My seventeen-year-old son, mostly a reluctant church-goer, is very good friends with a teenage boy who is not a reluctant church goer, but instead an eager one. This friend attends a local Southern Baptist church (though it is not at all obvious that that’s what it is, as they call themselves a “community church”), which also happens to be one of the very rare growing churches in the area.
My son attended worship with this friend one Sunday last summer, and came home perplexed by the whole experience. “They don’t pray the Lord’s Prayer,” was one of the first observations my son shared. He also noticed that the worship featured a lot of rock-style music (that he described as “cheesy”), along with a very long sermon by the preacher, and then more rock music. And, not much else. My son found it odd that there was not much for the congregation to do, other than listen and nod their heads. My son went on to critique the sermon, which seemed to be all about how the preacher was led, by God, to buy a certain minivan and that God helped him get a great deal.
As he told me the story, my son couldn’t help but shake his head in bewilderment. In our household, and in my ministry, I’m not much of a “particular providence” sort of person. I was gratified that my son had absorbed that message, as he was disconcerted by the pastor’s notion that God would get so directly involved in the buying of a minivan, yet seem not to care about things like mass shootings and famine.
It turns out that my son has been absorbing a few other things as well. Since November’s presidential election, I’ve not only written about, but have also preached on sexism—the sexism that I perceive as a significant component of the result of the election, and the Christian Church’s role in preaching and supporting (obviously, and less obviously) the subordination of women. And, I’ve made it clear that I’m concerned not just about men in this situation, but also women, who so often seem to go along with second class status, even when they claim not to like it.
My son has been paying attention.
Part of my Easter sermon this year highlighted the profound significance of the role of women in the Easter story and at the very beginning of the Christian story, as reported by Matthew, and the evangelism of Mary Magdalene in particular. I observed that even in the 21st century, most Christians attending worship on Easter went to churches and denominations that prohibit the preaching of women—from Roman Catholics to Orthodox to Southern Baptists, the largest Protestant denomination in the U.S. In the days after Easter, my son contacted his friend and asked him a simple question, “Doesn’t it bother you that your church doesn’t allow women to preach?”
I hadn’t asked him to contact his friend, or ask the question. It wasn’t even until at least a day later than he told me that he had asked the question at all. And, also added that he offered his own answer to the question, “Doesn’t it bother you that your church doesn’t allow women to preach?” And, that answer was, “It should.”
Who knew that my son had been listening for so long and not only absorbing information, but willing to say something, to point to the ugly tendency for some—many —Christian churches to deny women a significant role in preaching and teaching the good news, even though if it hadn’t been for women, we might not have Christianity at all—as the men had locked themselves away on that first Easter.
When I ask women who attend these sorts of churches if it bothers them that women are excluded from the pulpit, just because of their gender, I almost always get a response something along the lines, “Well . . . I don’t like it, but . . . the church is doing so many good things, I guess I’m willing to live with it.”
I’m glad to know that, even though lots of women are willing to put up with second class status (not actually well supported by scripture, by the way), my son has felt the call to speak up. As the parent of both a male and a female, I often encourage and support the feminism of my daughter. I’ve learned a valuable lesson: I shouldn’t expect less from my son.
So far, John hasn’t made any headway in changing his friend’s mind (they have met in person to talk, as well as keeping up a texting dialogue). But, I trust that he will continue to explore the role of women in his life and perhaps will be the sort of person who will not put up with what so many women seem willing to accept. After all, Mary Magdalene was not simply an evangelist for women, but for all Christians—willing to see, willing to appreciate, willing to believe the unbelievable, and willing to speak, willing to share the good news for all.