Many of us are still sleep-deprived after two weeks of political conventions. Part pageantry, part spectacle, and part the inevitable chaos of democracy, these quadrennial gatherings summon our collective hopes and fears and urge us to take the long view. The tensions of nationalism and globalism were on display, and we must not shrink from this sobering epoch.
Not surprising, it was deeply moving to me, along with many others, to witness the nomination of the first woman candidate for president. I echoed the voices of black friends in 2008 and 2012 when they said, “I never thought I would live to see this day!”
Pent-up aspirations flooded the arena as well as those get-togethers assembled for the purpose of celebrating this historic moment. Old women cast votes for their states and young women made speeches. The optics were grand, but will gender equality prevail? Sadly, sexism, along with racism, remains rampant in these United States of America.
Gaining the vote in 1920, women can now vote for a woman. Men can too, if they choose. Secretary Clinton is not the first to run, and she stands on the shoulders of women like Belva Lockwood and the audacious Shirley Chisholm, who ought to be on a stamp or something; preserving her legacy matters.
Too many women have been nameless in the grand arc of history. From my perspective in theological and biblical studies, the distaff side of humanity has rarely received sufficient commendation for its contribution to God’s great project of creation and redemption. Yet it is changing, albeit slowly.
A nun’s recent book of poetry, she: robed and wordless, by Lou Ella Hickman, gives identity and voice to women of the Bible. An unnamed woman, except for her affiliation to her sons Peter and Andrew, laments: “they’re gone / both of them / like moths to a candle.” The author also recounts the perspective of Ruth, Mary and the woman on the road to Emmaus. Rejoicing, the companion of Cleopas exclaims: “absence breaks like bread into presence / our sleepwalking wakes.”
Hearing silenced voices, even as an act of poetic imagination, moves these actors from the margin to the center of biblical narratives. While adding to the hermeneutical heritage of Jewish and Christian faith, a shift of perspective occurs, and the “female gaze” becomes an interpretive key for reading texts. As women have increasingly moved into the ranks of respected biblical scholars, Scripture has come alive in exhilarating ways.
It has been a part of my life’s work to advocate for the God-given liberty of women to pursue any calling God sets before them. Over these past nearly four decades in theological education, I have seen cracks in the stained-glass ceiling; however, the church has lost many good pastors because of stubborn resistance to the leadership of women.
In Sunday’s New York Times, Nicholas Kristof argued for the big upside of shattered ceilings. In other words, when women claim their rightful place, men will benefit as well. I quote from his column:
So to those men who worry about being hurt by the shards from one more shattered glass ceiling, I’d say: Not only is this inevitable, not only is it a matter of fairness, but the evidence is also overwhelming that when women gain power and a seat at the table, we men benefit as well. So let’s relax and join the celebration.
Thankfully, Baptists and other faith traditions are witnessing a new generation of competent female congregational leaders. Bursting with imagination and new expressions of leadership, these pastors are bringing renewal to congregations and embodying an inclusive vision that attracts younger adults. It also attracts some of us feisty older adults, too.
Listening for the voice of God through the voice of a woman is a new spiritual discipline for many. Pastoral authority comes in the timbre of an alto as well as a bass. (I suppose sopranos and tenors can carry their own proclaiming tune!)
At the recent CBF meeting, I encountered several pregnant pastors. My, my, what a lovely sight! They and their churches are navigating new practices, and it signals new pastor-people relational patterns. Nothing makes more visible the wonderful new things going on in our midst than the normalizing of this reality.
Gender equality is at the center of the gospel, as Jesus so remarkably demonstrates. Even the Apostle Paul offers a vision of “all being one in Christ Jesus.” Dismantling patriarchal structures continues to be a key issue of justice. I invite you to embrace this important work.