Recently, my mind has been in a million directions (even more than usual) with thoughts about a woman’s place/role/voice in society and in the church. Those who have been around longer than I have may tell a different story, but I believe that we find ourselves in an unprecedented time in regard to women – young and old. In just the past few months, not only have I been faced with these matters, I have been bombarded! It’s hard to even process it all. As a mom of three daughters, I can’t help but agonize over the horrific stories of those who have been the target of a master manipulator … a predator … an abuser. Because our family has personally been way too close to this kind of evil, my heart is fragile and sensitive about the way society, and specifically people of faith, responds.
For months, I have been listening to, reading and considering the accounts of all kinds of women who have experienced some sort of mistreatment at the hands of someone who misused and abused their power. This power has been exhibited through sheer strength as well as through persuasive, well-calculated and intimidating words that result in some sort of self-gratification for the abuser. It has often occurred at the hands of men who have positions of influence and authority, while appearing to be quality leaders. Trusted coaches, teachers, doctors and politicians – and sadly, even fathers and brothers and uncles – have maneuvered their way into the lives of vulnerable or unsuspecting women and preyed upon them in unthinkable ways. I have been especially sickened when the perpetrator or protector of such wickedness is actively involved in a faith-based community. Because one of the tenets of faith (universally) is character/integrity, it is excruciating when this kind of hypocrisy is exposed.
As more and more testimonies of abuse arise, we are faced with the magnitude of the impact of our response! The people of faith have an important role in this process. I believe we must be the first responders. Not the last. But how are we to respond?
Certainly there have been false accusations brought against men in powerful positions. Especially those in the public eye. And I have no doubt that the enemy of Christ and of His church would enjoy nothing more than destroying the character of a godly man who is being mightily used in pushing back the darkness. I understand that this is a possibility … a frightful one.
But that should not be a deterrence to Jesus people being the most vocal advocates for legitimate victims. It should not lead us to justify our silence. It can not keep us from being a champion, a loud voice, for the many women who have been hushed and pushed aside just because of the embarrassment it may cause the church (leaders and members). There are too many scriptures about our responsibility to care for the marginalized – the oppressed, the weak, the vulnerable – that we would trivialize the stories of pain and shame which have been crippling a large part of our society. The wise King Solomon had much to say about how we should view and defend the vulnerable. The psalmists and the prophets also call us to protect, rescue and speak up for those who do not have a voice.
Consequently, as a woman of faith, my heart is broken. I’ve been grieving the lack of influential Christian male voices in this arena. Even worse, there appears to have been years of neglect and even cover-up in many instances where there was a legitimate complaint and substantial evidence of damaging behavior. Some have even gone to great lengths to keep their secrets from being exposed.
Now, we find ourselves in this excruciating season of the unthinkable revelations of such horror. Maybe society isn’t more broken than we’ve ever been, but we certainly are more aware of just how broken we are. Though I don’t intend to delve into the complicated and controversial arena of gender identity, I do feel I must qualify my own views of womanhood as it relates to me personally. These views provide the filter in which I process all of it. My identity as a woman is linked to my roles as a wife, a mom, a grandma, a daughter, a sister, a friend, and a ministry partner. As such, I have been especially affected by the stories of the women who have come forward in the last few years … and the stories behind the stories. As a woman, I consider myself to be an uncommon blend: I am an independent thinker; a theological conservative (i.e., inerrant and authoritative scriptures, firm belief in the deity of Christ, salvation comes through His death, there was a bodily resurrection); I’m more moderate in social issues; and I’m quite comfortable with women in most ministry roles, while I’m equally comfortable with my husband in a headship role in our family. I fully embrace my womanhood – meaning, I believe God created me distinctively Woman on purpose.
It is within this realm of womanhood that I speak. I believe my feminine voice is relevant and essential to the conversation.
This belief inevitably leads us to the difficult discussions surrounding a woman’s “place” in the church. How and where do we use our voice? How do we maintain a biblical perspective of womanhood (obviously this is subject to our own view of the authority and infallibility of the scriptures) while pursuing our calling as believers to speak up and speak out for the vulnerable.
