From patriarchal interpretations of Scripture to contemporary incidents of #ChurchToo abuse, Christian women often are treated as second-class citizens in the church. Yet throughout history it has been their tireless contributions that have kept Christianity vital and active in society. The whole church suffers when women’s voices are silenced. And both men and women miss out when women are unable to fully develop and exercise their gifts in the church.
On March 11, CT convened authors and ministry leaders Kat Armas, Beth Allison Barr, Amanda Benckhuysen, Nicole Martin, and Joyce Koo Dalrymple for a lively discussion on women’s roles in the church from the perspectives of history, theology, and practical ministry.
Kat is a Cuban American writer and podcaster from Miami, Florida, who holds a dual MDiv and MAT from Fuller Theological Seminary where she was awarded the Frederick Buechner Award for Excellence in Writing. Her first book, Abuelita Faith: What Women on the Margins Teach Us About Wisdom, Persistence and Strength, sits at the intersection of women, Scripture, and Cuban identity. She also explores these topics on her podcast, The Protagonistas, which centers the voices of Black, Indigenous, and other women of color in church leadership and theology. She has written for Christianity Today, Sojourners, Relevant, Fuller Youth Institute, and Missio Alliance. You can check out more of her work at katarmas.com.
Beth Allison Barr
Beth is the author of the bestselling The Making of Biblical Womanhood: How the Subjugation of Women Became Gospel Truth. She received her BA in history (with a minor in classics) from Baylor University and her MA and PhD in medieval history from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She is also the author of The Pastoral Care of Women in Late Medieval England, and writes regularly on The Anxious Bench, a religious history blog on Patheos, and has contributed to Religion News Service, The Washington Post, and Christianity Today. Her work has been featured by NPR and The New Yorker, and she is actively sought as an academic speaker. She recently was named the James Vardaman Professor of History, an endowed chair at Baylor. She is also a Baptist pastor’s wife and mom of two great kids.
Amanda W. Benckhuysen
Amanda is a pastor, speaker, and biblical scholar. She currently serves as the director of Safe Church Ministry for the Christian Reformed Church in North America. In this role, she helps equip churches in abuse prevention, awareness, and response. Previously she was professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary. She is the author of two books, The Gospel According to Eve: A History of Women’s Interpretation and Immigrants, The Bible, and You. She earned a BA from Queen’s University, MDiv from Calvin Theological Seminary, and her PhD from the Toronto School of Theology at the University of St. Michael’s College.
Nicole is senior vice president for ministry impact with American Bible Society. She also serves as an adjunct professor at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is active in ministry at Kingdom Fellowship AME Church in Maryland, and formerly served as the executive minister at The Park Church in Charlotte, North Carolina. She’s the author of two books, Made to Lead: Empowering Women for Ministry and Leaning In, Letting Go: A Lenten Devotional. A nationally recognized speaker, Nicole has been inducted into the prestigious Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Board of Preachers at Morehouse College. She earned a BA from Vanderbilt University, a MDiv from Princeton Theological Seminary, and a DMin from Gordon-Conwell. she resides in Baltimore with her husband, Mark, and their two daughters.
Joyce Koo Dalrymple (moderator)
Joyce is a pastor, speaker, and podcast host. She most recently served as the pastor of discipleship and connections at Wellspring Alliance Church in Wheaton, Illinois, and minister of women and discipleship at Reconcile Church in Duluth, Georgia. A former television journalist and attorney, she frequently guest preaches at local churches and speaks at women’s events and retreats. She co-hosts Adopting Hope, a podcast from Christianity Today about foster, adoptive, and spiritual parenting. Joyce received a BA from Stanford University, a JD from Boston College, and an MDiv from Metro Atlanta Seminary. She and her husband, Tim, live in Wheaton with their three daughters, including one they adopted from China.
Kelli Trujillo: Hello. Thank you everybody for joining us for this special Christianity today event, we are so glad that you’re here. My name is Kelly Trujillo and I’m CT’s Projects Editor, which means I oversee our special issues. And it’s a joy to welcome you and tell you a little bit more about what we’re going to be doing today.
Those of you who have tuned in to our earlier webinars know that you are often greeted by my friend and colleague, Ed Gilbreath, who leads CT’s Big Tent initiative. And I’m grateful to Ed for inviting me to step into his shoes today for this webinar that spotlights women’s voices. Our monthly series of webinars springs out of our Big Tent Initiative, which is part of our effort to better represent the growing racial, ethnic, and generational diversity of the North American church, and to foster unity among Christ’s followers.
As you all know, this is March and it’s Women’s History Month, and today’s webinar is going to feature the voices of several dynamic Christian women whose ministries of thought leadership are helping the church reflect on and explore the meaning of biblical womanhood.
Now, we realize that this is a fraught subject for the church that can be a source of great division. And we know that committed and devoted Christ followers from various Christian traditions may have different perspectives on some of these issues. So it’s our hope that in today’s webinar, we’ll have an honest and empowering conversation that will be sensitive to those different perspectives.
At CT, we’re passionate about advancing women’s stories and ideas for the kingdom of God, and elevating women storytellers and sages for the global church. And one expression of that has been a special issue - I’m holding it up for you guys to see - that we’ve done over the years, that spotlights women’s voices for the sake of the whole church. And this one looks at prayer from a rich theological perspective. And I’m sharing that with you because you’ll be getting a link where you can download that special issue to read more from other female thought leaders, and a link to that will be included in the comments as well.
I’m really looking forward to this discussion today. So without further ado, I want to introduce our moderator who will guide our discussion and who will introduce our panelists. Joyce Koo Dalrymple is our moderator. She is a pastor, speaker and podcast host, a former television journalist, and attorney. Joyce frequently guest preaches at local churches and speaks at women’s events and retreats. She’s the cohost of one of CT’s podcasts called Adopting Hope, which is about foster adoptive and spiritual parenting. Joyce received her BA from Stanford University, her JD from Boston College, and her MDiv from Metro Atlanta seminary. She and her husband, Tim, live in Wheaton, Illinois, with their three daughters.
