Earlier this summer, in her excellent post "Weary of the Gender Wars," Nancy Parkhurst Leafblad presents a compelling portrait of how she was unwillingly conscripted into a war not of her making when she followed God's call into ministry. This article carries on from her ideas.
Nancy Parkhurst Leafblad describes how she found herself in a war she never wanted, because she is a woman with pastoral gifts working in the church. She is not alone. Women may enter vocational ministry well aware of spiritual warfare yet completely unaware of gender warfare until they are already in the thick of the battle. This certainly happened to me. From early on I had a strong theological bent and was delighted when I was able to enroll in the ThM degree program at Dallas Seminary in 1986, the first year they opened that program to women students. Comments about my presence there were usually easily deflected by the reply that I was training for work as an overseas missionary. Though I didn't know it at the time, those conversations were the beginning of an ongoing pattern of defending my call to those who thought it should be for men only.
Unlike Nancy, however, my main battles have not been fought in the academy but in the trenches amid the realities of daily ministry. (For a few stories, see my earlier post, "How We Treat the Missionary Wife.") The academy continues to debate, as she points out, but in my trenches the battle is mostly waged by silence. The question of women in ministry is rarely mentioned and is considered as settled: women belong in home-and-family-based ministry. In the countries and churches where I have served and in the organization that sent me, I have been one of the few voices speaking out in favor of seeing missionary women as vocational workers for God's kingdom.
For the most part the missionary women around me have also chosen to do battle through silence, staying out of the spotlight and getting the job done. Their faithfulness and perseverance show that they are compelled by that same calling from Christ and love for him that motivates their brother-workers.
It took quite a few years for me to realize that this war is every bit as difficult as the spiritual warfare we encounter on the mission field, and with potential consequences that are just as serious. Perhaps it is simply another aspect of the spiritual war that we are all fighting. There are personal stakes like my own health and sanity. There are marriage and relational stakes, affecting the good of my husband and children. There are also the women in my organization who need me to be a voice on their behalf. But far larger and more significant are the stakes for God's kingdom here on earth.