I sit in the dark parking lot as the girls on my daughter’s gymnastics team wrap up practice. As I watch them through the windows, I process the U.S. Senate judiciary committee’s stumbling vote, wondering what I have just heard. I sit, struck by the juxtaposition of Christine Blasey Ford’s retelling of her Ground Zero on the world stage and the power of these girls gathered in the gym. It could have been any of them. It might already have been. If statistics are true, it may yet be. I watch them flip, fall and laugh, their strong bodies coated with chalk, evidence of their hard work. They move through the gym space with freedom, filling it with strength and grace. Filling it with life.
This summer I did something I had previously considered quite outside the realm of possibility: I moved my multi-racial, West Coast family across the country to the southern Mid-Atlantic. I am happy to report that a neighbor brought us hot blueberry cobbler our first day in the new house. But I am troubled to report that after worship I was informed that my mono-lingual, Asian American child has very good English (“So, where is she from?”). Sitting outside the gym, however, I dwell on one aspect of life here in this new place: the superfluous apologies. Women apologize to me all day long. Everywhere, from the classroom to the church to the grocery store, they make explicit the fear that I, a woman whose space is externally defined, am taking up too much space, or the wrong space, or the male space.
Any number of seemingly benign scenarios brings an immediate apology rolling off their tongue faster than a “bless your heart.” On the very same morning Blasey Ford was testifying before the Senate committee, a thoughtful and intelligent student stopped on her way out of class to apologize for her powerful response to a question I had posed. “I’M SORRY,” she said. Stepping delicately through the perceived space allotted to her, she thought she had taken up too much of that space. She didn’t want to offend. And this at a historically Baptist school in a richly Baptist region of the country.
“Although not untroubled, the mine of Baptist riches for building gender-just communities runs deep.”
But we Baptist women are called by God to be priests to each other – and to our brothers. As children we are taught to listen to God’s call whatever it be and to wherever “he” leads (and, please Jesus, let that call be into ministry). We claim our inheritance in the children’s Sunday school wing: we are indwelt by the Holy Spirit and empowered to read Scripture on our own and together in our local churches. We come from a heritage of women drowned for refusing for their children to be baptized as babies, of women as preachers on train cars in the “wild” west, of women who were some of the first ordained deacons in the land of the free. We learn young how to feed the world, filling the iconic Baptist potluck tables and praying our children (and yours) down the aisle that ends in the baptismal tank.
Although not untroubled, the mine of Baptist riches for building gender-just communities runs deep – certainly far deeper than the destructive articulation of the divine image in the Baptist Faith and Message. I AM SORRY, but there can be no apologies by women when they fill the spaces into which the Spirit calls them or the spaces for which their wit and intelligence gift them. Women with this heritage ought to be free to fill their space boldly and unapologetically, for this is the space they have been created and called to fill.
What is to be done? And how do we do it without being “political” (because God knows that, of all things, we shouldn’t be!) and alienating those who think differently?
“What will our girls take away from this time in history?”
First, we must admit that at a minimum being created in God’s image means that no woman can be forced to fill the space below a man’s drunken, grinding body – no matter his age. We must insist that boys won’t be boys – not if boy-hood means putting a woman into a space of destruction.
Second, we must proactively fill our public spaces with the able and prepared women among us. Women are already filling more classroom seats in seminaries than are men. So, we must fill our pulpits and lecterns with these women. We women should not have to seek out alternative ecclesial spaces to do what our Baptist churches taught us to do as young girls. We must teach about the many women who have historically filled public spaces. Don’t know any? Go read the apostles Paul or Luke. Perhaps both.
Third, we must quickly destroy the illusion that there are female spaces in the church. Men can run the coffee pot and the industrial dishwasher just as adeptly as can women. Jesus did cook fish and wash feet; perhaps we can use him as a role model.
I’M SORRY. But as a Baptist woman the space I take is one I have been created to fill, ordained to by means of my baptism and ordination, and called to by the ever-unconstrained Spirit. What will our girls take away from this time in history?
I’m sorry, Christian brothers and sisters, but the answer to that question is up to us together.