(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.