Have you ever had a liberating experience and wanted to share it, but instead kept it to yourself? Maybe you felt a compulsion to stay quiet — a necessary reluctance. This is where I have been for the past 2 years. I’m finally walking in a freedom that I wish I had fully realized years ago and yet… it feels so taboo. A forbidden victory. A hidden secret that is all mine. It seems a little silly that being set free from bondage could rock anyone’s boat. In the scale of freedom versus offense, I am going to take my chances with offense and side with freedom every time. Let’s stomp the eggshells, shall we? What I’m talking about are false beliefs about “biblical womanhood”. Whatever that’s supposed to mean.
About 2 years ago while preparing for marriage (you know the way all good Christian ladies do) I was confronted with a teaching towards women that knocked the wind out of my chest and made my spirit cringe. I was waiting for the punchline when I heard the scripture reference since this wasn’t a study on church discipline or how Christians should conduct themselves during a church service. I am referring to the infamously misunderstood 1 Timothy 2:12. Some Churches have been using this single verse as the basis to justify the stifling of women leading in ministry for years, and (although it may not be the intention of most) when historical-cultural context is overlooked the application has the potential to put women in bondage. And that, is what sets my teeth on edge.
Thus began my journey in becoming a student of the bible in regard to what scripture actually says about women as individuals and within the context of the church. Now before you call me a feminist, a bra burner or a heretic (although I wouldn’t be offended by the former) just hear me out. Now I want to be clear. The bible does not put women in bondage. Nothing could be further from the truth. In fact I would argue that Jesus and Paul are some of the most flaming feminists in scripture! Paul does gets a bad rap due to the poor exegesis and gross misinterpretation of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 . More on that here and here.
The first time I realized that this restrictive stance was still dormant, I was 13. I was at my local church at the time discussing with other teens the future,talking about where we potentially could see ourselves in ministry as adults. At the time I remember talking with a friend and considering the possibility of becoming a youth pastor. Her response was one of correction, insisting, “Don’t you mean a pastor’s wife?”
“Actually, I don’t.”
That conversation struck and stuck with me after that, although I never pursued this idea that women can’t or shouldn’t be allowed to lead in this capacity in the church. After all, our denomination promoted women in leadership. I just gave her the benefit of the doubt and brushed it off. At 13 it didn’t occur to me that there was an entire theology that states a y chromosome is a prerequisite to be allowed to lead. Thankfully, I have never been put in a position where I was denied in the realm of ministry due to my gender. I am not writing this in jaded protest. This is a freedom song! This whirlwind of bad theology was merely the vehicle that made this journey possible and ultimately ended up breaking my chains and crushing these false beliefs.
For years I felt shame and defeat in my relationships because I felt that there was something wrong with me. I’ve always been somewhat of a pistol. I have a type A personality so I like having structure, setting goals and taking initiative. In relationships I would feel frustrated because it’s in my nature to be blunt, forward and direct. Unfortunately this can be seen in church culture as not behaving like a lady at best and being a domineering Jezebel at worst.
Don’t get me wrong, I love me. But this temperament in Christendom is often mistaken as gender role reversal which begged the question(s), “Should I love me?” “Am I broken?” “Does my strong personality make me less of a woman?” “How do I change?” “Can I?” “Should I?” These distinctions shouldn’t be made and can be very damaging to one’s self perception. I quickly started accumulating stacks and stacks of pink books. You know the ones. With promises of magically turning you into “the woman you were meant to be” in 5 easy steps. The endless comparison of what you are not and what a “Woman of God” looks like. Blech.
Somewhere between Proverbs 31 and the hermeneutical mess we have made out of 1 Timothy 2:11-12 we have created this ideology that there is only one type of woman to be celebrated, that the essence of a woman lies in being a mousey, timid, and frail “yes woman”. I’m sure other ladies can relate. There is all this hype in church towards both single and married women about becoming a “Proverbs 31 woman”. We place that broad up on a pedestal that is impossible to live up to. We resent her. Like the stone tablets of the law in the Old Testament, we feel her lording over us in judgement. Nevertheless, here we are striving day after day to become her.
Proverbs 31 was never intended to be a mental comparison chart forever etched in the mind of every woman. Rather this was a tribute to the book of Proverbs itself — wisdom personified as a woman. We see endless diversity of women in scripture who are not bound by traditional gender roles. Women like Deborah, Esther, Huldah, Junia and many more that broke the mold for generations to come. In Jeremiah 9:17-18 we see the prophet calling specifically for women to use their *gasp* voices in leading the people. The first time the gospel was proclaimed after the Resurrection, Jesus chose women to be his mouthpieces. Clearly, there is a huge chasm between the limitations that our current church culture place on women versus the endless spectrum of possibilities laid out in scripture. Anything outside of this legalistic box we have created is viewed as teetering on the edge of rebellion and a threat to the institution of marriage and families. This box needs to be crushed.
This journey has been a healing one that I encourage every disenchanted woman to go on. One by one I have felt the layers of false beliefs falling off of my spirit. It has been amazing and liberating. With every revelation I am seeing more and more clearly this love story that is glowing with the Fathers heart for women. With every study I am enraptured and confirmed over and over again. I no longer see the Proverbs 31 woman as a yoke tying me down. In the same way that the law is no longer an enemy but a tutor to lead me to Christ, I can now look to this portrait of the Proverbs 31 woman and see a companion and not a competitor. A door to walk through to find wisdom in the pursuit of Jesus instead of a mirror casting a reflection of inadequacy and self loathing.
So women reading this, don’t be ashamed of your victory. Shout it out! You’re free!
Some resources I would recommend for women who are searching are:
Why Not Women by Loren Cunningham
Junia is Not Alone by Scot McKnight
Jesus Feminist by Sarah Bessey
A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans
The Junia Project
Christians for Biblical Equality