Women in Ministry and Leadership: An Anthology

Women in Ministry and Leadership: An Anthology


This is a textbook by and for students in the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS), Biblical Theology of Women in Leadership course, Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree program. 



This is a textbook by and for students at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) in Springfield, Missouri, Biblical Theology of Women in Leadership course.  Extended and revised edition 2018.  Open Access edition 2020.

Edited by Deborah M. Gill and Stephanie L. Nance

Last technical editing done by Rumyana Hristova and Shem Chin, May 2020. Open access edition. All broken Internet links have been changed to reflect the current publication status of the online materials, while the original dates of access have been preserved.



Alaina Battaglia, Kerry Clarensau, Lisa Clements, Susan Comiskey, Loralie Crabtree, Jodi Detrick, Jodi Faulkner, Deborah Fulthorp, Kathleen Hardcastle, Rebecca Henslee, Mindy Hines, Erica Huinda, Vicki Judd, Jason Lundy, Jamie Morgan, Stephanie Nance, Ava Oleson, Brenda C. Pace, Trina Pennington, Ruthie Oberg, Shannon Polk, Lisa Potter, Irene Runge, Linda Sieler, and Victoria Womack.


Cover image:

“Pentecost Mosaic” by Mary Reardon from the West Transcept of the Central Dome of the Cathedral of Basilica of Saint Louis, St. Louis, MO.
Photo taken by Deborah M. Gill, Springfield, MO.
Cover design by Jan R. Gill, Springfield, MO.


Some Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version®, NIV®. Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.™ Used by permission of Zondervan. All rights reserved worldwide.

Some Scripture quotations are taken from the Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright ©1996, 2004, 2007 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

Some Scripture quotations are taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Some Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Table of Contents







Hagar: A Hero for Women Oppressed and Invisible

Shannon Polk

Miriam: Israel’s Forgotten Prophet

Stephanie Nance

Rahab: Leader from Within the Walls of Jericho

Victoria Womack

Lydia: Leader Extraordinaire

Ava Oleson

Priscilla: A Leader in the Early Church

Linda Seiler

Junia: A Female Apostle

Linda Seiler

The Elect Lady of 2 John: Symbolic Name or Historical Woman

Loralie Crabtree




Hatshepsut: Leadership Principles and Legacy

Trina Pennington

Desert Mothers

Lisa Potter

Catharine Beecher: American Education Pioneer

Jodi Faulkner

Phoebe Palmer: The Mother of the Holiness Movement

Brenda C. Pace

Florence Nightingale

Susan Comiskey

Fanny Crosby: The Blind Poet

Lisa Potter

Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell: The Moral Fight

Alaina G. Battaglia

Harriet Tubman: Moses of Her People

Irene Runge

Lillian Trasher: Lady on a Donkey

Kathleen Hardcastle

The Life of Corrie ten Boom

Jodi Detrick

Vonette Bright: Soul Winner and Prayer Warrior

Jamie Morgan




The Life of Peggy Musgrove

Kerry Clarensau

Hillary Rodham Clinton: A Public Servant’s Faith in Action

Erica Abell Huinda

V. Cheri Sampson: For Such a Time as This

Deborah Fulthorp






The Trinity: Hierarchy or Mutuality

Linda Seiler

1 Corinthians 14

Vicki Judd

Women, Prophecy, and Preaching

Stephanie Nance




The History of Women’s Education in America: 1770-1850

Jodi Faulkner

Matriarchal Societies

Trina Pennington

Participant Voices: African Feminism

Mindy Hines

The Departure of Women from the American Church

Loralie Crabtree

Women Who Travel for God: A Biblical Perspective

Jodi Detrick

The Origins of Attitudes Toward Feminist Theology: Contributors, Constraints, Lessons, and Responses

Loralie Crabtree

Implicit Bias: The Subconscious Barrier to Women in Leadership

Erica Abell Huinda

The Damaging Effects of Gender Stereotyping on Identity Formation

Susan Comiskey




Why Not Women?

Kerry Clarensau

God Created Them

Lisa Clements

Equally Spiritually Gifted

Loralie Crabtree

Appointed by God

Rebecca Henslee

God Does Not Discriminate

Jason Lundy

I Am Confident

Ruthie Oberg

I Will Not Settle for Less

Brenda Pace

Gifts to the Church: Women in Ministry

Trina Pennington












It is with joy and thanksgiving that we offer this anthology of seminary-student papers on the biblical-theology of women in leadership! Here is the brief story behind this publication.

The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS), Evangel University (EU), in Springfield, MO, has a very effective Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) degree program. Designing cohorts around specific ministry foci has contributed to their success.

In February 2009, the very first Women in Leadership cohort (WiL1) was launched; in February 2011, the second (WiL2); by October 2013, the third (WiL3); in October 2015, the fourth (WiL4); and in March 2018, the fifth (WiL5). (Though these are cohorts offered by the D.Min. department, occasionally masters students are permitted participation in them.) I (Deborah M. Gill) have had the joy of teaching the biblical theology course for these wonderful groups of women (first in October of 2009, next in the June of 2012, and in June of 2014, March 2016, and June 2018). By popular demand, the course (Biblical Theology of Women in Leadership [BTh of WiL]) came to be offered to also non-cohort members—both female and male: first to masters students, then to undergraduates, and finally to doctoral students.

I designed the pre-session written assignments for that course to enhance student interest and engagement when the students meet as a class.

First, each student writes one short biography on a woman from Scripture or history whose life inspires her. Then, in class, each student makes a presentation on their chosen woman. (Students opting for additional academic credits have the choice to write additional papers or longer papers.)

Second, each student chooses one passage in Scripture, one topic from history, or one issue in current society related to women that is of significant importance to them, personally, and writes a short paper on it. During class discussions, each student contributes on the issue of their specialty.

On the last day of class, each student recites a brief “elevator speech” presenting their personal biblical-theology supporting a woman’s calling to ministry, both theirs and others’. Then, we anoint them with oil, lay hands on them, and pray a prayer of commissioning that they each may fulfill their unique God-given calls.  

(Several weeks after the class, each student synthesizes all their biblical-theological learning on women in leadership—from this class, their outside required readings and research, and from their whole lives’ experience—in a personal reflection paper called “My Journey to Ministry.”)

Though the content of the post-session assignment is personal and confidential, the other three written assignments are appropriate to share publicly; and many of these papers have been very inspiring to all classmates. From the very first offering of this class, there was a desire on the students’ part and mine to share these papers more widely. So, following teaching my first (2009) class, for WiL1, I posted student papers on my faculty webpage for others to access:  https://agts.edu/faculty/deborah-m-gill/.

At AGTS, we have a policy that students may not earn an A+ on a paper unless it is publishable. Since a number of these student papers deserved that distinction, I set out to see if we could publish them.

Prior to teaching the third (2014) class, for WiL3, I secured funding from an advocate of women in leadership to publish these papers as an e-book. This funding has made it possible to employ the professional services of several former AGTS students who were also previously my Teaching Assistants. Special thanks are due to Stephanie Nance for her excellent work in editing papers for publication. (Dr. Nance earned, at AGTS, the M.Div. in 2008 and the D.Min. in 2013, was in my first BTh of WiL class as part of WiL1, and had been my Teaching Assistant in Expository Preaching: Narrative class). I am thrilled that since March 2019, Dr. Stephanie Nance teaches this class! Sincere appreciation is also due to Tae Kang for his superb work in formatting the book for e-publication. (The Reverend Kang earned the M.Div. at AGTS in 2012 and was my Teaching Assistant in New Testament Theology class.)

We wish to acknowledge all the students in the several classes over the years that have contributed and will contribute to this publication. They are a great group of Christ followers and my dear friends.

Class of October 2009:
Jodi Detrick, Vicki Farina, Barb Gilliam, Kathie Hardcastle, Karen Johnson, Vickie Judd, Kathy Key, Stephanie Nance, Ava Oleson, Shannon Polk, Kelly Preston, and Stephanie Townsend.

Class of June 2012:
Annie Bailey, Emily Barney, Kerry Clarensau, Loralie Crabtree, Amy DeVries, Deborah Fulthorp, Fay Nieman, Kristen Harvey, Brenda Pace, Sheri Ray, Vicki Sielaff, Linda Sielaff, Linda Seiler, and Kristi Singer.

Class of June 2014:
Gail Johnsen, Kim Martinez, Tessie Odun-Ayo, Kristin Wilson, Esther Chia, Nyree Brodrick, Rachael Butler, Lisa Clements, Irene Runge, Brandy Wilson, Christina Ketchem, Mary Beth Thoms, and Judy Rachels.

Class of March 2016:
Esther Chia, Gail Johnsen, Eleanor Kue, Kristi Lemley, Kimberly Martinez, Jamie Morgan, Theresa Odun-Ayo, Esther Sanchez, Rebecca Henslee, Yoriko Yabuki, and Kristin Wilson.

Class of Spring Semester 2017:
Brian Gill, Kimberly Hinz, Jason Lundy, Ester Mirembe, Kristina Purshaga, Victoria Reeves, Brian Roden, Laura Beth Scott, Kendi Satterfield, Krista Spencer, Michael Trask, and Victoria Womack.

Class of June 2018:
Alaina Battaglia, Susan Comiskey, Allison Cunningham, Debbie Gillispie, Erica Huinda, Crystal Martin, Trina Pennington, and Edna Quiros.


In addition to the papers written for the BTh in WiL class, I am also very appreciative to Loralie Crabtree for permitting the inclusion of several longer papers written for other classes but related to the theme of this anthology (“Origins of Attitudes Towards Feminist Theology” and “Women as Assemblies of God Church Planters.”)


Our prayer as editors and authors is that these papers will challenge others—male and female—to be all that God has called them to be!


Deborah M. Gill and Stephanie Nance, co-editors
May, 2014 (first edition)
Springfield, MO


Deborah Menken Gill has ministered as a teacher, pastor, in missions, and directing Christian Education and Discipleship for the Assemblies of God USA. With a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies from Fuller Theological Seminary, she serves today as Professor of Biblical Studies and Exposition, Chair of Masters Programs, and Chair of the Bible and Theology Department at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary, Evangel University. Her husband, Jan, is an architect specializing in church design.

Deborah has long been an advocate of women in ministry and leadership, both in her denomination and beyond. She contributed to the founding of “Women of the Cloth” (the Credentialed Women’s Fellowship of the Minnesota District of the Assemblies of God); of Christians for Biblical Equality, International; and of the Men and Women in Ministry Partnership issue group of the Lausanne Movement; and served many years on the Network (of women in ministry in the AG). Deborah has also written widely on related topics, from her masters thesis: “Gynecomorphisms in the New Testament”; her doctoral dissertation: “The Female Prophets: Gender and Leadership in the Biblical Tradition”; to contributing as a resource person in the preparation of the Assemblies of God Position Paper on Women in Ministry. The biblical theology of women in ministry and leadership book, which she co-authored with Dr. Barbara Cavaness Parks, God’s Women—Then and Now, is currently available in four languages and three more languages are in process of translation.


Stephanie Lynn Nance resides in Virginia where she serves as the Adult Spiritual Formation Pastor at Chapel Springs Assembly of God. Originating from Oklahoma, Stephanie has lived and served in ministry in Alaska, Missouri, and Virginia. She holds a Doctor of Ministry degree, with a focus on women in leadership and spiritual formation, and a Master of Divinity in biblical preaching from the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS). She teaches as adjunct faculty at AGTS and the University of Valley Forge Virginia Campus.

With a passion for seeing men and women working alongside one another as co-laborers in God’s kingdom, Stephanie currently serves as the Female At-large Executive Presbyter with the Potomac Ministry Network. From 2009-2014, she worked for the Assemblies of God’s Network for Women in Ministry, supporting the national effort to develop female ministers. In 2017, Stephanie co-authored a chapter in Women in Pentecostal and Charismatic Ministry on “Living a Theology of Co-Gender Ministry.”






Shannon Polk






“And she had nothing to fall back; not maleness, not whiteness, not ladyhood, not anything. And out of the profound desolation of her reality, she may well have invented herself.”

                                                                                                                                      Toni Morrison, Sula.


The quote taken from the novel Sula by Toni Morrison depicts the inexpressible pain that most women of color shoulder daily. Because of the absence of safety within the traditional societal constructs, which protect their peers, women of color have had to name and invent themselves in a culture where their presence remains relatively invisible. To this end, it is no wonder that so much theological scholarship has been written about Hagar by African-American female scholars. Hagar, a desert matriarch, symbolizes a freedom birthed in oppression and the reward of obedience to an unseen God.

Some scholars estimate that Hagar lived around 1800 BC. According to theologians, Hagar’s story begins when Pharaoh gives Hagar to Sarai. In Genesis 12:10-13, Abram requests that Sarai deceive Pharaoh by lying about her marital status and saying that Abram is her brother.1 Pharaoh brings Sarai into his palace and extends his generosity to Abram by giving him various cattle and servants in verses 15-16. Theologians believe that Hagar was one of the female servants given to Abram, and when Abram left Egypt Hagar was a part of the caravan.

When reviewing the etymology of the name, the word “Hagar” means flight or stranger.2 Dictionaries also state that the name means immigrant or to emigrate.3 The name “Hagar” also translates as the word “forsaken” and shares a close resemblance to the word “sojourner.”4 What a fitting name for the woman who would flee from her oppressor twice, be forsaken by her impregnator, and sojourn through the desert to her homeland alone.

To understand the appeal of Hagar’s story, the reader must examine her life through a feminine lens. Hagar’s narrative is powerful and timeless because it speaks to many different women. She speaks to women living under oppressive political and religious regimes where females have no voice and women are treated as chattel. She speaks to prepubescent girls and budding young women who through no fault of their own find themselves working in the sex trafficking industry, often sold into this life of slavery by a family member. She speaks to millions of women who have suffered sexual abuse by the hand of the very caregiver who was supposed to protect them. She speaks to single mothers who because of the hand of fate are single and alone, but too frequently ostracized by respectable married women. She speaks to women who were once slaves and yet still bear the burden of slavery. Moreover, she speaks to women who appear invisible to the world but live under the watchful eye of the Lord.

Genesis 16:1 identifies Hagar first by station as Sarai’s servant, then by nationality, Egyptian, and finally by name. The description demonstrates to the reader how insignificant she was as an individual. Her value to Abram and Sarai rested in her ability to serve them effectively. One can surmise that she was chosen as the personal handmaiden to Sarai because of the education she received in Egypt. Perhaps she was a skilled and trained servant and therefore benefitted Sarai more as a personal attendant than an unlearned slave could.

One could imagine the relationship between Sarai and her servant Hagar. Sarai epitomized the rich, powerful beauty queen. Here was someone whose beauty was so breathtaking that her husband lied to protect his life because he believed that men would murder him to espouse her. Because of her beauty, Pharaoh enriched Abram with cattle and servants. In contrast, Hagar was given away inconsequentially to a foreigner. Her role was to serve namelessly and unobtrusively. It begs the question if Pharaoh even knew her name. Moreover, did Sarai know her name before the day that she decided to use her as a concubine?

