Growing up with a single mother, I learned that being a woman and being strong go hand in hand.
Growing up in the Pentecostal church, I learned that the Holy Spirit gave the power to everyone, male or female, to preach the Gospel, live a Christ-like life, and do fantastic works that would bring people to Jesus.
In two formative ways, I learned that to be a woman is not in and of itself a hindrance to accomplishment. Being a woman, in both contexts, is something to be celebrated. Together, my mother and the Spirit emboldened me to do anything God put in my heart to do.
So of course I asked if the Spirit was calling my beloved, empowered self to be a leader in the church, maybe even a pastor.
Then things got weird.
My mom told me there was no question: of course I could be a pastor if that was what I really wanted to do.
The church of my youth and evangelical groups I joined, however, told me there were limits to this empowerment, especially for girls. Perhaps the Spirit might have given me the gifts of teaching, but only to teach children, youth, and other women.
But to teach everyone, including (and especially) men? You heard God wrong on that, they said. Maybe instead of being a pastor, you’re called to be a pastor’s wife.
I balked quite a bit at that idea.
So I found myself confused. And as a result, I asked more questions.
I asked, “Why would the Spirit awaken such gifts within me only to put odd limits on them for the sole fact that I am female, not male?”
The church answered, “God’s ways are not our ways.”
And they answered, “Those women were anomalies.”
The church told me they were performing these “men only” roles due to a lack of any “worthy” men willing to do the work. God used women because there weren’t any men willing enough to do their jobs.
After all, they said, if God can use rocks and donkeys, God can use women, too, when necessary.
So don’t interpret those women as the norm. God only uses them “In Case of Emergency,” as if those women were put behind a glass case for God to shatter and use when the fire was out of control, and the “real men” weren’t there to do their jobs.
The message rang loud and clear: the only way women get to be the heroes, in the biblical or Christian story, is when God uses them in spite of their womanhood.
Wrestling with my calling as a woman is nothing new. I, along with countless women in ministry, have had to simultaneously defend my desire to preach and the validity of my faith in ways most men will never have to.
When times were especially tough, when I wondered whether I was meant to lead or leave the Church, I turned to stories for solace and inspiration. I read comics and books, and watched shows and movies, some of which featured amazing female protagonists. Through these pursuits, I found Buffy, Kamala Khan, River Song, Misty Knight, and Jessica Jones, among others.
And I noticed something about these characters, something in how their creators made them that contradicted what the churches taught me about biblical women.
They weren’t anomalies. They belonged in their worlds. They were there on purpose.
They weren’t there because a man didn’t step up, or because there were no rocks or donkeys willing to do any supernatural work.
They were there because the author wanted and needed them there to tell the story.
And when I took another look at the stories of those biblical women, I realized they were there on purpose, too.
They were leading the story. They were doing God’s work because God called them to do it, not to take on some other guy’s neglected burden. God gave them this work on purpose.
Miriam prophesied not because Moses and Aaron wouldn’t, but because she couldn’t hold God’s truth in her and needed tambourines and song to proclaim it.
Deborah led not because Barak wouldn’t, but because leading as a judge utilized the passion and power with which God had already endowed her.
Mary Magdalene stayed at the tomb long enough to witness the miracle of Christ’s resurrection out of her own grief and love for Jesus, not so God that could spite the other disciples.
These and many other women fill the pages of the very Bibles used to silence and degrade women, and their stories keep the tale of God’s radical and inclusive love and justice moving forward. They continue to proclaim encouragement, empowerment, and love to our sisters in Christ today.
These women were not anomalies. They were heroines in a long line of powerful biblical women, and when we honor the heroines of the Bible, we honor the heroines of faith today.
So Church, lift up the female biblical heroes in a world, and even a religion, that continues to see women as second-best and expendable.
Lift up heroines in society and in literature, from Emma Watson to her literary counterpart Hermione Granger. Lift up the inspirational women who have gone before us to do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God, from Deborah to Maya Angelou. Lift them up to remind women that their callings are not anomalies but necessities in this world which desperately needs their love and care.
When we tell women they are heroines, that their leadership and strength are needed, they will no longer consider themselves anomalies, and neither will the Church. They will take their place alongside their brothers and lead the world into tomorrow.
And the Church will be all the better for it, because we will be living into the Kingdom the way God intended: together, as equals.
Photo illustration by Dan Wilkinson.
About Lindsay Mustafa Davis
Lindsay Mustafa Davis is a recent M.Div graduate from Eastern Mennonite Seminary. She is passionate about social justice, geek culture, theology, and their intersections. Lindsay blogs at lindsaymdavis.com, is obsessed with Harry Potter, and looks forward to marrying her best friend Bryce later this year.