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Exploring the Heart of Restoration

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Author’s note: I received a lot of feedback regarding my last post. I want to briefly address that before presenting the next part of my findings.

I set out to discover if my experiences in Churches of Christ are unique. I have learned that I am not alone. I want to reiterate that regardless of one’s particular beliefs, theology, hermeneutics, or ecclesiology we cannot deny the experiences of women who self-report pain. Their story is their story, and it cannot be ignored, rewritten, or taken from them.

I was not sponsored, endorsed, or in any way compensated to do this work. I have embarked on this journey without the support of a congregation or an academic institution. I have used my own time and resources. This research was not intended to be published or peer-reviewed, I simply wanted to gather information and see what I found. I have held this research for a year because of the intense pain it causes me to evaluate it, write about it, and share it. But after a year of reflection and prayer I share it now. As I have repeatedly worked through comments of hundreds of women who answered this survey, I sense their sorrow and pain and my own pain bubbles to the surface – this is deeply troubling work for me.

One thing that I want to make clear (that I had hoped was clear in the first article) is what these findings are verses what they are not. 

What This Is:

– This is a survey I sent out in order to gather more information to “take the temperature” of other women in our community.
– This is research that was initially borne out of my own experiences and feelings of solitude as a woman within the Church of Christ.
– This is a summary of findings that point to a need for professional, academic studies—something that has not been done before at the scope and scale of what I am proposing here.
– This is data-gathering that asks previously unasked questions.

What This Is Not:
– This is not a peer-reviewed article or a methodological approach to the statistics.
– This is not intended to prove causation, as much as it is to present findings and say, “What do we do with this? What are our next steps? Where do we go from here?”

I know this study has gaps and holes. Nevertheless, in spite of the flawed methods, embedded in this imperfect research are stories of hundreds of women and their voices should be heard. I embarked on this research out of shear curiosity and to offer other women the opportunity to be heard. I hope that a more robust methodology will come with future research. I hope that future research will be based on the quotes, experiences, and findings I share below and in my next post. The implications of this survey (which measures symptoms of trauma experienced by women in the Churches of Christ) are great. More research is unequivocally needed. I also recommend an in-depth study of the self-reported trauma symptoms in men who have served as ministers and preachers in Churches of Christ to determine if gender differentiates a self-reported trauma level.

My prayer now is that you, my dearest brothers and sisters, read on with curiosity, empathy, and openness to the stories of others. I also pray that the hard questions asked here will continue to be asked and that further research will be undertaken by someone more skilled than me. May we all have the courage to ask brave questions – and then listen. Soli Deo Gloria – Heather

Summary

In September 2018, I launched an online snowball sampling survey through the social media venue, Facebook. This snowball survey used the self-reporting assessment PTSD Checklist – Civilian Version (PCL-C) and was used to screen for the presence and severity of self-reported trauma symptoms in women in Churches of Christ. The eligibility criteria for survey participants was they must be a current or former member of a Church of Christ. The goal was to collect between 50-75 responses but within one day the survey had grown to over 500 completed responses. The results show that 50% of respondents reported none to mild self-reported trauma symptoms as a result of their experience in Churches of Christ, 22% reported moderate symptoms, and 28% reported severe to extremely severe trauma symptoms.

Measure

The PCL-C is a standardized self-report rating scale for PTSD comprised of 17 items that correspond to the key symptoms of PTSD from the DSM-IV. The PCL-C was derived from the PCL-Military Version (PCL-M; Weathers et al., 1993). The civilian version is identical to the military version, except that it inquires about a “stressful experience from the past” as opposed to military trauma. The PCL-C demonstrates good retest reliability and internal consistency, as well as adequate convergent and discriminant validities (Adkins, Weather, McDevitt-Murphy, & Daniels, 2008). In other words, experts in the research and psychology communities view it is a reliable assessment to screen for self-reported trauma symptoms. In fact, one study found that the PCL-C may be superior compared with other assessments in discriminating between trauma symptoms and symptoms of social anxiety disorder, panic disorder, OCD, and depression (Conybeare et al., 2012).