The beginning of chapter 16 shows Sarai wrestling with her infertility and trying to bring her husband’s vision to fruition. As the queen of her domain, she envisions everything within her reach as a tool, including the people under her authority. In verse 2, Sarai instructs Abram to lie with Hagar and produce an heir. Sarai behaves as only a woman of privilege could behave. She forces her servant to marry her husband and produce a child that would belong to Sarai. Hagar becomes the first surrogate mother. Scripture gives no account of Hagar’s feelings about the arrangement. One would expect her to behave as someone who was both appalled and honored. It would appall her to learn of such a heinous assignment, to be betrothed to a man who was already married and several years her senior. Certainly, she has heard her mistress speak of the God who has blessed Abram and promised to produce a nation from his seed. While attending to her maid, Hagar has learned of the one true God and has observed how God has favored Abram. She probably observed them praying and sacrificing to Him and perhaps she has even come to believe in Him.

Once Hagar conceives, she begins to recognize her power. In her womb, she carries the chosen seed and she must be cared for in a special way. Now she has becomes the mistress, her needs must be attended to, and she needs a servant to assist her. As a nameless servant was transforming into the vessel for an emerging nation, she must have realized the power that she now wielded. Her identity as an oppressed person became the lens through which she saw the world. The most critical decisions in her life up to this point, where she would live, what she would do for a living, whom she would marry, when should she begin a family, were made by someone else. She learned to swallow the abuse like a bitter pill and accept her station in life. She knew she was voiceless and that her offspring would share that fate. Unlike the Hebrew slaves who had to be released every fifty years, non-Hebrew slaves were passed down as an inheritance from generation to generation (Lev. 25:46). One could postulate that she dreamt of a life where she could define her life according to own her wishes as desires. Perhaps she imagined a life where she could repay all of those individuals who had mistreated her. When she became pregnant, the balance of power in Abram’s household shifted in favor of Hagar.

Power in the hands of the oppressed will be cruel to the oppressor without the presence of forgiveness. Like the abused child who becomes an adult and abuses their children, Hagar did not end the cycle of abuse with her mistress; instead, she perpetuated it. Hagar began to realize that her open womb represented all that Sarai ever desired and she began to despise her. She began to despise her shallowness, her indifference to the servants, and maybe her beauty. Hagar recognized her power and she began to inflict pain upon her mistress. It would appear that Hagar saw herself in a station above Sarai because she was carrying Abram’s child—the one thing Sarai could not do (Gen. 16:4).

Sarai greatly troubled at the behavior of her servant asks Abram for counsel, and Abram grants her carte blanche to deal with the situation. Sarai utilizes her unconditional authority to put Hagar in her place and according to Genesis 16:6, Sarai began to mistreat her. Other translations say that she dealt with her harshly.5 The aggregate understanding is that Sarai dealt so cruelly with Hagar that she fled their tents and headed for the desert.

Interestingly, in the desert we observe a foreshadowing of God’s voice speaking to His people, providing them with hope and courage. Hagar is alone and pregnant. The power that she thought she had becomes meaningless once Sarai receives Abram’s blessing to deal with her in whatever manner Sarai sees fit. Here in the desert, Hagar will speak to God personally and receive a promise of hope that will sustain her for several years.

Genesis 16:7 finds the desert matriarch on her way back to her homeland of Egypt using the road to Shur. The wilderness of Shur was between the camp of Abram in Kadesh and Egypt.6 The direction tells the reader that Hagar responded to the challenge of mistreatment in a very common manner—she left the place of pain in search of the familiar. The query arises how a Christian should respond to a crisis. Hagar’s response was understandable. She was running to her past. When the present does not make sense, people find security in their past. Hagar was no different.

The symbolism of her desert theophany brings a powerful message to women who believe that God does not see them. Hagar rested by a spring in the desert (Gen. 16:7). Springs are a symbol of new life, new beginnings, and refreshing. Deserts represent barrenness, unfruitfulness, and hopelessness. Therefore, in the midst of a hopeless situation, we can expect that Hagar will be refreshed by the presence of the LORD. The first aspect of this encounter that signifies a change for Hagar is the manner in which the angel addresses her. Unlike the first mention of her name in verse 1, the order of address changes in verse 8. The angel begins by calling her name and then he refers to her role as Sarai’s maid. By stating her name before her position, the order of words indicate that the LORD saw Hagar’s worth as an individual, not just in her position.

 A critical question will begin the healing process for Hagar. The angel asks her “Where have you come from and where are you going?” One could rephrase the question to say, “Where did you begin and where will you end?” To begin the process of renewal and refreshing, Hagar would need to redirect herself. The process of reorientation required that she examine the route that led her to this present place and that she identify a future destination.

The purpose of psychological therapy is to identify the decisions and events that have shaped a person’s identity and determine the root causes of the individual’s pain. The purpose of life coaching is to help a person identify a goal and help them recognize the obstacles they need to overcome to achieve these goals. The angel served as Hagar’s therapist and life coach. As it often happens in a first session with a therapist or coach, Hagar was so consumed with her present situation she failed to address the relevant question posed to her by her therapist. In her response to the angel, Hagar did not state her direction but her present activity. She explained that she was running from her mistress (Gen. 16:8). The present crisis of fleeing her oppressor consumed her mind, and she did not have the strength to consider any other options.

During the cold war, many Russians defected and requested political asylum in America to escape a tyrannical, oppressive government. Democratic citizens respected and celebrated their choices to live in a free state. Given the brutal history of slavery in America, the northern states and Canada celebrate the story of runaway slaves traveling to freedom in the north. In contrast to traditional Western expectations, the angel did not encourage Hagar to continue her journey to freedom. Instead, the angel told her to return to her mistress and submit to her (Gen. 16:9). Christians desire to hear the voice of God during stressful situations, but they do not want to hear Him contradict the desires of their hearts. One must believe that the angel’s command discomforted Hagar initially. She had run into the desert to flee her mistress’s cruelties and now the angelic sent to comfort her instructed her to return to a life of slavery. However, the angel did not leave her without a hope.

The angel gave her a matriarchal promise in the desert akin to the promise given to Abram. He said that her descendants would grow to an amount that would be too numerous to count. Chapter 20 indicates that because the child was the progeny of Abram that the promise made to Abram was extended to his child. However, because the Lord only provided such reasoning for Abram’s comfort and not to Hagar, it seems as though there is an additional explanation. It appears that the promise of multiplication was given to comfort Hagar so that she could endure the hardship that she faced upon her return to Sarai.

In addition to the promise of the survival of her lineage, she received a prophetic word regarding her son. She learned of his name and his temperament. The name Ishmael means “God hears.”7 The unborn heir receives this name because God heard of Hagar’s misery. The name Ishmael reaffirms that God hears Hagar’s prayers and that He pays attention to her pain. It indicates that although her station remains one where her voice exists powerless, her voice can reach the ear of God and move Him to action. The angel describes her son as wild, free-spirited, and untamed. The prophecy states that Ishmael will live in opposition to his brethren and them to him. Some commentaries identify such behavior as indicative of an independent spirit.8 Certainly, a slave girl would rejoice to know that her son would live a life of freedom, even if it meant that he would have to fight continuously to keep it.

The promise became the hope of a future for her children and her grandchildren. Due to her new self-image, she would feel empowered enough to name her Consolator. She named God. Verse 13 states that because of her desert theophany, she realized that although she lived as a nameless slave girl, numbered among Abram’s possessions, that God saw her. As a result, she named God as the One who sees me or El Roi (Gen. 16:13). In her excitement of being fully recognized by the Lord, she proclaims that she has seen the One who saw her. The Lord sought her out, gave her a promise that only Abram had received, and blessed her with a future. How empowering it must have been for Hagar to have such an encounter with God.

In Womanist and Mujerista theology, power for African women and Latinas derives from the ability to name oneself.9 Hagar became a forbear to the women who would come after her. Until the angelic encounter, Hagar allowed her circumstances as a slave, a concubine, and a surrogate define her identity. Hagar represents the oppressed woman God liberates while in slavery and as a result, she begins to define herself. She took her power from her encounter with the Lord and did the most powerful thing she could—gave Him a name. She would no longer see herself as a slave invisible and forgotten; instead, she would become a matriarch who would be remembered for generations.

Fourteen years after the birth of Ishmael, Sarah and Abraham give birth to Isaac, the promised seed. In Genesis 21:9-10, Ishmael mocks his half-brother and his stepmother commands Abraham to send the boy and his mother away. As the wife who bears the child of promise, Sarah returns to her previous status as the supreme matriarch and exiles her rival. Abraham meekly obeys his wife and sends Hagar into the desert, armed with bread and water. Once again, our hero finds herself persecuted harshly and now she struggles to protect her son from the sizzling desert sun. Hagar cries out to God in anguish, wondering if the God who saw her in her first wilderness experience could see her now. The text indicates that Ishmael offered up some sounds, because the Scripture states that the Lord heard his voice. It should be expected that God would listen to the boy whose name meant God hears.

One could speculate that on this second journey she had no hope, in part due to the increase of her age and the direness of her circumstances. On the first journey, she ran away, but she knew that she could return to her place of bondage. As a person in exile, she recognized that she did not choose her second journey and thus, she knew that she had no home to which she could return. On the last journey, she found a resting place by a well of spring water. Unlike her last sojourn, Hagar could not see her place of refreshing until the Lord opened her eyes. Again, the angel of the Lord comforts Hagar and reminds her of His promise to her and the boy. He opens her eyes to see the well and she and Ishmael are refreshed. Oppressed people often experience the same tragedies and offenses repeatedly. Believers find comfort in knowing that God will remind His people of His promise as often as necessary to keep them on task. Hagar, armed with the promise of God, returns to Egypt with her son and finds him an Egyptian wife to marry. God stays with Ishmael as he matures, and Hagar witnesses God honoring His promises to a slave girl.

The story of Hagar resonates with people who have a cultural history of colonialism, oppression, and bondage. Her life embodies the hope of one woman whose relationship with God contradicted societal norms. To women aspiring to live their dreams, no matter how incredulous that might seem, Hagar represents a different kind of liberty. Her liberty came through the faith that God could liberate a slave, even when she was still captive. She reinvented herself because of her conversation with God, and she dared to invent a new name for God. Her boldness and her courage speak to twenty-first-century women who dare to live free from bondage and in obedience to the call of Christ.



1All Scripture references, unless otherwise notes, are from the Today’s New International Version.

2M. G. Easton, “Hagar,” Blue Letter Bible, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?type=GetTopic&Topic=Hagar&DictList=2#Easton's (accessed December 2009).

3James Crichton, “Hagar,” Blue Letter Bible, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?type=GetTopic&Topic=Hagar&DictList=4#ISBE (accessed December 2009).

4Abarim Publications’ Biblical Name Vault, “Meaning, Origin and Etymology of the Name Hagar,” http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Hagar.html (accessed December 2009).

5New American Standard Bible; New Living Translation.

6BibleAtlas.com http://bibleatlas.org/shur_desert.htm (accessed December 2009)

7Footnote (a) in the TNIV in Genesis 16:11.

8Fausset Jamison, Brown Bible Commentary, http://bible.cc/genesis/16-12.htm (accessed December 2009).

9Gloria Inés Loya. “Considering the Sources/Fuentes for a Hispanic Feminist Theology.” Theology Today, vol. 54, no. 4 (January 1998): 491–498. (accessed December 2009).



Abarim Publications’ Biblical Name Vault. “Meaning, Origin and Etymology of the Name Hagar,” http://www.abarim-publications.com/Meaning/Hagar.html (accessed December 2009).

Bailey, Wilma Ann. “Black and Jewish Women Consider Hagar.” Encounter Christian Theological Seminary (Winter 2002): 37-44.

Crichton, James. “Hagar.” Blue Letter Bible, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?type=GetTopic&Topic=Hagar&DictList=4#ISBE (accessed December 2009).

Easton, M. G. “Hagar.” Blue Letter Bible, http://www.blueletterbible.org/Search/Dictionary/viewTopic.cfm?type=GetTopic&Topic=Hagar&DictList=2#Easton's (accessed December 2009).

Holladay, William L. “Outcasts and Forbears” Christian Century Vol. 113, Issue 19 (June 5, 1996): 613.

Keller, Catherine. “Delores Williams: Survival, Surrogacy, Sisterhood, Spirit.” Special Issue, Union Seminary Quarterly (Fall 2004) 84-94.

Loya, Gloria Inés. “Considering the Sources/Fuentes for a Hispanic Feminist Theology.” Theology Today, vol. 54, no. 4 (January 1998): 491–498. (accessed December 2009).

Thomas-Smith, Karen. “Seeing through the Eyes of our Sister, Hagar: An Expository Sermon. Genesis 16:1-16, 21: 1-21 and John 4:5-14.” Review and Expositor 105 (Winter 2008): 135-138.












Stephanie Nance














When asked about the prophet Miriam, many people only identify her as Moses’ sister whom God struck with leprosy for challenging her brother. The story of Moses and the mighty deliverance of God’s people often overshadow Miriam’s story. Like any leader, Miriam had strengths and weaknesses. The Church tends to remember great men of God like David, Moses, and Elijah, celebrating their leadership abilities and faith in God despite their failures. Miriam, however, is too often remembered only for her mistake in challenging Moses instead of for her strong leadership role in Israel’s history and her powerful proclamation of God’s faithfulness. Miriam’s story needs to emerge from the shadows. Interestingly, “Miriam is the only woman in the Bible whose recorded story spans childhood to death.”1 Although an abundance of texts detailing Miriam’s life does not exist, what does exist tells the story of an inspirational leader and prophet whom women and men can admire and emulate.


The first glimpse of Miriam comes at the beginning of the Moses narrative in Exodus 2:1-10. Although the text does not mention her by name, from the unfolding of the Moses story in Exodus and Numbers, scholars generally acknowledge Miriam as the sister who assists Pharaoh’s daughter with baby Moses. Numbers 26:59 confirms that Jochebed bore three children: Aaron, Moses, and Miriam, with Miriam most likely the oldest of the children. It is unknown how much older she is than Moses, but Aaron is said to be three years older than Moses. Since Miriam speaks to Pharaoh’s daughter and takes the lead in a complicated situation, Miriam would most likely be older than Aaron.

Hearing the cries of her fellow Hebrews as the Egyptians treated them harshly, Miriam knew anyone falling into the hands of the Egyptians, especially Pharaoh, would not receive proper treatment. When the order came from Pharaoh to throw all the newborn Hebrew boys into the Nile, Miriam must have experienced terror at the thought of losing her brother. As she listened to the mothers’ screams as their newborn sons were ripped from their arms and thrown into the river, Miriam worked diligently to help her mother hide baby Moses from both the Egyptians and other Hebrews. If it got out that they were hiding Moses, Miriam’s whole family could have been killed. At three months old, however, Moses became too active and vocal to keep hidden any longer. God would have to intervene.

Jochebed knew that her son was special, but she would now have to trust God to protect him. By watching her mother wrap her brother in a blanket, place him in a basket, and hide him along the Nile, young Miriam learns the ultimate lesson in trusting Yahweh. Hidden, Miriam watches from a distance to see what will happen to Moses. When Pharaoh’s daughter discovers the baby, Miriam’s interaction with the young woman reveals that God’s hand powerfully rests upon Miriam as she uses her leadership skills to guide the situation to an ingenious solution. God uses her to save the life of Israel’s future deliverer. Miriam’s leadership skills not only played a vital role in delivering her brother from the hands of the murderous Pharaoh, but God would use them once again when He finally delivers the Hebrews from the hands of Pharaoh.


