Last week I shared a few stories of opposition that I have experienced on my pastoral journey. Although my experiences were at times painful, I am aware of the reality that I have had a pretty easy road compared to most. I haven’t known a time where I was denied the pulpit. In fact, the pulpit has always been readily available to me with multiple invitations. I was both humbled and grateful to learn that my post was an encouragement to a few women who have had experiences in opposition. I also observed some wonderful dialogue on appropriate responses women should have when faced with this enmity.
There are some who feel the best response to opposition to women in ministry is anger – “maybe if we get angry, it will help alter the status quo.”
Here’s the thing; I don’t want to be angry.
At the same time, I am wrestling with why I have a resistance toward anger. Is it because my road has been easier than others?
There’s a notion that as women, we should be angry when we aren’t given equal opportunity, particularly in the pulpit. Some say that women have been placed in a cultural construct where anger is improper and not lady like, therefore, we should fight against that construct; we have the right to be angry. Some say that anger is the best response when it comes to injustice, opposition, and oppression. Jesus, after all, got angry.
There are times that I do feel angry when I think about the injustices women around the world have endured. There are times my stomach is in knots when I watch a clip of a prominent pastor talk about how women have no place of leadership in the church. And I’ve often even wondered if I would be able to sit through a sermon from this particular pastor.
But I don’t want to choose anger as my go-to response and use it as my banner.
I’m not sure how to decouple anger from not only a defensive posture, but also bitterness. I’m not sure how to get angry without dwelling on it, even obsessing over it. I’m not sure how to get angry and not act on my anger.
This week I had the opportunity to have conversations with some marvelous women who shared their personal stories as females in leadership and in ministry:
Mandy Smith: A Story of Ruthless Trust and Obedience
Mandy Smith is the Lead Pastor at University Christian Church in Cincinnati, Ohio. Mandy writes more about her journey in her forthcoming book, The Vulnerable Pastor. Mandy was an incredible blessing to me at the most recent Missio Alliance #Truly Human Conference as I had the privilege of watching her host the event with such a beautiful pastoral posture. She is gifted, she is lovely, and she is called. Mandy shared with me her journey through Bible College as well as the discomfort she experienced in dealing with the issue of whether women should be preaching and leading. It wasn’t until her husband did a word study in 1 Timothy 2:12 that she discovered that God was calling her to sit with this struggle. Even though Mandy didn’t understand how everything fit together, she resolved to seek peace:
I saw friends of mine just walk away from their faith. I also saw women step away from their sense of calling. I wasn’t willing to do either of those things. I was willing to sit in the discomfort. I was willing to trust that this would all come together. That ended up changing my whole approach to ministry.
Mandy’s journey has been one of ruthless trust, even when she didn’t understand how everything would pan out. When it comes to anger, Mandy shares:
We have somehow created a new stereotype, that for a woman to be a leader, it also means being assertive, aggressive, and angry. But this is not how we are called to lead the church. We have a generation of women who feel like they must live into those stereotypes. Our generation of female pastors has the opportunity to say, “I’m going to be myself.” As scary as that is, I’m going to be the woman that paints, cries, and follows God. And I’m going to show you what it looks like to follow God. If I had chosen to be angry and protect my own interest, it would have been difficult for me to step into ministry in the right way. It has taken so much prayer, reading, wrestling, and people going before me.
The thing with anger that I’ve come to see is that there actually is a place for it. Jesus gets angry, but it’s not for his own sake. It’s anger for the sake of others. So as Christians, we are called to be angry for the injustices of the world. As privileged white women, we have the responsibility to get angry about the things women are suffering for around the world. At times, we are to mentor and champion other women. But at the same time, when it comes to my own calling, I’ve had to set aside that my fate is in my own hands and that my calling will only work if I protect it.
Mandy’s story reminded me that God's calling in my life isn’t mine to protect and defend. It isn’t mine to behold. Rather, calling is about ruthless trust and obedience.
Jory Micah: Sometimes Opposition Puts a Fire in Our Bones
Jory Micah is a new friend of mine, and she blogs about her journey as a woman in ministry here. Although Jory grew up in the charismatic tradition where women in pastoral leadership were common, she experienced disapproval as soon as she entered Bible College:
I was approached by a few students and they asked me to have a conversation with some of the older guys. When I sat down and talked to them, this group of young men attempted to tell me that the Bible is against women in ministry. They had their Bibles out, and they were showing me different verses as to why I am not a valid candidate for ministry. I went back to my dorm room and bawled my eyes out. I didn’t know what to say. They had pretty good arguments. I was devastated. This was my first experience to opposition. It was traumatic and shocking. After that experience, I became angry.