So please welcome Joyce Koo Dalrymple.
Joyce Koo Dalrymple: Thanks so much, Kelly. It is such a joy and honor to be your moderator this afternoon. This conversation about women has probably been going on since the beginning of time. Yet I also sense that we’re living in a unique moment in time where women are speaking up about maybe ways they’ve felt dismissed or been wounded in the church, and as these things are coming to light, I think the crucial question is, How are we going to respond.
That’s why I’m so excited we’re doing this panel today with four amazing panelists who have contributed significantly to this conversation, through their writing and their speaking. I’m excited for you to hear from them.
In the interest of time, I’m going to give you a brief introduction of each of our panelists, and you can find their fuller bios on our website.
First, I want to welcome Dr. Allison Barr. Beth Allison Barr. She is a history professor at Baylor University. Her academic specialty focuses on Women and Gender Identity, and Medieval and Early Modern England. She also researches how the Reformation affected women and Christianity. Beth is the author of The Making of Biblical Womanhood, How the Subjugation of Women became Gospel Truth.
Beth Allison Barr: Thank you.
Joyce: Second, we have Kat Armas. She is a second generation Cuban American whose earliest theological formation came from her grandmother, her abuelita, who fled Cuba during great political unrest.
Kat holds a dual Master of Divinity and Master of Arts and Teaching. She is the author of Abuelita Faith, What women on the Margins Teach us about Wisdom, Persistence, and Strength.
Next, we have Dr. Amanda Benckhuysen. She is the director of Safe Church Ministry for the Christian Reformed Church in North America, a ministry that equips congregations in abuse awareness, prevention, and response. She was previously professor of Old Testament at Calvin Theological Seminary, and is the author of The Gospel according to Eve, a History of Women’s Interpretation of Genesis One to Three.
And last but not least, we have Reverend Dr. Nicole Massie Martin. She is a senior vice president at the American Bible Society and an Assistant Professor of Ministry and Leadership Development at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.
Nicole formerly served as the executive pastor at the park church in Charlotte, North Carolina. She is a nationally recognized speaker and preacher, and has written the book Made to Lead, Empowering Women for Ministry.
Welcome, all of you panelists. Thank you so much for being with us. All of our panelists have such inspiring personal stories.
So I thought I would begin by asking each of you about how you overcame an obstacle as a woman seeking to pursue your calling, either in ministry or academia. Let’s begin with you, Nicole. Would you mind starting us off?
Nicole Martin: Oh, the hardest question and starting. Yeah. Thanks for that. First, can I just tell you how honored I am to be part of this? I was fanning out over every single one of you. I have your books. I’ve read them. I thank God for you, and I’m like super, super honored to be with you.
So obstacles in ministry. As I was processing this, I think one of the biggest obstacles that I faced, and in part still face, is just navigating the external kind of comments that are meant, I would assume from a good place, but become microaggressions for me. So, you know, early in ministry, this was the comments from friends who many of whom were women who would say, Are you sure that women can do that? Women, friends in college who were aiming to own their own businesses and be presidents of their companies, but would say to me, you know, I don’t think that you should be trying to be in ministry. Or they would say, Oh, I heard you’re going to go into ministry, is it going to be youth ministry or children’s ministry?
When I progressed and got married, you know, there were other comments, like, Are you sure that you can keep your marriage and stay in ministry? Or comments like I was told once, Just be careful teaching Bible study late at night because somebody is at home making your husband a casserole.
I wanted to say, my husband doesn’t eat casserole, but, you know. And then when I had children, I remember the challenges that I faced being pregnant and preaching, and people would say some of the craziest things like, So when are you going to stop your ministry job so that you can take better care of your children to come? Or one of my favorites, I know what I’m going to get you. This is after I preached and I’m, like, visibly sweating. I know what I’m going to get you after the baby comes, a girdle, so you can fit into your robe and it won’t be so tight. So it’s all of those things. And it’s not the comments themselves, it was the fact that each of those comments touched on an insecurity that I had.
So I’ve learned to overcome that by dealing with my insecurities. By reminding myself, I am enough for ministry, my children are discipled and they are okay. Yes, I make mistakes, but God made my children for ministry just like He made me for ministry, and they grow from me being obedient in my calling.
I have my little list of affirmations here. You know, it’s like, I think I overcome by reminding myself of who I am, that I am called to this and I am qualified and I’m not on some journey of disobedience, but I’ve done my research and I know what God is calling me to do. So that’s just a little bit of it, and it’s a whole lot deeper. And I know my colleagues would say some of those traumas still continue to today, but by God’s grace, we persevere.
Joyce: Thanks, Nicole. I love how you… There’s like the voice that you hear from externally and then there’s your inner voice, and then there’s God’s voice, and listening to how God says you are sufficient, you are enough, strengthens you to pursue your calling. Yes. Amanda, would you like to go next?
Amanda Benckhuysen: Yeah, sure. And like Nicole, I am just honored to be here on this panel and to share this space with all of you. It’s real privilege and honor to be part of this conversation. So thanks for the invitation.
Like Nicole, I think I experienced all of those same kinds of microaggressions, that’s a pretty common experience for women in ministry, particularly in evangelical circles. But I think the hardest part for me was really coming to terms with how much I was, at least at the beginning, asked to put aside of myself to be received well in ministry and then later in the academy. How much I had to accommodate to ways of being and behaving that didn’t feel quite natural, and how much of who I am wasn’t really welcome in ministry or in my particular setting.
And I will never forget one particular instance that sort of exemplified that. It was a preaching class in seminary. And after preaching my sermon in class, the professor commented that I was too sexual in my presentation. And I’m not exactly sure what he meant by that, because I was fully and appropriately dressed. But nonetheless, my sexuality was somehow getting in the way of the gospel message and that was somehow my problem.