The narrator fades Miriam from the scene for several years as Moses lives the privileged life of an Egyptian in Pharaoh’s palace, revolts against the people who raised him, murders, flees to the desert, and then receives a summons by God to return to Egypt and deliver the Hebrews from slavery. The narrator tells of the ups and downs of Moses leading God’s people out of Egypt and through the Red Sea. After Moses and the Hebrews watch God divide the waters for them to walk through and then swallow the Egyptians, they respond in song to celebrate God’s victory. At this point, Miriam reappears in the story. This time the narrator offers more detail of Miriam’s identity, revealing her name for the first time and identifying her as a prophet and as Aaron’s sister.

Miriam emerges onto the scene as a vibrant worship leader. She leads powerfully in song, dance, and drumming in exuberant worship to God. All the women follow her in worship and celebration. Although the narrator has been silent about Miriam, it does not mean she lacked a role up to this point in the story of Israel. For Miriam to burst onto the scene with such authority indicates that God’s people recognized her as a leader before this particular scene in the narrative. Miriam would have demonstrated that God spoke through her on many occasions leading up to and during the exodus. Although the narrator fades her from the story to focus on Moses during this period, God did not fade her out. God placed Miriam in a leadership role during the years in which the narrative is silent. 

The narrator reveals the sibling relationship between Aaron and Miriam. Why the narrator does not mention that she is also Moses’ sister remains unknown. Some take this to mean that Miriam is not Moses’ sister; however, both Number 26:59 and 1 Chronicles 6:3 records that the three were siblings. It helps to keep in mind that “Old Testament narrative as a rule introduces facts only when relevant to the story.”2 The narrator, for some reason, did not find it pertinent to the story to tell of Miriam’s relation to Moses. Miriam’s leadership role, however, does not depend upon being Moses’ sister. God’s call of leadership upon her life stands on its own.

Exodus 15 is the only passage in the Bible to proclaim Miriam as a prophet. Many scholars take this to mean that she is not a prophet. Many call her status as a prophet into question because of the absence of a divine oracle. The lack of a recorded prophetic oracle, however, does not necessarily mean Miriam did not ever deliver one on God’s behalf. The narrator left many essential details of Miriam’s life and ministry out of Scripture. Although the details of her ministry as a prophet remain unknown, a skilled narrator and witness of history proclaimed her as one.

It is possible, however, that the narrator did record a prophetic act by Miriam. “As is generally the case when a prophet is introduced, prophetic action follows prophetic introduction.”3 If this is true, readers can see Miriam’s song, dance, and drumming as a prophetic act. First Samuel 10 and 1 Chronicles 25 connect prophesying with song and instruments. Miriam is one of many singing prophets in the Bible. Prophets express God’s message in various ways. “The main driving force behind every prophet’s expression was the revelation of God’s nature to His people and the will of God for His people in their temporal situation.”4 Miriam’s celebration expresses and proclaims the nature of God’s saving ability. Through her song, dance, and drumming, Miriam prophetically leads the women in a proclamation of God’s victorious character.

Miriam’s action in the passage resembles many war victory passages. This, however, cannot be taken as a typical celebration of victory as seen in Judges 11:34 and 1 Samuel 18:6. These passages show women celebrating victorious male warriors when they return from battle. Miriam, a prophetess, celebrates the victorious Divine Warrior of Israel. Miriam joyfully leads in movement through dance and sounds with the drums that would resemble the sights and sounds of the battle. This reminded God’s people of the battles through which God faithfully brought them. Miriam’s song, dance, and drumming were a cultic re-enactment that generations of worshippers would repeat.5 It proclaimed God’s faithful character in past and future battles and difficulties.


The Numbers 12 narrative records the longest account of Miriam. Because of the negativity of the passage involving Moses, this less than flattering portrait of Miriam has too often overshadowed her strong leadership skills. Several issues exist in this passage. The narrator does not give full details, but the passage reveals that God appointed Moses as the prominent leader over His people, and that was not up for negotiation.

In this passage, the narrator shows a side of Miriam that too often overtakes great leaders. God’s hand upon Moses’ ministry stirs jealousy within Miriam. A possible racist attitude might exist on her part toward Moses’ new Cushite wife. Whatever the issues were, it brought out the worst in Miriam. She began to speak against Moses, which led her to start complaining about Moses being recognized as God’s spokesperson. Miriam lets it be known that God also uses her to proclaim His word. She appears upset that she does not receive acknowledgment for it on the same level as Moses. God calls Moses, Aaron, and Miriam before Him. God communicates to Miriam that Moses is His prophet, and she must not speak against His servant.

God struck Miriam with leprosy for challenging Moses’ authority. “Miriam is the first biblical case of scaly skin disease as a devastating, socially stigmatizing divine punishment by which outer decay reflects inner moral leprosy.”6 The fact that it takes the intercession of Moses to bend God’s ear did not help given that Miriam was in the situation because of her desire to have Moses’ level of authority. Miriam must have walked away humbled, knowing that although God had a unique leadership role for her, it was not with the level of authority that Moses carried.

Miriam’s prominent place as a leader among God’s people receives affirmation when the people do not move on until Miriam returns from her seven days outside the camp. Even with the sibling rivalry in this passage and possibly at other times, Moses dearly loved Miriam. Not only did he plead with God for Miriam’s healing, but he also stopped the journey of God’s people to wait on her. Despite their differences, Moses saw Miriam as a vital member of his leadership team. He would not move on without her.

This passage should not overshadow the life and leadership role of Miriam. All the highly esteemed male leaders of the Bible have blots on their portraits as well. Miriam, just like David, Moses, and Elijah, proved imperfect. Although Deuteronomy 24:8-9 records this incident as a reminder for Israel, Miriam must have learned her lesson since Israel continued to regard her in high esteem as evidenced in Numbers 20:1 and Micah 6:4. Leaders today need to take this vital lesson from Miriam’s life. God sovereignly chooses leaders, and leaders must guard against jealousy and challenging another leader’s authority.


Numbers 20:1 records Miriam’s death without much detail or fanfare. How long she lived or what caused her death remains unknown. However, the fact that the narrator notes Miriam’s death testifies to her leadership role in the community:

The fact that Miriam’s death and burial were recorded at all is striking. Whereas other figures in the wilderness community (Hur, Eldad and Medad, Moses’ wife and father-in-law, etc.) disappeared without mention, the notice of Num 20:1b seems to be at least an implicit witness that Miriam was a figure of some significance whose memory was valued in Israelite tradition.7

Even after her death, Israel honored Miriam as newborn girls received her name to keep the history of Miriam alive. “The canonical and cultural witness to her legacy is the great number of women who bore her name in the New Testament, in Palestinian Aramaic inscriptions, in the literature of the communities at Qumran, and in contemporary times.”8 If Israel had a negative view of Miriam, future generations would not have kept her legacy alive through her name. Although many scholars have overlooked her contribution to leading Israel, Hebrew women throughout time have never forgotten. For that reason, the Church today should not forget her either.


Just when the readers of the Old Testament think that Miriam is gone, God recalls her through the prophet Micah. God reminds Israel of His faithfulness to them by reciting the names of the leaders he sent them in the past. In Micah 6:4, God mentions Miriam as being sent with Moses and Aaron. The reader should not overlook this short account. God affirms Miriam’s role in history through Micah.

“If the neglect of the over towering figure of the Pentateuch outside Pentateuchal traditions is surprising, then all the more so is the fact that Miriam is even mentioned at all outside the Pentateuch since she appears with such infrequency within the Pentateuch itself.”9 By mentioning her name, God attests that the early Israelite community passed down Miriam’s place in their community to later generations. God did not need to explain who she was because His people would know her story well. This recorded account also confirms God’s intentional leadership call upon her life. Miriam, in addition to Moses and Aaron, served as a leader divinely commissioned by God to lead His people.


In conclusion, consider the fact that Miriam is the first woman introduced in the Old Testament whose story does not center on marriage and family. Miriam “stands before us in an absolutely unsexual relation; there is neither marriage nor proposal nor courtship. From dawn to dark she remains with us in single blessedness. Her interests are not matrimonial; they are national. Her mission is not domestic; it is patriotic.”10 The fact that the narrator does not introduce Miriam as the wife to a certain man most likely indicates she was single. If married, it indicates her husband’s lack of a leadership role above her or alongside her. God’s purpose for Miriam went beyond marriage and family to a national leadership role over His chosen people. God and the narrator saw her story important enough to tell in Scripture. For this reason, Miriam continues to shine as an example that God can and does call women into leadership roles.


1Joyce Hollyday, Clothed with the Sun: Biblical Women, Social Justice & Us (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994), 193.

2Alan R. Cole, Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series: Exodus (England: InterVarsity Press, 1981), 57.

3Ibid., 80.

4Ernest B. Gentile, Your Sons & Daughters Shall Prophesy: Prophetic Gifts in Ministry Today (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1999), 100.

5Rita J. Burns, Has The Lord Indeed Spoken Only Through Moses? A Study of the Biblical Portrait of Miriam (Atlanta, Scholars Press, 1987), 31.

6Roy Gane, The NIV Application Commentary: Leviticus, Numbers (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004), 593.

7Rita J. Burns, Has The Lord Indeed Spoken Only Through Moses? A Study of the Biblical Portrait of Miriam (Atlanta, Scholars Press, 1987), 120.

8Wilda C. Gafney, Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008), 85.

9Rita J. Burns, Has The Lord Indeed Spoken Only Through Moses? A Study of the Biblical Portrait of Miriam (Atlanta, Scholars Press, 1987), 107.

10George Matheson, Portraits of Bible Women (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1986), 124.



Brenner, Athalya. The Israelite Woman: Social Role and Literary Type in Biblical Narrative. England: JSOT Press, 1985.

Brown, Judy L. Women Ministers According to Scripture. Kearney, NE: Morris Publishing, 1996.

Burns, Rita J. Has The Lord Indeed Spoken Only Through Moses? A Study of the Biblical Portrait of Miriam. Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1987.

Cole, R. Alan. Tyndale Old Testament Commentary Series: Exodus. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1981.

Cunningham, Loren, and David Hamilton. Why Not Women? A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership. Seattle, WA: YMAM Publishing, 2000.

Gafney, Wilda C. Daughters of Miriam: Women Prophets in Ancient Israel. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008.

Gane, Roy. The NIV Application Commentary: Leviticus, Numbers. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004.

Gentile, Ernest B. Your Sons & Daughters Shall Prophesy: Prophetic Gifts in Ministry Today. Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1999.

Gill, Deborah Menken. “The Female Prophets: Gender and Leadership in the Biblical Tradition.” Ph.D. diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 1991.

Gill, Deborah M., and Barbara Cavaness. God’s Women Then and Now. Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth, 2004.

Hollyday, Joyce. Clothed with the Sun: Biblical Women, Social Justice & Us. Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1994.

Matheson, George. Portraits of Bible Women. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1986.








Victoria Womack






With the Soldiers

With the Spies


A Means of Protection

A Sacred Symbol





Rahab was a woman from the land of Jericho, a Canaanite. Her story is not limited to the life that she led in Jericho but is defined by the actions she took on her journey to becoming an Israelite. This woman who would one day become an ancestor of Christ, was first found by two Israelite spies as a harlot in Jericho. For numerous reasons this encounter was extraordinary, a circumstance planned by God. Rahab’s faith began before she had any contact with a follower of the God of Israel. It is known that she and her people were aware of the works of this God, and from these stories Rahab becomes the perfect instrument to be used in protecting the spies of Israel. Through her past, actions, and words, Rahab’s faith is used to change the fate of two nations.

Rahab’s story is found in the Book of Joshua, but her impact is not left there. After being accepted as an Israelite, she becomes the wife of Salmon and the mother of Boaz, effectively bringing her into the genealogy of Jesus Christ as mentioned in Matthew 1:5. She is further mentioned in Hebrews 11:31: “By faith Rahab the harlot did not perish along with those who were disobedient, after she had welcomed the spies in peace”; and again in James 2:25: “In the same way, was not Rahab the harlot also justified by works when she received the messengers and sent them out by another way?” [emphases added]. Both are reflections on the great faith that Rahab exhibited. This faith that impacted the Israelite nation came before Rahab was even a part of that nation. Despite her life circumstances at the moment, it was Rahab’s acts of faith that spoke through many generations.

Following a brief historical background, this paper will exegete the biblical text of Joshua chapters 2 (vv. 1-21) and 6 (vv. 17, 22 -24) to spotlight the narrator’s primary themes in the Rahab story (her dialogues and the scarlet cord). The conclusion will summarize the character and legacy of Rahab, a leader inside the walls of Jericho.


Joshua is the newly inaugurated leader of the Israelites and in Joshua 2, near the end of their nomadic era, the heroine is first introduced. Much debate surrounds this text as to whether Rahab is a prostitute or an innkeeper. Should her role have been that of an innkeeper, an important emphasis regarding her leadership would be in place: Rahab alone oversaw her own business establishment. The Hebrews and James texts (mentioned above) refer to her as a prostitute. The lifestyle Rahab lived and the contrary beliefs she held about the Israelite’s God are a great part of her personal testimony that would be lost for the sake trying to make her a holier heroine.

Having established Rahab’s position as a prostitute, consider the influence or control she has within those bounds. Rahab’s ability to hide the men without any hindrance holds strong implication that she alone is in charge. She shows no fear of being found out from within her establishment, has no other housemates to explain the situation to, and makes no mention of someone else she must answer to (and only show slight concern about the soldiers that later visit). As the owner of the establishment, she had a cultural advantage over other women of her land. Rahab has greater connections to world outside of her walls from the great variety of guests she entertains. Rahab knows well the ins and outs of the city. “Her words and actions in hiding the spies and in deceiving the Jericho government officials indicate both political awareness and a great deal of courage.”1 Her collective knowledge of her people gives insight to their fears of the God of Israel: not only to the fears of her people but the many tales of the mighty works of this powerful God. Rahab tells the spies they “have heard how the Lord dried up the water of the Red Sea before you when you came out of Egypt, and what you did to the two kings of the Amorites …” (Josh 2:10). The collection of fears and tales develop within her a desire to understand, and from that desire grows faith.


Rahab’s dialogues involve two parties: the soldiers and the spies. As she steps out of one world, she steps into the other. While her dialogue is broken up throughout the chapter, Rahab enters the Israelite world by her act of faith and, by her treasonous words, she leaves behind her former world in Jericho. Her dialogues display Rahab’s initiative as an independent leader.

With the Soldiers

“Yes, the men came to me, but I did not know where they were from. It came about when it was time to shut the gate at dark, that the men went out; I do not know where the men went. Pursue them quickly, for you will overtake them” (Joshua 2:4-5).

Rahab’s ability to believably divert the King’s guards shows an incredible strength within her. Rahab denies both any knowledge of the spies’ purpose as well as their current presence in her residence. She takes an extra precautionary step when she redirects the guards to a potential trail to track outside of the city walls, thus giving the spies adequate time to plan a means of escape. She gives the spies a location to hide in her home beyond the soldier’s immediate reach and searching eyes outside of the city. 