The PCL-C is self-administered and takes about 10 minutes to complete. Each respondent indicates how much they have been “bothered” by a symptom over the past month using a 5-point scale; 1 – “Not at all” to 5 – “Extremely.” The PCL-C is scored by tallying all items for a total severity score (17-85). The scale used by this research to rank the presence and severity of symptoms is below:

  • 0—17 = No symptoms
  • 18—29 = Mild 
  • 30—44 = Moderate
  • 45—57 = Severe
  • 58+ = Extremely severe 

Each respondent was asked to consider her own experience(s) of being part of Churches of Christ and answer the survey questions through that lens. While each respondent’s definition of trauma was different, this survey explored the self-reported symptoms of their experiences. Five of the items measure re-experiencing symptoms, seven measure avoidance symptoms, and five measure hyperarousal symptoms. The following DSM-IV criteria are used by the PCL-5 for assessing symptoms (note that the PCL-5 does not include a Criterion “A” component):

  • – Symptomatic response to at least 1 “B” item (Questions 1–5),
  • – Symptomatic response to at least 3 “C” items (Questions 6–12), and
  • – Symptomatic response to at least 2 “D” items (Questions 13–17)

Please see the expanded symptomatic criteria for PTSD in the DSM-IV here

Please note: The PCL-5 should not be used as a diagnostic tool. Only licensed and qualified clinicians can diagnose PTSD. This assessment was used to screen for the presence and severity of self-reported trauma symptoms and was not intended to diagnose or treat any symptoms. The gold standard for diagnosing PTSD is a structured clinical interview such as the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS).

Findings

This data includes the 5 women who did not fully complete their surveys. While they did not complete the 17 question PCL-C portion of the survey, they did provide relevant comments which will be included in Part 3 of this series. Since these incomplete survey scores did not exceed 17, their answers have been added to the “No Symptoms” category. Thus, the survey sample size was 521 women who are now or have been part of Churches of Christ.

The 521 respondents were from 41 States and 10 countries.

Of these 521 women, 95% answered yes to, “I have served as an unpaid lay leader in Churches of Christ (i.e. Bible class teacher, ministry leader, nursery, meals, benevolence, hospital visits, hosted showers, youth group volunteer, office administration, missions, building care and maintenance.)” One hundred and thirty-three (133) have served as a paid minister or ministry leader in Churches of Christ, and 111 answered yes to, “I am now or have been married to a Church of Christ minister.”

While the survey did not ask the ages of the respondents it did inquire as to how many years they have been part of Churches of Christ. The majority of respondents, 370 or 71%, have been part of Churches of Christ between 21 and 50 years.

Of the entire sample group 50% reported none to mild symptoms, 22% reported moderate symptoms, and 28% reported severe to extremely severe symptoms.

The following chart shows the number of years spent in Churches of Christ and the presence and severity of self-reported trauma symptoms. There is a correlation between the number of years the respondents spent in Churches of Christ and the absence of self-reported trauma symptoms. The longer a respondent has been part of Churches of Christ the fewer symptoms reported. Likewise, those respondents who have spent fewer years in Churches of Christ report more symptoms and a higher degree of severity.

Of the 494 respondents who have served as an unpaid lay leader in Churches of Christ, 51.5% reported none to mild symptoms, 21% reported moderate symptoms, and 27.5% reported severe to extremely severe symptoms. Of the women who are or have been married to a Church of Christ minister 36% reported none to mild symptoms, 23% reported moderate symptoms, and 42% reported severe to extremely severe symptoms. Similarly, of the 133 women who have served as a paid minister or ministry leader in Churches of Christ 42% reported none to mild symptoms, 23% reported moderate symptoms, and 36% reported severe to extremely severe symptoms. Of those women who have both served as a paid minister or a ministry leader and also married to a Church of Christ minister only 31% report none to mild symptoms while 18% report moderate symptoms, and 51% reported severe to extremely severe symptoms.

Discussion

According to the National Center for PTSD there is not an absolute method for determining the correct cut-off point on the PCL. However, a cut-off score of 45 or higher is appropriate to use as the threshold to aid in the prediction of PTSD and was selected for this study to yield optimal sensitivity. Freedy et al. (2010) used a cut-off score of 43 or higher as the cutoff for PTSD. Gore et al. (2013) used 48 as a cut-off for PTSD and 22 for those without PTSD. Gelaye et al. (2017) used the cut-off score of 26 in pregnant women in Peru to determine the presence of PTSD. Alaqeel et al. (2019) used the cut-off of 30-35 to determine the PTSD status among emergency medical personnel. Bown et al. (2019) used three cut-off thresholds of 36, 44, and 50 to determine the presence of PTSD in patients with traumatic brain injury. Bressler et al (2018) used the cutoff of 35 to 38 as a positive predictive value of PTSD.

