Finding my Place: On Women in the Kingdom by Joy Clarkson

Today’s post is not going to be from me (at least not the majority of it!). I want to share a blog post by my niece, Joy Clarkson. Her blog is “Joyness the Brave”. She writes about finding her place in a male controlled Christianity, something I have heard from other women talk about numerous times in my years in dealing with the subject of gender equality or gender inclusion in the Churches of Christ. This subject, gender inclusion or biblical gender equality, has become a hot topic in the Churches of Christ in just the last several years.  The topic has moved to the front of the line when it comes to discussion topics and the topics of musical instruments in worship, homosexuality, and a few others have now dropped almost to the end of the list.  I predicted this would occur a few years ago.  No, I am not psychic or privileged to special knowledge.  It is just common sense that is in that prediction.  When people are kept under any form of bondage, whether it is because of gender, social status, or race, then that practice serves to push it forward.  This is happening in the Churches of Christ.   Of course, these thoughts or feelings are not limited to the fellowship that myself and my family are associated with. Joy is not a member of the Churches of Christ SOF (sign out front) that my family belongs to but she is a part of the church of Christ in a much larger sense, one that encompasses all of the different parts of Christianity. I find it quite interesting that in much of, if not the vast majority of, Christianity that women in the free world where freedom of worship actually exists under the protection of the US Constitution, are still kept silent by the minority of the membership–the men. We continue to struggle with this issue because many men are just not listening to the women.  Most male controlled churches have simply said women cannot do anything that takes away a man’s God given right to leadership. However, that statement is so far out of agreement with Scripture that one cannot help but wonder if these restrictive churches really read and listen to what God says or question why Scripture doesn’t agree with itself when talking about gender. The answer to part of that lies in the translation of the Greek, which Joy mentions in her post. Her post reveals how many women are thinking and feeling in a post-post modern world. How can we expect women to not feel left out or wonder where they really belong when we keep them silent and use them as pew warmers in the worship. Here is what Joy wrote:

“Finding My Place: On Women in the Kingdom”  by Joy Clarkson

To me, early mornings have always been a holy time. I was an RA this past school year, and as often as could, I would wake up before the sun to enjoy the quiet of an unbroken morning before the day began. One morning, I snuck out of bed to do just that.

I tip-toed out of my room trying to not wake my roommate. She stirred, and for a breathless moment, I thought she might wake…but she rolled over, and her covers returned to rising and falling to the steady rhythm of her breath.

The hallways were empty and quiet as I went to boil water for tea, and only as I walked back with a warm cuppa, did I see a few girls emerge from their rooms, sleepily resolute, sport shorts and yawns, on their way to Track practice.

I slipped back into my room, and on to my captained bed to peer out the window as the first rays of sun shot out behind the silhouettes of stately palm trees. Palm trees. We’re not in Colorado anymore, I laughed to myself.

I gingerly picked up my Bible from the desk beneath my bed. Dog-eared pages and bright highlighted areas waved at me as I flipped through the chapters of my old friend. That morning I read 2 Timothy, one of my favorite books of the Bible. I love it for it’s tenderness, truthfulness, bravery, and most importantly, for its steady gaze at the hope and glory that Paul seemed to see so vividly.

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

Suddenly, my peace felt broken. Hadn’t I read this verse dozens of times? It is about discipleship. Why am I bothered? I thought.

“The things which you have heard from me in the presence of many witnesses, entrust these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” (2 Timothy 2:2)

Men.

My stomach sunk. The feeling I can come closest to describing it as, is the feeling when you see someone smiling and waving, and you enthusiastically wave back, only to be met with a grimace– the wave was not for you. And this passage was not for me; I am not a man.

I felt left out.

It seemed juvenile, the desire to be included, but there it was, rising up in me. I certainly have no vendetta against men, and no desire to be one. I only wanted to know that there was a place for me in the Kingdom. I wanted to know that I was not a existential afterthought. I want to know your story, Lord! I want to be a witness!

I tried to rationalize.

It’s only cultural! Paul just wrote that out of a cultural motivation, I said to myself. But instantly my mind rebutted: God is expressed through culture, but it does not contain Him. After all, if this is His Holy Word, then couldn’t he have avoided a cultural confusion of this magnitude? Yes, He could. This left me in a quandary.

The morning had broken.

I finished 2 Timothy that morning, but a cloudiness hung over my reading, and I carried a half formed question in my mind that day, and into the months to come.