Rahab does not know what will come of her decision to save the spies. She has faith in their God, but He has yet to prove himself to her in this present danger. Trusting her government to protect her would seem to be the most logical choice and it would prevent accusations of treason coming against her. Yet, something whispers to her spirit to trust this unseen God who seems to be knocking on her door through these Israelite spies.

Her conversation with the soldiers, undoubtedly presents a moral dilemma. To declare her household free of the Israelites presence is a lie. “Rahab … does wrong when she falsely declares that the messengers were gone, and yet the principal action was agreeable to God.”2 Had she given up the soldiers for the sake of stating the truth, her words would have acted as a barrier between her and God not as a stand of her newfound faith. Some suggest, “if Rahab had told the truth … she would have become guilty of the sin of testing God.”3 The circumstances in which Rahab finds herself leave her only those two options: truth and betrayal, or misguiding and saving. Although the discussion of a greater or lesser evil is always a difficult one, the choice Rahab makes is not about saving herself in that moment or creating for herself’ social advantages. She makes this decision before she has any guarantee of her own safety, rather she makes the decision with the weighty consideration of others’ lives and the knowledge that this God she now trusts holds more authority than the king of her nation.

With the Spies

“[For] the Lord your God, He is God in heaven above and on earth beneath. Now therefore, please swear to me by the Lord, since I have dealt kindly with you, that you also will deal kindly with my father’s household” (Joshua 2:11-12).

Rahab wisely thinks through all that she had heard about the Israelite God and finds the stories to show a mighty God worth serving and standing with. She is a strong woman who knows and understands the gravity of these circumstances and uses that to her advantage—not to exploit the spies, but to save herself and her father’s household. Rahab stands in the gap for her family and God uses her to protect his spies. “She responded to what she had heard … God met her at that point and provided her with the additional witness of the Israelite spies who had come to her house. Those spies confirmed the reports Rahab had heard.”4 The very presence of the spies in her home speaks the truth of the Israelite nation’s miraculous existence and their rescue from the Egyptians. The story of the Israelites was no idle tale, and the fame of their God was no myth.

“Her closing sentence ‘for the Lord your God is the only God in heaven above and on earth below’ is almost an exact quotation from a speech of Moses’ that appears in Deuteronomy … .”5 To what extend the people of Jericho knew about the God of Israel is unknown. Considering this statement is a part of Hebrew Scripture, it is unlikely for Rahab to have spoken this same phrase nearly word for word without having heard it at least once. However, Rahab’s reciting back these words to her Israelite guests is an ingenious way for her to show her respect and allegiance for their God.


The spies’ departure from Rahab’s establishment would be much more difficult than their arrival. The king’s men are now aware of the spies’ presence entering their gate and will be on the lookout in case they have yet to leave the city. Rahab’s conversation with the soldiers proves that the gates were already closed for the day: “And when the gate was about to be closed at dark, the men went out” (Joshua 2:5). The solution was both crafty and symbolic. A scarlet cord in Rahab’s possession plays two important parts in this narrative: as a means of protection and as sacred symbol.

A Means of Protection

First, the scarlet cord is used as a means of rappelling out of the window. Her location is ideal for escape to allow access outside the wall through her window. The text does not state the distance from the window to the ground, but at the very least, this assistance is beneficial if not absolutely necessary. Possibly, Rahab must help lower the men down or hold the cord steady enough that they remain secure.

The spies’ safe return undoubtedly gives the Israelites courage. Furthermore, the testimony of the fear of her people for the Israelite God is a clear sign to the Israelites that the time has come to act on the promise God has placed before them.

A Sacred Symbol

Second, the scarlet cord is a symbol with a two-fold purpose in the narrative. The first purpose of the cord is as an emblem to the Israelite army not to touch Rahab’s household. The spies make her a sacred vow in exchange for their lives.

The second purpose of the scarlet cord is as a symbol of the Passover, making Rahab’s story parallel to the Exodus story in several ways. “One important feature is that an external sign is required on each occasion to set apart the houses of those being protected. In the case of the exodus the distinguishing mark is the blood of the lamb, while in Rahab’s it is a scarlet cord.”6 Not only are the similarities in color and function of the Passover mark and Rahab’s cord impressive, but so also are the timing of their occurrences. “Israel crossed the Jordan on the tenth day of the first month (Josh 4:19)—the day the Passover lamb was normally to be selected (Exod 12:3)-—and while Israel celebrated the Passover on the Plains of Jericho (Josh 5:10). There it hung to function for Rahab … . As the blood of the Passover lamb had functioned for Israel at the time of the first Passover.”7 The connection is extraordinary! The symbol of the scarlet cord and its function of protection gives the account of Rahab a significant connection to the people of Israel even before she has joined their lineage. 

The entire narrative “is framed by Rahab’s personal faith confession, a confession that accounts for her actions.”8 Rahab’s actions bring protection to the spy’s both from within the walls, and even after they have escaped the city walls. Rahab shows them consistency in word and deed, proving herself early on to be a person of integrity. Her beliefs in the Israelite God shine through her actions in protecting the spies.

On a grand scale, this tale is about the infiltration of the city of Jericho, but it also circles around the faith of a Jericho prostitute. This centralization on Rahab’s words brings a special emphasis on the faith she showed and the courageous ways she displayed that faith.9 “Rahab is the most prominent example of the ‘faithful foreigner’ image, represented in the text as exemplifying Israelite ideals better than the Israelites themselves.”10


Rahab is a woman of faith, a woman of courage, and a woman of wisdom. Not only is she a heroine to believers today, but although she was a gentile, the ancient Hebrews welcomed Rahab into the family of Israel and God placed her in the lineage of Christ.

Rahab had a stronger faith than most Israelites. At her time, the people of Israel were the first-generation descendants of those who left the land of Egypt. Though their parents had seen and experienced God first hand, they did not stand strong. Yet this Canaanite heard from afar and put her life on the line for the possibility of a greater God: a God whom Rahab had not been taught to worship and was not raised to fear. Such faith comes only through the power of God.

The text presents Rahab as having more faith than those raised to be faithful, showing the clear impact her faith and leadership had on the leaders of the time. “The fact that Rahab was a woman apparently made no difference to the spies’ willingness to trust her or in Joshua’s sense of responsibility toward her—that is, she is seen in her own right as a competent partner in the bargain made.”11 These character judgments are not made through years of watching Rahab grow into a leader, but through the witness of a miraculous faith intervention on behalf of the Israelites. This commitment to the Israelite God would not have been expected of a gentile. It is even likely that many Israelites would have first thought of their own safety before accepting responsibility for protecting the spies. 

Rahab is a woman of courage. She did not quake at the threat of treason. She did not hesitate to ask the Israelites for protection, not only for herself but for her father’s household. Rahab saw the political chaos of the land, she felt the desperation of her people, and she knew the reality of a greater God that could save her and her family. It is clear that she believed, because she courageously left everything she knew to become an Israelite.

In remarkable ways, Rahab shows wisdom. The God of the Israelites was foreign to her. She could not see Him as her people could look at, see, and touch their man-made gods. Rahab had only heard stories of God’s power and might. She was not raised to believe in Him, she was in fact surrounded by people who feared him in terror. “And as soon as we heard it, our hearts melted, and there was no spirit left in any man” (Josh 2:11). Yet Rahab trusted Him with her life. Rahab’s wise convictions about this God spoke to her family enough that they trusted that scarlet cord to save them from the slaughter occurring just outside her door.

There are many moments in this story when Rahab’s life was in immediate danger. Yet there is not a moment in Rahab’s story that she is seen hesitating or questioning which side she was on. Rahab’s actions and words were not a mere survival instinct found within her, they were not a quick solution to the problem at hand. Rahab found peace in the God of the Israelites. For some reason, she had the wisdom to ask for protection and refuge with these Israelites—a people group that fully intended to demolish Rahab’s people and conquer her land. Somehow choosing the Israelites and their God felt like the wise option to Rahab as the people she would rather side with. Rahab was a wise leader in her ability to manage a nearly impossible situation and end up with the best possible outcome

Rahab’s heart for God was worthy of acceptance in the Israelite community and she was very much accepted by God. “... [The] kingdom people of Yahweh … already included those from the outside who had chosen to share with Israel their commitment to Yahweh,”12 thus paving the way for Rahab’s inclusion.

This Canaanite woman, who likely dealt with personal persecution in her own town, needed saving. Prostitution was not nearly as despised in her land as it was by the Israelites, but she was not a temple prostitute, a position that would likely hold a certain amount of honor. A woman, marginalized among her own people because of her independence and her position, socially and economically, was the perfect vessel for the Lord to use.

This is evident in the mention of her great faithfulness into the New Testament. Rahab’s faith was honored by God. Her life was spared, and she was given a new people to join. Rahab’s act of faith saved her future, not because she was looking for an escape, but because she was looking for something greater than herself and found God. 

She was so accepted into Israel that she was eligible for marriage to an Israelite even though she was a foreigner. God not only welcomed her into his people, but He put her in a position to become an ancestor of King David and of the Savior, Jesus Christ.

The faith, courage, and wisdom of Rahab have impacted generations in numerous ways. She led the way for the Israelites to take over the land of Jericho, she lived out a beautiful godly faith, in both word and deed, and she became a part of the lineage of Christ. Without Rahab’s willingness to be God’s vessel, Israel’s conquest of Jericho could likely have been a very different story. Thankfully, preserved in Scripture is the example of Rahab—a woman of strength—whose faith and actions saved the spies, and the whole nation of Israel, Rahab’s family, her own life, and her eternal soul. God honored Rahab by bringing her into the family line He would use to save the world.



1Arnold, Bill T. Dictionary of the Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005, 990.

2Barnes, Peter. “Was Rahab‘s Lie a Sin?” Reformed Theological Review 54, (1995): 1-9. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost, 1.

3Barnes, “Was Rahab’s Lie a Sin,” 5.

4Barrick, William D. “Living a New Life: Old Testament Teaching about Conversion.” Master‘s Seminary Journal 11, (2000): 19-38. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost, 34.

5Lerner, Berel Dov. “Rahab the Harlot and Other Philosophers of Religion.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 28, (2000): 52-55. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost, 53.

6Lunn, Nicholas P. “The Deliverance of Rahab (Joshua 2,6) as the Gentile Exodus.” Tyndale Bulletin 65, (2014): 11-19. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost, 14.

7Stek, John H. “Rahab of Canaan and Israel: The Meaning of Joshua 2.“Calvin Theological Journal 37, (2002): 28-48. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost, 44.

8Stek, “Rahab of Canaan and Israel: The Meaning of Joshua 2,” 40.

9Sherwood, Aaron. “A Leader’s Misleading and a Prostitute’s Profession: A Reexamination of Joshua 2.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31, (2006): 43-61. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost, 53.

10Arnold, Dictionary of the Old Testament, 516.

11Arnold, Dictionary of the Old Testament, 990.

12Stek, “Rahab of Canaan and Israel: The Meaning of Joshua 2,” 42.



Arnold, Bill T. Dictionary of the Old Testament. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Barnes, Peter. “Was Rahab‘s Lie a Sin?” Reformed Theological Review 54, (1995): 1-9. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed March 10, 2017).

Barrick, William D. “Living a New Life: Old Testament Teaching about Conversion.” Master’s Seminary Journal 11, (2000): 19-38. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed March 10, 2017).

Lerner, Berel Dov. “Rahab the Harlot and Other Philosophers of Religion.” Jewish Bible Quarterly 28, (2000): 52-55. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed March 10, 2017).

Lunn, Nicholas P. “The Deliverance of Rahab (Joshua 2,6) as the Gentile Exodus.” Tyndale Bulletin 65, (2014): 11-19. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed March 10, 2017).

Sherwood, Aaron. “A Leader‘s Misleading and a Prostitute‘s Profession: A Reexamination of Joshua 2.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 31, (2006): 43-61. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed March 10, 2017).

Stek, John H. “Rahab of Canaan and Israel: The Meaning of Joshua 2.” Calvin Theological Journal 37, (2002): 28-48. Old Testament Abstracts, EBSCOhost (accessed March 10, 2017).






Ava Oleson











The story of a spectacular woman named Lydia, Paul’s first European convert, is described in Acts 16:13-15:

On the Sabbath we went outside the city gate to the river, where we expected to find a place of prayer. We sat down and began to speak to the women who had gathered there. One of those listening was a woman named Lydia, a dealer in purple cloth from the city of Thyatira, who was a worshiper of God. The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us.1


The historical context and timely events surrounding Lydia’s story serve as a crucial backdrop. Paul’s impending shift of mission toward the great cities of Europe reflects significant changes in cultural scenery and missionary strategy.2 Acts 15 provides a glimpse into Peter and Paul’s response to the Jews who attempted to require Gentiles to be circumcised in order to be saved. Paul refuted this teaching; he declared that God came to save the Gentiles by grace alone, not by the adherence to Jewish laws. God makes no distinction between Jew and Gentile. God had accepted them and purified their hearts.

Paul’s declaration marked a major paradigm shift for the believing community, especially the Jewish believers. Church leaders did not want to make it difficult for Gentiles to come to salvation; in the same way, God did not intend to exclude women or make it difficult for them to step into their unique calling. God had ushered in a new order, a new value system, a new understanding of gender roles and redeemed relationships. Through Christ’s coming, all things were being made new. Layer by layer, God removed inequitable structures. During this pivotal time in history, God raises up an esteemed woman as a high profile leader to serve as a role model for centuries to come.

In Acts 16, Paul and his companions attempted to preach the gospel in Phrygia, Galatia, Bithynia, and Troas. However, God went out of His way to make sure they were prevented from going anywhere until they arrived in Philippi, the hometown of Lydia (Acts 16: 6-12). Luke states that the Holy Spirit kept Paul and Silas from preaching the Word in Asia (16:6b). When they tried to enter Bithynia, “the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to do so” (16:7). “During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us’” (16:9). Immediately Paul knew God had called them to preach the gospel in Macedonia. Lydia was the first convert they encountered. Without a doubt, God designed that Lydia be installed as a role model to the women of that societal structure and religious culture. God, through Lydia, was at work dispelling ancient, outdated, and unfounded ideals. God affirmed a new day for women.


The first Macedonian city Paul and his companions arrived at was Philippi. Its setting and intersecting routes brought it fame and significance, making it the leading city of the region. Due to the small Jewish population, a synagogue did not exist in the city. Consequently, some of the Jews met for prayer outside the city gates at the bank of the Gangites River.3 Paul and Silas sat down to speak with a group of Jewish women gathered by the river. Lydia, a native of Thyatira who currently lived in Philippi, joined the Jewish women for prayer despite not being of Jewish descent. “The Lord opened her heart to respond to Paul’s message. When she and the members of her household were baptized, she invited us to her home. ‘If you consider me a believer in the Lord,’ she said, ‘come and stay at my house.’ And she persuaded us” (Acts 16:15).