Jory’s anger drove her to not only get her Bachelor’s degree in ministry, but also pursue a Master’s degree. After graduating with her Master’s, Jory experienced silent opposition. No one would hire her:
That is what made me the most frustrated. It’s disappointing that I am in the church, and when I look for ministry jobs, it is acceptable to say, “only men should apply for these jobs.” It’s frustrating that I am more educated than many Christian ministers yet I still can’t get a job.
Jory’s account does make my heart ache. I, too, felt frustrated as I listened to Jory share her painful story. How is it even just to have such gifted, educated, and called women remain jobless? But Jory concludes,
If I were not going through what I currently am, then I wouldn’t have this fire and passion. I never want to come across as angry. The minute you come across as a bitter person, with a chip on your shoulder, you’ve lost your influence. The way we influence is to be awesome, not angry. Let’s take our frustration and do something beneficial with it; getting angry won’t change minds.
After listening to Jory, I was reminded that anger motivates us to do something about the status quo. Jory allowed forceful disapproval from peers and silent opposition from churches to put a fire in her bones and dig deeper into the word of God. As Jory says on her Twitter bio, “At 18 I was told my dream of being a minister was sinful because I’m a girl, now I laugh and blog about it!”
We are Kingdom People
When I read the vision for the people of God Jesus illustrated in the Sermon on the Mount, we are pushed by the penetrating words of Jesus to not choose anger. Rather, we are called to love recklessly. In a section of the Sermon known as the “Antitheses” (5:17-48), Jesus demands more of His followers by pushing them to embody His vision for the new Kingdom Community. Jesus' teachings are not just practical advice for beneficial living, but prophetic proclamations made of the coming, and already present, Kingdom of God.1
Jesus began his first Antitheses with a shock to his listeners by pushing them to understand the severity of anger in the Kingdom community.
21 “You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder,[a] and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’ 22 But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister[b][c] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’[d] is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.”
The Jewish listener would have known that it was against Jewish law to murder, but Jesus sets a new ethical code for the already, but not yet, Kingdom community. The future Kingdom of God in Revelation 21 illustrates that anger will be no more. Love, grace, and unity will permeate the people of God. When women choose love, grace, and forgiveness in the face of resistance, we give the world a foretaste of the Kingdom of God.
Linda Elaine: A Woman who Embodies the Future Kingdom
This week I saw the eschatological Kingdom of God embodied in a local friend of mine, Linda Elaine, as I learned about her encounter with opposition. Linda is the Associate Professor of English at the College of Dupage:
I have often thought that the response of anger in the face of someone who is attempting to grind (sharpen) their axe on me, only proves their point. I'm just what they thought: "an angry "B"; "bitter."
This topic reminds me of the day an 18-year old white male came up after class and said that he was dropping the course. When I asked why, he told me that he couldn't learn from a black woman.
I was shocked. Not into anger; into silence. I believe he hoped that I would become angry so that he could have evidence that he was right – about whatever it was he believed. No. I never got angry about that. Sad, maybe. For him. I just resolved to continue doing my best "dance" for students who can learn from me, and there have been thousands.
Interestingly, at the end of the semester, I attended a final exam, musical recital in which this student sang. At the conclusion of his performance, he approached me, thanked me for coming, and offered his hand for me to shake. I will never know what message he was sending me, but I do know this: I am obligated to own my responsibility for how others continue to perceive me, and I reserve the right to choose to be authentically me. In doing so, I give others, especially my students, a shred of possibility of assigning a different, more positive meaning of black and female, or discarding assignations altogether. If I fulfill this obligation, maybe others and I will be less inclined to want to escape or erase each other.
We are Daughters of the Resurrection
As followers of Jesus, we are called to live into this Kingdom reality here and now. When we live as daughters of peace and love, and as daughters of the resurrection, others around us might notice. They might even stop in their tracks in order to peer in, and get a foretaste of this Kingdom reality alive within us. I don’t know about you, but I long for that. I long for the world to see the loving power of the Holy Spirit unleashed in people like Jory, Mandy, and Linda. I long to see the loving power of the Holy Spirit unleashed in you, and unleashed in me.
It is the Holy Spirit that empowers me to the pulpit, not anger.
It is calling that keeps me in the pulpit in the face of opposition, not anger.
It is the cross that puts to death anger, bitterness, rage, and malice in my heart.
It is grace that enables me to look at mean complementarians as children of God, not the enemy.
It is Jesus, a King who sits on the throne that reminds me that my calling is not actually mine to behold or control.
It is the eschatological Kingdom of God that calls me to live a life of peace and presence, even when I am told that I cannot preach.
It is the faithfulness of King Jesus that drives me to forgive and love subversively, even when it hurts.
Dear sisters, we are daughters of the Kingdom, we are daughters of the resurrection. Allow that power to be unleashed in you today.
1. Scot McKnight, The Sermon on the Mount, ed. T. Longman, S. McKnight (Story of God Bible Commentary; Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2013), 75-93.