The headline in Tuesday’s News-Sentinel stated that we needed the rain, but that it might be too much, too fast. Monday’s rain was the first we had seen in 25 days, according to the paper. It was brought to us courtesy of Tropical Storm Fay, a storm that left 11 people dead in Florida. A storm that had brought death and destruction a few days ago in Florida, now fell gently on dry and dusty hills in East Tennessee. What we desperately needed, they would have surely done without. Seems odd in a way — someone else’s storm becoming our gift.
We passed the 80 year mark on the 19th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. The 19th Amendment gave women the right to vote. In the years leading up to the passage of this amendment, quite a storm was created by the very idea of allowing women to vote. At the time, they were thought to be too frail to endure the rigors of going to the polls. Mark Twain may have gotten more to the point in his 1867 letter to a St. Louis newspaper.
“Women, go your ways! Seek not to beguile us of our imperial privileges. Content yourself with your little feminine trifles — your babies, your benevolent societies and your knitting — and let your natural bosses do the voting. Stand back — you will be wanting to go to war next. We will let you teach us as much school as you want to, and we will pay you half wages for it, too, but beware! We don’t want you to crowd us too much.”
Not much changed for women as a result of the passage of the 19th Amendment. They could vote. So what. The passage of the amendment took from them the cause that had served as their rallying cry. Not until Rosie the Riveter made her way into the factories would women be appreciated for their abilities beyond the domestic sphere. Rosie, and perhaps even the ladies of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League, caused at least some people to see women in a different light. Perhaps most importantly, some women saw themselves in a different way as a result of the opportunities that necessity had brought their way.
I wonder if any of those women who marched so long ago for women’s suffrage ever dreamed of a day when over 18 million of their fellow citizens would vote for a woman in a presidential primary? One might think that women have finally arrived. That would be a mistake. There are a number of indicators that say women still have a ways to go:
* Real annual earnings for women have fallen the last four years.
* Progress continues to slow in narrowing the wage gap between men and women.
* A U.S. Supreme Court decision last year made it even more difficult for women to gain pay discrimination relief in the courts.
* Congress recently cut child support enforcement by 20 percent. Women and their children will pay for that cost-cutting measure.
* Of course, this list could be much longer.
No, justice is still denied women in all sorts of ways in our country and in our world. We in the church are in many ways the chief culprits in denying opportunities to women. There was a big buzz in Texas last weekend because the Irving Bible Church decided to let a woman preach. The church’s elders spent 18 months studying the issue that resulted in a 24-page position paper and invitation to Ms. Jackie Reese to fill the pulpit on Sunday morning.
A woman in the pulpit of a Bible church is no small thing. Churches with Bible in their name tend to be conservative both theologically and socially. Irving Bible Church is to be commended for listening to the Scriptures and acting on what they heard.
Unfortunately, they are the exception, rather than the rule. How many times has someone, opposed the idea of a woman preaching, defended his or her opposition simply by saying the Bible is against it? The truth of the matter is that one of, if not the most important sermon in scriptures, was delivered by a woman. Mary Magdalene, following Jesus’ instructions no less, proclaimed the good news of the resurrection with the words, “I have seen the Lord,” in John’s Gospel. The most important event in the history of the church is proclaimed by a woman. Without the resurrection, there is no church, there are no preachers, there are no sermons. In one way or the other, every Christian sermon preached since then has been indebted to Mary’s simple proclamation, “I have seen the Lord.”
That a woman preaching in a pulpit in Texas is a newsworthy matter for the Dallas papers, serves to indicate how much the church has allowed cultural stereotypes and societal norms to determine how we read and understand Scripture. All too often we go to Scripture with our preconceived notions and, not surprisingly, we find support for our ideas. This is not letting the Bible guide the way we live our lives. It is our opinions of how life ought to be that guide our reading of the Bible.
Ironically, I know of few people who have not had a woman teach them something about the Bible that they did not already know. In the same way, I do not know many folks who have not heard a word spoken by a woman that did not add to their wisdom or did not give them encouragement for living. God has used women in all of our lives to speak God’s truth and to show us God’s love.
So what will come of this rain falling now as the storms of bygone days are finally spent? Will it fall too fast and quickly run off, unable to penetrate the drought hardened ground? Even now, at this late hour, will it be too much too fast? Or will the thirsty ground soak up what it has been without for too long?
Will we recognize that God has poured out God’s spirit upon all flesh so that our sons and our daughters shall prophesy (preach)?