I listened to a sermon today.
That’s not too odd, considering it’s Sunday and I’m a regular church attendee.
But, I listened to a really, really good sermon today (which doesn’t happen every time I attend church).
The sermon was about walls—walls we build and walls we tear down. It wasn’t just about our personal walls, but social and cultural walls. Walls sometimes play a positive role, providing protection and security. Sometimes, they play a negative role, causing separation and isolation.
The sermon talked about the way walls are used for good and for evil. The Jerusalem wall in Nehemiah was referenced, as well as the mention of walls in David’s writings, and the analogy of walls in Ephesians chapter two—where the imagery speaks of a wall of hostility being broken down by Jesus. This wall is that which separated God’s people with the rest of the world, as well as the physical wall that was in the Jewish worship center separating the Gentile (non-Jewish) court from the holy place (where non-Jews were not allowed to enter).
The sermon today was informed, educated, contextually accurate, and culturally relevant.
The sermon spoke about the physical walls that were built in the ghettos of Poland where people were living in forced labor camps. It spoke of the barricade-walls that were used during Jim Crow era to separate whites and blacks. It referenced the metaphorical walls we’ve built in our own society, the “us” vs. “them” …the walls between political parties, social classes and races.
A physical wall formed by church clergy during the terror at Charlottesville. They stood firm, hand-in-hand, forming a wall against white supremacy.
I left this sermon with tears in my eyes. I walked away with an overwhelming desire to step over boundaries I’ve unknowingly created in my world. I left broken yet encouraged, saddened yet hopeful. I walked away reminded of what God intended for his people through Jesus—that the wall of hostility would be broken down; that all would be equal; that there would be no distinction between a Jewish person and a Gentile person, a man or a woman, a slave or a freed person.
I left this sermon moved and changed. The message was one that I surely won’t forget. But more than that, tears filled my eyes because of one specific detail: this sermon was preached by a woman. A pastor. A woman pastor. And this sermon was preached at my new church in my new home in Southern California.
This might seem like a huge deal to some of you, and it may not seem like a big deal at all to others. But you see, the last ten months have been a bit overwhelming—flooded with an endless amount of praying, reading, studying, sleepless nights…and lots and lots of tears.
I’ve never considered myself a feminist. I didn’t go to the marches, I didn’t sign petitions, I didn’t repost any memes about women’s equality. I didn’t jump on the women’s-rights-train because I was a Christian—a Bible-believing, Calvinist-preaching, rightfully-submitting, conservative Christian. I belonged to the tribe of Reformed Theology. I read the right theologians, meditated on the right devotionals, listened to the right preachers. I even stuck to the ESV and the HCSB versions of Scripture. I didn’t give too much of my energy to social issues (unless it was about abortion) and I didn’t speak up against injustice, because well, I was to be set-apart from post-modernism, liberalism…culture.
I remained “unstained from the world”… until, well, until I began to feel the pangs of inequality myself.
While in my first two years of seminary, I was encouraged to study and learn and grow in my knowledge of God. I was taught that we were all given gifts by the Spirit, and that we should exercise them in obedience for the edification of the church….except, of course, if my gifting was to teach or preach or lead…because, well, I was a woman, and women can’t do that…their “role” is different.
The first church I attended during this time accused me of being “unsubmissive” because I initiated a Bible study with a group of young women. The problem was that I didn’t ask for their permission. And the pastor’s solution? Well, to speak hurtful things behind my back, of course. In the midst of this chaos, I called several other pastors and friends and asked for their opinion, wondering what in the world I did wrong. A good friend (and pastor) of mine admitted, “to be honest, Kat, you’re a woman. Some men in this context feel threatened by a woman’s initiative and leadership.”
Another time in a hermeneutics class, a well-meaning professor went off on a tangent to the class how important it was that everyone learns Greek and Hebrew, as it changes the way we read and teach Scripture. It was clear that he really was only talking to the males in the class when he finished his speech with, “and ladies…your husbands will be really impressed if you can exegete Scripture alongside them…” my heart sank as I heard this, flabbergasted that he would imply I go through the pain of learning Greek…simply to impress my husband. I nearly fell off my chair when he ended that sentence with, “right, Kat?” I was one of the outspoken students in class, not only debating theology, exegeting Scripture in Greek, and having an educated opinion alongside my male peers, but also spending just as much of my personal time studying…not to eventually lead the church, but to impress my husband, of course.
The more I spoke and shared my knowledge of Scripture, the clearer it became that my knowledge didn’t carry the same weight in a man’s world.
Thankfully, this knowledge I had gained led me to deeper study… sleepless nights digging through journals and commentaries, devouring the work of previous scholars who were experts in biblical writings and ancient culture. The more I studied Jesus’s teachings, Jewish religion, Roman and Greek culture, the more I saw that patriarchy was so clearly…wrong.
So I kept digging. I kept praying. I shed more and more tears. I became obsessed with the 1st century. I became obsessed with Greek words and their English translations. I became obsessed with, well, the Bible…and other ancient writings. The more I studied, the more I recognized the exegetical inconsistencies with fundamentalist translations and conservative interpretations…
It didn’t add up.
For so long I was blinded to it because I hadn’t stepped outside of the boundaries created by tradition. I was ignorant. I didn’t know any better. For years I sat silent and unnecessarily “submissive.”
And it didn’t just end with patriarchy…
It’s not what Jesus stood for.
“If you keep my commandments you will remain in my love. This is my commandment: love each other just as I have loved you.” (John 15)
I say this to you as someone who now understands inequality: I’m sorry. I’m sorry for my ignorance and for my silence. To my hurting and oppressed sister who has been taken advantage of, whose voice wasn’t valued because of her gender. Your voice matters. To my black brothers and sisters who fight the battle of inequality on a daily basis. Your life matters. I’m sorry to all of you who have been abused spiritually and emotionally by those who claim to represent Jesus. Sometimes, wrongfully so, right doctrine deems more important than His love.
To the scholars and experts who have gone before me in this fight for freedom, THANK YOU. Thank you to N. T. Wright, Ben Witherington, Kenneth Bailey, Gordon Fee, F.F. Bruce, Scot McKnight, Kevin Giles, Richard Hess, Douglas & Rebecca Groothius, Craig Blomberg, Rachel Held Evans, Kate Wallace, Nunneley, Michael Gungor, Mike McHargue, Kurt Willems, Nicholas and Allison Quient, Christena Cleveland, and SO many others who have contributed to the equality of persons.
We stand together.