When I tell people now where I went to college for my undergrad degree, they often laugh and say “That doesn’t really seem like you.” I laugh along with them and say “I agree.” I have changed vastly over the last decade since I was enrolled in classes there, but even back then I was the “liberal black sheep.”
I went to a very small (like 500 people small) Bible college in the city I grew up in. I majored in Christian ministry and counseling, and ended up with a Bible minor as well. I was an A-student, a great writer, and could keep up in any conversation, lecture, or dialogue. I could discuss eschatology, communicate the differences between Reformed vs. Armenian vs. Free Grace theology, and yes, stand my ground in the egalitarian versus complementarian debate. I had spent most of my childhood in a Methodist church, seeing female pastors in various levels of leadership and thought nothing of it. When I arrived at this college and discovered that not only did a lot of people not see this as normal, but were morally opposed to it seemed astonishing to me. Thankfully, I also lived in a home where my parents didn’t adhere to rigid gender roles. I knew my mom was just as smart and capable as my dad. They could both cook, clean, do the laundry, and mow the lawn. There was no “Mom’s going out of town, so the house is going to fall apart” or “Dad’s the head of the household and makes all the final decisions around here.” So between my home life and early church life, to arrive at this college and be exposed to the realities of complementarian theology felt incredibly foreign to me. I remember sitting my Psychology of Marriage class during my junior year and, like they often did, the
terms “egalitarian” and “complementarian” came up. I remember a commuter student I didn’t know very well raising his hand and courageously saying that he was a relatively new Christian, had just transferred into the school this semester, and didn’t know what those words meant. The professor kindly began to define the terms in an objective way, but she couldn’t even get through her explanation of “egalitarian” before my classmates started chiming in to try and disprove it. I remember being so aggravated, wanting this other student to just be able to learn what these two positions were before being bombarded by the dominant school of thinking’s 10 Point Plan On Why Egalitarians Were Wrong And Ruining Christian Families. (Okay so that wasn’t an official thing, but based on the intensity of the arguments of many of my classmates and professors, you’d think it was).
Those types of conversations happened constantly at my school and I often felt like the odd one out in that regard. I was a strong, confident, bold, outspoken woman who had a “humility” problem and a “submission” problem, who needed to “spend more time in Scripture” to make sure I was understanding what was “really there” in terms of how God made me and what He made me for. No matter how directly those words were spoken at me or how indirectly they were insinuated, there were still so many things that didn’t make sense to me about the complementarian perspective.
I didn’t understand how if I received the same hermeneutical training as a man and practiced the principles of wise biblical interpretation, why the truth that came out of my mouth couldn’t be received by men…but if a man said it, it was impactful for both men and women. I didn’t understand how if I pursued ministry that wasn’t just limited to women, that I was dangerous and could lead people astray, but that wasn’t true for men. It didn’t make sense how you could have a female “Director of Prayer Ministry” over here at this church but not call her a pastor, when she literally did all the things that pastors do; this felt more like a game of semantics to make more conservative folks feel better than actually a difference in job description. My senior year, I was asked to speak in chapel and share part of my testimony about what God had done during my life in college. Mind you, we normally had only 3 or 4 female speakers a year, if we were lucky (chapel happened twice a week, every week). Regardless, my school had this tradition of letting a few seniors share during chapel each year about our journey through college and how that had impacted our faith. Thankfully, I had an incredible boss who had mentored me during my time as a student leader. He believed in me and had begun to teach me the value of vulnerability, of being authentic even in the midst of the mess. I decided to tell the honest truth about my story, about walking away from an abusive relationship as I first got to college, my wrestling with an eating disorder as I ended that relationship, how I had had a sibling come out about their sexuality, how my parents were in the process of getting divorced. I talked about God had showed up for me in those spaces and how God was transforming me, about the deep hope I was coming to know in ways that I never had before. I intentionally chose to show emotion on my face and let them hear it in my voice because I wanted them to feel the power that lived in my story. I felt incredibly proud of myself as I closed in prayer and walked out of the gym and upstairs to my next class.
However, I arrived at class and greeted another female friend of mine who seemed upset. I asked her what was wrong, and with a little prodding, she told me that a male student that we knew had shared his feedback with her about my talk by saying, “I can’t believe she got emotional; this is why we shouldn’t let women speak in these types of situations.” It made me incredibly angry that day to hear that, but I also knew then and there that I would never let voices like that keep me from being who God made me to be. I knew that his view was limited, from his view on what strength was to his view on what women are capable of. Thankfully, 18 months ago, as I stood on stage giving my TEDx talk, I was able to use that opportunity to redeem the misogyny of what had happened six years prior. I got to stand on that stage and say,
“WATCH ME! Watch me be emotional and logical. Watch me be a crier and a great public speaker. Watch me be smart and strong. Watch me be the fullness of who I was meant to be. WATCH ME!”
As a woman getting to the end of my 20s, I realize now that my God gave me a voice for a reason. I am supposed to be this strong and this loud, in order to be a voice to the voiceless and an advocate against injustice. I don’t need to dull my roar or extinguish my flame. I will fight for my fierce, because my God made me that way on purpose and He doesn’t make mistakes. To shrink or water myself down would be dishonoring to who God made me to be. So I will be bold, passionate, strong, smart, and vibrant. I will use my voice to push back against inequality and to light the fires of hope in the black night of despair. I will believe that I can daily step into the work of redeeming and reconciling the world.
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