"Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man...who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unselfconscious. But we might easily deduce it from His Church...Women are not human; nobody shall persuade that they are human; let them say what they like, we will not believe, though One rose from the dead." (Dorothy Sayers)
Some days you can handle sexism, and other days, you retreat to cry in the bathroom like the true liberated woman you are.
I can’t say I was surprised by what happened; I’ve been running in these circles for too long to claim that. I’ve heard the arguments, read the papers, and listened to the stories. But nothing quite prepares you for the moment you're spoken to like you’re less than human.
“So, when you speak, do you do so from the text, or do you just make reference to verses?”
I stared back at him, wide eyed, not sure I had heard the question regarding my preaching correctly.
“From...the text, “ I finally sputtered out.
“Oh, ok,” he responded, shuffling papers so as not to make eye-contact, clearly uncomfortable with my answer.
Of course I preach from the text, I thought to myself. I graduated magna cum laude from a prestigious evangelical university, and am getting my master’s degree in Biblical Exposition. What else would I do?!
I had made mention of preaching at my home church over the summer, and rather than ask me how it went, what I spoke on, or any other dignifying questions, the gentlemen in front of me proceeded to break out in a lively discussion regarding the difference between a woman speaking, (which, apparently, is when she makes the occasional reference to scripture in her otherwise extra-biblical talk), and a woman teaching, (which is when she speaks directly out of a passage, or exegetes it, as I did). I shrunk back, aware by the way they were speaking that I was no longer necessary to the conversation.
“Well, it’s really an issue of authority,” one offered after a few minutes of back and forth, generating murmurs of agreement from the others. A man in an adjacent office walked over, having overheard their conversation.
“Well actually, I’ve done considerable research on 1 Timothy chapter 2,” he began. I cringed, expecting the worst. “And the best way to understand the Greek does not actually restrict women from teaching…” My heart raced, as this individual, who holds his Master of Divinity degree from a widely respected seminary, gave an exceptionally articulate, thoroughly biblical, and well reasoned argument for women teaching and preaching in the church. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. Until I could.
"But don’t quote me on that. I can’t let anyone know that’s what I think. My career would be over. Seriously, don’t quote me.”
The others nodded with far too much understanding.
“But…” I interjected, causing them to turn their heads back my direction, having forgotten it was me who even began this conversation. “But, I need you too.”
Taking a step back, he pursed his lips and shook his head, like a child being offered their least favorite vegetable.
“I can’t..I just...no...I can’t. Too risky.”
I have never felt less human.
In that discussion, I was not a person with stories and gifts and thoughts. I was not Sarah. I was a topic to be discussed. A thing to be evaluated, and if necessary, discredited. A controversy to be kicked around until the conversation turned to something else, like the weather, or this season of The Voice.
No one commended me for having the courage to teach God’s word in front of hundreds of people, no one asked if I was good at it, if it touched people, if it edified the saints or advanced the Kingdom. No. Before the issue of whether or not I have anything valuable to offer was addressed, first they needed to figure out if what’s between my legs disqualified me from speaking in the first place. And even if it was discovered that my anatomy did not disqualify me, there’s no way my voice was important or valuable enough to mess with the status quo, or heaven forbid, risk something. In all of my years of being in this conversation, I had never felt so inconsequential, so less than.
After I went home that evening (and had another good cry), I listened to a recording of my message, all 40 minutes of it, hoping to find the answer as to why I subject myself to this kind of questioning when it would be so much easier to keep my mouth shut. And you know what I was reminded of in those 40 minutes?
That I’m a damn good preacher. That I never feel more alive than when I’m teaching from God’s word, that I feel His pleasure whenever I’m behind a pulpit or a podium or have a microphone in hand. That he made me to teach, speak, preach, whatever you want to call it, and he made me to do it well. And yes, I happen to be a girl. But I’m also so much more than that.
I am Sarah, fully human. Sarah the girl and Sarah the preacher, Sarah the poet, the daughter, the student, the sister, the writer, the friend, Sarah with the loud voice and even louder laugh, Sarah who loves deep and hard, who has something to say and the guts to say it, Sarah who won't settle for anything less that walking out the calling that has been etched deep into my soul since before the foundation of the world.
I am Sarah, fully human, liberated woman, who cries in bathroom stalls when it all gets to be too much.