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The “Go home” controversy that has inundated my social media newsfeed the past few weeks has brought to the forefront again the issue of women in ministry. While this recent debate has been about the roles of women in ministry, the fundamental issue for me continues to be about women’s agency.
I followed the debate with mixed feelings. Like many others, I was offended by the implications of John MacArthur’s “Go home” pronouncement directed toward popular Bible teacher Beth Moore. His inference was that Moore’s rightful place as a Christian woman is at home. For MacArthur and other like-minded evangelical leaders, Moore’s role as an influential speaker/preacher and teacher doesn’t fit the conservative theological model of complementarity.
“The words ‘Go home’ were offensive because they are often the language of hatred used against Latinos and Latinas.”
MacArthur was delivering a message to Moore and to all Christian women regarding their “right” place in the church and in life. Like many, I was offended by MacArthur’s two-word declaration and other related comments. But, as a Latina Christian, mother, theologian, university professor and Baptist church member, I found MacArthur’s comments offensive for two additional reasons.
First, the words “Go home” were offensive because they are often the language of hatred used against Latinos and Latinas, regardless of their place of birth and citizenship. I was reminded of the many stories I have heard from Latino communities in response to these two words. “Where should we go?” many ask. “The United States of America is the only home that we know.” These Americans were born in this country. For them, home is right here.
Second, the phrase “Go home” suggests that going home is a bad thing. Homes are not bad places or places of punishment unless they are violent places where women are harmed and abused.
For me, going home has positive associations. I love my home. It is a good place, and I wish I could spend more time there. My professional and ministerial commitments frequently keep me away from home. On those occasions I often think about how soon I will be home again.
But here is the difference: I am the one who is deciding to go home.
In patriarchal societies, women often are denied the agency of deciding where they want to be and how they want to spend their time and energy. Women are told to “go home” as a means of control and to limit their choices and possibilities.
There is nothing inherently wrong with women being at home. In the same way, there is nothing inherently wrong with women being in the work place, whether in a secular or religious vocation. What is wrong is to deny women the opportunity to decide for themselves. The problem is denying women the freedom and opportunity to be agents of their own destiny.
As I speak in conferences or lecture in classrooms, many times the listeners who know me well are surprised when I mention that I am completely fine with women who want to stay at home. I am happy with this choice under two conditions. First, that the woman is the one deciding to stay at home, not her husband, father, brother, male pastor or deacon. Second, if she can afford it, why not?
“Thanks be to God for all the women in scripture who demonstrated their agency as they followed the divine callings.”
By denying women their agency, some Christians are forgetting that women are created in God’s image, and as such they are capable of making their own decisions.
By denying women their agency, some Christians are forgetting that women are saved by Jesus in order to live abundant lives, not lives limited and controlled by patriarchal systems.
By denying women their agency, some Christians are forgetting that Jesus called and invited women to join him in his ministry of establishing the Reign of God on this earth (Luke 8:1-3; John 4:39, 20:17-18).
By denying women their agency, some Christians are forgetting that Jesus included women in the Great Commission’s tasks of making disciples, baptizing them and teaching them (Matthew 28:19-20).
By denying women their agency, some Christians are forgetting that women have received individual gifts from the Holy Spirit, and that these gifts are given according to God’s plan and the Holy Spirit’s will (I Corinthians 12:11, 18), and not according to gender.
By denying women their agency, some Christians are forgetting that women are included in the universal priesthood of all believers that Christ established through his sacrifice. This universal priesthood is a call to worship, minister and serve that includes all Christians, men and women (I Peter 2:9; Revelation 5:9-10), although each Christian has a particular calling based on God’s plan and the Holy Spirit’s will and gifts. In the same way that salvation is personal, discerning God’s path for one’s life is personal, too.
Thanks be to God for all the women in scripture who demonstrated their agency as they followed the divine callings that they received from God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit. In the words of Elisabeth Schüssler Fiorenza, these women are “our powerful heritage” because they provide us with remarkable examples of faithful and courageous women.
Sisters, in light of all this, “going home” or “not going home” are both fine. What is your calling and choice? Prayerfully decide, and then go for it – in the name of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit!
Alan Rudnick | Sister, don’t ‘go home’; go preach!