And I can tell you, I was horrified by the comment. I was embarrassed, I was ashamed, and it actually made me quite insecure to get up in front of people, to get behind the pulpit and preach. Because along with all of the natural jitters that you might have as a beginning preacher, I also began to wonder what people might be thinking when they saw me, like, how are they thinking about me?
And yeah, what I learned from this experience and from others is that I needed to actually suppress myself to become less female if I was going to be well-received in ministry. How did I overcome this? It’s been a journey, I’m still on the journey actually. But a couple of things. One, having a really good, solid community of people who supported me was really helpful. People who I could go back to and say, Hey, this happened, helped me process this. Having a strong sense of my call, of knowing that God had actually called me to ministry and to the academy, that was incredibly helpful, to be able to go back to that moment, that understanding of my calling, was strengthening for me.
And then one of the things I studied and wrote about in my book was women’s interpretations of Genesis one through three. In the 19th century, there were these women preachers who believed and leaned into the idea that they were called not in spite of being women, but because they were women. For me, that was, like, that maybe God called me not in spite of my gender, but because I’m a woman and because I have qualities and characteristics that actually contribute to the kingdom of God. And so that was life-giving to me. And especially learning that and being able to lean into that myself, and then knowing that there was this great cloud of witnesses of women who were cheering me on in this regard who had also done this prior to my going into ministry.
So that was…. I mean, it’s still a journey, but that was immensely helpful to just switch the framework, the paradigm in which I was thinking about myself in ministry.
Joyce: Yes, it’s a journey for all of us. And I think having examples both in real life who have gone before us, and examples in history.
And so next I want to ask Beth, our historian here, what has it been like for you and what have you had to overcome? And I know you’re in academia, but you also have been in the church and your husband is a pastor.
Beth: Right. I did want to approach this from more of an academic perspective in thinking about women’s challenges, because one of the things that I have always struggled with is that I am a Christian woman in a field that is largely not Christian. And I went to a public university, I went to Chapel Hill where I got my PhD. I had a good friend who is now a professor at Wheaton and we were both in the program together, and we were like our Christian friends. And so it was something that was a very strange place because on the one hand I had my husband who was at Southeastern Seminary and a very different world, and I was at Chapel Hill in a women’s studies program. So we had this really strange sort of life that was going on. So I always found myself looking for other women like me who were academics, who were also involved in the church, who are also serious about their faith.
So very early on, I found a conference that some of my colleagues were part of. It was called the Conference on Faith in History. And one of my colleagues encouraged me to go to it, and I went in 2006 for the very first time. It was the first time I’d left my son for a conference, so he was very young then. And I went there and I was all excited about getting to meet other women and network with other women who were also in the discipline of history, and what I found was there were almost no women there. There was almost no panels that talked about women’s history or women’s issues, especially not medieval. And there were just hardly any women. And I was really discouraged, and I just left and I just checked out of that conference for several years. And I finally ended up going again a little later on in my career. Because one of the people on the executive board of the conference, his name is Rick Kennedy and he’s at Point Loma Nazarene University in California, and he reached out to me and he said, Beth… You know, he asked me to come and I said, there’s no women there. And he emailed me back and he said, how can we get more women if we can’t get women to come? And I was like, Well, that’s a really good point. And so I agreed to be on the board of the conference, and I started inviting women. I started building panels that focused on women’s topics, I invited scholars all over the place to come to it. And I’m very proud that in 2012, there were 32 women on the conference program.
By 2016 - I joined the board in 2013 - By 2016, there were 61 women on the conference program, and by 2018, when I became president of the conference, there were 88 women on the conference program. And it has been such a wonderful thing to be a part of, to see women of faith in the academy, growing these networks together.
And it also taught me a really important lesson that if we want to change things, we’ve got to step out and help change them. So although I also have to say that I was listening to y’all talking about your bodies and preaching and one of the most vivid teaching evaluations I remember was when I taught a class that I actually had my daughter in the middle of a semester that I was teaching. So I like taught up and came back four weeks later, which was crazy. But I had a student put on that evaluation that he thought it was great for women to have babies, but he didn’t think they should do it while they were teaching his class. And that just always… I have never forgotten that.
Joyce: Well, Beth, thank you for paving the way in spaces where there were not a lot of women, and creating a safer space for women to enter in. And last, I want to turn to you, Kat. Kat, as a woman of color too, I feel like there is an intersectionality of gender and race and things that you’ve probably faced and had to overcome. What has it been like for you?
Kat Armas: Yeah. Thank you so much for… I’m so happy to be here and thank you for the invitation. And I’m so glad that you brought that up because that was something that I wanted to talk about. I feel like, you know, my experiences… I can’t separate my experiences as a woman from my experiences as a Cuban woman, right. Particularly in the white evangelical world. And I didn’t grow up in the white evangelical world, and so when I sort of found myself in that space it was very shocking for me. You know, I was raised by two single immigrant women, right. I was raised by a single grandmother and a single mother, both immigrants. And so that experience for me really shaped me, right. They were the providers of the family, right? They were the sole spiritual leaders. I mean, they did all of the things. And so when I found myself in white evangelical spaces, and I was told by professors and by pastors, you know, that I needed a… You know, a man needed to lead me, I needed to fit into these roles or I needed to fit into these spaces, it just didn’t make sense for me. So many women in my community, they were the ones in those spaces and in those roles. That’s why things started to sort of break apart for me. I thought, you know, well, how is that supposed to be the norm across time and space when that just is not a reality for me, for my family, for my community and for, I mean, so many communities across the globe, across the world. I mean, that’s just not a reality.
