They whisper to us. From the pages of Scripture, countless women whisper to us. But if we’re too loud with our preconceived notions of what women can and cannot do, who they can and cannot be, we will miss it.
We won’t hear them praying, teaching, prophesying, and preaching.
We’ll overlook it when they command armies, take the posture of a disciple, and ensure the continuation of the line of David.
We’ll ignore the female political leaders, deaconesses, and business leaders who grace the pages of our sacred text.
We’ll downplay the fact that it was a woman who brought Jesus into the world, fed him, clothed him, and taught him right from wrong.
We’ll read right past the women who were the first to announce Jesus’s birth, the first ones at the tomb, and the first preachers of the good news of Jesus’s resurrection.
Regardless of your feelings about it, it’s a fact that the vast majority of human cultures have been dominated by a patriarchal way of thinking and living and structuring society and households. A pervasive system of patriarchy has existed historically within Churches of Christ, and most of Christendom throughout the last 2,000 years (though this is changing in many streams of Christian faith). This system is marked by the belief that women are created unequal to men–and not just unequal, but inferior and subordinate to men. Women are treated as such through limited or denied participation and leadership opportunities, a denial or rejection of giftedness, and subordinate status in the home, church, and society. As Churches of Christ increasingly seek to live missionally, engaging the ongoing story of God in this missional era, the historical exclusion of women must be addressed.
In the New Testament we see Jesus, the Son of God, who announces the coming of the kingdom of God. In his life and teachings we see glimpses of this kingdom that has arrived but is not fully here yet. In this kingdom, we are “created in Christ Jesus for good works” (Eph 2:10), “citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God” (2:19), and in Christ we are “built together spiritually into a dwelling place for God” (2:22). Jesus’s life, death, burial, and resurrection ushered in the kingdom of God among us. In the time since Jesus’s ascension, we have been living in the in-between times. And a mark of this time is a proleptic ethic of the church which says that we are so sure that the kingdom of God has triumphed over death that we do now what the kingdom entails. All of the ways of the church are to be bearing witness to the kingdom of God. And in this kingdom, “there is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus” (Gal 3:28). As long as we fail to experience and live into this reality, all of God’s people are robbed of the fullness of the kingdom of God. This is a loss, not only for those who have been silenced, but for all of God’s people who fail to experience the fullness of the kingdom through the diversity of voices represented in our Bible classes, our worship, and our pulpits. As a reflection and embodiment of this diverse and inclusive kingdom, hearing both male and female voices is vital for our life together and our witness to the world.
Churches of Christ
Over the past few decades, we in the Churches of Christ have discussed at great length the “issue” of “women’s roles.” As a result of these conversations, many women are serving in areas of public worship and leadership that include leading corporate prayers, reading Scripture, passing communion trays, presiding at the Lord’s Table, leading singing, teaching adult Bible class, and – in a few cases – preaching and serving as elders.
I am grateful that our daughters and sons have the opportunity to see women and men serving together in capacities previously reserved only for men. While small steps have been taken these past few years, our work is far from complete. We must continue to make progress towards God’s vision for the church, embracing in our polity and our gatherings God’s preferred future for creation found in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. For it is through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus that we believe that death has been overcome and that the kingdom of God has come near. And this kingdom is not what we expect. The kingdom announced by Jesus is upside-down, where success is not measured by financial wealth but by poverty of spirit. In this kingdom, the lowly are elevated and the mighty are brought down. This kingdom centers on the mission of God, which is to redeem all of creation, bringing creation into restored relationships with each other and with God. And that starts with our embrace and inclusion of one another, of being united in our diversity, and in celebrating God’s Spirit which is indeed poured out on all.
May we hear the whispers of our children who wonder when they get to share what God has placed on their hearts. May we hear the whispers of our older folks who have been leading, serving, preaching, and teaching from the pews and couches. May we hear the whispers from the pages of Scripture, witness the beauty and fullness of God’s kingdom, and bear witness to it by living into God’s preferred future.