Lydia was a dealer or seller of purple cloth, a product in great demand among the rich and worn as a status symbol. The official toga at Rome, as well as in other Roman colonies, used this expensive fabric. Quite possibly, Lydia’s home office remained in Thyatira with a branch office in Philippi.4 Although Scripture never hints at the existence of a husband, many historians believe Lydia’s husband had passed away leaving her as a widow. The purple dye was obtained from the secretion of shellfish (mollusks) that live in the eastern portion of the Mediterranean Sea. It took about eight thousand mollusks to produce one gram of purple dye; consequently, only wealthy people could afford to purchase purple linen. Based on this understanding, Lydia probably had amassed wealth and confidently conducted her business among upper class merchants. Presumably she had a spacious home with servants in order to accommodate Paul and his entourage (Acts 16:15b).5

Although Lydia had not heard the message of salvation through Jesus Christ, she most likely had come to know the God of the Hebrews through the Jews in Thyatira. Paul and his friends explained baptism for the forgiveness of sins through Christ, and Lydia immediately responded to their message of salvation. In addition, she faithfully shared the good news of salvation with her household, which included her immediate family and servants.

As a woman of tremendous spiritual influence, Lydia took initiative to introduce her entire family to the gospel. As the head of household, she faithfully taught her children and workers and her entire family followed her example. Luke not only provides details of Lydia’s influence on her family but portrayed Lydia’s household as the core of the emerging church of Philippi.6 Her house became the meeting place of what could be called “The First Christian Church of Philippi.” In fact, when God supernaturally released Paul and Silas from prison, they stopped posthaste at Lydia’s house—the location where believers gathered (Acts 16:40). Paul later thanked the Philippian church for their gifts and offerings, which provided support in his work and the spread of the gospel (Phil. 4:2, 3, 15).7 Lydia’s access to wealth and resources undoubtedly contributed significantly to Paul’s missionary needs.

Many scholars believe Lydia’s scriptural profile sufficiently indicates the importance of her conversion for the wider Philippian mission. “The connection between hospitality—sharing goods with others—and responsiveness to the word of God is an important literary theme in Luke and Acts. This is another indication of Lydia’s spiritual authority as first convert and leader of the church in Philippi.”8 New Testament scholar, Stanley Horton, makes particular note that Lydia had a leadership role in a male and female environment:

[Lydia] besought Paul and his entire company to make her large home their home and headquarters. ... No doubt also, she had many friends and business acquaintances who might not go down to the riverside but who would come to her house. Thus, it was in her house a church would be established. ... The assembly soon began to grow. ... There were not only women but ‘brethren’ who were now part of the congregation (see verse 40).9

Lydia had exceptional communication skills. She “persuaded” or “urged” Paul and the others to stay as guests at her house (Acts 16:15b). Notice that Lydia, a Gentile woman invites four men (three Jews and one Gentile) to be her guests. Although Paul rarely accepted aid from his converts, so as to refute those who might accuse him of preaching for a profit, he could not decline the generosity of a woman desiring to minister to their needs in such a practical way. The Greek aorist tense of the verb “persuaded” implies insistence. She presented a compelling argument of a simple-fact condition. Lydia confidently expresses reality, “You have judged me to be faithful to the Lord. Therefore, enter my house and stay” (v. 15). Any woman who could articulate her case clearly enough to cause Paul to change his mind, expressed a high degree of confidence and influence. Her accomplishment was significant on many levels. She gave direction, leadership, and took charge in a situation with the most powerful male leader in the New Testament Church. Paul and the others evidently respected her. As a result of her persistence, Lydia became the first female pastor of perhaps the very first household church in Europe.

Lydia’s role as leader and pastor of her household is significant. In the book, The Social World of Luke-Acts, John Elliott explores the emerging theological implications of the institution of the “household” in contrast to the “temple,” two basic institutions of Judaism and early Christianity. Neyrey, the editor of this work, is known for his pioneering work in applying social science criticism to New Testament interpretation. He demonstrates how the temple gradually emerged as an institution whose managers, interests, and ideology stood utterly opposed to the ministry and mission of Jesus and His community.

The temple, a holy place, had lost its power to make holy; in other words, it no longer brought unholy people into communion with the Holy One. Roman oppression and exploitation of the Jewish people undermined the center of Jewish political, economic, and social power. The temple no longer symbolized a place where the hope of salvation and the experience of God’s mercy could be realized.10 The temple served primarily as the arena of Jesus’ conflict with the temple’s chief and related legal authorities such as the chief priests, Sadducees, scribes, elders, and Sanhedrin. In addition, the Jewish religious leaders in their conspiracy with the Roman governor to take his life, took place in the temple.

Luke, however, transitioned the focus from the temple to the household. The household emerged as the preeminent sphere and symbol of the reception of the gospel. Households encouraged a unique Christian identity and solidarity of the Spirit with a distinct structure, social organization, identity, and value system. The household, once the gathering place of the powerless and marginalized, emerged as the location where God’s Spirit actively moved and where relationships, shared resources, and collective values solidified the vision of a salvation available to all the families of the earth.11

Given this theological theme, Lydia’s household of faith emerged as a powerful and significant component of the Early Church. Her household illustrated the typical location of the gospel’s reception and the church’s growth because, at that time, the church consisted of organized households of faith. Without a doubt, Lydia served as the pastor of a church since her household became one of the prominent, strategic congregations. Lydia played a significant role at the onset of the New Testament church both as the first European convert and as the first female pastor.

In her book, The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time, Elise Boulding describes the years around 200 B.C., which marked a major shift for the Mediterranean world where Lydia lived. This era marked the division between the role of Rome in the great transition from the oppressions of antiquity to the relatively more open societies of the new Europe. Society focused on rectifying problems of communication, distribution of resources and organization of large-scale societal interaction. During the era of the Roman Republic, women began to enjoy a new pattern of women’s civic affairs, which launched a “running start” on the future.12

Rome experienced dramatic changes as women successfully demonstrated against restrictive laws. Women moved more liberally in public, including the political arena. They crowded the court when important trials occurred, attended senate meetings, and conducted large-scale trading. In addition, women exercised considerable liberty pertaining to their decisions regarding marriage, divorce, and conduct of personal affairs. Historical evidence indicates that women served as judges, administrators, priestesses, and founders of hospitals and orphanages.13

The ultimate signal of those new perceptions came at the end of the millennium with the appearance of a new Teacher from the humble town of Nazareth in the Roman province of Syria. Jesus surrounded himself with a community of people who bypassed the usual sex-role definitions. Something very remarkable happened. For the first hundred years of the new era, women left behind old constraints, stepped into the public sphere, and participated in the creation of a new society. The rate at which women joined the new Christian movement indicated the readiness of women for a new life.

Lydia, a woman in this cultural setting, serves as an outstanding example. As a product of this new age in the Graeco-Roman culture, Lydia successfully owned and operated her own business and led her entire family.14 In addition to the new found Roman freedoms, Greek culture brought further refinement to the culture of that day. Women of means in the Greco-Roman culture had position in society. “Such women of means were not unusual in Macedonia since at least the Hellenistic era had allowed women important social, political and religious roles.”15 The cultural context played a crucial role in Lydia’s significant role in the Early Church. These significant cultural changes in the Graeco-Roman world opened the door for Lydia to serve in a strategic ministry during the establishment of the Early Church.

The social changes impacting women’s role in society were unstoppable. New possibilities for women as social reformers, teachers, scholars, and individuals modeling a new humanness grew. During the first thousand years of the new era, many streams of women’s participation intersected. At this time in history, Lydia defines unlimited possibilities rooted in her faith in Christ, while also reflecting the notion of gender equality. Her participation in leadership in the Early Church indicates that Jesus did not start a movement for men nor did he start a movement for women. He started a movement for humans.16 Interestingly, God started using women in the Church at this particular time in history when opportunities for women were finally being celebrated. Lydia comfortably walked the streets of Philippi, doing business with people of social importance and means. God purposely introduced Lydia into the picture because Judaism was a patriarchal religion. Lydia introduced a new image and form of leadership to the first-century church. Her pioneering ministry validates the ministry of women in the twenty-first century. Against the backdrop of this new socio-cultural milieu, Lydia enters the leadership complexion of the New Testament church.


The early introduction of Lydia into the historical context of the New Testament Church reinforces that God is an equal opportunity employer. Lydia’s life provides contemporary women with keen insights. First, when Paul met this mature and intellectual woman, she exhibited a genuine hunger for God. Lydia only knew of the God of the Hebrews; she had not been introduced to Christ, who had been at work preparing and shaping her heart. She experienced a season of preparedness. As she listened intently to Paul and his companions, the Lord opened her heart to respond. Just as Lydia, women who find themselves in a season of preparation can rest assured that God is shaping them for a unique assignment despite not fully understanding what God’s plans and purposes.17 God is at work preparing women who are willing to listen as He reveals His assignment. God will fulfill His divine purpose just as He gave Lydia the gift of faith and illuminated His truth to her. God will give the gift of faith and bring clarity to the unique call of every woman called to leadership.

Second, Lydia urges women today to find their own voice. She did not express fear because of her own persuasiveness. She illustrates focus, determination, decisiveness, and competence. God’s women, both then and now, need to possess these important qualities.

Third, Lydia did not worry about what others thought. She did not give it a second thought. In other words, no one owned her. She saw Paul and his companions’ need, responded to the need, and immediately took charge of organizing and opening her home to be a place of salvation, discipleship, worship, and missions support.

Fourth, Lydia invited women in the marketplace to offer their training, skill sets, and expertise to Christ. The need for marketplace skills in the church has never been greater than it is today. Emerging mega churches and small to medium sized congregations all possess organizational deficiencies that skilled people in the marketplace easily recognize.

From the beginning of time, God purposed to set Lydia up as an illustration. He ordained that she would use her resources, relationships, business skills, and strong work ethic as a strategic link in the spread of the gospel and growth of the church. God also intends to use and shape the experiences of modern-day Christian women to lead strategically. Women can boldly and confidently step into their God-given roles because of the testimony of women like Lydia who courageously provided a model for women in ministry.



1All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New International Version.

2The New Interpreters Bible, Vol X Introduction to Epistolary Literature: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 230.

3New International Version Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995), 1680.

4Dennis Hounsell, “Lydia Demonstrates Faithfulness,” Christian Standard, https://christianstandard.com/  (accessed September 19, 2009).

5Nell W. Mohney, From Mary to Lydia: Letting New Testament Women Speak to Us (Nashville: Dimensions For Living, 2002), 100.

6Ibid, 592.


8The New Interpreters Bible, Vol X Introduction to Epistolary Literature: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians. (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002), 230.

9Ralph W. Harris, Stanley M. Horton, Gayle Garrity Seaver, The Complete Biblical Library, vol 6. in The New Testament Study Bible. Acts (Springfield, MO: World Library Press, 1991), 389.

10John H. Elliott, “Temple Versus Household in Luke-Acts: A Contrast in Social Institutions” in The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation, ed. Jerome H. Neyrey (Peabody, MA. Hendrickson, 2005), 223.

11Ibid., 217.

12Elise Boulding, The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time (Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1976), 340.

13E. M. White, Women in World History: Her Place in the Great Religions (London: Herbert Jenkins. 1924), 287-288. Quoted in Boulding, 346.

14Mohney, 100-101.

15William Tarn and G. T. Griffin, Hellenistic Civilization (London, Edward Arnold, 1959), 98, as quoted in Ben Witherington III, The Acts of The Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 492.

16Boulding, 358.

17Simon Kistemaker, New Testament Commentary: Acts (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990), 590.



Boulding, Elise. The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1976.

Harris, Ralph W., Stanley M. Horton, Gayle Garrity Seaver, eds. The Complete Biblical Library. Vol. 6 of The New Testament Study Bible: Acts. Springfield, MO: World Library Press, 1991.

Hounsell, Dennis. “Lydia Demonstrates Faithfulness.” Christian Standard. https://christianstandard.com/ (accessed September 19, 2009).

Kistemaker, Simon. New Testament Commentary, Acts. Grand Rapids: Baker, 1990.

Mohney, Nell W. From Mary to Lydia: Letting New Testament Women Speak to Us. Nashville: Dimensions For Living, 2002.

Elliott, John N. “Temple Versus Household in Luke-Acts: A Contrast in Social Institutions” In The Social World of Luke-Acts: Models for Interpretation, edited by Neyrey, Jerome H., 211-240. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2005.

New International Version Study Bible. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1995.

New Interpreters Bible, Vol X Introduction to Epistolary Literature: Acts, Romans, 1 Corinthians. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2002.

Tarn, William, and G. T. Griffin. Hellenistic Civilization. London: Edward Arnold, 1959. Quoted in Ben Witherington III. The Act of the Apostles: A Socio-Rhetorical Commentary. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998.

White, E. M. Women in World History: Her Place in the Great Religions. London: Herbert Jenkins, 1924. Quoted in Elise Boulding. The Underside of History: A View of Women Through Time. Boulder, CO: Westview Press, 1976.







Linda Seiler













Priscilla was perhaps one of the most influential women in the Early Church, partnering with Paul to pioneer churches in three of the most important cities of the Roman Empire. She proved herself to be an adept teacher, and there is substantial evidence that she is the mysterious author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Her life and legacy are an inspiration to women in ministry today, and much can be learned from her example.


Ancient history attests to the fact that someone named Priscilla made an impressive impact on the Early Church. Her name has been found in multiple locations—inscribed on Roman monuments, churches, and on an ancient burial site called the Coemeterium Priscillae. In fact, one of the earliest known churches in Rome carried the name “Titulus of St. Priscilla.” According to tradition, a woman named Priscilla was the first woman in Rome to suffer martyrdom, burned to death in the Ostia Way and buried in what was later to be discovered as the Church of St. Prisca,1 where Priscilla is said to have been baptized by St. Peter himself.2

In Romans 16:3, the Apostle Paul refers to Priscilla as one of his “co-workers in Christ Jesus”3 who was willing to risk her life and is worthy of gratitude from both Paul and the other Gentile churches. Scripture indicates that Priscilla and her husband Aquila accompanied Paul as fellow tentmakers who helped plant churches in Corinth, Ephesus, and Rome—three of the most predominant cities in the Roman Empire. Priscilla was more than just a co-worker to Paul; she was a much loved and intimate friend as revealed by Paul’s use of the affectionate name “Prisca” in 2 Timothy 4:19.4 In fact, Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila in his letters more often than anyone else with the exception of Timothy. His bond with the couple is understandable given the fact that they not only worked together as tentmakers and church planters, but according to Acts 18:3, Paul also resided in their home while they ministered together in Corinth. Clearly, Priscilla played a major role in the life of the Early Church.


From all indications, Priscilla was a Gentile who originally hailed from Rome. Her name is distinctly Roman and means “old” or “of ancient blood.”5 It is assumed that she was of noble birth and thus well-educated and distinguished among the women in Italy, making her a suitable companion for Aquila, a rich Jew from Pontus who probably moved to the largest city in the world seeking business opportunities.6

Scripture is silent regarding Priscilla’s conversion to Christianity, but it is likely that she and Aquila came to faith while in Rome. However, they were forced to leave around 49/50 C.E. when Emperor Claudius evicted all Jews from Rome.7 The couple relocated in Corinth, a renowned trading and packing center that would provide lucrative business opportunities in addition to the possibility to spread the gospel throughout the known world. It was in Corinth that the Apostle Paul first met Priscilla and her husband (Acts 18:1-3).

After ministering together in Corinth for eighteen months, Priscilla and Aquila accompanied Paul to plant a new church in Ephesus in the spring of 52 C.E.8 It was there that Priscilla distinguished herself as a gifted teacher, guiding Apollos who was among one of the most noted teachers in the early church. According Acts 18:21, the Apostle Paul left Priscilla and Aquila to shepherd the church in Ephesus while he moved on to strengthen other churches.