So for me, I think overcoming that was really leaning into the spirituality and the faith of my foremothers, my abuelita, my grandmother, and realizing, like, wait a minute. No, God has moved most powerfully here. Not in the academy where I thought I would encounter God from white male pastors or professors, but it was within the everyday. We call that in Latinx culture, you know, lo cotidiano. The everyday experiences around the dinner table and in my home.
And that’s where… Where women… It’s sort of like this double edge. And I write about this in Abuelita Faith, in my book, about how we call abuelita theology, a kitchen theology, because that’s where, you know, so much is formed, but it’s also in the kitchen because that’s where many of our grandmothers have been sort of regulated and pushed to.
And it’s really a matter of kind of finding that in-between space and celebrating that we find and we learn and we experience so much of God in the spaces where men aren’t necessarily the leaders and the providers like in my own family. And so I think that it’s important that we’re telling these stories, right? Because I think it’s in these stories that we’re sort of changing that, changing this dynamic and making our stories known.
Joyce: Amen. And the chat is lighting up, Kat, with people who are agreeing with you, and just excited to see the response here to some of the things that you’ve said.
The next question I’m going to ask Beth, because the title of this whole seminar is Reimagining Biblical Womanhood, and biblical womanhood is sort of a confusing term, and I feel like it can also be a little bit misleading. And so in your book, The Making of Biblical Womanhood, you actually unpack it a little bit about how it’s a concept that came about through a series of clearly definable historical moments. So can you tell us about that?
Beth: Yes, I would love to. And I forgot to say - I was listening to the other panelists - I’m so thankful y’all are having this panel, and I am so grateful for the other women who are on this. I have to tell Kat, I actually just quoted her at the end of a sermon. I very rarely preach sermons, but I preached one last week, and I used her in my conclusion of it. So I’m just so grateful to be here.
But something funny about the title of this is that in my original manuscript that I outlined, my final chapter was going to be Remaking Biblical Womanhood. And by the time I got to the end of the book, I realized that I didn’t want to title the chapter that anymore because I had really decided that biblical womanhood was a very particular modern concept that did not cover what we see women doing in the Bible, and what we see God calling women and using women throughout history. So I actually changed by the time I got to the end of it, and my last chapter clearly, you know, is not talking about remaking biblical womanhood.
So what is it? Biblical womanhood, as I would argue, is really a modern term. In fact, if you go to Google, if you go to Google Ngram, which is a really fun tool to kind of use, and you put in the words biblical womanhood, what you’ll see is that it’s pretty much nonexistent until 1977, and then it just explodes onto the scene and it’s everywhere in the 1990s and building up to the early 2000’s. And of course we know that that’s when some very famous books came out, including Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. It’s also the time, you know, when we see the Danvers statement and we see the Baptist Faith and Message 2000.
And so, all of these ideas are around what this very modern concept of biblical womanhood is, and it is really quite easy. It’s that God created women to follow male headship, and that women’s primary calling is to be a wife and to be a mother. And that while women do do other things, that that should always be their primary focus.
If you want to think about an example of this idea of biblical womanhood, you can just look -- I’m Baptist -- just look to the Baptist Faith and Message 2000, and you can see in Article 6 where it talks about while both women and men are gifted, only men are able to hold leadership as pastors.
And then if you look in Article 18 it says that women are called to graciously submit to the servant leadership of their husbands. And then it says that women, their God-given responsibility - that’s the words used - God-given responsibility is to respect her husband and to help in managing and nurturing the household in the next generation.
And so I think those, you know, if I say biblical womanhood is this God-ordained place for women to be under male leadership and to have a primary focus on being a wife and being a mother, I think it’s really encapsulated in the Baptist Faith and Message of 2000.
But as I do argue - you asked me essentially to summarize the argument of my book - and one thing... So I’ll do it really fast for you. But as a historian, I… Actually, I tease people that if I’d been a theologian, I think I would have been a systematic theologian because I like patterns and I like to look across large areas of time. And I’m a social historian, which means that I do look across large swaths of time to see, for both continuity and change. And so biblical womanhood, this idea, we can look across history and we can see that it is rooted in the ancient world. If you think about Aristotelian teachings, that women are deformed men, that there is something wrong with the female body that makes her unable to be in leadership because she simply is not…she’s not capable of doing that type of service.
And we see this idea. It continues throughout the medieval world, and as I think I introduced a lot of people to in my book, is that even though the medieval world is not a golden age for women it does have what I call a loophole. And the loophole is that women by rejecting what it means to be a woman can gain the spiritual authority of a man.
And so this is what we see with Women Religious, this is how we get preachers like Hildegard of Bingen in the central middle ages. But with the Reformation, this loophole goes away because we see this emphasis, you know, the Reformation era - and it’s not just religion, it’s something that’s going on in early modern Europe - it emphasizes or champions marriage as the best thing that both women and men can do, and Reformation theology, rejects celibacy. So what we see is we see this emphasis on that a godly woman is a married woman with children. And this becomes emphasized even more in the scientific revolution and the enlightenment where once again we see those Aristotelian ideas kind of pull up where there’s something wrong with the female body, that women’s brains are literally created smaller than men’s, and because women give birth, that’s really the only thing that they should do. And you think about, you know, I always quote Rousseau, Jean-Jacques Rousseau in my classes, and one of the things that he says, which almost mimics something that Aristotle says, is he says women is made to please man, and to be subjugated.
And then in the 19th and 20th century, the section I had in my book, I said, you know, evangelicals essentially baptized this idea of biblical womanhood. And we did that through Bible translations, where we literally wrote women out of leadership in our Bibles. And then we also did it - you can look in the Danvers statement for this - where we began to argue that not only something’s wrong with women’s bodies, that they have to be under men, but this is something that God ordained before the fall.
And so it is literally written into creation that women are to always be under the authority of men. So there was my fast runs through history for you.
