I confess. I am a reluctant feminist.
As a young girl, I remember angry women on the TV screen picketing, faces filled with outrage, signs held high in protest against something.
I, from a line of male pastors, had strong women in my life. My mother and grandmother served as their husbands’ musical backbone, skirting the keys of piano and organ, leading with a raised eyebrow or head nod. A great-grandmother was a pastor. My other mother organized everything at church. We are not a fragile bunch.
I didn’t know I needed a female pastor. Usually there was a woman in the role of Children’s Pastor and Women’s Pastor, women I admired and felt like I had a kinship toward, women who seemed to know Scripture as fluently as the men, serving and loving well in the roles they were destined to play. I didn’t have a nagging sense of needing a woman to preach from the pulpit. I didn’t know what I was missing.
Many churches still cling to the interpretation of Scripture that women are called and required to submit and be subordinate to male leadership. Women cannot and will not be entrusted the opportunity or responsibility to lead men.
So where does this leave women who believe they are called by God to preach and teach in a church setting? And, if we are each created in God’s image, men and women alike, what is the church missing?
Sarah Bessey, in her book Jesus Feminist offers this definition of feminism:
At the core, feminism simply consists of the radical notion that women are people, too. Feminism only means we champion the dignity, rights, responsibilities, and glories of women as equal in importance – not greater than, but certainly not less than – to those of men, and we refuse discrimination against women.
Feminism is not bra-burning rage with picket signs held high. Feminism is the crucial belief that women have an equal place at the table of men, with a beautiful and life-giving offering. Typical female characteristics are not seen as weak or lesser, but as an essential expression of the complexity and grace of God. As a woman, my softness and tenderness, my empathy and compassion, my feels and tears are not things to be mocked or made light of. My contribution offers the heart of God and does not demand I submit to the priesthood of men.
I have held this notion that to participate in the world of men, I must adopt masculine characteristics. That somehow I’m not enough as I am. But I now realize, women need to be women, fully ourselves. There has been this narrative that women must fight, lean in, be strong and forceful, fighting for equal rights and equal air time. I owe these women my allegiance and gratitude, for they have moved mountains and paved inroads for us all.
However, many of us are not interested in operating with force and fight, we are designed to be soft, nurturing, sustaining. There is this whole side of God that is valued as less. This side of God that resembles me. I’m at my best when I can listen, weep and mourn with another, preferring to bear burdens without the need to fix and change or have answers.
I believe the church has missed this mark, and Christians are so tired. The mothers and fathers are worn out. People are battle weary and terrified with all the rules and shoulds, the fear. We need people who will speak grace and kindness and rest.
I want our churches to be led by both women and men in equal measure, together. I want our churches to manifest tenderness, sparing water for the road weary traveler, providing food and clothing to the destitute, rendering grace and mercy to the sinner, lending a listening ear and gentle word to the tormented, healing the wounded.
In a world where people are clamoring to posture, the church must empower her women. Maternal love sees, knows and nurtures. Maternal love carries the overwhelming thrumming heart of God. Maternal love bears the weight and burden, gathering her precious children to her breast, providing sustenance and relief. Maternal love is the surrogate heart, belly and bosom of God, the source of life and renewal.
Will you let me join you? I so want to. I so want to be seen and known as God’s faithful child, bearing light and love to all my world. I want to lead with men, to be heard and respected, to be given a place at the table. I might fight you for the spot, but I’d rather be offered for I’m not that person. I just need you to know you’re missing out on a valuable resource, on a remarkable opportunity. Don’t include me because you have pity on me. Include me because you want me there, because you know you need to hear what I have to say, because you believe I offer half of God’s expression in this world.
Please do not silence our female voices in the church. Invite us in. You need us. You need our fierce tenderness, our loyalty and generosity, our accountability. You need our loving embrace of grace. Together we can manifest the wholeness of God’s heart to the hurting world. We can partner in our offering to another.
You need us and we need you.