At some point after the death of Claudius, Priscilla and Aquila moved back to Rome and gathered a church in their home prior to Paul writing the letter to the Romans (Rom. 16:3-5). It is significant to note that many of the early house churches survived until the second or third century bearing the name of the homeowner; they were known as “tituli” churches.9 Hence, the aforementioned “Titulus of St. Priscilla” discovered in Rome.

Several years later, when Paul penned his second letter to Timothy, he asked Timothy to greet Priscilla and Aquila who were apparently back in Ephesus (2 Tim. 4:19). It is uncertain whether Priscilla and Aquila were simply visiting Timothy or were there on a more permanent basis to support the young pastor. Regardless, it seems the couple eventually returned to Rome as tradition holds that Priscilla was martyred there and buried in the Church of St. Prisca.


One of the most fascinating theories about Priscilla is that she penned the Epistle to the Hebrews. While many once thought Paul authored the letter, it differs stylistically from his other writings, lacking the traditional Pauline pre and postscripts as well as his characteristic use of exhortation and argument. Additionally, certain details of the letter are inconsistent with Paul’s life. For example, Hebrews 2:3 says, “This salvation, which was first announced by the Lord, was confirmed to us by those who heard him,” indicating the author heard the gospel from someone who had direct revelation from the Lord. That detail disqualifies Paul since he refers to having received the mystery of the gospel directly from the Lord Himself (Eph. 3:2-5). However, it applies to Priscilla who likely heard the gospel from Peter when he traveled to Rome.10 Other scholars have posited that Apollos wrote the letter. However, his conversion is also unlikely to be that described in Hebrews 2:3, and there are no pre- or postscripts bearing his name.

The lack of pre- and postscripts is actually one of the strongest evidences that Priscilla authored the letter. All other New Testament epistles include the name of the author and recipients, which begs the question: Why would one of the most prolific letters in all of the New Testament lack such crucial information? “This is one of the strangest facts in all literature, that the author of so important a document as this should have left no trace of his name upon church history. …  It is strange enough that any epistle in the New Testament should be anonymous, but that this masterpiece among the epistles (is anonymous), seems doubly strange.”11

Were the pre- and postscripts to the letter accidentally lost or intentionally withheld? The latter seems a likely possibility if Priscilla were the author since many during that time period may have rejected a letter written by a woman. Deborah M. Gill and Barbara L. Cavaness, co-authors of God’s Women Then and Now, explain why an anonymous letter would be advantageous:

Perhaps not leaving a clue as to its authorship, however, was the only way for a woman’s work to be accepted (especially amid the Judaistic tendencies prevalent among the recipients of the letter to the Hebrews). But by leaving it anonymous, the epistle would have the opportunity to become circulated and accepted on the merit of its contents, in spite of the mystery of its authorship.12 

Other contextual clues suggest Priscilla may be the author. For example, the author is in contact with believers from Italy, Priscilla’s homeland, as mentioned in Hebrews 13:24. The author is also well acquainted with Timothy and states in Hebrews 13:23 that he or she plans to travel with him to visit the recipients. This is consistent with the fact that Priscilla would have known Timothy well, having ministered with him in both Corinth and Ephesus. Additionally, the author switches effortlessly between the pronouns “I” and “we,” suggesting the author is referring to an ally whom the readers know. If Priscilla is the author, the plural “we” logically refers to Aquila, her husband and ministry partner.13 

The language of the epistle indicates the author was well-educated. Gill and Cavaness note that it is written “in the sophisticated, polished Greek of an upper-class educated person,”14 which would be consistent with Priscilla’s noble heritage in Rome. In fact, archeological evidence points towards Priscilla being a relative of Pudens, a Roman senator who was one of Peter’s converts mentioned in 2 Timothy 4:21.15 If such were the case, it would not only account for Priscilla’s access to higher learning but also clarifies Hebrews 2:3, indicating she (and her family) first heard the gospel from Peter who knew the Lord personally.

The content of the epistle indicates the author was a Gentile, unfamiliar with the specifics of Jewish worship. In fact, the temple is never mentioned; there are only references to the tabernacle, suggesting the author has never been to Jerusalem and is familiar only with the Old Testament depictions of worship.16 The author is apparently unfamiliar with the Hebrew language, always quoting the Septuagint when referring to the Old Testament.17 This is consistent with Priscilla’s Roman background and the likelihood that she never visited Jerusalem and was most prolific in Greek.

Additional content that favors a female author are the repeated references to women in the famous “faith chapter” of Hebrews 11. For example, while Romans 4:21 cites Abraham as the one who was “fully persuaded God had power to do what He had promised,” Hebrews 11:11 highlights Sarah: “And by faith even Sarah, who was past childbearing age, was enabled to bear children because she considered him faithful who had made the promise.” Second, Joshua’s name is nowhere listed in Hebrews 11, yet Rahab, the woman who hid the spies, is mentioned by name in verse 31. Third, the author fails to mention the great prophets Elijah and Elisha by name and instead makes reference to the widow of Zarephath and the Shunammite woman in verse 35. It seems the author purposefully emphasizes the fact that women of old demonstrated faith just as much as men. A female author would be sensitive to that detail.

Moreover, the author gives particular attention to the humanity and compassion of Christ—aspects that would appeal more notably to the feminine heart. For example, Christ is depicted as, “fully human in every way … [able] to empathize with our weaknesses … tempted in every way, just as we are … subject to weakness … [who] offered up prayers and petitions with fervent cries and tears … [who] learned obedience from what he suffered … [who] endured the cross, scorning its shame … endured such opposition from sinners” (Heb. 2:17; 4:15; 5:2; 5:7; 5:8; 12:2-3). A female author would more likely demonstrate such empathy for the physical and psychological suffering of the Christ.

In addition to vast array of evidence in the preceding paragraphs, Priscilla, having been a fellow church planter with Paul and Timothy, would have had a vested interest in the Gentile churches and a burden for their safety and success, necessitating a letter to guide and exhort the leaders. Hebrews qualifies as such a letter. Hence, Priscilla’s authorship is a likely possibility.


Equally as contentious as Priscilla authoring the Epistle to Hebrews is the placement of her name in Scripture in relation to Aquila. Out of the six times the couple is mentioned,18 Priscilla is listed first in four of them. According to scholars, placing the female name first was a deviation from the cultural norm: “As in our ‘Mr. and Mrs.’ nomenclature, the Roman husband’s name typically appeared first.”19 What accounts for the deviation in some, but not all, places?  Theologian Marie Keller proposes an interesting hypothesis: When the couple was introduced in general, Aquila’s name came first; when the couple was referred to in a ministry context, Priscilla’s name is listed first: 

When New Testament writers refer to their occupation of tentmakers and to “their house,” the order is “Aquila and Priscilla” (Acts 18:2; 1 Cor. 6:19). But when ministry is in view, the order is “Priscilla and Aquila” (Acts 18:18, Rom. 16:3, 2 Tim. 4:19). This is also the case with the introduction of Apollos (Acts 18:26), suggesting that Priscilla possessed the dominant ministry and leadership skills of the duo.20

Many scholars, including Gill and Cavaness, believe the deviation was a deliberate indicator that Priscilla was the more gifted teacher of the two: “Luke, a polished Greek author, careful and accurate, would not break literary traditions without purpose. He was so impressed with Priscilla, that he listed her name first intentionally.”21 Ancient scholar John Chrysostom concurs:

… for He did not say, “Greet Aquila and Priscilla” but “Priscilla and Aquila.”  He does not do this without a reason, but he seems to me to acknowledge a greater godliness for her than for her husband. … She took Apollos, an eloquent man and powerful in the scriptures, but knowing only the baptism of John; and she instructed him in the way of the Lord and made him a teacher brought to completion.22

Though men dominated first-century culture, Priscilla proved herself to be an

exemplary teacher as she “explained to [Apollos] the way of God more adequately” (Acts 18:26). That was no small task as Apollos was “a graduate of the renowned schools of Alexandria, Egypt, was the most eloquent and popular speaker in the early church. Yet, he so respected the intelligence and piety of Priscilla, the tentmaker, that he gladly received instruction from her.”23

Priscilla’s predominance is not without controversy. German scholar Adolf Harnack discovered attempts to undermine Priscilla’s preeminence by a later interpolator of two early New Testament manuscripts. Aquila’s name had been inserted in three different places without Priscilla’s, and his name was also placed first in Acts 18:26. Harnack concluded:

It is quite certain that the interpolator, taking up his corrections in the first third of the second century, suppressed Prisca’s authority, placing Aquila above her in converting Apollos, and withdrew from them a letter they had written. Thus it is proved that a tendency existed at that time to weaken the remembrance of Prisca’s significance, or to destroy it vigorously.24

Though some have tried to repress the facts, the Scriptures reveal Priscilla was a gifted leader who was affirmed by such notable men in the Early Church as Luke, Apollos, and the Apostle Paul and equally esteemed in the eyes the reputable fourth-century theologian John Chrysostom.


Priscilla’s legacy provides encouragement to women today who can learn from her example of sacrificing everything for the sake of the gospel, embracing one’s gifts and using them wisely, participating in team ministry, and experiencing true mutuality in marriage.

In Romans 16:3-4, Paul refers to Priscilla and Aquila as co-workers who “risked their lives for me. Not only I but all the churches of the Gentiles are grateful to them.” A cursory reading of those verses would lead one to believe that Priscilla was willing to give her literal life, which is true. According to tradition, she was martyred for preaching the good news. However, in addition to martyrdom, Priscilla made great earthly sacrifices for the sake of the gospel. After being expelled from Rome and establishing a tent making business in Corinth, she and Aquila could have stayed in Corinth indefinitely, enjoying steady business prospects and financial security. But after only eighteen months in Corinth, Priscilla and her husband chose to follow Paul to plant a church in Ephesus. It was no small feat to relocate from Rome to Corinth to Ephesus (nearly 1,700 miles)25 in days when travel was slow and laborious—not to mention the fact that they had to sail over large bodies of water and were wholly dependent on weather and wind conditions. But it seems Priscilla was so zealous to spread the gospel that no sacrifice was too great; she was constantly on the move for the gospel, willing to risk everything and trusting God to provide. What an inspiring legacy for women today.

Priscilla also exemplifies a woman who embraced her gifts and used them wisely. Clearly, she was a gifted teacher as attested to by the success of her pupil Apollos who, according to 1 Corinthians 3, earned a significant following. Priscilla was confident enough in her own learning to be able to instruct an articulate, learned Jew who himself had a thorough knowledge of the Scriptures and taught about Jesus accurately (Acts 18:24-25). She was not intimated by his educational background nor by the fact that he was a man, proving that a woman can be just as intellectually capable as a man yet still be uniquely feminine. Priscilla’s wisdom accounts for Apollos’ receptivity to her teaching. She discerned that Apollos’s limited knowledge could do irreparable harm to the church, but rather than rebuking him publicly, Priscilla wisely “invited him to [her] home and explained to him the way of God more adequately” (18:26). Instead of demeaning others, she used her gifts to edify and encourage. She likewise demonstrated wisdom if, in fact, she penned the Epistle to the Hebrews and intentionally withheld her name as the author, knowing the letter would be circulated more widely. If such were the case, she had greater concern for building up the body of Christ than inflating her own reputation. That humble, sacrificial choice represents wisdom at its finest.

In addition to her willingness to sacrifice and use her gifts wisely, Priscilla demonstrates the concept of team ministry by partnering with her husband. Keller notes, “Priscilla and Aquila are a positive example of a team ministry, to the point that both in Luke and Paul, except for Luke’s notice of Aquila’s beginnings, they are never mentioned apart from one another!”26 They were the ultimate team. Scholar F. Scott Spencer maintains that the alternating names of Priscilla and Aquila in Scripture is indicative of the mutuality of the couple’s ministry relationship; they were interchangeable collegial partners.27 Priscilla’s team mindset did not end with her husband, however. She valued teamwork and labored closely with other saints like Paul and Timothy. Her example is a valuable reminder to the independent-minded woman who thinks she can take on the world as a lone ranger. The body of Christ was designed for interdependence.

Priscilla’s value for teamwork stretched beyond ministry into the home as her relationship with Aquila exemplifies true mutuality in marriage. “Priscilla and Aquila lived their marriage as a team. They mutually shared authority and responsibility, and they valued and accepted each other’s ‘gifts.’ Likewise, there is no indication of a competition for power, but rather, they complimented each other’s efforts.”28 It takes a secure man to share authority and responsibility with his spouse, even allowing her to promoted beyond him in ministry without fearing his masculinity would be threatened. Apparently, Aquila was such a man, and it made for a marriage strong enough to withstand exile, constant transition, financial upheaval, persecution, and working together on a daily basis. Oh, that Priscilla and Aquila’s example would be emulated in the Church today!


Thus, Priscilla shines as a bright example of a woman God used in leading the Early Church. She played a role in establishing major congregations and perhaps even penned the epistle that some consider a masterpiece. Her legacy is all the more monumental considering her labors were in the context of a male-dominated society; yet she still earned the esteem of her male counterparts. May the Church today learn from her example of unmitigated zeal for the Lord, intellectual strength tempered with wisdom, a team mindset, and mutuality in the marriage relationship.



1Mimi Haddad, “Priscilla, Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews?,” Priscilla Papers 7, no. 1 (1993), 8.

2Rena Pederson, The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 203.

3All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the 2011 New International Version of the Bible.

4Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis gen. eds., and Gordon D. Fee contributing ed., Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 490.

5Frances Vander Velde, Women of the Bible (Grand Rapids, MI: Kregel Publications, 1957), 244.

6Ibid., 245.

7Haddad, 8.

8Haddad, 8.

9Karen Jo Torjesen, When Women Were Priests: Women's Leadership in the Early Church & the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993), 31.

10Ruth Hoppin, Priscilla's Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews (Fort Bragg, CA: Lost Coast Press, 1997), 89.

11Lee Anna Starr, The Bible Status of Women (New York: Revell Co., 1926), 204.

12Deborah M. Gill and Barbara L. Cavaness, God's Women: Then and Now (Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth, 2004), 115.

13Hoppin, 16.

14Gill and Cavaness,115.

15Hoppin, 89-93.

16Haddad, 9.

17Hoppin, 106.

18Acts 18:2,18-19, 26; Romans 16:3; 1 Corinthians 16:19; 2 Timothy 4:19

19Pierce, 122.

20Marie Noell Keller, Priscilla and Aquilla: Paul's Coworkers in Christ Jesus (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010), xiv.

21Gill and Cavaness, 113.

22Haddad, 10.

23Velde, 248.

24Haddad, 10.

25"Map Crow: Travel Distance Calculator",  http://www.mapcrow.info/ (accessed June 9, 2012).

26Keller, xv.





Gill, Deborah M., and Barbara L. Cavaness. God's Women: Then and Now. Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth, 2004.

Haddad, Mimi. “Priscilla, Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews?” Priscilla Papers 7, no. 1 (1993): 8-10.

Hoppin, Ruth. Priscilla's Letter: Finding the Author of the Epistle to the Hebrews. Fort Bragg, CA: Lost Coast Press, 1997.

Keller, Marie Noell. Priscilla and Aquilla: Paul's Coworkers in Christ Jesus. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2010.