Joyce: Thank you so much, Beth. That was a big question to ask you, but you did a great job. One thing after reading your book, I realized that like - you know, it wasn’t a new realization - but things wax and wane over history, and also I just feel like you think when you’re living in that moment in history that that’s like what you’re being told, this is what the Bible says, that that’s it. But it’s actually part of a much larger story, and a story that’s often told from the dominant point of view.
And that brings me to you, Amanda. There has been women’s voices that have been left out of biblical interpretation, and so I love how in your book, The Gospel According to Eve, you actually bring to light some of women’s theological, biblical interpretation around some of the passages about Eve.
So I was wondering, what can you learn from women as they interpret these scriptures?
Amanda: Yeah. So Beth, you actually set me up really well because against the backdrop of this Aristotelian thought and these ideas of women’s male headship and women’s submission or women’s subordination being written into creation, you get these women throughout Christian history who kind of push back against those ideas that women are inferior and women are secondary and women are somehow less than men.
So traditional interpretations of Genesis 2 and 3 get there - particularly Genesis 2 - get there by focusing on the difference between male and female in that text. And they sort of emphasize details that seem to, you know, pronounce the difference between men and women. But women interpreters in history as far back as the 14th Century, and probably earlier, read this text quite differently, and they read it in terms of how this text celebrates how men and women are similar.
So it’s a very different way of looking at this text, and I’ll just give you a quick one run through. If you break Genesis 2 down into scenes, the first scene would be God creating Adam and noting that it’s not good for Adam to be alone. The second scene, Adam goes through all the animals, identifying them by name, and it’s worth noting that it’s not that he can’t find any animals who might be a helper to him, but he can’t find any animals that might be a kenegdo to him, who might correspond to him or be like him. And so these women interpreters are pointing this out, that the problem with the animals is they’re not like Adam, right? And then the third scene is God creating a creature that corresponds to Adam, is kenegdo to Adam, someone who is like Adam but different from the animals. And so there’s a kind of emphasis on the difference between Adam and Eve and the animals, and the similarity between Adam and Eve as human beings. So in this third scene, Adam recognizes immediately that Eve is like him and does this lovely dance of joy, right? At last, bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh, she shall be called woman because from man she was taken. And that women understood was the moment when Adam recognizes finally he has found a creature who is kenegdo, who is like him, and that together they are human.
So women read Genesis 2 as a text that promoted their full humanity and their dignity and value, and they did this against a backdrop of a culture which said women were less than men. So in the Bible they found this sense of dignity and value and worth, and they wondered why that wasn’t their lived reality, and why the church did not stand up against the culture to suggest otherwise. So that’s one example.
Joyce, do I have time to do Genesis 3 very quickly?
Joyce: Yes, go ahead.
Amanda: All right. So when it came to Genesis 3, women interpreters noted that God had a lot more grace for Eve than traditional interpreters had. They noted that yes, Eve sinned first, and they had all kinds of interesting exegetical insights into that, but they also suggested that God gave women a unique task in partnering with God in the work of redemption in Genesis 3.
So if you look at Genesis 3:15, God says to the serpent, I will put enmity between the serpent and the woman, between the serpent’s seed and her seed. Her seed will crush the serpent’s head and his seed will strike at the heel of the woman’s seed. Now, English translations can be deceiving because they say he, he will crush the serpent’s head. But the antecedent to that pronoun, he, is actually the woman’s seed. And so women interpreters noted this. They said this verse is actually not about Jesus. What it is about is suggesting that women and all their offspring, particularly their female offspring, are being identified for the special role that they will play against in fighting against Satan, in fighting against evil.
It was like God had commissioned women to hold Satan back. And some 17th Century women interpreters even understood this as a call for women to engage in proclaiming and teaching the gospel, because how do you do battle against Satan but proclaim the good news of Jesus Christ. So I think all of this teaches us how important it is to hear men’s and women’s voices together.
Francis Willard, a 19th Century reformer, actually said if we want to get at the full orbed truth of scripture, like if we want to take the truth of scripture seriously, then we need men’s and women’s voices together. And I think we can extend that to say, we actually need black, brown and the voices of people of color as well. We need to hear the voices of all those who are interpreting scripture to understand the full orbed truth of scripture, because no one of us is going to get it right all by ourselves.
I think the other thing that teaches us is the importance in male-dominated spaces, because of course this traditional interpretation has kind of wreaked havoc on the way we think about men and women, right? And it’s done a lot of harm to women and their lives. So I think it teaches us the importance in male dominated spaces of listening to women’s voices and women’s experience and women’s testimony. And I know we’re going to talk about this later in the webinar, but I think of this especially in terms of women who give voice to ways in which the church has harmed them and the ways in which they’ve been harmed by church leaders.
And I think if we begin to honor women’s voices in theology, in biblical interpretation, in the seminary, in the academy, we will also take seriously the claims when women come forward and say there been misconduct, there’s been abuse, and I’ve been harmed by that. And so anyway...
Joyce: Yes, that’s a great way to tie it together too, because I think the way we think theologically, it informs how we respond practically in our churches as well. And so there’s such an importance of having, as you said, all voices that kind of…not just from one perspective, but that can give us a full-orbed, as you said, interpretation of scripture.
I want to go to you, Kat, now. And I think you are doing so much to bring to light voices from the margin. And I love this quote that I’ve heard you pose, and it’s what if the greatest theologians the world has ever known weren’t really considered theologians at. And I think about how in Jesus’ ministry, He really lifts up the voices of the marginalized, women also who were kind of like on the outskirts, and they were commended for their faith, and they were examples for the disciples to learn from.
So I love how you are doing that in your writing and in your podcast. Why is that so important and why are you doing that?
Kat: Yeah, thank you for asking. And so that question, what if the world’s greatest theologians are those whom the world wouldn’t consider theologians at all, is sort of the leading question of my book, right?
Because when we think of a theologian, where we think of someone who has something to teach us about God, you know, kind of like what I mentioned earlier, we think of formal education, right? We think of the man or the white man behind a pulpit or you know, leading or teaching a classroom.
