On this International Women’s Day, I am blessed to be in a divinity school where around 50% of my classmates are women and, coincidentally, this semester 100% of my professors are women. This year, I have seen some great women (and some great men!) teach, preach, administer sacraments, and lead all manner of things. As Sarah Bessey has written, I needed to see these women.
Because, on this International Women’s Day, I am sitting here trying to write a sermon for class — a task which a lifetime of experience (in the American Bible belt, to be exact) has told me I probably shouldn’t be doing. I’m telling myself this sermon thing is like a speech, a story, a long blog post (anything but a sermon), because I know I have permission to write those other things. I’m reminding myself of all the Christian women leaders I know of ranging from medieval to modern, hanging a painting of the apostle Junia by my desk, even asking myself WWJD?
But it’s still hard to comprehend that I’m allowed to do this. Because here’s the thing: Actions speak louder than words. Experience speaks louder than knowledge.
I can know in my head that theoretically, in many denominations including my own, I am allowed to perform all the same functions as men, including but not limited to ordained functions as deacon, priest, and bishop. At the same time, I can sense in my soul that really, throughout encountering multiple denominations in multiple places, I’ve rarely experienced that egalitarian functioning to be reality.
Psychologically, it goes something like this:
Tell a child who’s never been allowed, say, in the basement that they’re suddenly allowed to go there, and they might — after throwing their parents a quizzical “Are you serious?!” kind of look — understandably proceed with caution.
Release a bird from life in a cage and it might be hesitant to fly.
“Freeing yourself was one thing,” Toni Morrison writes, “claiming ownership of that freed self was another.”
Since actions speak louder than words, since experience speaks louder than knowledge, it is imperative for women and men to act in an egalitarian manner. To actually, repeatedly place women (who are legitimately called and qualified) in pulpits, professorships, boards, and offices. That’s the only way that women like me can truly conceive of — much less claim ownership of, in Morrison’s terms — a calling that might draw us into those places.
Why do I share all this? To offer just one story of how bias against women (particularly in ministry, and even more particularly in preaching) is alive in 2017 and how weighty the psychological effect of this bias can be. Because I don’t think I’m the only one carrying that weight. And, let’s be real, letting other people carry around a societally-imposed weight is called oppression.
So, on this International Women’s Day, I am praying, writing, and — dare I say it? — preaching toward an end to oppression.
I hope you will too.