The prevalence of PTSD in the general public of the United States has been estimated at 6–8% (Kessler et al., 2005; Kessler et al., 1995; Kilpatrick et al., 2013; Pietrzak et al., 2011). The global prevalence of PTSD has not been well characterized, but the World Mental Health (WMH) surveys have identified prevalence in a number of countries ranging from 1 to 10% (Atwoli et al., 2015; Koenen et al., 2017). In civilian primary care samples, rates of current PTSD of 6%–20% are typically reported (Freedy et al., 2010). Recent large-scale studies indicate that PTSD among U.S. service men and women returning from current military deployments, are as high as 14 –16% (Gates et al., 2012). In a review of the prevalence of combat-related PTSD among Iraq and Afghanistan veterans, one study reported estimates for current PTSD ranging from 4% to 17% (Richardson et al., 2010).

This study shows that 28% of the entire sample group meet the screening criteria for further PTSD assessment and possible diagnosis. With 28% of respondents reporting 45 or higher this survey reveals that the prevalence of possible PTSD in these women is two to three times higher than the general public. Additionally, all three of the subgroups, women who have served as a paid minister (36% scored 45 or higher), women married to a minister (42% scored 45 or higher), and women who have both served as a paid minister and also married to a minister in Churches of Christ (53% scored 45 or higher) all exceed the cut-off threshold for a predictive diagnosis of PTSD.

Clinical Implications

PTSD is associated with health issues: health risk behaviors (e.g. smoking, sedentary lifestyle, medical nonadherence), vague physical complaints, chronic medical problems (e.g. diabetes mellitus, COPD), mental health comorbidity (e.g. depression, alcohol abuse) and functional impairment (e.g. relationship instability, underachievement) (Freedy et al., 2010).  Research shows that women are exposed to higher levels of sexual victimization, a form of trauma that is particularly associated with PTSD risk. Also, women in general are more willing to report symptoms than men (Freedy et al., 2010). One study showed that a PTSD diagnosis is higher among women than among men, and the prevalence increased with greater traumatic event exposure (Kirkpatrick et al., 2013).

Conclusion

Twenty-eight percent (28%) of the 521 women who answered the survey scored 45 or higher which exceeds the cut-off threshold to aid in the predictive diagnosis of PTSD. Respondents who served as a paid minister or ministry leader in Churches of Christ were more likely to report severe to extremely severe symptoms of trauma over the general reporting group. Those respondents who were or have been married to a Church of Christ minister reported very similar results. However, those respondents who were both a paid minister or ministry leader and married to a Church of Christ minister were the most likely to self-report symptoms of trauma. In fact, 51% of this demographic self-reported severe to extremely severe symptoms of trauma.

The number of years spent in Churches of Christ also seems to have a connection to the presence and severity of self-reported trauma symptoms. The more years the respondents spent in Churches of Christ, the less likely they were to report symptoms. The reverse was true as well, respondents who have spent fewer years in Churches of Christ reported more severe symptoms.

The two groups who were most likely to report severe to extremely severe symptoms were women who have both served as a paid minister and also married to a Church of Christ minister, and those who have been part of Churches of Christ for 10 years or less.

Future Research

This study is not definitive and requires replication. Nevertheless, the results are important. More research is needed to accurately assess the severity of self-reported trauma symptoms in women as a result of being part of Churches of Christ. Future research should also explore the reason behind the self-reported trauma symptoms (i.e. is the trauma tied to issues such as patriarchy, complementarianism, sexism, internalized sexism, physical or sexual trauma, or something else entirely?).

For more robust conclusions, future research could include the study of self-reported trauma symptoms in women from other denominations as well as women in the general public who do not attend a church. Another area of study could include the correlation between whether a woman in Churches of Christ feels that her particular spiritual gifts were fully utilized or not.

In addition, future studies should also include men in Churches of Christ and men who have served as a minister in Churches of Christ. I suspect that the presence and severity of self-reported trauma symptoms in men who have served as ministers and preachers in Churches of Christ is also quite high. Similarly, research should be done to assess whether there are any mental, emotional, or spiritual effects on boys and men as a result of being part of Churches of Christ, particularly related to the church’s view of women. Also, more research could help determine whether there is any correlation to the experiences of women and the decline of Churches of Christ.

