The only sermon I have ever left in tears was on Deborah.
My husband and I were grateful to be a part of a church that worked through Biblical Text book-by-book and verse-by-verse, and as a church we were working through the book of Judges. When I turned to the Text for that morning’s sermon and saw her name, I smiled. She’s a military leader, a political leader, and a prophet of God. But as the pastor opened the book, he told the congregation that Deborah was not actually a judge, not actually a leader called by God, and only a prophet because the male religious leaders failed to assume the rightful roles as God’s spokesmen. I was devastated. Despite my best efforts to stifle them, and the associated emotional-woman stereotype that accompanied them, hot tears streamed down my face and neck. In my short 26 years, I hadn’t yet been exposed to this kind of marginalization of women from the pulpit, and I was too young to be familiar with it. In my young mind, I couldn’t reconcile a woman with such leadership capacity and calling with the dismissive hermeneutic employed in the pulpit.
Now, with distance and age, I realize that is precisely what makes Deborah who she is. She has been dismissed, disrespected, and discredited, but that does not change what she is: a woman of God who speaks God’s truth and leads the nation when it matters the most.
2016 has been a full year for Evangelicals. It seems we have all but resolved one theological matter when a political issue arises. In the past ten months we have debated the Trinity, the election, the ESV’s new translation, and much more. In some ways, the back-and-forth on these kinds of topics is something we have come to expect from Evangelical leaders. But the unexpected nature of 2016, the topics that arose and the public conversations that we’re having, have shaken the Evangelical community Topics that arose were not anticipated, and we started to notice who was speaking up. Like a gentle sifting, we watched voices rise to the top and others settle in unexpected places. We watched pastors and leaders take severe stands and other sit astonishingly silent.
Amidst all of this, a unique voice has risen up out of the Evangelical conversation this year. Through difficult conversations, some uniquely academic and other particularly personal, Evangelical women have risen up. Among the voices debating and discussing, women have stood up and spoken up in a unique way, unlike I have ever seen in years past.
In the midst of the Trinity debate, Evangelical women played a central role; Aimee Byrd, Wendy Alsup, and Hannah Anderson wrote intelligently, graciously, and boldly on the distortion of Trinitarian doctrine. They ably argued that some have prized their complementarian views so highly that they have lost some of the core doctrines of the faith, maintaining fundamentalist views of gender at the cost of a contorted Trinitarian doctrine. Their contribution was largely undervalued, and even, at times, ignored altogether.
When the ESV translation was released with a revised and unhelpful translation of Genesis 3:16, these same women stood up; Hannah Anderson and Wendy Alsup wrote a three part series analyzing and critiquing, always with grace, the translation changes and their implications. They did the hard work of reviewing the original languages, reading scholars on the topic, and speaking humbly and astutely on the topic.
As the Trump Tapes were released, many pastors and Evangelical leaders stood behind Trump as their candidate of choice to the neglect of condemning his sinful, and shameful, behavior and blatant confession of sexual aggression against women. Evangelical women came out of the woodwork and took a stand against these comments. Over 700 Christian women condemned Trump’s words as abusive and sinful. Beth Moore, Karen Warren, Christine Cain, and Trillia Newbell, Hannah Anderson, and Julie Roys spoke directly and accurately, holding forth a better way to be Evangelical in this political climate.
Though these women have been (and in some ways continue to be) marginalized in the public Evangelical conversation, they speak nonetheless. Though pastors have written that the position these women should assume is one of silent meekness (both inside the church and outside of it), these women have, with Holy Spirit power, stood for goodness, godliness and truth. In an unprecedented way, when the church and nation needed it most, they led.
They are brave and gracious. They are informed and humble. They are eloquent and bold. They are Deborahs.
What strikes me as particularly profound in this shift is the reality that most of these women are a generation ahead of my own. Many of these women have experienced much more marginalization in Evangelical circles that I have, and have been dismissed more easily by their pastors that I have experienced. Many of these are women feel in their gut that many men believe that when they open their mouths to speak they are trying to usurp the pastoral role. Many of these women have been shamed for their intelligence and competency. Many of these women have experienced harsher criticism than their male peers. But they did not let that dissuade them from speaking the truth about God and the truth about the world.
And I want to say something to the women of my generation. Millennial women, don’t miss this: we stand on these women’s shoulders. The generation of women who goes before us are the women who were not admitted into seminaries and Bible schools in their youth because of their gender; they are the women who did the hard work of studying for themselves, teaching themselves theology and Biblical doctrine. These saints have seen eras of silent women in the church, who were taught from the pulpit that their place was at home rather than the classroom, who heard from preachers lips that politics, theology, and critical thinking was better left to their husbands and male peers. These are the women who have gone before us, weed-whacking a path for us to learn theology, think critically, and to speak well on these topics. As we enter the Evangelical conversation, let us be content to sit quietly for the time being, to learn from their speaking up, to listen; theirs were the voices who made room for ours. Let us watch ourselves closely, guarding ourselves against building broad and shallow platforms from which we spoon-feed our followers with theology-light sustenance. We would be utterly remiss if we did not use the privileged vantage point they have gained us to proclaim the truth of God’s Word, God’s character, and His coming Kingdom. In the wake of 2016, might we, too, be ready to take a stand when the church and our nation need it.
Might we learn from them, might we emulate them, might we some day be them.