I have always identified a bit with Éowyn in Lord of the Rings. She is a great, noble, and gracious lady radiating with true loveliness (all things I aspire to be), who has watched her Kingdom fall under darkness. She loves the legacy of the good Kings of Gondor, and is jealous for them to conquer the darkness that is eating away at her land. The great battle comes, the good and prophesied King has returned, her kindgom seems to be on the brink of doom, and she wants to fight for it. To be in the thick. I believe her motivation is not to gain glory, but to play a part in the preservation of the precious place she loves most. And yet, she feels forgotten.

In a profound passage she says to Aragorn:

“All your words are but to say: you are a woman, and your part is in the house.”

Éowyn’s part to play in the story of Lord of the Rings is beautiful and honorable, but I will not spoil it in case any of my readers have not read it (… and I mean… if you haven’t… get on that.) She represents to me, both a desire I feel in my heart to follow my King, and a struggle in finding a place to belong in the fight for the True Kingdom.

I have always felt that her story understood me and my desire to be in the thick of living for the Kingdom of God. I have always been something of a all or nothing believer. When, after doubting and struggle, I came to realize the King Jesus had laid down his life to save me, and raised up to give me hope and power, I knew that I must live my whole life following Him. I wanted to sit at his feet and be taught by him, and when He rises to follow Him wherever he goes.

But, doubts creep in. Often, I felt a small voice follow me around saying

“You can be a Christian, but the really important jobs are to be left to Men of God.”

“When Jesus said that, he wasn’t really addressing women.”

“You are too strong.”

The voices say my love for Christ, while not unrequited, is perhaps a bit over enthusiastic or misguided. Perhaps I should be less passionate, and more meek.

In my heart, I always know these whisperings are not true. They flit about like a buzzing fly. I bat at them, but they return. I would swat them dead, but a tiny doubt tells me perhaps they are the truth.

But isn’t that exactly how the deceiver would work? Convince a heart bound to Christ and His Cross that, because they are a woman, they’re actions would not have quite as significant repercussions, that their voice is not as important, that they would be better off retiring to the fate of the second class saved.

But it is a lie.

The more I press into scripture as a whole, the more I am aware that There is a place for Women in the Kingdom of God.

Not lesser, not weaker, not to be hushed and pushed aside. Nor to be masculinzed in the name of equality. No. When I look for Women in the Kingdom of God, this is what I see.

Hannah: A persistent pursuer of God and his blessing, a good and faithful mother.

Esther: A beautiful woman, knowledgeable in foreign policy, fervent in prayer, wise and diplomatic, acting to stop a genocide without thought to her own safety.

Deborah: A judge of discernment, a leader, a victor in battle.

Rehab: A woman experienced in the hard life of oppressive lands, a prostitute, yet with such faith and cunning, that she was counted in the line of Christ.

Writer of Proverbs 31: A poet, a master of words, a wise mother, a provider.

Anna: A prophet faithfully waiting for the Messiah.

Mary: A brave strong young girl with such a developed character and deep investment in scripture that her response to the angel was immediate, faithful and brave submission, and a poem unmatchably rich in scriptural references and trust in the faithfulness of the God she had a personal faith in.

Phillip’s Daughters: Recorded evangelists in the early church.

And with these I barely begin to scratch the surface of the women who are impactfully present in the story of the Kingdom. Indeed, the very first people to discover Christ’s empty tomb were women– and incredible fact in a day when women could not even testify in court.

But that is the way of the Kingdom. Though the world in it’s shifting shadows frequently chooses people to whom they say “you are not as important,” Christ does not. The Kingdom is about Christ, and He is not a respecter of what mankind deem valuable or not. In the gospels he repeatedly addresses women personally, calling to their deepest needs and beliefs, honoring them in a way almost unheard of in that era.

And, He calls to me today, and to all women who would faithfully follow Him. The call to “Die to yourself pick up your cross and follow me” is every bit as much a call to my heart as it was to Paul’s, or Peter’s, or Mary’s.

Let me end by bringing to my kitchen nook table, about a week ago. My father, brother, and I sat munching away at a summer salad, as everyone else was out for the evening. A quiet cool was descending on the hot day, and the sun smiled sleepily through the stained glass hanging in the bay window. We were enjoying the comfortable rhythm of silence and chatting that comes from a lifelong knowledge of one another.

“I came upon something interesting today,” Said my dad, water glass in hand.

“You know I’ve been writing this small group leader’s guide, and I am using the passage from 2 Timothy, where he talks about discipleship, so I decided to look it up in Greek. You know how it translates to something like ‘entrust these things to worthy men?’ Well, I looked it up, and the words is ‘anthropos’ which in almost all other cases is a gender neutral word for ‘human being’ or ‘people.’ So it really ought to be “entrust these to worthy ‘people’.”

I felt a rush of relief, and prick of reminder. God had heard my question that morning, and taught me, and is continuing to teach me that, yes…

I do have a place.