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I am a Jesus Feminist Because of the Resurrection

It is Finished(This post originally appeared on sarahchristineschwartz.com on November 25th, 2013, as a part of Sarah Bessey’s Jesus Feminist synchroblog.)

I am a Jesus feminist because of the resurrection.

Two summers ago, I attended a traditional church service where the pastor was teaching out of Mark 16, which describes the story of Jesus’ resurrection and subsequent appearance to Mary Magdalene. He spoke with passion and grace about how all that we hope for as believers hangs on Christ’s defeat of death and physical resurrection. Being someone who is passionate about issues pertaining to gender inequity, especially in Christian contexts, I leaned over to my friends at the beginning of the message and whispered, “Do you know how crazy it is that Jesus first reveals himself to a woman after he’s risen, and that she is sent to give the news to the disciples? In 1st century Israel, a woman’s testimony wasn’t even admissible in a court of law. There is so much is being said here about the status of women.” Moments after I whispered those words, the pastor brought up a similar point. He referenced the culture of the 1st century, particularly their low opinion of women’s voices, and commented on the radical nature of Mary being entrusted with the news of the resurrection. He went on to say,

“So many people speak of Christianity as oppressing women, when in fact, as we see here, Jesus bestows tremendous dignity on them. The sexism we see in today’s religious circles was constructed later by man, not God.” The thought went over well with the congregation, and the pastor moved on with his message. I, however, couldn’t pick my jaw up off of the floor.

As this is a subject I care deeply about, I had done my research on this particular church’s leadership structure. The entirety of the pastor/elder board was intentionally made up of, and limited to, men. While there were a handful of female deacons, women were not allowed to teach, especially from the pulpit. Tears filled my eyes as I tried to focus back in on the message, knowing that the main point I would take from it was this: Jesus himself entrusted a woman with the greatest, most powerful, liberating, awe-inspiring, history-altering news of all time, and told her to go, to tell her brothers what she had seen. But in the vast majority of western evangelical churches, women are not even allowed to teach from Mark 16.

There was part of me that wanted to wipe the tears from my eyes, turn to the congregation and shout, “Daughters of Mary, your voices are still needed! There are still many waiting to hear what it is you have encountered in the living Jesus! The dignity Jesus bestowed on Mary still belongs to you. Do not believe it when you are told anything different, when you are politely kept from places of influence. What you have to offer is of great value! It gives your Father great joy to give you the Kingdom, and the Kingdom needs to know what it is you have seen!”

But I didn’t. I bit my tongue, choked back my tears, and sat through the rest of message with my hands folded in my lap. I took a silent inventory of my emotions. Was I angry? Yes, injustice makes me angry. But more than that, I was deeply saddened. Saddened by the hundreds of voices sitting in the room that had been silenced, not out of malicious intent, but out of a culture that has gone unquestioned for far too long. Will anything ever change? I wondered.

As an undergraduate student, I had the privilege of taking a class with Dr. Ronald Pierce, a man who has bravely fought for gender equality in Christian circles for decades. When once asked what keeps him from throwing in the towel on the emotionally taxing evangelical gender debate, he replied, “The resurrection. I remember the resurrection and remember that all things are possible.”

So as I sat in the church service, I flooded my mind with thoughts of the resurrection, noting the irony of the particular situation before me, and reminded myself that it was this impossible event that spoke life and freedom to all of creation, to the slave and the freeman, to the Jew and the Gentile, to men and to women. It was this event that broke the curse, that allowed us to once again be our children of God’s selves, that set us up to work, play, live and serve in the fullness of life that is found in the heart of the Father. It was this event that reconciled us to the Father and to one another, that ended all enmity and inequality between us. And as it was the event that bestowed dignity on the voice of Mary, so it is what continues to bestow dignity on the voice and gifts of women everywhere. I am a Jesus feminist because of the resurrection.

Be encouraged, fellow Jesus Feminists. All things are possible.

12 Comments

  1. Comment #105237 posted January 9, 2014 at 8:38 am

    Thanks for sharing. I was right there with you in the service. “Daughters of Mary!” Love that.

  2. Jane
    Comment #105239 posted January 9, 2014 at 9:23 am

    Didn’t you ask the preacher afterwards, why are you preaching one thing whilst your church is practising another?

  3. Vicky
    Comment #105241 posted January 9, 2014 at 11:54 am

    How can any woman remain in a church that is sexist like that? I have a problem with partaking in a service and/or belonging to a church in which the leaders are sexist. I thank God for His blessing to have found this site because it is therapy for me to hear similar stories of women like yourself and your personal struggles/triumphant moments within the church. As a result, I’m curious about what your response will be to Jane’s question because I would have asked the pastor also. I remember asking a pastor about why only men read from the Scriptures at the church and his response was he wanted to encourage the men into leadership roles since there were more women than men in the church. I also observed that the women did most of the cleaning in the church and watched the children during the service. To me, that was sexist and I didn’t accept his answer so I kept questioning him some more regarding other issues I had within the church and what is written in Scriptures. My line of questioning got to the point where he took his time to write back or ignored my questions altogether. I’m still searching for a church because the churches in my area are either sexist or phony. God is good though because I think I’m learning more by doing my own research than by going to church but I miss the fellowship. Thank you for this thought provoking article.

