A Challenge to 21st Century Christian Women

Written by: 
Published:
May 1, 2019

I know who I am

I’m working in power

I’m working miracles

I live a life of favor

Cause I know who I am

—Sinach

The words of that spiritual anthem by Sinach ring out in contemplating the many challenges Christian women face, both outside and inside most religious institutions. This powerful and much-needed statement of affirmation must be followed by verbs that bear the responsibility and obligation of this self-knowledge: INVOLVE. INTERFERE. INTERRUPT. PERSIST. These are critical words that require ACTION, as, for the first time in world history, we are seeing the role, place, and contribution of women being radically re-considered and rearranged. And while this is true for Caucasian women, it is even more so for women of color…in the U.S., and indeed in the world.

In the 2018 U.S. mid-term elections, 117 women were elected to the House of Representatives. More women were elected in those elections than any time in U.S. history. It has rearranged the Congress in such a way that a major shift has taken place in U.S. political leadership. It doesn’t seem to be stopping there. So far, of the 20 Democrats (and counting) who have announced their campaigns for the 2020 presidential election, six are women.

There is a major cultural shift in the U.S., and indeed in the world, that is placing women at the center of social, economic, political, and cultural development. Yes, and spiritual development. Nations worldwide have begun to acknowledge the fact that when women gain, so do their countries. Governments have begun to acknowledge that there is a direct link between the structural subordination and the related abuse of women and children and the poverty of their countries. In this country, we have the “Me Too” movement, where women have pulled down strongholds of power and sexual violence and harassment by daring to take a stand. They have influenced others to come forward to share their own sordid stories that have haunted them for decades. They have inspired a TIME’S UP movement that vows to end the silence and in-action. The power structure is being called to be Transparent and to be Accountable. It can be quite disconcerting for women and men of God that in an ideal situation when the Church is supposed to be leading the world, there is in our denomination this grand debate ABOUT the ordination of women.

If you pay only half attention to current events, you will know that the curtain is getting ready to be rolled back on the biggest End Time drama of our lives. We are no longer in a dress rehearsal. JESUS CHRIST IS ON HIS WAY. And women have a critical role in this End Time phase of world history. Let us just briefly examine the way in which Jesus Christ honored and empowered women, because it is a subject that is often conveniently ignored and undervalued. The presence and participation of women in the ministry of Jesus Christ lives as a testimony to the principles of justice, freedom, and equality that He modeled.

My first book, Genderstanding Jesus: Women in His View, documents the ways in which Jesus not only honored women, but went out of His way to break through social, cultural, and religious traditions to exonerate, liberate, and empower women. Moreover, He used women in His service to transform society and spread His Good News.

Evidence: the woman at the well, Martha and her understanding of His mission, the women at the foot of the cross, Mary Magdalene as the first to see the Risen Christ and to bear the news of His resurrection. Surely Mary, not Peter, not Paul, was the first apostle. This leadership role has been quite different to the subordinate roles that have been traditionally ascribed to women. But that, thank God, is finally beginning to change…in most places. So, what is required of us as 21st century women?

The first thing is to KNOW WHO WE ARE. Do not depend on the media or world history or man-made traditions to tell you who you are. And for Christ’s sake, do not believe nor be constrained by conflicting and contradictory positions that can be found in many religious institutions. We are to depend on the Word. And, read it for ourselves. It says we are FEARFULLY AND WONDERFULY MADE; THE HEAD AND NOT THE TAIL; A CHOSEN PEOPLE; A ROYAL PRIESTHOOD. We women are indeed included in the concept of “The priesthood of all believers.”

And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will

Pour out my spirit upon all flesh; and your sons

AND your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, your young men shall see visions.

—Joel in 2:28

It is no accident that Jesus first revealed Himself and His mission to a woman, a second-class citizen, a woman of ill repute. He declared: “I am the Messiah,” not in the temple among religious scholars and leaders, but sitting at a well, waiting for some water from a woman considered a dreg of society.

Jesus knew, understood, and appreciated the talents and skills of women, and He was not going to permit societal tradition to hinder Him from efficiently utilizing those skills. This woman at the well was the first to have the privilege to help spread the gospel. Moreover, her community was the first to be blessed with the benefits of His teaching. Here is where we clearly see the disadvantages, even the danger, of not employing the talents and skills of women in the work of God. But it means that no matter what society, the world, or organized religious institutions say, we women have work to do.

Our major task is to overcome the obstacles that are sure to be put in our way. Some of the major obstacles can come from women themselves. In all of the interviews I’ve done of female pastors, every one of them has mentioned the lack of support and open hostility of some women. Gender scholars have a term for it: Internalized Oppression. It means that women have been so programmed into subordinate roles, that they not only accept these roles for themselves, they resent women who step out beyond those boxed-in roles. Unwittingly or not, they play into and cooperate with the very structures that are oppressing them, further disempowering them.

Women’s power, so critical in these End Times, must lie in Jesus Christ. Total Submission. Total Humility. Total Obedience. This is the source of the Holy Boldness needed to challenge the status quo. A wise and omniscient God did not need to, but deliberately used women from the start to accomplish His Divine Plan. He included Mary, a young virgin, in a dramatic demonstration of His specific plans and place for women. Then, He equipped her with such a bold spirit, that she not only carried out Her mission, but acknowledged her low status, while using her voice to predict God’s destruction of the reigning, oppressive power structures. Luke documents it in His first chapter:

48 For He hath regarded the low estate of His handmaiden;

     for, behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed…

51 He hath shewed strength with His arm;

     He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their hearts.

