We’re hearing from different women to bring new voices and diverse experiences to the table. When I heard Jessica’s story, it was eye opening, but I couldn’t relate very easily because I came from a much different background. All of our stories our different. And all of them need to be heard. They bring new perspectives to the table, and that is something invaluable. So, this is a little bit of mine. I’m new here at The Marcella Project, and I hope this will help you get to know me and my heart a little better. We divided it into two parts, so stay tuned for part two. — Jessie Risman
I just finished reading Carolyn Custis James’ Half the Church. If you haven’t read it, please add it to your reading list. Since my heartbeat is similar to that of James, I was pretty much cheering her on with every page I read. I expected to be shaken by what she had to say, and I was, but not at all in the way I imagined.
You see, the arguments James presents as to why we need to tap into 50% of the church’s resources (women), the waste of which has dire consequences on the world were not difficult for me to follow. Her understanding of how the events played out in Genesis and what that means for God’s call on women and men did not seem the slightest bit radical to me. Her assessment of what we can learn from the extraordinary female leaders of the Bible and her position that women today should follow their example and boldly use their God-given talents and gifts to impact the world did not offend me. Her philosophy that women and men need to partner together as a Blessed Alliance to do God’s kingdom work as a team did not shock me.
The only thing that surprised me was this Great Debate she not only discusses but also dedicates an entire chapter to. Apparently, the whole egalitarianism vs complimentarianism thing is a pretty big deal. Christians, so it seems, are really concerned about what women can and cannot do.
In case you’re like me and were sort of oblivious to the Greatness of this debate, here is James’ introduction to the two camps:
“Complementarians believe the Bible establishes male authority over women, making male leadership the biblical standard. According to this view, God calls women to submit to male leadership and take up supportive roles to their husbands and to male leaders in the church. The complementarian jury is split over whether this includes the public sphere. Egalitarians believe that leadership is not determined by gender but by the gifting and calling of the Holy Spirit, and that God calls all believers to submit to one another. At the heart of the debate is whether or not God has placed limits on what women can or cannot do in the home and in the church, although the discussion inevitably bleeds into other areas of life.”
James chooses not to take a stance. I must admit my cheering stopped when she refused to place herself in the camp I’m now learning people would place me, but I then came to respect her decision not to do so. Rather than focusing on the controversial, she wants us to pay close attention to and proclaim from the rooftops those things we know to be indisputable (we are God’s image bearers, kingdom building is a lifelong occupation for all, I am a vital member of the body, etc.). That is a wise approach.
But there’s this whole big debate on whether or not women can/should teach/lead men. This egalitarianism vs complimentarianism thing, it’s a big deal. It’s controversial. A large group of people are really worried about the answer to this question and really concerned with the implications of the answer.
But here’s the thing: this is the first I’m hearing about this whole Great Debate. I had no idea it was such hot issue. I was aware that some people believed in a very strict separation of male and female gender roles, and I knew that the submission issue was a large concern among conservative churches. I was there the first time Jackie preached from the pulpit at IBC (even though I wasn’t a believer at the time), and I heard her heartbreaking stories of rejection and insult from people who were adamantly opposed and offended by her preaching because she was a woman. I wasn’t oblivious to the issue, I just didn’t know it was The Great Debate. I thought it was fairly limited to select conservative circles in the south, not a widely discussed and hugely heated topic. I realize now the naivety of this view, but here’s why I didn’t catch the greatness of this debate and why I am oh so thankful that I didn’t…
I didn’t grow up Christian, but I did grow up a feminist. Yes, I know, that is a scary word. People have all sorts of ideas of what it means and all sorts of opinions about the evils it can cause. But let me tell you what I mean when I use that word and why I choose to identify myself with it.
I was raised to be a leader. A strong, accomplished, female leader. I was told over and over again from birth that I was of equal value to the boys around me, and that I was just as capable of doing anything they could do. I was taught to never allow my gender to stand in the way of realizing my dreams. I was encouraged to embrace my female identity and to use my female perspective to become an even better leader. If you would have asked me something like could a woman be president, I would have said, a woman should be the president. And trust me when I say I don’t take any of this for granted.
Eventually, I went to an all-girls high school, which continued to build me into a strong and confident woman who believed that female leadership wasn’t only possible, it was needed. As I learned more about inequalities women face around the world, the brutal gender violence so many women and girls are forced to endure, and the seemingly infinite gender injustices that disempower, disrupt, and even destroy their lives, I came to identify myself as a feminist. I began to seek out research topics related to gender justice in my college courses to learn more about these issues, and as I read more articles and books, took more classes, and wrote more papers, I became all too aware of this tragic fact: women and girls around the world die every day for no other reason than that they are a woman or girl living in a society that considers them of lesser or no value. For the simple reason that women and girls are human beings and yet this is the reality for millions, I am a feminist.
(to be continued…)