So in my book, I touch on colonialism, and what it means to decolonize from colonial ideology. And of course there are a ton of ways to do that. But one of the things that I focus on is the notion of wisdom. So when we think of a theologian, we think of someone who is wise, someone who holds the wisdom of God. One of my favorite post-colonial thinkers, his name is ** and he writes that social justice is not possible without cognitive justice.
And he talks about how we have to sort of reclaim the different ways of being and knowing in the world. We have to recover all the diversity of ways that women in particular make meaning of their existence, what it means to know. And that’s something that I wrestle with. Like, who gets to say who is wise, who gets to say who has the wisdom? Obviously, you know, we know who has said that in the past. So yeah, I love this idea of cognitive justice. Looking at this notion of wisdom and saying, Well, wait a minute, what if wisdom lives in our bodies, right? So many women hold this wisdom across time and across the globe. They have an embodied wisdom that lives in their hands, lives in their bodies. And I talk a lot about this in Abuelita Faith.
And so that’s the first part, as you mentioned that quote, and I wanted to talk about that quote, but then you ask, Why is that important to lift up? And I think it’s important, not just because we want to lift up, but we want to learn, right? We want to learn. We want to consider our marginalized, consider our immigrant grandmothers and mothers, consider our poor grandmother and mothers as legitimate sources of theology, that we have the most to learn about God from lived experience. Because these are the people in society that are out there surviving, and it’s in that survival where you learn the most about God. And we see that in the Bible. I know you kind of mentioned this, Joyce, but in scripture, I mean, you see so many women literally trying to eat and in that they are literally called blessed, right? They are just trying to survive. They are widows just trying to get married so that they can, you know, have a future. And in that they are called blessed. And so in Abuelita Faith I argue that survival is in and of itself a holy endeavor, and we see that through the lives of women.
And so this is important for one, you know, for many women of color through currently right now trying to process. And who they are, as I mentioned earlier, as both a woman and as in my case, a Cuban woman, we need a diverse set of experiences. Because my experiences are not a white woman’s experiences. And so I need to wrestle with what, you know, how colonialism lives in my body and how it’s been passed down generationally through my grandmother and my ancestors. And so we need to work through that.
And also it’s important, to answer your question, to lift up and learn from the marginalized women. Because - and I think that you touched on this as well, Amanda - that we miss out on the fullness of the kingdom of God if we’re not learning from, again, poor women, marginalized women, women of color. We only get a tiny glimpse when we’re choosing to seek out wisdom in the places where we’ve been trained only wisdom resides. And we know that that’s not true, right? Wisdom lives in the places that we would never think we can find it. And so I like to say that the image of God is not individual whereas I have the image of God within me. It’s not just individual, but it’s collective, all of us collectively, we make up the image of God.
And so I want to know the fullness of what it means to be made in the image of God by all of us living and existing and making meaning of our existence together.
Joyce: Yes. Amen. Thank you, Kat. So you’ve looked at kind of historical, theological, and cultural forces that have made it difficult for women sometimes to flourish or pursue their callings.
And so now I want to ask a very practical question here and I’m going to turn to you, Nicole. What advice would you give women who are trying to pursue their callings as ministers? Whether it be vocationally in the church as a pastor or just as a lay person or wherever God has placed them, how should women be preparing themselves, and how can those in leadership positions be helping develop women and giving them opportunities?
Nicole: So honestly, the first thing they need to do is listen to this webinar. They need to save it on their computers, they need to put it on their podcasts, they need to listen to it. I need to save this webinar.
You all have encouraged my whole soul. You know, Kat talked about her…the importance of, you know, learning from her grandmother and her mother. In my tradition, my grandmother and my mother’s, when they felt the Holy Spirit, they would rock. It’s taking everything in me not to just rock as I listen to God minister through you all.
I didn’t know I needed that, and I needed it. So I would say… I’m also an emotional person and that is a gift. How fitting on a women’s discussion, cry your eyes out. But you know, this is what God does when we hear from the heart of another woman, either her pain or her overcoming. When you hear how God met her in her brokenness, and how God brought healing to her identity, and how God allowed her to emerge with wealth and wisdom and knowledge. It brings tears to my heart and my mind and my face, because I think, Thank you, God.
Part of the challenge of being a woman in ministry is the sense of being alone. But panel discussions like this remind you, I am not alone. Like, I can go do this. So in my book I talk a little bit about that, and I named four things that women can do.
But the first thing that I want to say about that, and I think the area that’s most important, is women need to cultivate sacred space. They need to cultivate sacred space with God, with their communities like this, and with themselves. One of the things that people used to say about me, and I used to really struggle when I first came into ministry, was like, You really love God. And you know, at first I was like, I do and I hope you do too. And then I realized I’ve had to have a dependency on God as a person of color, as a woman, that the average man may not have had to have. I have had to depend on God when I’ve walked into the room and known I was the only one, like Beth said. I have had to depend on God when I was debating scripture with people, with women and men, who would use the very Genesis 2 and 3 that Amanda talked about, to use it against me. I have had to depend on the Lord and to quote scripture to myself when I sat in predominantly white rooms and reminded myself, my grandmother, even though she graduated college later in life, was just as qualified. My great-grandmother who integrated schools in Pittsburgh with a third grade education, that woman was called and I am too.
So I think that sacred space, we have to know beyond a shadow of a doubt that we are driven by God. I think of Sojourner Truth, you know, when she’s preaching the gospel, she’s not preaching because she was affirmed by some man, she’s preaching because she had a Holy Spirit burden. She had that Jeremiah fire in my bones. And if you have a sacred relationship with God, if you have a calling from God, then your drive is not because you have an opening or a position or an invitation, your drive is because you’ve got fire that you’ve got to get out. We’re here not because we chose to walk into fire and opposition. We are here because God woke us up one morning and said, Get out there, write the book, teach the class and preach the gospel; any questions?