“Map Crow: Travel Distance Calculator,” http://www.mapcrow.info/ (accessed June 9, 2012).

Pederson, Rena. The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.

Pierce, Ronald W., Rebecca Merrill Groothuis gen. eds., and Gordon D. Fee contributing ed. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Starr, Lee Anna.  The Bible Status of Women. NewYork: Revell, 1926.

Torjesen, Karen Jo. When Women Were Priests: Women's Leadership in the Early Church & the Scandal of Their Subordination in the Rise of Christianity. San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1993.

Velde, Frances Vander. Women of the Bible. Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1957.









Linda Seiler













“Greet Andronicus and Junia, my fellow Jews who have been in prison with me. They are outstanding among the apostles, and they were in Christ before I was.”

—Romans 16:71

Junia is mentioned in only one verse of the Bible, and yet, over the centuries, volumes have been written about her. Her feminine name and Paul’s apparent appraisal of her as a female apostle have stirred controversies that remain to this day. This paper will address who Junia was, why she is so controversial, and what we can learn from her today.


Though Junia’s name is cited only in Romans 16:7, that one verse reveals several characteristics about her. First, we learn that Junia was a Jew like Paul. Second, she had been imprisoned with Paul, indicating she was on the forefront of the Christian movement in Rome to the extent that she was a target of persecution; the Roman authorities were likely well-acquainted with her. Third, she was among the earliest of converts to Christianity, having come to faith prior to the Apostle Paul. Fourth, she was likely involved in the church plant at Rome since Paul acknowledges her in his letter to the Romans as an apostle, one who helps build the foundation of the church.2 Fifth, she was no ordinary apostle but was “outstanding” or notable among the other apostles at the time.

Interestingly, in his letter to the Galatians, Paul makes reference to apostles who came to faith before he did: “I did not go up to Jerusalem to see those who were apostles before I was, but I went into Arabia” (Gal. 1:17). It is possible Junia was among those apostles to whom Paul was making reference. Because Scripture is silent regarding any other details, one must conjecture how exactly Junia became part of Paul’s inner circle. “If Paul had written his letter to the church in Rome in approximately 55-57 C.E., it is probable that he would have known Junia from earlier missionary trips. He may have been imprisoned with Junia and Andronicus in Philippi (Acts 16:23) or possibly in Ephesus (1 Cor. 15:32).”3

Traditionally, the Orthodox Church honored Junia as a saint and pictured her in church icons as holding the cross of martyrdom. Thus, it is likely she died for her faith. That possibility is congruent with history, for if she were in Rome when Paul wrote Romans around 55 C.E. and was still there when Paul was martyred around 67 C.E., she would have been in jeopardy of persecution under Nero.4


The controversy surrounding Junia stems from the fact that many Christian scholars have been unwilling to concede that a female could have operated as an apostle, the highest office of the Early Church.5 Although the majority of the earliest Greek manuscripts use the female name “Junia” from the twelfth century onward, she underwent a sex-change operation and became known as the masculine “Junias,” a name that scholars contend never existed in Greco-Roman antiquity.6 The female name “Junia” is found frequently in both Greek and Latin literature and inscriptions,7 appearing over 250 times in Rome alone,8 while the name Junias has no historical evidence. Eldon J. Epp, noted scholar and author of Junia: The First Woman Apostle, decries the injustice of employing the name “Junias” stating, “No one has offered any evidence for the actual existence of this masculine name, either its occurrence in another literary text, an inscription, or a documentary source.”9

A careful study into the text tradition indicates that “Junia” was the norm for over one thousand years. In fact, Greek and Latin commentaries on Romans, ranging from as early as John Chrysostom in the fourth century to Peter Abelard in the twelfth century, utilized the name “Junia” unquestioningly. Aegidius of Rome (1245-1316) was the first to contend for the masculine “Junias.”10 From that point forward, despite overwhelming philological evidence to the contrary, the masculine “Junias” was used in the majority of Bible translations until as recently as the 1970s when scholars began to question the legitimacy of the name.11


As previously noted, it was not until the twelfth century that the masculine “Junias” gained popularity. Epp calls attention to the fact that “Junia” was the norm among theologians for over a thousand years: “Theologians as diverse as Origen, Ambrosiaster, John Chrysostom, Jerome, Theodoret, John Damascene, Peter Abelard, and Peter Lombard, assume that the partner of Andronicus is a woman by the name of Junia.”12 In fact, the notable fourth-century scholar John Chrysotom wrote,

To be an apostle is something great. But to be outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding among the apostles—just think what a wonderful song of praise that is! They were outstanding on the basis of their works and virtuous actions. Indeed, how great the wisdom of this woman must have been that she was even deemed worthy of the title apostle.13

More importantly, the context of Romans 16 indicates that the Apostle Paul himself affirmed women in leadership. At the close of his letter, Paul greets over two dozen people, ten of whom are women. The first, Phoebe, was the letter carrier of the epistle—no small responsibility. Paul refers to Phoebe as a “deacon” (diakonos) of the church in Cenchrea. According to. Deborah M. Gill and Barbara L. Cavaness, co-authors of God’s Women: Then and Now, “[diakonos] is a term often used by Paul for a minister or leader of a congregation. Paul used it in referring to Jesus Christ, Apollos, Tychicus, Epaphras, Timothy, and to his own ministry.”14 For Paul to utilize the same term in reference to a woman indicates he affirms women in leadership.

In the very next verse, Paul affirms Priscilla as a fellow laborer in the Lord. He apparently thought so highly of her ministry aptitude, he deviated from cultural norms and listed her name before her husband Aquila. After commending Priscilla, Paul continues to affirm several other women, including Junia.

Despite the fact that critics have accused Paul of being a misogynist, his favorable commendations toward the women in Romans 16 indicate otherwise. Moreover, it was the Apostle Paul who wrote Galatians 3:28 which states, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Interestingly enough, Galatians is the same letter to which Paul referred to apostles that were in the faith before he was. Perhaps Junia’s strong example influenced Paul to write both Galatians 1:17 and Galatians 3:28.

Not only did reputable theologians and the Apostle Paul affirm Junia as a female apostle, the entirety of Scripture demonstrates God’s affirmation of females in leadership. Junia is not the sole example of a female in leadership; there is a vast array of women who served in leadership capacities from Miriam the prophetess to Deborah the judge to Esther the deliverer to the Samaritan woman-at-the-well-turned-evangelist to Philip’s prophesying daughters to Mary the proclaimer of the resurrection to Euodia the co-worker of Paul to the gender-inclusive prophecy of Joel 2:28-29:

And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days.

If God’s plan were to exclude women from all forms of leadership in the church, there would be no reason to empower them with the Holy Spirit. And yet, not only does Joel’s end time prophecy speak of pouring out the Spirit on women and men alike, Acts 1 indicates that women (plural) were present among the 120 who gathered to receive the baptism in the Spirit and experienced the fulfillment of that prophecy (Acts 1:14).

Thus, proponents of Junia as a female apostle espouse a view that is not only consistent with historical findings but congruent with the whole of Scripture as well.


The controversy surrounding “Junia” is instructive with regard to biblical translation and exegesis. The human tendency is to move into eisegesis, reading one’s own presuppositions and biases into the text, which is akin to what happened to “Junia.” Over and against historical data, scholars allowed their personal bias to affect their treatment of the Greek manuscript. In fact, Bruce Metzger’s A Textual Commentary on the Greek New Testament notes that when the commentary committee conferred as whether to use “Junia” or “Junias,” in Romans 16:7, “Some members, considering it unlikely that a woman would be among those styled ‘apostles’ understood the name to be masculine.”15 Epp comments on Metzger’s assertion:

What is noteworthy in this quotation is the clear exposure of and acknowledgement that an extraneous and prejudicial factor was at work among some in the Committee and that it was operative in a text-critical decision, namely, the assumed “given” that a woman would or could not likely be designated an apostle.16

As a result, Epp arrives at the conclusion that “Junias” is “merely the figment of the wishful imagination of some influential white European, British, and American male scholar, caught up in but actively abetting a culturally shaped bias that wished to exclude women from leadership positions in the church.”17

Hans Lietzman, a leading philologian in the early 1900s, epitomizes such wishful thinking by a white European male scholar. Though after thorough investigation he could find no proof the name “Junias” ever existed, he still insisted on using the male name due to his opinion that it was unthinkable a woman could have ever served in the capacity of an apostle.18

Even the reputable Martin Luther was prone to personal bias. Despite the lack of historical veracity for the name, Luther employed “Junias” in his translation, popularizing the notion that the male name had legitimacy.19 One could surmise Luther used the male name in ignorance, but a closer look at his beliefs reveals misogynist tendencies. For instance, Luther was quoted as saying, “Men have broad shoulders and narrow hips, and accordingly they possess intelligence. Women have narrow shoulders and broad hips. Women ought to stay at home; the way they were created indicates this, for they have broad hips and a wide fundament to sit upon, keep house and bear and raise children.”20 Clearly, Luther did not recognize the intellectual capabilities of women and would thus not be inclined to recognize a female apostle. In fact, Luther had such a low opinion of women, he said, “Women are one earth to bear children. If they die in child-bearing, it matters not; that is all they are here to do.”21 Rena Pederson, author of The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia, says of Martin Luther, “He taught that women were inferior to men and were created to be ruled by men.”22 Although Luther was used mightily to bring about the Reformation, his views on women affected his translation of Scripture and, consequently, influenced countless others to employ the name “Junias” in their translations.

In contrast to Luther, John Chrysostom, who affirmed “Junia” as a female apostle, had a favorable opinion of women. One of his closest friends and supporters was a woman named Olympias who served as the superintendent of a monastery in Constantinople and was also a deaconess. Chrysostom was known to regularly seek out Olympias for advice during his brief tenure as bishop in Constantinople. He had seen God use a woman mightily in his own life and had no problem affirming Junia as a female apostle.23

The aforementioned examples serve as a reminder to consider how one’s presuppositions and biases could affect the treatment of Scripture. One must make a concerted effort to maintain neutral objectivity when approaching the Scriptures so as not to read personal opinions into the text. As a minister of the gospel who influences others, it is especially vital to maintain objectivity so as not to defile others with a faulty reading of Scripture based on opinion rather than fact. Paul’s words to Timothy ring true: “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers” (1 Tim. 4:16).


It is amazing to trace the ripple effect of one letter from one name listed in only one verse in Scripture. A seemingly minor detail can make a world of difference. The controversy surrounding Junia issues a sober reminder to avoid reading one’s own prejudices into Scripture so as not to miss the full meaning of even the least stroke of the pen.

For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.

—Jesus, Matthew 5:18



1All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the 2011 New International Version of the Bible.

2Ephesians 2:20

3Rena Pederson, The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia (San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006), 33.

4Pederson, 182.

5Deborah M. Gill and Barbara L. Cavaness, God's Women: Then and Now (Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth, 2004), 155.

6Ute E. Eisen, Women Officeholders in Early Christianity: Epigraphical and Literary Studies (Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000), 5.

7Ibid., 47

8Eldon Jay Epp, Junia: The First Woman Apostle (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005), 55.

9Ibid., 25.


11Eisen., 47.

12Epp, xi.

13Pederson, 18.

14Gill and Cavaness, 115.

15Epp, 54.


17Ibid., xvii

18Pederson, 19.

19Epp, xi.

20J. Lee Grady, 10 Lies the Church Tells Women (Lake Mary: Creation House, 2000), 152.

21Pederson, 116.

22Ibid., 117.

23Ibid., 22.



Eisen, Ute E. Women Officeholders in Early Christianity: Epigraphical and Literary Studies. Collegeville, MN: Liturgical Press, 2000.

Epp, Eldon Jay. Junia: The First Woman Apostle. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2005.

Gill, Deborah M., and Barbara L. Cavaness. God's Women: Then and Now. Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth, 2004.

Grady, J. Lee. 10 Lies the Church Tells Women. Lake Mary: Creation House, 2000.

Pederson, Rena. The Lost Apostle: Searching for the Truth About Junia. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 2006.









Loralie A. Crabtree





Metaphorical Interpretation

Literal Interpretation





The introductory greetings of 2 John address the epistle’s recipient as “the elect lady,” eklektē kyria, and her children.1 Scholars debate the identity of this elect lady; most argue for a metaphorical interpretation concluding the elect lady is the universal Church or a specific congregation, but others purport she was an actual woman. This paper will examine both metaphorical and literal interpretations, and highlight evidence portraying the elect lady as a possible leader of a house church.


Metaphorical Interpretation

The majority of modern interpreters believe the elect lady is a metaphor, a personification, or a poetic description2 of a church in a community other than that in which the epistle’s author lived. According to John L. Anderson, eklektē in the context of 2 John “means that God chose the [metaphorical] lady to belong to himself and to give her salvation.”3 This would have been a customary designation for Christians; all believers are “elect” in this sense. Among those who hold to a metaphorical interpretation, most perceive the term kyria, “lady,” and her children to represent a community church; the individual members of the congregation are the lady’s “children.” They “see her sister [v. 13] also as a church, probably in the place where the writer is, and her sister’s children as the members of that church.”4

The first argument in favor of a metaphorical interpretation rests on the transition from use of second person singular (vv. 4-5, 13) to second person plural (vv. 6, 8, 10, 12). In addition, “the relative pronoun is masculine plural, although referring to the lady (fem.) and children (neut.),”5 embracing “both the mother and her children of both sexes.”6 However, the transition from singular to plural throughout the letter, as well as the masculine relative pronoun in the greeting, does not conclusively indicate a metaphorical interpretation; in fact, an interpretation of this nature contributes toward a clumsy reading and coerced understanding. “Church” is understood throughout the New Testament as a plurality of people. To add imagery of “children” as participants of the same church is confusing and seemingly redundant.7 In other words, the church is already comprised of its children; this conceptually renders the greeting, “To the multiplicity of people who make up the church, and to its multiple members.” 

If the “sister” in verse 13 is also a church, a plurality of people, the same redundancy occurs if “the children” of the sister are viewed as a congregation. To complicate matters, the closing greeting is technically from the “children” only, not the “sister.” The need to mention “children” in both references is unnecessary if “lady” and “sister” are churches, not actual people. Furthermore, if “lady” is the feminine metaphor for a church or congregation employed by the epistle writer, it is perplexing that he would introduce yet another feminine metaphor, “sister,” as representing the church in the very same letter.

“Lady,” on the other hand, “is a common epithet in letters, whether used of a mother or sister or of someone more exalted.”8 And while “the internal evidence of 2 John strongly suggests a collective reference,”9 this plurality of people could be a house church congregation that meets in the home of the elect lady, as will be discussed later in the paper. The change from “you,” singular (v. 5), to “you,” plural (v. 12), “seems to fit a woman and her children better than a church and its members,”10 or a female house church leader and her children or extended household.

