Likewise, I am arguing, once women’s ordination became identified with liberalism and a broader principle of gender equality, it became a target for fundamentalist attack. In the process, an earlier tradition, in which commitment to biblical authority was perfectly consistent with female clergy, was lost.
Feminist theologians engage in these tasks of critique, recovery, and revisioning because they hope to empower women and men to live as whole people with thoughts and feelings, bodies and minds, autonomy and relationships, and the confidence that they are valuable human beings.
The Gospels suggest that Jesus cared deeply about women and valued their contributions. He encouraged women to learn and to speak. He healed women, learned from them, and accepted their financial and emotional sustenance. He affirmed women as valuable and fully human, so it seems legitimate to conclude that he was and is a positive figure for women.
Although many women knew from a young age that they wanted to be ministers, most did not know any female ministers, making it hard for them to imagine themselves as ministers. Because either they did not know any female ministers or they did not know women could be ministers at all, their feeling that they wanted to be ordained sometimes made them feel crazy.
I had no doubt in my mind that they were meant to be ministers. They seemed to glow, as if all the molecules in their bodies had lined up to say yes, this is what I was made to do. This is what brings me alive. This is where the world’s greatest need and my deepest joy meet.
Even when not wanting to be adversarial, women find that if they want to raise issues of feminism they become doubly suspect in an evangelical world.
Yet as women pursue theological education, their communities sometimes become quite ambivalent about, and less affirming of, the new woman that is emerging. The gulf between church and academy widens, doors close and women’s gifts are overlooked within their own churches.
Feminism basically means the affirmation of the full humanity of women. This means that all the ways women have been defined as inferior, secondary and dependent on men since the rise of Patriarchy roughly six-to ten thousand years ago are rejected. It means that women are affirmed as fully human, not partly human or complementary to the male, but with all human attributes and capacities, in relationships of both autonomy and mutually with other humans, male and female, as well as the ecosystem.
Feminisms need to be enacted in the unique and creative ways that are born from the inspiration of the women who are directly affected – the women whose lives are on the line. It doesn’t mean we can’t join and support one another across contexts, but we must do so in true partnership, as sisters of equal regard who honor one another’s dignity, agency, and full human capacity.
These women, mostly unnamed, who walked with Jesus and financially supported the work of Jesus and fed Jesus and watched their sons leave their homes to follow Jesus and stood underneath the cross when even his most ardent disciples had deserted him, these women have forged a mighty “us.” They have kept this story going, so that we, too, could keep this story going, whispering it to our children at bedtime, praying unceasingly as we gather grain or work in overcrowded factories or sit in wood-paneled conference rooms. These women have broken bread and shared it and spoken up for those with hungry mouths. They have spent hours praying for their families and friends, for the brokenness of a world lacking tenderness and wisdom. They have led churches, preached sermons, visited the sick, counseled the grieved, educated our next generation, spearheaded nonprofits, created stories and artwork and poems and songs of inspiration. They have lived for the beauty of the gospel story. And they have done so even as the church has overlooked, denied, tried to silence, patronized, sidelined, and even abused us. These women, us...we are still here. History has not always remembered our names, nor thought to record them. But we have been setting the Table for two thousand years, making room for others to follow Christ.Jesus has always made room for us, even if the church not always followed suit. We have lived as holy pillars, our arms pressing up at the ceiling and reaching for the heavens, even as we have our feet planted firmly on the ground.
Women and Church is here to encourage us to live authentic, relational lives in the church specifically, and in the world generally, through engagement with history, culture, theology, scripture, reason, and each other.