Part 3

In the third part of this series I will share direct quotes and comments from the survey respondents.

Resources

Adkins, J.W., Weathers, F.W., McDevitt-Murphy, M., & Daniels, J.B. (2008). Psychometric properties of seven self-report measures of posttraumatic stress disorder in college students with mixed civilian trauma exposure. Journal of Anxiety Disorders, 22, 1393–1402.

Alaqeel, Meshal K., Nawfal A. Aljerian, Muhannad A. AlNahdi, and Raiyan Y. Almaini. 2019. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder among Emergency Medical Services Personnel: A Cross Sectional Study.” Asian Journal of Medical Sciences 10 (4): 28–31.            

Atwoli L, Stein DJ, Koenen KC, McLaughlin KA (2015) Epidemiology of posttraumatic stress disorder: prevalence, correlates and consequences. Curr Opin Psychiatry 28(4):307–311.           

Blanchard, E. B., Jones-Alexander, J., Buckley, T. C., & Forneris, C. A. (1996). Psychometric properties of the PTSD checklist (PCL). Behavioral Research & Therapy, 34, 669-673.

Bressler, Rachel, Bradley T. Erford, and Stephanie Dean. 2018. “A Systematic Review of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL).” Journal of Counseling & Development 96 (2): 167–86.

Bown, Dominic, Antonio Belli, Kasim Qureshi, David Davies, Emma Toman, and Rachel Upthegrove. 2019. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and Self-Reported Outcomes after Traumatic Brain Injury in Victims of Assault.” PLoS ONE 14 (2): 1–14.           

Conybeare, Daniel, Evelyn Behar, Ari Solomon, Michelle G. Newman, and T. D. Borkovec. 2012. “The PTSD Checklist-Civilian Version: Reliability, Validity, and Factor Structure in a Nonclinical Sample.” Journal of Clinical Psychology 68 (6): 699–713.         

Freedy, John R., Maria M. Steenkamp, Kathryn M. Magruder, Derik E. Yeager, James S. Zoller, William J. Hueston, and Peter J. Carek. 2010. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Screening Test Performance in Civilian Primary Care.” Family Practice 27 (6): 615–24.

Gates, Margaret A., Darren W. Holowka, Jennifer J. Vasterling, Terence M. Keane, Brian P. Marx, and Raymond C. Rosen. 2012. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Veterans and Military Personnel: Epidemiology, Screening, and Case Recognition.” Psychological Services, Health Services Research in the Veterans Administration, 9 (4): 361–82.      

Gelaye, Bizu, Yinnan Zheng, Maria Elena Medina-Mora, Marta B. Rondon, Sixto E. Sánchez, and Michelle A. Williams. 2017. “Validity of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorders (PTSD) Checklist in Pregnant Women.” BMC Psychiatry 17 (May): 1–10.

Gore, Kristie L., Phoebe K. McCutchan, Annabel Prins, Michael C. Freed, Xian Liu, Jennifer M. Weil, and Charles C. Engel. 2013. “Operating Characteristics of the PTSD Checklist in a Military Primary Care Setting.” Psychological Assessment 25 (3): 1032–36.            

Kessler, Ronald C., Patricia Berglund, Olga Demler, Robert Jin, and Ellen E. Walters. 2005. “Lifetime Prevalence and Age-of-Onset Distributions of DSM-IV Disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.” Archives of General Psychiatry 62 (6): 593.

Kessler, R C, A Sonnega, E Bromet, M Hughes, and C B Nelson. 1995. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the National Comorbidity Survey.” Archives Of General Psychiatry 52 (12): 1048–60. 

Kilpatrick, Dean G., Heidi S. Resnick, Melissa E. Milanak, Mark W. Miller, Katherine M. Keyes, and Matthew J. Friedman. 2013. “National Estimates of Exposure to Traumatic Events and PTSD Prevalence Using DSM-IV and DSM-5 Criteria.” Journal of Traumatic Stress 26 (5): 537–47.

Koenen, K C, A Ratanatharathorn, L Ng, K A McLaughlin, E J Bromet, D J Stein, E G Karam, et al. 2017. “Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in the World Mental Health Surveys.” Psychological Medicine 47 (13): 2260–74. 