    • Comment #105243 posted January 9, 2014 at 12:42 pm

      Hi Vicki-

      I sympathize with your struggle to find a church that supports women in all levels of leadership. I was not a regular attender of this church, but was there visiting friends on this particular Sunday. Have you contacted CBE regarding a directory of churches in your area that support women?

      • Vicky
        Comment #105245 posted January 9, 2014 at 4:20 pm

        Hi Sarah,

        I will check into that directory. Thank you very much. I didn’t know this site provided one.

    • Comment #105244 posted January 9, 2014 at 1:05 pm

      Hi Vicki,

      It doesn’t sound like this is Sarah’s case, but in my case, I am an egalitarian, strong and well thought out in my position, and married to a complementarian. I didn’t openly become an egalitarian until six years into my marriage, and it has been very, very hard to make it work (although my husband is moderate in his views and is a generally great guy). Hubs wanted to keep going to his extremely complementarian church (women cannot pray aloud, serve a communion plate, lead a cell group, etc) and I wanted to go to a Church that affirms the full calling of women. In the end, for the sake of our oneness and our kids, we decided to go to a compementarian church that’s made up of male leaders but is pretty generous in its view of women. Not my ideal, but because we are equals in our marriage, both of us needed to make the hard choice. It’s not always as cut and dry as not going to a women affirming Church. – This comment comes with love and I appreciate your thought provoking comment.

      Sarah: thank you for such a well laid out and compelling article. In the age of the Internet, it is men and women like you who will change the face of the Church.

      • Vicky
        Comment #105246 posted January 9, 2014 at 4:25 pm

        Hi Nikki,

        Thank you for your response. We are all at different stages within our journeys to know, love and serve the Lord so I respect your decision but I don’t believe I would have made the same decision. Again, I respect your decision and thank you for your response.

      • Comment #105247 posted January 9, 2014 at 5:58 pm

        Nikki, thanks for explaining why an egalitarian might stay in a complementarian church. I’m in one too. Sometimes I want to grab my kids and run away from my church. But it’s not always that simple. My husband has deep roots in this church and I have strong emotional attachments. But my situation is a work in progress. Who knows what God might do in the next few years.

  4. JRiani
    Comment #105248 posted January 9, 2014 at 6:12 pm

    No one should be teaching anything that isn’t already in the Bible. I don’t see how a male-centered pulpit is a problem. The real work is going out and serving the poor through your time and diligence, not preaching on a pulpit. Sounds like women are just after the supposed power of the pulpit to me.

    • Comment #105251 posted January 11, 2014 at 11:22 pm

      The problem with a male-centred pulpit is that proclaiming the word of God is a privilege and calling which comes to both men and women. If only males are ‘allowed’ to preach then women who God has called to pulpit ministry will not be able to obey and the church will be the poorer as they miss out on what God wants to say through female ministers.

      All believers should be engaged in serving the poor – no gender distinction in that either.

  5. Comment #105249 posted January 9, 2014 at 9:02 pm

    Dear Sarah,

    Thanks for sharing this. It reminded of me of things I’ve wrestled with over the years.

    I struggled with my denomination through long years of transition during which we evolved from a belief that women were not allowed in leadership or preaching positions to where today women are welcome in all positions. I myself had come to this belief long before our leaders did so for several painful years I was on the wrong side of the issue. During that time I began to wonder if there might be a connection between viewing women as less able, less respected to teach and lead, and viewing God as exclusively male. Between the invisible face of the essence of God that we know is reflected in women who are created in God’s image, and the invisible women of the Bible’s story.

    We know they are there! Both the feminine face of God and all those unmentioned sisters who grew up to bear and raise and teach the men we read about. Often hidden between the lines, but they are there! Today, even with women in leadership, our church still names God ‘He’ and worships as if ‘He’ were only male.

    I grew up on the KJV where sons and daughters were all known as God’s sons and Christians were addressed as brothers regardless of gender. God is still known only as Father in our worship and I long for the day when we may also call God Mother. As translations changed over the years I enjoyed the change to ‘sons and daughters’ and ‘brothers and sisters’ – and the inclusion of women that this has led to.

    Then one day I read Psalm 131 with fresh eyes. Verse 2 in the old NIV reads:
    “But I have stilled and quieted my soul;
    like a weaned child with its mother,
    like a weaned child is my soul within me.”

    It touched me so deeply to see God as Mother that It fell on my heart as a melody. For days I went about with this song in my head: “Like a weaned child with its Mother, my spirit is quiet within me, …. my soul is at peace with God.” It was as if my dear Heavenly Father, whom I have loved and honored since childhood, had gently introduced me to my Heavenly Mother. Today God is my Father/Mother and I long for the time when the girls and women in Christian churches are taught to see the Deity this way. I long for the day when little girls hear about the One whose image they also bear. The God who is not named ‘He’, but is beyond gender.

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