Saturday, January 1, 2011

Little Girl, Wake Up

From July 2009 until November 2010, my granddaughter and her parents have been living with us. Abby sometimes likes me to tell her stories about Jesus. She turned four in October, so I keep them simple and steer away from the complex confrontations with the Pharisees. What Jesus did when he was on earth makes for good stories.

One evening, Abby, her mother, and I were all piled on my bed, and she asked, “Nana, will you tell me a story about Jesus?” So I told her this one, and it turned out to be the one I needed to hear.

This story tells how Jesus feels about little girls.

Jesus was walking down the road when a man named Jairus came running up to him and said, “My daughter is very sick. Can you come see her and heal her?” Jesus told a couple of his friends to come with him, and he hurried toward her house. As he was approaching, a servant came out and told Jairus, “Don’t bother Jesus anymore. Your daughter has died.” Jesus said to Jairus, “Don’t be afraid; she’s just sleeping.” Jesus entered the house, and the people who were there made fun of him. He went into the room where the little girl lay on her bed.

Jesus bent over the little girl, and he said to her, “Little girl, wake up.” She opened her eyes and sat up.

It turns out that Jesus likes girls, and he wants them to wake up. He doesn’t want to hear that they are dying, he doesn’t want to see them dead; he wants them to wake up, get out of bed, and thrive.

When I tell this story from memory out loud, it makes me cry. I want to believe that Jesus cares that much about girls. I want my granddaughters, my daughters, my friends, my mother, and myself to know this kind of love—the love that wants women alive and awake. Jesus loves this little girl in a day in which Jewish men thanked God they were born neither Gentile nor female.

What I have to admit to myself, and to Jesus, is that many women in the church cannot be truly alive, truly awake, truly grateful for being a woman because the church makes it so tough for women to be who God made them to be. I am so angry to think of how the church has wasted the gifts and energy of women. God’s kingdom is smaller and narrower than it should be. Women in the church are sickening and dying for lack of freedom to be their whole selves in the church.

I am part of the Friends (Quaker) denomination. Quakers have a history of equality for men and women in ministry—public, spoken witness to the power and love of God. First generation Quaker women in the 1600s preached in public, journeyed overseas to preach to the unconverted, stood up for their freedom to practice religion as God revealed it to them, and, with many men, died imprisoned or executed for their convictions. This is close to my heart because I am also called to preach and recorded as a minister. And yet, in my yearly meeting, there are only three women who are released full-time to pastor a church. The other 64 churches have either men as pastors or none.

My own home meeting has three full-time paid men as pastors and four paid part-time women and one part-time man as pastors. The full-time men are the lead pastor, the pastor for spiritual health and care, and the pastor for youth ministries; the part-time man is the pastor for worship ministries; the part-time women are the pastor for women’s ministries, the pastor for children and families, the pastor for seniors, and the pastor for administration. I love them all, but there seems to be a hierarchy of significance in who is full-time and who is part-time, even though they are all graced with the name “pastor.” And I know of churches in my yearly meeting that do not allow women to carry the title pastor, even part-time.
What is wrong with the church, with my church? Why is the Quaker testimony on equality of the sexes not borne out in practice?

And why is the entire church not committed to equality? When we visited lovely cathedrals across Europe this spring, my husband would say to me, “You could be preaching from that pulpit.” He meant to be supportive to me, but I knew the impossibility of that ever happening. It made me sad and angry. Think of 2000 years of little girls with gifts given to them for the church that they were never allowed to use. Think of how they were required to die inside in order to live faithfully as defined by the church. Think of how Jesus feels about that.

At least in the story about Jairus’s daughter, the house was filled with mourners because the little girl had died. There are few mourners in the church for all the dying little girls and comatose women whose gifts are refused and whose calls are denied. There is the hope offered by Jesus that these women and girls are just sleeping, and their whole selves can be raised from the dead by the word of God.

Where is the sin and who are the sinners? Who would dare call unclean what God has called clean? Men and women alike have resisted the clear teaching of Jesus and Paul that the kingdom of God needs women who are awakened, called, obedient ministers in private and in public. It is easy to blame men for perpetuating power structures of patriarchy which clearly violate the spirit and letter of the law of love; it is more difficult to understand why women themselves resist and even reject women who are called to public ministry. Are they afraid? And if so, of what? Of the love and calling of God?

Most dismaying is the fact that the “emergent” movement in today’s church, with its missional emphasis and flexible structure, is again resisting the clear teaching of Jesus that both men and women are called to faithful stewardship of their gifts and will be held accountable for how they are used to build God’s kingdom, and that all is called to go into the world and preach the gospel. Women took to the road with Jesus, gave him their money and loyalty, listened to and understood his message, witnessed his resurrection and reported the good news to others, waited for the Holy Spirit and received the Spirit in all ways, hosted churches, preached, prophesied, taught. Paul valued the women who were leaders in the church, including some among the apostles.