52 He hath put down the mighty from their seats,

     and exalted them of low degree.

53 He hath filled the hungry with good things;

     and the rich he hath sent empty away.

God is in the business of upending and overturning power structures that oppose His stated will and get in the way of His plans. Those who oppose leadership roles of women in these End Times are treading on dangerous ground.

Mary is not the only woman that God used to fulfill His plan. Consider the young woman with the issue of blood. With admirable persistence she broke through her fears and the stench of her condition, and Jesus drew her out to display her faith, her courage, her determination, and her victorious reward. Contrary to the culture of the day, Jesus uplifted and displayed this woman as a model of persistent faith, humility, and courage in the middle of oppression.

In another comparable event, Jesus used physical deformity as a metaphor for women’s social position. The woman with the infirmity had been bent over and bowed down for 18 years with a severe curvature of the spine. She was probably a victim of severe osteoporosis, a condition that is linked to menopause. Christ, in His awesome wisdom, used a woman with a menstrual flow, indicating her relative youth, and a woman whose bent frame indicated the cessation of her menstrual flow, to demonstrate the subjugation that haunts all women, young as well as old. We are told she was possessed by a demon. Was that the demon of oppression and subjection? She was weighted down not only by the disease, but by the spirit of tradition that provided a nurturing environment for total physical, spiritual, and societal oppression. Jesus not only healed her disease but freed her from domination and subjugation.

What a suitable metaphor for women’s empowerment and victory. The religious leaders were scandalized! How dare He break the traditions and heal on the Sabbath? But Jesus was doing much more than healing her spiritually and physically. He was releasing her from the traditions that served to subjugate her and intensify her oppression. Moreover, he used her to straighten out the religious leaders and hypocrites. He acknowledged her humanity and dignity, elevating her status by referring to her as a “Daughter of Abraham,” a term that conveyed privilege and blessing. In addition to liberating this woman, Jesus underscored the satanic control of social and religious traditions that encouraged, condoned, and institutionalized bigotry and prejudice. It is a powerful lesson for social, political, and religious leaders who continue to uphold male-dominated societies that oppress women and discriminate against them in flagrant violation of fundamental human rights. It is an even more powerful lesson for religious leaders who continue to be stumbling blocks to sideline, minimize, and marginalize women’s roles.

A sense of purpose allowed these two women to push through their obstacles. Purpose is the key that unlocks the door to our personal Power, and to ultimate Victory. Each one of us has been chose to do a specific job, to accomplish a specific task — that only you can do! We are all gifted with spiritual gifts that go beyond our natural talents and abilities to accomplish this task. We are called to function outside traditional roles in unlikely places. And it is not about us. It is to accomplish His Purpose.

John 15:16 reminds us:

You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you and ordained you, that you should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain.

What is that special ability or talent that God has given you to share and to equip you for His service? This is your Kingdom Purpose. It is focusing on this Kingdom Purpose that gives us the divine right and guidance to overcome traditional and institutional obstacles. We need to IDENTIFY the PURPOSE, then POWER-OUT the OBSTACLES to accomplishing His purpose.

Religious leaders who contest the leadership roles of women should reconnect with the unnamed woman in 2 Samuel 20-22, who took the lead in saving her community. Read it for yourself in the Word. My follow-up book, Genderstanding Leadership: Power to the Pew!, draws on the stories of these women who moved beyond merely sitting in the pew to leadership roles. It is only through strategic action that one can first exercise the power that God has given you to fulfill your purpose in His service, and to do it victoriously. Genderstanding Leadership establishes a clear relationship between structures of gender inequality, poverty, violence against women, child abuse, and the misinterpretations of religious teachings that subordinate women. It calls for a strong dose of combined prayer and action. More importantly, it challenges women to get busy about fulfilling our purpose. We are really blessed to be living in these End Times. It means God has a particular faith in us. These are not times for the weak and fearful. It is our Faith than conquers Fear. If we do not come up to the task, we are not only betraying His confidence in us, we are taking up space.

Our focus must be to:

• Find out who you are in Him, through His Word. Search the Scriptures for yourself. You’ll be surprised to see what it says about women that is not often heard from the pulpit.

• Rely on the power of the Holy Spirit to find your unique talent and specific purpose. Then work it! That is the source of real power.

• ACT. When you get busy, the enemy gets all up in your business, trying to confuse, distract, and sabotage you. Act with true Christian love, caring, and patience. But ACT. Often you may have to lead out in that action. So act in faith, not in fear.

• PRAY UP and ACT OUT!!!

• No matter who says what, we have work to do. Like Esther, we are called for This End Time. Four key words that should serve as guiding principles:

     • Prayer, Power, Purpose, Action. There is no victory without activating the power that has been given to you. And, there is no victory without action.

CHALLENGE:

Know who you are in Him. Pray Up, and Act Out. We owe it to Him!

We are a chosen generation

Called forth to show his excellence…

—Sinach

 

Meryl James-Sebro, Ph.D. is a Christian development anthropologist and gender specialist. She is the author of Genderstanding Jesus: Women in His View and Genderstanding Leadership: Power to the Pew!

Photo by Quentin Keller on Unsplash

 

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