Believe it or not, this is not a political post though it may be controversial.
No matter what side of the aisle you fall on, I think we can all agree this was a historic week with Kamala Harris becoming the first Black, first South Asian and first female vice president in this nation’s history.
And in the days following the inauguration and her big moment shattering the glass ceiling, I read countless emotional posts from women, particularly women of color, saying how this moment has been a long time coming. I saw precious photos of little girls looking up at their TV screens as Kamala placed her hand on the Bible and was sworn in as our VP. I saw parents joyfully posting about how their daughter will never know an America where a woman has not been vice president. Sweatshirts that read “A Woman’s Place is in the White House” were selling out left and right. And while I cannot imagine what this moment meant for women of color who have fought and continue to fight to make their voices heard in this country, I do know what it meant for me as a woman. I can relate to the immense feelings of freeing restoration that came as a result of female representation.
There really is something so powerful and necessary about seeing reflections of yourself in the people who are leading you, whether it’s your teacher, your boss or your vice president. And so while I was beyond moved by the milestone our country passed this week, I couldn’t help but think about another roadblock for women that hits much closer to home for me personally. Just like Kamala inspired millions of little girls across the nation to dream, how much more powerful would it be for millions of little girls to realize that they can have an essential, equal role to that of their brothers in the church when it comes to leading God’s people?
I know the discussion of women’s roles in the church is a contentious one, and I’m not naive enough to think that everyone is going to agree with me. I’m aware of the discrepancies, disagreements and differences that exist regarding this subject. I know people will come armed with their carefully crafted arguments and cherry-picked verses. I understand the push and pull between complementarians and egalitarians and all of the ‘tarians’ in between. But I’m not going down that road today. For now, I simply want to share how this week reminded me just how essential it is for church leadership to better reflect church membership (in both race and gender, though I’m particularly focusing on gender today.)
The topic of women’s leadership in the church is something I’ve struggled with and perhaps still is one of my primary struggles with the church, if I’m being completely honest. I know I’m not alone when I say I grew up with the impression that women should not and cannot lead in the church. Of course there were exceptions with this rule, like leading the children’s ministry or a women’s Bible study. But as soon as it crossed the gender plane and men were involved, any semblance of leadership was stripped away from people who looked like me. Becoming a pastor, going to seminary, these things simply never crossed my mind because I didn’t think they were allowed.
Marian Wright Edelman, activist and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, famously said “you can’t be what you can’t see.” Research has indicated the importance of people, especially children, seeing themselves reflected in those leading them, whether it’s in their race, gender, socioeconomic status or some other commonality. It’s hard to envision what’s possible and have the confidence to pursue certain goals and ideas when you don’t see people like you already pursuing them.
In 2016, Barna Research found that roughly 9% of senior pastors are women, which is triple the percentage from 25 years ago. While this is a positive trend upwards, when you stop and consider that studies also estimate that women make up roughly 60% of church attendees, the discrepancy is laid bare. So, while women are in fact rising up in the church, there is still a long way to go. Too many women are still being siloed into specific roles based on their gender rather than their gifting.
Not only is it redeeming for women to see women leading, it is essential for men, children and the church as a whole to experience women leading. Women have unique perspectives, experiences and skills to offer that men do not. In the absence of women, we are missing aspects of the presence of God. In their frenzy to relegate and delegate, the church is missing out on what women have to say. In virtually every other area, from technology to medicine, business to politics, women’s voices are being amplified in the secular space but turned down in the heavenly space. For the sake of the gospel, why would we not want to empower them to lead?
The first time I heard a woman preach, I had a moment that probably wasn’t that far off from the one that so many women had this week when they saw Kamala standing on the Capitol steps in her purple and pearls. I felt restored. I felt understood. I felt represented. I felt as though my opinion mattered equal to that of my husband. At that moment something clicked. My husband and I decided together that finding a church where women were allowed to teach and preach was a priority. Since doing that, I’ve grown in my faith more than I ever could have imagined and have a restored view of who Jesus is and his heart for both men and women. This is how I know it’s not just representation for the sake of representation – it’s for the sake of restoration. It’s for the sake of reflecting a more complete image of the people you’re leading, thereby reflecting a more complete image of God.
My hope is that one day we would hear another commotion like we did this past week as people continue to celebrate women stepping into their gifting. That giving women the opportunity to lead in the church would not be seen as a concession but rather a conviction. And that, just like all the little girls who looked at the first female vice president on their TV screens this week and thought that could be me, they would be able to look up at the pulpit on Sunday mornings and say that could also be me.
2 thoughts on “A woman’s place is in the White House – and in the Church.”
Amazing writing, Hannah! Your great grandmother Jessen went to seminary 90 years ago, but never preached (from the pulpit I mean!). Your cousin (once removed) Chris is married to Eva , a United Methodist minister. But this IS a controversial topic. Thanks for tackling it so well. I should send you a column I wrote about it!
Wow, that’s incredible! I actually never knew that and would love to learn more about it. And thank you so much – would love to read your column. 🙂