Levey, Elizabeth J., Bizu Gelaye, Karestan Koenen, Qiu-Yue Zhong, Archana Basu, Marta B. Rondon, Sixto Sanchez, David C. Henderson, and Michelle A. Williams. 2018. “Trauma Exposure and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in a Cohort of Pregnant Peruvian Women.”Archives of Women’s Mental Health 21 (2): 193–202.

Pietrzak RH, Goldstein RB, Southwick SM, Grant BF (2011) Prevalence and Axis I comorbidity of full and partial posttraumatic stress disorder in the United States: results from Wave 2 of the National Epidemiologic Survey on Alcohol and Related Conditions. J Anxiety Disorder 25(3):456–465.

Richardson, L. K., Frueh, B. C., & Acierno, R. (2010). Prevalence estimates of combat-related post-traumatic stress disorder: Critical review. Australian and New Zealand Journal of Psychiatry, 44, 4 –19.

Weathers, F.W., Litz, B.T., Herman, D.S., Huska, J.A., & Keane, T.M. (1993). The PTSD            checklist: Reliability, validity, and diagnostic utility. Paper presented at the Annual Meeting of International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, San Antonio, TX, October.

The Author – Dr. Heather Heflin Hodges
Photo “My Loneliest Place on Earth

Author’s note: This research was birthed out of my own trauma as well as my experience ministering to other women in our tribe who are hurting and who report that their pain is directly related to being in churches of Christ. While we continue to discuss what a woman’s “role” in the church can or cannot be, I want to spend a short time focusing on the repercussions of how we have treated women in churches of Christ.

The research is crystal clear, how churches of Christ have treated women has caused trauma. Regardless of one’s particular beliefs, theology, hermeneutics, or ecclesiology we cannot deny the experiences of women who self-report pain. Their story is their story, and it cannot be ignored, rewritten, or taken from them. I want this research to speak for itself, knowing that within every study or survey exists many flaws. This research is flawed but embedded within it is Truth. I embarked on this journey out of shear curiosity. I was not trying to prove or disprove a theory but to simply ask, listen, and learn. My prayer now is that you, my dearest brothers and sisters, may read on with the same curiosity, empathy, and openness to the stories of others. May we never stop asking hard questions nor be afraid of challenging answers. Soli Deo Gloria! – Heather

Summary

In September of 2018, data were gathered from 516 women to evaluate their self-reported trauma symptoms as a result of being part of churches of Christ. Of the women surveyed 52% reported none to mild trauma symptoms while 48% reported moderate to extremely severe symptoms. The research found that 78% of all respondents experienced one or more trauma symptoms within the past month of the survey as a “result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ.”

Methodology

The instrument used for the research was the civilian version of the Posttraumatic Stress Disorder Checklist (PCL-C.) The PCL-C is a 17-item self-report checklist of PTSD symptoms based closely on the DSM-IV criteria. Respondents rated each item from 1 (“not at all”) to 5 (“extremely”) to indicate the degree to which they have been bothered by that particular symptom over the past month. A total symptom severity score (range = 17-85) was obtained by summing the scores from each of the 17 items. This research assessed the respondents’ scores in the following manner:

  • 0 – 17    No Symptoms
  • 18 – 31   Mild
  • 32 – 44   Moderate
  • 45 – 57   Severe            
  • 58 – 85   Extremely Severe

Please note: The gold standard for diagnosing PTSD is a structured clinical interview such as the Clinician Administered PTSD Scale (CAPS). The PCL-C was used in this survey as a research tool and was not intended to diagnose or treat any symptoms.

The respondents were given the following information about the survey, “This survey is designed to explore self-reported trauma and stress by women as a result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ. This is an independent social sciences study conducted by Dr. Heather Hodges for the purpose of researching the Stone-Campbell Restoration Movement.”

Findings

Of the 516 women surveyed, 71% have been part of churches of Christ for over 20 years, 25.53% have served as a paid minister for churches of Christ, and 21.3% are or have been married to a church of Christ minister.

When asked to self-report any trauma symptoms 22.09% reported an absence of trauma symptoms, 30% reported mild symptoms, 18.41% reported moderate symptoms, 16.08% reported severe symptoms and 13.37% reported extremely severe symptoms.