Every woman who remains loyal to the church while knowing that her fellow Christians do not encourage her to acknowledge and use her gifts in the church shows that God does indeed give grace to those who suffer. Women do suffer when they feel called and empowered and then rejected. The mission field, education, non-profits all have benefited from women whose gifts have been thrust out of the church, but the church itself has been diminished and is even now being diminished.

The parable of the three stewards is for women, too. When you read it remembering that, it seems that women are damned if they don’t and damned if they do. Even in my own denomination, the sexism of our society has ruined the good news that if God’s Son sets you free, you are free indeed. Instead of noting the clear teaching of this parable that if you do not use your God-given gifts to further the kingdom of God, you will be cast out of it, and thinking of those women with gifts of public ministry, my own denomination has congregations that will not place women on elders, will not call women as pastors, and will not recommend women for recording (analogous to ordination).

While Christians are happy to eat pork and shellfish since God said that pigs in a blanket are clean if God says so, Christians are not happy to say that God has declared women and men to be equal. Yet Paul writes that in Christ there is no male nor female. This is so clear it demands that we ask why it is so rarely visible in the church.

Undoubtedly, someone will blame the Bible for the perpetuation of patriarchal Christianity. I blame Bible readers who refuse to see. The message always comes to those with ears to hear, eyes to read, hearts to follow, not to those looking for confirmation of the status quo and permission to resist change.


Ashley W said...

Awesome message, Becky! Do you know that Friends Journal is doing a special issue on the ministry of Quaker women today? I think you should submit this!

Anonymous said...

Wow. Talk about a powerful message with which to start the new year ... wow!

Really, I'm speechless; I'm having trouble articulating how truly awesome (in the original sense of the word) this is.

You're absolutely right, though, about the role of women in ministry. The worst part is that it's not just in one denomination, it's in all of them --- it's become endemic to Christianity itself, even among those (like Quakers) that were once so much more egalitarian.

As someone who's coming out of the "Quaker closet" this year, it's also a little disheartening to hear. I grew up Methodist in the Quaker belt area of North Carolina because my mother is Methodist, but I know, at heart, I've always been a Quaker. My only regret is that it took spending all of 2010 wrestling with issues and having several conversations with God to realise it. As I visit the meetings in my area in search of a home meeting, your words and thoughts will definitely be on my mind and in my prayers.

bbssgg said...

That's why I am glad to be the sort of Quaker that doesn't HAVE a pastor. The title gets in the way, at least for me. How egalitarian can a faith be if it has some people closer to God than others?

Karen O. said...

Thanks so much for this post, Becky. I am also dismayed about this very thing in our Yearly Meeting. And unfortunately, I see it getting worse, not better. In fact, I see a general move away from Quaker distinctives and towards a fundamentalist attitude. How do we combat this?

Herzgrah said...

Powerful piece of writing. I agree with Ashley W that you should publish some version of this--maybe expanded! Thank you, Friend, for your passion and clarity.

Charity said...

Thanks for your post and the sharing of your heart. As a woman also called to preach and recorded in EFC-MAYM I often thought I would never be seriously considered for a position in a church. God prepared the hearts of a group of people to accept me and the gifts I bring and I am at present one of three women pastoring in our Yearly Meeting.

As rooted and established as I have been in the egalitarian mindset, there are still days when opposition causes me to rethink and re-prove that God has indeed called and I am responsible to answer.

Thanks for the reminder. It is nice to hear it from someone other than myself! You have blessed my heart today as I prepare to give ministry among God's people.

Joel Perez said...

Well said Becky. I feel blessed to have you part of our meeting and my life.

marcherstory said...

I was referred to this wonderful article by a Quaker Facebook friend, who knows I respect and love Quakers for their historical activities including suffrage and abolition. I go to a mainline Presbyterian church, which has as many female elders and deacons as they do males.
We had a female temporary pastor, while they searched for a more permanent one. In order for the woman to stay and be hired more permanently, she would have to take a 6 month break because of a national church rule, which applies to men in temporary positions too. They seek God's will for making the right choice and they don't get it overnight.
The woman told me that she and her husband want to return to the Midwest where both sets of elderly parents need help if they want to stay in their own homes.
I see my church as relatively non sexist, but not feminist church, which I wish it was. The main pastor, who is more college educated in scripture, etc. than most of us, does not think he is closer to God than we are. We are all individuals. I know some (mostly women) I believe closer to God than I am by observation. They don't toot their own horn. I did tell the pastor I appreciated that he always included sisters/ women/ girls along with brothers/ men and boys in his sermons, but he always uses the male term first. He didn't think he did, but I still find that to be true. This time I will be looking for an article to show him about what is wrong with that. Also I will be looking for a source to photocopy Christmas and other hymns which use inclusive language applying to people. Despite this congregation's small flaws, it does not make me severely angry and hurt feeling like former churches I belonged to.
The article is excellent, and I want to share it with others, such as a woman friend who goes to many football games with her man friend, but she does not enjoy them. She's like that about other activities too. I gave her a Ms Magazine when she married a man everyone advised her against. He divorced her in about a year.
I do prefer programmed services for me. I went to the quiet kind, but although the people were friendly and involved in social issues, which I am very much for, the services aren't for me.