And so, you know, I think when you have that sacred space with God, then you’re not worried about what other people say, because at the end of the day, I just have to follow Him. I want to hear Him say, Well done. I hope I please you, but that’s not my aim. My job is I gotta hear the Lord say well done.
And then I think the second thing that I talk about is the power of mentorship. And I saw in the chat, somebody was talking about, you know, sponsorship versus mentorship, and this is a hard truth I had to accept. When I first started out, I only wanted women mentors, and I had a very traumatizing experience. I can remember, I was 19. I was kind of wrestling with what I meant, what a calling meant. I went to this woman, I heard her preach so I went to her afterwards. I was totally naive and zealous. I was like, Oh my gosh, I just love hearing you preach. Oh, you just touched my heart, can I call you? Like, I literally said that, Can I get your email address, and can I call you? And she was like, Honey, I do not have time. And that same narrative was repeated four times with four specific women that I still know. And each time they said, No, I don’t have time, talk to my assistant. One woman said, I worked my way up, you can work yours up too.
So I had to learn how to diversify my mentorship. I started to realize that some of my professors were mentors. They weren’t in the church ministry, they mentored me.
I had to learn that I needed a sponsor sometimes. I needed a man at the table, at the predominantly male tables, to say, Have you heard of my sister, Nicole, how about her? And I thank God for the white men, the black men, the Latino men who were in male dominated rooms and said, Have you heard about Nicole? And Ed is one of them.
So I needed mentors who would help me cope with life, but I also needed sponsors. Somebody who was bold enough to say, Have you thought of her? And then I needed to remember, when I got to that table, I’m a sponsor too. And I need to be able to say, Have you thought about Kat, oh my gosh, she has this amazing book out, you need to consider her. Have you talked to Joyce? Oh my gosh, Joyce is amazing.
And then the last two things that I talk about are confidence and the difference between self-confidence and God confidence. It does crack me up when I think about my seminary experience.
So, you know, the professors would be like, Who would like to preach and all the guys would shoot their hands up. And the women would be like, I’m good. And the same as in the boardroom, you know, Anybody have any comments, and all of the men are like spewing their comments. Some of the comments were really good and some of them were like, You just raised your hand to raise your hand.
And I learned that if I’m confident in God, then it will build my self-confidence. I don’t have to wait until I’ve gotten enough confidence in myself as a… For myself speaking only of Nicole, it’ll never happen, I’ll never be 100% confident. Half of what I’m saying right now, I’m like, oh God, please, Jesus, let it be right.
So I can’t depend on my own self-confidence, I have to depend on a confidence that comes from God, that flows from an overflow of my relationship with God.
And then the last thing is about cultivating your love life, which really gets me excited because, you know, when you talk about this notion of… Beth Allison, where you’re talking about like how the Reformation brought about this, you know, you have to be married in order to be whole, I spent a good number of years as a single woman in ministry, and then I got married. And I learned as a single woman in ministry, even a family member said to me, Now, you know, you’re not going to get married, Right? And I used to think how awful to say that. But I think part of cultivating your love life is to recognize as a woman, my source of love flows from beyond me, and that allows me to operate in a level of love. Because perhaps it’s one of the most challenging parts. Like, some of my male colleagues were told - I was in the room when they were told - Now you’ve got to get married in order for your ministry to take off. They have this pressure. Some of them have said to me, I married her so that my church would grow. I’m like, I’m sorry for you but I refuse to submit to that standard. If marriage is what the Lord has for me, I walk into that, knowing that, thank the Lord, my husband is like, You better go do that.
Somebody said to me the last time I preached, my husband was on the side, he was holding my purse, and someone was like, I would hate to be your husband. I was like, Well, I would hate to be your wife. But I looked at that. Here he is holding, like, my coat and my purse. And I was like, God made that man for me, and even if God didn’t have that man for me, God has loved me enough that I become enough for ministry because of His love for me. So I just wanted to pull out that duality, that there are a lot of single women who are wrestling with, Can I be called and not be married? Yes. And then there were a lot of married women who are wrestling because a spouse doesn’t support them or because they don’t have a man who was holding their purse. That man at home might even be saying, Why are you going? But there is a sense of love that goes beyond us that can empower us and drive us to ministry, unlike any other force.
Joyce: Nicole, it took… You were saying it was hard for you not to… It was hard for me not to stand up and be like, Preach.
Nicole: Trying not to spin in my chair?
Joyce: So thank you for that. I am looking at the time. I have one kind of final question, and then I don’t know if we have time for questions from the chat.
But one thing that I feel like is still going on broadly across America and at least locally in where I live, is that church too issues have been coming up, and women have courageously come forward with some of their stories. And this has been happening for a long time, but they’re coming to light. And I just wonder if you all have seen positive models. How have churches been able to bring about healing in this time, how have churches been able to empower women?
And I almost feel like there’s both care for the individual women, but there’s also systemic issues that there needs to be changes to prevent this kind of thing from happening, and also to equip and empower women in churches as well. So how can we be catalysts for this kind of change to bring flourishing for everyone, for all in the church?
And I know that’s a huge question to be the last question, but I’m just going to throw it out there for any thoughts. We won’t be able to cover this comprehensively, but I’d love to just kind of hear from any of you all who want to answer that.
Nicole: Well, one thing that I would say is I think the pandemic has given us an opportunity to talk about the language of trauma in a way that maybe people hadn’t been as comfortable talking about before. So because we’ve all had this kind of collective traumatic experience, whether that’s with quarantine or loss or all of the things we’ve had to navigate, we now have a language to talk about the impact of horrible things that happen to us.
