This is Quaker Emphasis Week at George Fox University, and I must admit to being a bit more attuned than usual to the week’s theme and chapel speakers: “Your Sons and Your Daughters Will Prophesy.” More specifically, I’ve been interested in how our campus is engaging with an issue close to my heart—that is, whether the Bible gives women the freedom to prophesy, not just in mission fields and children’s Sunday school classes, but in church pulpits too.
On the one hand, George Fox University has publically proclaimed that they support women as pastors, in keeping with the Quaker tradition that values both men and women working equally in ministry. Our university has a woman as pastor, after all, and Sarah Baldwin has given strong spiritual leadership to our community for a number of years. Still, as Becky Ankeny pointed out today during her chapel speech, some people will not go to chapel if they know Sarah is speaking. Or, if she begins preaching, they will get up and leave. Those who resist Sarah let the campus know, by their actions, that they believe women’s voices should not be heard from the pulpit: that sons should prophesy, but not daughters.
This blog has been about calling out the evangelical messages that damage women (and also men), and that limit not only women’s full participation in the church but also their full expression of Christ working in them. Becky’s chapel address today offers a powerful antidote to the message too many have heard, and believed, their entire lives: That in the church, women should remain silent. That Christ speaks most clearly with a man’s voice. That Jesus called men to sit at his feet, and women to clean up after supper.
Becky’s life has also provided a healthy alternative to damaging evangelical messages about women. I first met Becky when I was a student over 20 years ago, and even then, I was impressed by her strength, her encouragement to follow God’s leading, and her ability to hold in tension her identities as a professor, a mother, a Christian, a pastor. At the time, she modeled for me the kind of life I wanted, one faithful to using and celebrating the many good gifts God has given her.
She has continued to do so. Even when she bumped up against glass ceilings, and had to face the disappointment of not following the career trajectory she had planned for herself, Becky gracefully tried to lean into her new reality, and God’s new callings for her. That new calling includes, now, becoming superintendent of the Northwest Yearly Meeting, the first woman to take that role. Being a leader of the NWYM is probably not what Becky planned for her life, even a year or two ago, but the Quakers’ openness to women in spiritual leadership has made it possible for Becky to follow God’s calling in this way.
You can find a transcript of Becky’s chapel address here. She spoke most powerfully to me today when she said this: “Women’s hearts are sometimes sore. On the one hand, we read that we are God’s children, just like our brothers, and that the Holy Spirit dwells in us, just like our brothers, and our hearts rise to the challenge and joy of bearing public witness to the love of God, and then we find that we are not allowed by the traditions of the church. We suffer in between the ‘yes’ of God and the ‘no’ of our religious culture.”
I am thankful for women like Becky who have spoken into my life, and into the lives of countless others, and who—despite being told “no” by our religious culture—have continued to embrace God’s “yes” in their lives.