I am a product of the “women’s lib” movement. Back in the day, females were either “chicks” or “broads” — those women who dared to champion women’s rights were called “bra-burners.” The Equal Rights Amendment passed both houses when I was in high school, but was never ratified by enough states to make it part of our laws. I found little interest or support for the ERA among my friends. In fact, we didn’t think we “needed” it — most of us, if we went to college, would graduate and get married and have children. TV shows at the time mocked “women’s libbers.” (To be clear, I watched them and laughed, too. I was more interested in having friends than standing up for something that made me uncomfortable.)
At the time, it wasn’t something I cared about. Being a feminist was not how I would have identified myself. In fact, I was content to invest in life on a large public university campus, since I was (and still am!) a huge football fan! I was in the marching band, joined a sorority and worked hard enough to be tapped for an honorary.
Fast forward several years… I went to grad school. Worked as a music therapist. I went on a short-term mission trip to West Africa. And as I continued to grow in my understanding of God and the work of the Holy in the world. And one of the things I realized was that I did not “fit” that carefully circumscribed role of “a woman in the Church.” At least, not the way that the conservative churches I attended were demanding. I loved God, but I could not synchronize my belief that women could do anything and women were supposed to be submissive. The sermons declared that “men and women were equal but with different roles”. I knew it was wrong, but I didn’t have the knowledge (or the backbone) to move against it.
However, I was raised by parents who believed that each of their children had unique gifts and strengths. We were encouraged to get involved in community service. To explore ways of helping others and to express our faith in a local faith community. And I wanted to show my love for God and my passion for caring for others.
I started attending classes at a local nondenominational seminary when I was in my 20s. The conservative school which I attended at the time was less than welcoming, and discouraged my theological pursuits. There were no other women in my class on the Prophets. The other students were pastors and had contacts and other pastor’s libraries available for their use. The seminary had no library, no resource books, no way to find research materials. I floundered horribly. Without access to books, articles and scholarly exegesis, my papers were (quite honestly) terrible. My professor said bluntly, “This is why women don’t belong in seminary.”
I was crushed. And I figured he must be right. What did I know?
At the same time, I was conflicted. I knew deep in my bones God wanted me to do more. But what? It took me twenty years to finally screw up my courage and go back to seminary. This time, I spent time talking to men and women in ministry. I gleaned wisdom from their suggestions. In a period of discernment, I investigated 3 seminaries and ended up at one that is more Pentecostal in its leanings. I found encouragement, challenge and affirmation of my gifts. They invested in me so that I graduated without debt. Though we do not see eye-to-eye on every aspect of Christianity, I am grateful for my education there.
As I have worked in local churches, in hospitals and now in hospice, I find that there is still a need for feminists to speak up. Some in the Church have an outdated, misogynist view of the Sacred texts. Some insist on subjugating women. Some find ways to demean and demoralize any woman who dares to speak up and take a stand. They slander. They take words out of context. And worst of all, they go digging for things long in the past to try and embarrass. (I’ll spare you the work. I’m someone who is a sinner saved by grace. Perhaps you are, too.)
Now that our daughters are in the “launch stage” to their careers, paths of interest and lives, I am more passionate than ever that we need people of faith who are feminists. For they, like their peers, still have an uphill battle. And we will continue to say firmly, honestly and compassionately,
ALL people are valued by God.
ALL people are equal in the eyes of God.
ALL those who desire to serve God have a place.
So may it be.