Results of PCL-C survey completed September 2018, by 516 women in churches of Christ.

Conclusion

This research finds that roughly half of women surveyed report moderate to extremely severe trauma symptoms as a “result of being raised in churches of Christ and/or serving as ministers in churches of Christ.” One-third of the 516 women surveyed report mild symptoms and only 22% of the women surveyed reported no symptoms.

Implications

The implications and ramifications of this research are broad and far-ranging. Part – 2 will delve more deeply into individual responses as well as suggestions for how we can help women heal who experience trauma as a result of being part of churches of Christ.

Future Research

More research is needed to accurately assess the severity of self-reported trauma symptoms in women as a result of being part of churches of Christ. I suspect that the degree of self-reported trauma is correlated to whether a woman in churches of Christ feels that her particular spiritual gifts were fully utilized or not. Future research could ask, “To what degree have you felt your spiritual gifts have been utilized by the church of Christ?” “Have you ever been restricted from using your spiritual gifts because of your gender?”

An updated version of the PCL was published in 2018 and is based on the DSM-5 criteria for Posttraumatic Stress Disorder. Any further research could utilize this expanded and updated tool.


I’ll never forget the first time I heard a woman pray in a public setting. I stood in a large room at a kid’s event with my young family and, without warning, a woman who had been giving instructions for the day begin to pray for our meal. I barely heard a word she said. I was in shock that a woman had the audacity to pray in front of my husband, my sons, and the rest of the group. I quickly bowed my head and silently prayed over her. I prayed for her soul and the souls of those in the room and that she would learn and respect Scripture. I left that event disgusted and saddened that we had been subjected to such. I wanted to write her and explain the truth more clearly but I was too angry. That was nearly twenty years ago and somehow, without even realizing it, she became my hero.

Young girl reading

I was still reeling from the prayer when I learned of an incident where a little girl in a Bible class setting was told she couldn’t pray because a three year old boy sat across from her. It stirred my soul and kept me awake at night. How could this be? I went to Scripture to find an answer. 

If we were to take Paul literally in I Corinthians 14:34, then Scripture would forbid this child from praying in class. It would also restrict her from ever speaking in class. Not only would it seal her silence, it would seal her teachers and every woman who spoke in class or sang in the assembly. A woman couldn’t greet another or confess she believed Jesus is the Son of God before her baptism. Silence means silence. Something was amiss. I knew the Lord too well to believe he would cast this precious three year old to Hell for talking to him. So why did the prayer weeks earlier bother me so badly? I delved deeper into the Word. 

First Corinthians eleven told me the church in Corinth had women praying and prophesying. Paul even gave instructions on how they should present themselves when they did. Why was it happening in 1 Corinthians 11 but not in 1 Corinthians 14 or the Ephesian church? It didn’t make sense for Paul to so quickly change his mind on something so important. Although, it made no sense to me, Paul’s readers knew exactly what was going on in Corinth and in Ephesus (as they worshipped in the shadow of the temple of Artemis). It was during this time of study when I accepted the fact that the Bible wasn’t written to me but for me. Since Paul’s letters weren’t always written to set rules for eternity but to solve their current problems, there must be more to this story. And it isn’t always for us to know so why do we cling so tightly to a verse that calls for women to be silent but explain away lifting holy hands (I Timothy 2:8), wearing jewelry (I Timothy 2:9), braided hair (I Timothy 2:9), or being saved in childbirth (I Timothy 2:15)? 

I started to comb the Bible looking for something that would help me through this spiritual dilemma. I needed to know how God felt about women. I saw Miriam, along with her brothers leading the children of Israel out of Egypt. I was intrigued as wise Deborah ruled over God’s people as a prophet and military strategist. I became acquainted with Huldah who prophesied at the same time as Jeremiah and Zephaniah.

My relationship with the Father grew as I got to know his Son. I watched Anna weep over the newborn Jesus and take another opportunity to praise God in front of all those around her. I saw the look on the face of the woman at the well when Jesus revealed his identity. I have  always been told she tried to distract Jesus with religion from her broken life when he mentioned her many husbands. But what if her heart had been inclined to God? What if wanting to please him kept her up at night? What if she ached for self worth and knew only God could fulfill her desire? What if this is why Jesus sought her out and gave her the opportunity to serve as a missionary to her entire town? 

