I enter college a relatively new Christian, having come to faith in a para-church youth ministry deeply connected to a reformed church. I am a conservative evangelical by default. It’s all I know, therefore it is all that makes sense. That first year, upon visiting a campus Presbyterian church I feel discomfort that a woman wears the clergy robe and gives the sermon. I know nothing of the differing doctrine on complementarian and egalitarian roles among men and women. I merely know I have no construct for this and it therefore must be wrong. In youth, it is rare to imagine that which we’ve never seen.
But I learn, and for the next decade, I follow John Piper’s complementarian theology and carefully stay in my lane in college student ministry. I teach women, but I share with mixed groups. Yet at home, my husband and I settle comfortably, naturally, into a rhythm of marriage and ministry that is egalitarian. We co-lead. We co-parent. We shape each other. Sometimes it is my voice we heed. Sometimes it is his. And so, slowly, the lens through which we interpret scripture shifts. Without much fanfare, we realize we rather enjoy hearing women preach. Actually, we crave it. We begin to gravitate toward like-minded people, faith communities, theologians, and friends. The culture in which we raise our kids looks vastly different than mine. Another decade passes.
It is a Monday and we are in the car making the routine after school criss-cross of town between clubs and sports. I am asking my 16-year old daughter about the weekend’s youth retreat and she is recounting her conversation with one of our new pastors, Elizabeth. She tells me about the couple who taught and how sweet the wife was. I begin to fill her in on the message that Megan, the youth director, gave at our church in her absence. My daughter has no idea that all of this is remarkable, unusual, but I am acutely aware of what is happening.
I say, “It’s so good to hear women teach. Your sister said it was the most attentive she’s been in church ever. I just love that we get to learn the Bible from a woman’s perspective, too.” And then, because it’s time she know, I slowly add, “You know, not all Christians think women should be giving sermons.”
Time slows. Glancing her way, I see incredulity on her face, shock in her eyes, and confusion fill the corners of her mouth. She has absolutely no paradigm for this. She repeats what I’ve said to make sure she understands, though she doesn’t. And then this: “Doesn’t that go against everything Jesus was about?”
In youth, it is rare to imagine that which we’ve never seen.
I want to squeeze her. Shalom has been shattered. With eyes still on the road, I grip her chin. “Oh sweet one! I am so sorry to break this to you!” A smile creeps to my face. It is too precious a reaction, and familiar. I remember the day when I too, was so oblivious to doctrinal divides.
She is filtering this new information through experience. Can she find any data to support what I’ve just told her? Suddenly, as if breaking a code, she asks if this is why all the church websites she has been combing through (as a contract job for her dad) are full of white men. I nod. Dare I go further? “Were the female staff pictures primarily of children’s workers or assistants?” She looks at me, stunned, trying to make meaning of the evidence she has already seen.
Time slows for me too. Our parallel story is uncanny and yet, completely opposite. It is a surreal moment to witness a new experience shatter the constructs that have held her firm, pushing their way into her world view, begging for space. Demanding to land somewhere. To be seen. To be tended to. What will you do with me?
I am keenly aware that I am witnessing a punctuation in her maturity, the making of self. After synthesizing this new information, she will only become more mature: the world is no longer so black and white. She has her own journey to traverse, and she may come to different conclusions than the ones she was raised with. But here, in this moment, our paths diverge. With new knowledge, she gets to choose, as did I .
Beth Bruno is passionate about issues of injustice and a global sisterhood. Often, this looks like curating the stories and work of incredible women and calling her two teen daughters at least once a day to “come watch this.” Married for 23 years, she and her husband share a love for dark chocolate, dark coffee, and bold wine, among other passions. Their son is headed to college so Beth is not thinking about it by nursing an obsession with Turkish hot air balloons and European villages on her Instagram feed.
Beth, this is so good. I have “crossed over” in my thinking as well. Meaning, I took more of the path that you did. I am proud that my husband helped found a school that equips women to become ordained. I hunger to hear women preach. I am filled with sorrow that Jesus’ embracing and honoring women was missed and still is missed by so many. It shocks me how second rate women are in our country in so many ways. It is odd to be a woman in 2019 anywhere and everywhere once you have had your eyes opened….Thank you for this piece. It is stunning.
Becky, I think that was what Ella meant when she said, “isn’t that what Jesus taught?” She has picked up on the discrepancy between the way Jesus included, elevated, and relied upon women and the way his church has treated them.
I came to Jesus in my 20’s… the world around me was shouting loud for women’s rights 60-70’s… my new found faith was shouting something quite different… “win your husband without a word”… and other dangerous rules for family order!! Strangely enough… my husband kept telling me we are a team… He didn’t want to hold all the power… as crazy as it seems to me now…. I pushed against him… thinking he didn’t want to lead… the sad absurdity of it all… so thankful for his patient love for me… and for a God that never tires of wooing us to His heart!!! ….how wonderful your daughter’s eyes see… her heart knows… these fixed roles for women are absurdity!
I am reading The Flipside of Feminism and recognize myself in my 20s as well. I too felt like my husband was failing to spiritually lead us when really he was more egalitarian than me for awhile!