conversation has centered on what women cannot do instead of how the Church can involve more women in the community of faith. There is much to be explored here.
I also believe that we, as the Church, can do better. I believe that we need to approach each other and this issue with greater humility.
In regards to my ministry, I am writing, teaching and will have some preaching opportunities soon. But, the going has been slow and often times discouraging for me as a woman called to ministry. Besides teaching Scripture, I believe God has given me a vision to guide and encourage young females who feel called to ministry. This is a group of people who, from my experience and from talking with others, largely have been ignored and left on their own. How do we cultivate the next generation of female ministers? The problem is that I don’t see this as an important question in my denomination and within a significant area of the greater American evangelical community.
I am excited to discuss these things here, and my prayer is that these discussions will spur action and change within our contexts.