Why was Mary Magdalene the first gospel preacher? God knew her news of the resurrection wouldn’t hold up in a Jewish court. Why would he grant this beautiful act of servanthood to a gender that had no rights and little value unless he was taking a divine moment to show them how much they matter? Did Phillip’s daughter pray and prophesy only to women? If so, wouldn’t Scripture make this very clear? What can we learn from Phoebe, Junia, and Priscilla and their fervent desire to serve the God of Heaven and Earth? 

And then other questions came to mind. Why can a woman speak while singing from the pew but not from the pulpit? Why can a women ask questions in Bible class but not teach a Bible class with men present? Why is a woman permitted to speak at a Ladies’ Day to men as long as they’re sitting in the audio booth or listening in the foyer? Why can a man read articles written by women but if she were to read them to him, she would be in error?

How is praying, a supplication to our Father in his name combined with gratitude for his favor, having authority or leading over others in the room? Was the woman who prayed that day usurping my husband’s authority? When I dissected the moment, I had to admit that she was not. Tradition had told me one thing. Scripture another. My view of God was tainted with tradition, fear, and a lack of knowing who he is. I had so many questions and was confused by what seemed to be many inconsistencies. I had to ask myself what kind of god I served? Is it a god who delights in confusing us with his Scripture, saying one thing in one chapter and something else in another, just to keep us out of Heaven? Or is it a God who is for us? A God who deeply loves us? A God who wants his children, men and women, to speak his name and proclaim his praises to all who will listen? A God of the entire Bible, not just a verse?

The woman who prayed didn’t attend the same kind of church I did but I had seen her do good things in his name. I had watched how she cared for others. I had heard her speak of hope and Heaven before. She was a godly woman. I thought of the disciples in Luke and could hear myself whining, “Lord, she prayed to you thanking you and lifting you up but she’s not a part of our group! Do you want me to stop her?”  You can almost hear him sigh, “If she’s not against you…” (Luke 9:50).  

God is not inconsistent. Neither is his Word. But we, as his people are, and accepting our faults is not shameful. It’s realistic. We need him. We can seek comfort in the fact that his grace covers our moral failures as well as our doctrinal ones. 

If we are living in the last days, preached by Peter quoting Joel in Acts 2, as I believe we are, then women and men of God have not only have the opportunity but a responsibility to pray and proclaim the praises of the one who called us out of darkness. 

The lady who prayed in front of my family that day, many years ago, proclaimed Jesus in her prayer and ended it in his name. She spoke gospel but it wasn’t good news to me then. As a wise friend once said, “Anytime someone is proclaiming the gospel and it is not good news to me, I am the one with the problem, not the speaker.”

Looking back on that event, I no longer see what I thought was her sin but I do clearly see mine wrapped in my self-righteous, judgemental, false view of God and his Holy Word. I’m glad I no longer see God through those lenses. 

To the spiritual women who continue to call on the name of the Lord for their families, their communities, and the lost, those who so gracefully lift up their voice and speak light and hope into darkness, I thank God for you. You changed me, you encourage me, and you give me hope for the future. 

A strong woman feeds the hungry, gives to the needy, and visits the sick and imprisoned even when it’s unpopular and uncomfortable.

She accepts her body, her age, and her shortcomings with dignity and gives herself permission not to be perfect.

She speaks, tweets, texts, and posts words of grace from her pulpits and playgrounds knowing that words matter and people are listening.

She knows that building each other up is vital and eternal.

She realizes that the older she gets, the less she knows and she’s ok with that.

She has learned that love is a choice filled with action and the more difficult it is to give, the better it is for her and those she loves.

She’s a game changer and a trailblazer but above all, she is a peacemaker. But don’t be fooled, as a warrior of God, she will fight injustice, oppression, apathy, and hatred for the poor and marginalized. She’ll approach any action needed in a godly manner knowing she will be held accountable to the Creator.

A strong woman handles her grief and fear gracefully and refuses to let either define her.

She is a friend who will love you to your face and behind your back.

Strong women know that strength doesn’t always mean force. Sometimes it means silence.

Strong women realize that even if we vote, love, look, protest, or worship differently, loving our neighbor doesn’t come with conditions.

Strong women know that our strength isn’t our own.

I hope you have a lot of strong women in your life. I hope you mentor one. I hope you love one. I hope you are one.

 

 

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