And I just wonder, you know, is there a way that we can equip the church to deal with trauma, to deal with pain and to deal with loss as a language of our faith and not just a thing on the side, that might make room for the reality that trauma even happens in the church. I think that’s part of the barrier. When you think about just this culture of narcissism that seeps into the pulpit and, you know, this consumerism that drives people to listen to soundbites and people that may not have the authentic ministry of Christ. What does it look like to create within the church spaces of healing and hope so that those with stories about trauma can feel safe?
My biggest concern about the church too movement are the number of women and the percentage of men who have been wounded in the church and leave. As a person in the church, as a minister of the gospel, I grieve that. I don’t want you to leave to have to find healing. My prayer is that you can still stay within the body of Christ. You may have to leave your local church, you may have to make adjustments, but please don’t forsake the gathering of the saints. So what does it look like within the body of Christ to create spaces of healing? I think that’s something that we can wrestle with now that maybe we couldn’t wrestle with as much in 2019.
Beth: I’ll say quickly, one of the most encouraging things about having had the privilege of writing The Making of Biblical Womanhood… when I published, I had no idea what’s going to happen. I tell people all the time that as a historian, if 500 people read our books we’re really ecstatic. So this has been really amazing. I also tell people all the time, I’m actually really an introvert. And so doing things like this is even not something that is natural to me. But the encouragement that I have received from male pastors behind the scenes, and the amount of people who formerly would have identified as complementarian or perhaps still do, and reach out to me and tell me that they are not only reading my book but they are leading, that they are having book studies on it, and that they are listening to women. And that has given me hope that I never imagined.
And so, I’m usually a hopeful person, but I have become so much more hopeful because people are listening. And even people who may not come to agree with me, but they are listening and they realize that there is a problem with how women have been treated in the church. They realize that the problem with how we have treated women is also rooted in racism and is rooted in colonialism and imperialism, and that we are going to have to pull all of it out together. And I am so encouraged that people are just willing to listen.
Kat: Thank you both. And I just want to add also, when I think of the life of Jesus, I think that Jesus... He was a really good guest, right?
Like he sat at unfamiliar tables, and He was a guest. Like, He wasn’t a host. And I feel like, you know, I talk about this also in Abuelita Faith, this notion of a decolonized notion of hospitality, or even discipleship, if you want to think of it that way. And it’s the idea that Christians, primarily those with power and privilege and varying levels, right… Power and privilege kind of - there are different levels. But those with power and privilege always want to be the host and they always want, Hey, come sit at my table.
But I saw it in the chat. Someone asked a question, What do you say to the men who are allies? And one thing that I want to say, and also as an answer to your question, Joyce, is just be a really good guest. Sit at someone else’s table, sit at a woman’s table. Don’t invite women to sit at yours. I think that we need to take that from Jesus, and just be willing to sit at someone else’s table, to listen and to learn, for no other ulterior motive, to just listen and to learn from the overlooked theologians in our midst.
And so, something that I think that can help us move forward is if those with power and privilege can just be a good guest. I mean, I think, imagine you know, we’ve been talking - or I’ve been talking - about colonialism, but imagine if that were the case when the colonizers arrived. Imagine if they were just guests.
And so, I like to think that we can emulate Jesus in that way.
Amanda: I love that, Kat. And I have to say that when you mentioned that in your book, like, I’ve got big circles and like, highlighted stars. That’s a keeper. Just to add one more thing. And I agree with everything that Nicole and Beth and Kat have said.
But as leaders in the church, I think we need to learn how to ask ourselves, how are we using our power? When you’re a leader in the church, there is a sacred trust between you and the people to whom you minister, and they expect that you’re going to use that sacred trust in a way that contributes to their flourishing and their growth as disciples of Jesus. And when that doesn’t happen, that can be extremely painful. That actually creates even more rupture than if it were just a normal relationship, an equal relationship between two people and something… you know, one person does something negative to another person. But if it’s a church leader and they violate that sacred trust, there’s a sense in which a person’s own spiritual life and spirituality feels like it has been ruptured.
And so I think, you know, I’m mindful in my own tradition, we tend to talk about church leadership as servant leadership, and I think there’s something really beautiful about that. But when we don’t acknowledge that there’s power in the position as well, we’re more inclined to abuse or misuse that power to bring harm to others. And so I think we need to train our church leaders to ask, How am I using the power that has been given to me, and am I using it for the flourishing of others, or am I using it to stoke myself and for my own benefit. And so, yeah, just wanted to add that to the mix.
Joyce: Yes, thank you. And I do feel like if there, you know, the analogy of the body of Christ and we’re all different members of the body, if one member is wounded, it hurts all of us.
And similarly, if that member of the body isn’t utilized or honored or developed then it’s a detriment, not only just for that particular part of the body, but it becomes a detriment to the whole body. And so, my prayer is that this conversation would be a blessing to the whole body of Christ, to the whole church for the flourishing of all.
And I just want to thank all of the panelists. This has been such a thought-provoking and stimulating conversation. If you all have not read their books, go out and buy them because they are… You can take a deeper dive in some of the things that were just touched on today in the panel.
So I want to thank you all so much, panelists, and then I want to turn it back over to Kelli.
Kelli Trujillo: This has felt way too short. I’ve seen so many comments of people wanting to have an ongoing conversation. One person, Shelly, asked for a weekend retreat, so maybe we can plan that in the future.
I also want to thank the panelists for your insights and your honesty and your testimony, and even your tears.
And also thank you, Joyce, for leading this really important discussion.
Please visit us christianitytoday.com for more insightful content on this topic and a variety of topics. And please look for a follow-up email that every registrant will get on Monday. And that email is going to have a video of this that you can also share, if you have folks you want to share it with. It will have a link to where you can download this free, special issue as a PDF. And it’s going to have links to the books of all of our panelists. And so, you’ll find all this information collected in that email. So until next time, thanks for joining us.
And I just pray that God bless all of you, our speakers, and all of our listeners. May you follow Jesus boldly and courageously, and embody His love in your church and in your community. Thanks.
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