“…. this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:
And it will be in the last days, says God, that I will pour out My Spirit on all humanity; then your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, and your old men will dream dreams. I will even pour out My Spirit on My male and female slaves in those days, and they will prophesy.”
I have read this passage many times and still don’t have a grasp of all the implications of the text. We know that the scene(s) in Acts 2 & 4 demonstrate that God spoke through “common people”, not just the priests and scribes. This happened much to everyone’s amazement. But is Joel’s prophecy, referred to in Acts, meant for a time beyond what we see happening that day at Pentecost? If so, are we to disregard the teachings of Paul regarding the role of women in the church, believing him to be misguided or blinded by his culture? Do we forge ahead as women prophets – loud and proud and allowed? Or do we cover our heads and our mouths and our minds, sit silently by and keep our opinions to ourselves while misogynists abuse their power and treat us as property?
Although we do not find biblical guidance or answers to fully satisfy every single one of our concerns as seeking women, I choose to continually pursue the Truth and pray for wisdom. As I have sought answers and studied the scriptures, I have been unable to ignore the passages that give instruction to me as a woman of faith (within the church). And I am not comfortable with allowing culture to dictate my identity or roles simply because the verses seem outdated or unreasonable.
So I approach scripture as a student, recognizing that I am unable to fully comprehend or literally apply all the teachings found there. I also approach the scriptures as a woman, knowing that as I read and study I will be unable tocompletely detach my femininity from my humanity. Pleasantly, I have found that the opportunity to be distinctively Woman, learning from my Creator God, is an incredible gift. God created me as an indispensable part of His work and purpose.
It is in this discovery that I have found my place … in this world, in the church, in my community and my home. From the beginning, God strategically created women with unique potential for making a difference in this world, while at the same time magnifying Him. He gave us a voice. He gave us a perspective. He gave us a purpose. Male and female, He created us. He called it “good”. In fact, He called it “very good.”
Yes, in this season of sorrow, when we are made painfully aware of how far removed we are from the paradise of the Garden of Eden, I am thankful we have a God who sees. He sees and He cares. He repeats this message all throughout His Word to us. And He has equipped and empowered us, the women of faith, with all we need (2 Peter 1:3) to boldly speak against injustice and abuse. As a woman of faith, speaking on behalf of other women, I have the unique opportunity to bravely advocate for change. We can all use our voices, our writings, our platforms to share our perspective with everyone who will listen. We speak for our daughters and sisters and mothers and friends. We speak up for those who have been silenced and shamed. We call evil by its name and we plead our case before our Good Father who judges rightly and makes everything new.
While it is a difficult time to be alive, it’s also glorious. We were created and called for such a time as this. I desire to use my God-given voice for His glory.
“I cried for them, and with every tear that fell I wondered who is going to find these little girls, who is going to tell them how much they are worth, how valuable they are, how deserving of justice and protection?
Who is going to tell these little girls that what was done to them matters? That they are seen and valued, that they are not alone and they are not unprotected? And I could not do that ,but we are here now and today that message can be sent with the sentence you hand down you can communicate to all these little girls and to every predator to every little girl or young woman who is watching how much a little girl is worth. From a Christian worldview, she’s made in the image of God. She has eternal and immeasurable value.
That is why justice here on earth is always going to be incomplete: because there’s no way to bring full justice here on earth.
I trust in God’s justice and I release bitterness and anger and a desire for personal vengeance. It does not mean that I minimize or mitigate or excuse what he has done. It does not mean that I pursue justice on earth any less zealously. It simply means that I release personal vengeance against him, and I trust God’s justice, whether He chooses to mete that out purely, eternally, or both in heaven and on earth.
The gospel of Jesus Christ does not need our protection. It defies the gospel of Christ when we do not call out abuse and enable abuse in our own church.
Jesus Christ does not need our protection; He needs our obedience. Obedience means that you pursue justice and you stand up for the oppressed and you stand up for the victimized, and you tell the truth about the evil of sexual assault and the evil of covering it up.
Obedience costs. It means that you will have to speak out against your own community. It will cost to stand up for the oppressed, and it should. If we’re not speaking out when it costs, then it doesn’t matter to us enough.”