Will T said...

Thank you for this message. I agree with Ashley that it might be useful for it to receive a wider reading. I would suggest, rather than Friends Journal, you submit it to Quaker Life since it is likely to be read by more of your target audience.

To bbssgg I would say that being a pastor (or recorded minister, or clerk or anything else) does not mean that you are closer to God. It means that, depending on the position, that you have been provided material support so that you can devote more of your time to doing the work of your meeting, that you have demonstrated gifts in ministry that have been recognized by your meeting, or that you have been named to a position to lead a community and help it in its discernment of God's will. Quakerism *is* egalitarian to the extent that believes that God does speak to and through all people. That does not rule out the need for some structure to get the work done.

Will T

darlasamuelson said...


Jesus loves little girls (like me) and is calling them to wake up! Nicely stated. Women in the church need to wake up to the gospel (which is Jesus) and live in the freedom of the kingdom of God that is now and not yet.

I emphasize with your anger towards the church for the implications of narrow misinterpretations of the Word. I think experiencing anger is a part of waking up. It can be misdirected at times towards women and men, and can cause some to stay asleep. Especially if anger is not an "acceptable" expression, righteous or not so righteous.

I also think shame is involved. My story of waking up has involved a cycle of moving forward then shrinking back, moving forward again and shrinking back again. Shrinking back has to do with feeling alone, tired, and lacking support. What does it look like for women to lead (pastor) the church? There are just not enough role models for women to embrace their feminine ways of leading the church. I also feel ashamed for not waking up sooner, for not finding a safe space to ask "why?" or "why not me/women?" earlier in my life. It took a long time for me to break through layers of reasons for not pastoring. Quite frankly, it is a lonely and uncomfortable road that is not easy for women to travel. Thank you Becky for being a role model for us!

Kerry said...

Becky -

Thank you for your message that speaks truthfully to the sexism and discrimination so prevelent in our churches, Yearly Meeting, and society. This is the reason that I chose to go into student affairs rather than ministry! I remember very clearly making the decision to "not fight those battles" within the church and minister instead with college students. It's been a wonderful career path for me, but I know that I could have been used in the church as well . . .

I'm actually now part of another denomination that seems to be more open to women in senior ministry positions (tho in my heart, I'll always be a Quaker woman!!). But even in this church, I still see evidence of little girls/women who are not encouraged to be wholly themselves. It is systemic to our society I believe . . . but still something that we in the church need to acknowledge and FIGHT!!

Blessings to you in your ministry both on the campus, from the pulpit, through your blog, and in the sweet story time with your granddaughter! (I also think that you SHOULD submit this to Friends Journal!!)

All the best -

Kerry Barnett Martin

Chad said...

Friend Becky,

I resonate with you. It seems we in the Evangelical "wing" of Quakerdom have had a "cultural and spiritual forgetting." I believe we have failed to be good discerners of the Present Christ our Teacher. We (the majority of our Friends) have hit the cruise control of spirituality and focused on our general culture's distractions.

I have been blessed to have had a pastor who was also female--Christ spoke meaningfully through her. I have also been blessed to have had seminary schoolmates who were preparing for pastoral ministry who were preparing for ordination (they were Methodist and Presbyterian). They,too, struggled with a biased church--pastoral ministry was open to them (in general) but it was hard to find a call or placement (in specific).

Christ's Grace and Peace to you,

Chad said...

Friend Becky,

I resonate with you. It seems we in the Evangelical "wing" of Quakerdom have had a "cultural and spiritual forgetting." I believe we have failed to be good discerners of the Present Christ our Teacher. We (the majority of our Friends) have hit the cruise control of spirituality and focused on our general culture's distractions.

I have been blessed to have had a pastor who was also female--Christ spoke meaningfully through her. I have also been blessed to have had seminary schoolmates who were preparing for pastoral ministry who were preparing for ordination (they were Methodist and Presbyterian). They,too, struggled with a biased church--pastoral ministry was open to them (in general) but it was hard to find a call or placement (in specific).

Let us recapture what we are called to be.

Christ's Grace and Peace to you,

Jami Hart said...

Saving Women From the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide. by Susan Mcleod Harrison Barclay Press

Queery said...

Amen. May we be faithful and continue to use our voices in all times and places that we are called to do so. I support your publishing of this widely and repeatedly. You speak my mind and heart. Thank you.

Rebecca Ankeny said...

if I were to write the article again, I would ask, what is wrong with THE church, even with MY church, that women respond so hesitantly to opportunities when they are offered to them, even when the women are gifted and (it seems to others who hear) called. This is a much harder problem to solve since it involves real humility, doubt, fear, and maybe false humility, also. Darla's comment above is so useful, describing her own two steps forward, one step back approach toward public ministry. I remember hearing a woman say that the most difficult barrier to overcome is inside us, not outside us. What is that barrier? or what are those barriers?