A second argument of the metaphorical interpretation is the epistle writer’s use of feminine imagery to describe the church. The Old Testament and Apocrypha refer to Israel as wife, bride, mother, and daughter. This precedent may have enabled First Century Christians to use similar language regarding the Church. A common practice in the ancient world was to refer to cities and nations as feminine entities. “In political contexts cities could be addressed as kyria, while coins depicting the Roman defeat of the Jewish revolt portrayed the captured Judea as a woman.”11 Jerusalem is portrayed as a mother, often as a widow or one mourning the loss of her children (Isa. 54:1-6; Baruch 4:10-16), and also as an unfaithful wife (Ezek. 16). In Ephesians 5:29-32, the Church is presented as the wife of Christ, and in Revelation 21, the revelator describes a vision of the New Jerusalem as a beautifully adorned bride dressed for her husband. The Shepherd of Hermas also offers feminine imagery casting the Church as a woman first young, then old (Vision 1:1-2:4).12 However, nothing in 2 John implies this figurative meaning in the ambiguous naming of its recipients. The aforementioned personifications “belong in contexts or in literary genres where one expects a degree of symbolism.”13 One can understand and justify such figurative usage in the book of Revelation, “but this epistle gives no hint of any figurative interpretation being intended.”14 Rather, “the simplicity of the little letter precludes the possibility of so elaborate an allegory, while the tenderness of its tone stamps it as a personal communication.”15 Also worth noting, while the Church is alluded to as the bride of Christ in other New Testament passages, the word, “Lady,” is an unusual reference made nowhere else. Furthermore, no trace exists of “correspondence between churches under the title of ‘ladies.’”16

Third, some scholars cite 1 Peter 5:13 as a parallel to the greeting of 2 John, “She who is in Babylon, chosen together with you, sends you her greetings, and so does my son Mark.” These scholars suggest the similar greetings are both figurative references to local churches. However, 1 Peter 5:13 remains an “uncertain illusion.”17 Others suggest “she who is in Babylon” was not a metaphorical allusion, but actually Peter’s wife who traveled with him in ministry (1 Cor. 9:5).

Using the same hermeneutical principle used above that “Scripture interprets Scripture,” one must also consider Revelation 2:20 and 2:23.18 The reference to the elect lady and her children in 2 John should be compared to “an attack on a woman prophet whom the author of Revelation calls ‘Jezebel’ and on her ‘children.’”19 While the spiritual propriety of the “elect lady” of 2 John stands in stark contrast to the heretic of Revelation 2:20, many conclude the false prophetess of Revelation 2 was an actual woman. “Thus the ‘chosen ladies’ of 2 John may have been women prophets, while ‘children’ referred to their congregations or disciples, and the ‘elder’ who wrote the letter was allied with the prophet described as ‘your chosen sister.’”20

Literal Interpretation

Before the literal interpretation is examined at length in the next section of this paper, a brief exploration of First Century house churches, patronage, and the presence of female leaders in house-based churches are crucial to an understanding of John’s epistles. A modern reader must be careful not to read his or her understanding of church into the primitive setting of the Early Church. “The first believers gathered for worship primarily in the private homes of well-to-do Christian families. Guest rooms in such church centers were made available as living quarters for traveling fellow believers and missionaries.”21 The second and third epistles of John “provide a lucid, concrete illustration of how house churches functioned”22 as important outposts for early Christian missional outreach. Early Christianity was a house-based movement.23 Christians, especially those who had financial means, offered hospitality to fellow Christians, particularly itinerant ministers such as teachers, apostles, and prophets. Third John 7 states these preachers went out “for the sake of the Name,” testifying about Christ. In keeping with Jesus’ instructions to His first disciples, these itinerant messengers traveled with few resources and depended largely on the generosity of local Christians. To reject hospitality to opposing itinerant missionaries also meant refusing them access to the house church. Thus, they were unable to speak at the communal gatherings which is where false doctrine would have been propagated and members of the church led astray.

Patronage, or benefaction, was a practice where people from higher social strata acted “as benefactors or patrons to those of lower social status, their clients. The support received by the clients was not limited to financial support … but also included broadly defined social and economic resources. In turn, the clients would honor their patron and be subject to her or his authority.”24 In the absence of a male paterfamilias, autonomous female leadership of a household happened frequently.25 Such women were generous patrons of itinerant ministers and house churches. Phoebe is a New Testament example of female patronage. In Romans 16:1-2, Paul calls Phoebe a prostatis (benefactor) of many, including Paul himself. Women of means opened their homes as the gathering place for Christians in their communities, hosted itinerant ministers, and funded their missionary efforts.

It should not appear unusual for the Apostle John to write a Christian lady and her children since other women were important in the early churches. New Testament scholar Aìda Besançon Spencer contends that women functioned as church overseers, the equivalent of today’s “head’ pastors,” and points to Phoebe (Rom. 16:1-2), Euodia and Syntyche (Phil. 4:2-3), Stephana (who could be a man or a woman, 1 Cor. 16:15-18), and Prisca (Rom. 16:3-5, 1 Cor. 16:19) as examples.26 Scholar Kevin Giles adds Mary mother of John Mark in Jerusalem (Acts 12:12), Lydia (Acts 16:14, 40), Nympha (Col. 4:15), and perhaps Chloe (1 Cor. 1:11) to this list.27 In fact, “The physical meeting of church groups in the house may have enhanced women’s leadership and missionary opportunities. … Women were traditionally associated with the house and viewed as natural household managers (for example, 1 Tim. 5:14; Titus 2:5) and thereby already in a position to have considerable influence in a house church.”28 Extrabiblical sources also shed light on the presence of female church leaders: “Governor Pliny tortured two women ministers as the leaders of a congregation in Bithynia-Pontus in Asia Minor, during the reign of Roman Emperor Trajan (A.D. 98-117).”29 This happened within the Apostle John’s lifetime.

Regarding, then, a literal interpretation of the greeting in 2 John, opinions vary widely. Some claim the elect lady was: (1) a woman named Eklektē; (2) a noble lady named Kyria; or (3) a “dear lady” to the letter’s author, eklektē kyria conveying a generic, but courteous and tender greeting. Others ponder if this was an ambiguous greeting designed to intentionally conceal recipients’ identities in case the letter fell into unfriendly hands.30

Those who conclude the elect lady is an actual person disagree as to the identity of the woman addressed. Both of the Greek terms eklektē kyria have been perceived as her personal name by ancients well-versed in Greek. Clement of Alexandria thought Eklektē was her proper name rather than an adjective; however, this is questionable since eklektē appears before the noun kyria in verse one and appears as an adjective in verse thirteen. Athanasius believed the woman was named Kyria,31 and that the address is “to the chosen Kyria.” Many modern scholars believe this is possible since the female name Kyria occurs in ancient documents.32 This interpretation is suggested by the American Standard Version of the Bible (1901).

Some scholars view the absence of the Greek definite article with the terms eklektē kyria as problematic if either of them refer to an individual. “The Greek may be literally rendered ‘to an elect lady’ or ‘to the elect lady;’”33 but the fact that eklektē kyria “appears without a definite article indicates that, if an individual is involved at all, she is not named.”34 Other scholars assert the absence of the article does not definitively prove this is not a proper name.35 Scholar D. Edmond Hiebert asserts,

More probably the absence of the article is intended to convey a qualitative implication, described here as “an elect lady,” recognized as among those “chosen” of God. The fact that John also uses this adjective of her sister in verse 13 indicates that both sisters were recognized as believers by grace, chosen out of the godless world around them as acknowledged members of the family of God. The contents of the letter make it obvious that the adjective “elect” was more than an expression of respect or flattery but is descriptive of their true spiritual status.36

On this interpretative journey, obvious parallels between 2 John and 3 John should be explored. The two epistles are similar in format and language, and deal with issues pertaining to itinerant teachers. First, they are both personal letters. “Each of them is the length of an ordinary private letter of the time which could be written on a standard-sized piece of papyrus … and each of them has the typical ‘form’ of a letter with a more or less stereotyped introduction and conclusion.”37 The personal nature and simplicity of the letters contribute toward a literal interpretation. The writer of 2 John commented that he met some of the elect lady’s children (v. 4), and he mentions her sister’s children (v. 13). As well, he notes her home (v. 10). The reference to the “elect sister” in the closing comments of 2 John reinforces the literal interpretation of “elect lady” at the beginning of the letter. A likely interpretation is “that both terms [eklektē kyria] are simply a courteous designation of the lady who is left unnamed.”38

Second, the greeting template is almost exactly the same. In 2 John, the author writes, “The elder, to the chosen lady and her children, whom I love in the truth.” He begins 3 John with, “The elder, to my dear friend Gaius, whom I love in the truth.” While, the Greek technically reads “to Gaius the beloved” (with the adjective following Gaius’ name, unlike the “Elect Lady”), it is easy to believe both epistles are penned by the same author whose intent was personal correspondence with actual individuals, not metaphorical entities. The closing comments of each letter reinforce their shared authorship and personal nature as both express John’s desire to visit his letters’ recipients and talk face to face.

Then in each letter, unfolding narrative contexts develop regarding itinerant teachers. Scholar Judith Lieu contends,

Second John initially has to be read as creating its own narrative, independently of questions as to the intended audience of the text; within this, the “narrative recipient,” the lady, is not to be dissolved as a symbol of a “real recipient”: to seek to identify a “real recipient” who might justify the personification as an “elect lady” fails to recognize that the letter creates its own self-contained narrative world.39

The specific issue addressed within 2 John is that itinerant false teachers who denied Jesus Christ came in a real body may seek hospitality from and audience with this house church which is likely presided over by the elect lady. First John 4:2-3 echoes this docetic concern.40 In 3 John, the epistle writer affirmed Gaius for his hospitality toward legitimate teachers, and rebuked Diotrephes for refusing to provide the same. Furthermore, Diotrephes prevents others from showing hospitality to such teachers, going so far as to put these believers out of the church (3 John 10). The congruous concern in 2 John and 3 John is the reception and rejection of both legitimate and false teachers. Thus, 2 John “can be well understood as what it claims to be, namely, a real letter written to a concrete situation.”41 Its narrative reveals that it was written to warn a sister house church (to 1 John) in another location “of the missionary efforts of the secessionist false teachers, and the dangers of welcoming them whenever they should arrive.”42


Without the presupposition that women cannot be church leaders, the most natural reading of the text seems to indicate the letter was addressed to a specific, female leader who very likely hosted a church in her home. In fact, a way to reasonably tie together the “‘narrative’ established by the letter and the real recipient would be if this particular community was indeed presided over by a woman, as was the neighboring one.”43 While there is no explicit scriptural reference of a woman serving as a “pastor,” the New Testament does not single out any men functioning in this specific capacity either.44 It is not difficult to imagine a small community of believers who worship at the home of this female patron. Perhaps she was a widow of some financial means with a home large enough to host traveling ministers and a serve as patron to a house church in a time before church buildings. She had grown children, some of whom John knew to be true believers. She also had a sister who may have been deceased, but with whose children John was acquainted. Because she functioned as a benefactor in the patronage system, practicing hospitality toward itinerant teachers, John feels compelled to caution her strongly regarding the reception of false teachers into her home.

New egalitarian, social realities modeled by Jesus characterized the primitive Church and attracted influential women. When these women became Christ followers, many funded Jesus’ and Paul’s itinerant travels, and offered their homes in hospitality to traveling Christians (most who traveled on evangelistic endeavors) and as meeting places for house churches and served in them very possibly as overseers. “For these reasons as well as the parallelism with 3 John, which is undoubtedly a personal letter, it is safe to assume that 2 John is written to a female church leader.”45



1All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the New International Version. The words “elect” and “chosen” are interchanged throughout the paper since cited authors use both words.

2Ksenija Magda, Commentary for 2 John, in The Women’s Study Bible: New Living Translation Second Edition, Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary J. Evans, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 1521.

3John L. Anderson, An Exegetical Summary of 1, 2, & 3 John, 2nd ed. (Dallas: SIL International, 2008), 198.

4Anderson, 218.

5Judith M. Lieu, I, II, and III John: A Commentary (Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008), 240.

6D. Edmond Hiebert, The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary (Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1991), 292.

7As if to say, “I am writing to the chosen class and to her students,” which seems to repeat the collective, multiple persons represented by both “class” and “students;” rather than, “I am writing to the chosen lady [Dr. Gill implied] and to her students.”

8Lieu, 244.

9W. Hall Harris, III, 1, 2, 3 John: Comfort and Counsel for a Church in Crisis (Dallas, TX: Biblical Studies Press, 2003), 241.

10Donald W. Burdick, The Letters of John the Apostle, An In-Depth Commentary (Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985), 416.

11Lieu, 244.

12Carolyn Osiek, Shepherd of Hermas: A Commentary on the Shepherd of Hermas (Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 1999), 41, 53, 58.

13Lieu, 245.

14Hiebert, 281-282.

15David Smith, “The Epistles of St. John,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament, W. Robertson Nicoll, ed. (1979; repr., Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1897), 162.

16F.W. Farrar, The Messages of the Books, Being Discourses and Notes on the Books of the New Testament (New York, NY: E.P. Dutton, 1987), 501.

17Hiebert, 281.

18“You tolerate that woman Jezebel,” (Rev. 2:20); “I will strike her children dead,” (Rev. 2:23).

19Mary Rose D’Angelo, “(Re)Presentations of Women in the Gospels: John and Mark,” in Women & Christian Origins, Ross Shepard Kraemer and Mary Rose D’Angelo, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 132.

20D’Angelo, 132.

21Roger W. Gehring, House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004), 282.

22Gehring, 281.

23Kevin Giles, A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006), 132.

24Margaret Y. MacDonald, “Reading Real Women Through the Undisputed Letters of Paul,” in Women & Christian Origins, Ross Shepard Kraemer and Mary Rose D’Angelo, eds., (New York: Oxford University Press, 1999), 208.

25Giles, 11.

26Aìda Besançon Spencer, “A Cloud of Female Witnesses: Women Leaders in the New Testament,” Priscilla Papers 23 (Autumn 2009): 24.

27Giles, 12.

28Ibid., 33.

29Letters of Pliny 10.96 as quoted by Aìda Besançon Spencer, “A Cloud of Female Witnesses: Women Leaders in the New Testament,” Priscilla Papers 23 (Autumn 2009): 24.

30C. H. Dodd, The Johannine Epistles, Moffatt New Testament Commentary (London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1946), 145.

31Scholars use “Kuria, “Cyria” and “Curia” as well.

32Hiebert, 283.

33Burdick, 416.

34Stephen S. Smalley, 1, 2, 3 John, Word Biblical Commentary 51 (Waco, TX: Word, 1984), 318.

35Daniel B. Wallace, Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 245-246.

36Hiebert, 291.

37I. Howard Marshall, The Epistles of John, The New International Commentary on the New Testament (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978), 9.

38Hiebert, 291.

39Lieu, 245.

40“This is how you can recognize the Spirit of God: Every spirit that acknowledges that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, but every spirit that does not acknowledge Jesus is not from God.”

41Marshall, 10.

42Lieu, 241.

43Lieu, 244.

44Belleville, 29.

45Ksenija Magda, Commentary for 2 John, in The Women’s Study Bible: New Living Translation Second Edition, Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary J. Evans, eds. (New York: Oxford University Press, 2009), 1521.



Anderson, John L. An Exegetical Summary of 1, 2, & 3 John, 2nd ed. Dallas, TX: SIL International, 2008.

Burdick, Donald W. The Letters of John the Apostle, An In-Depth Commentary. Chicago, IL: Moody Press, 1985.

D’Angelo, Mary Rose “(Re)Presentations of Women in the Gospels: John and Mark.” In Women & Christian Origins. Ross Shepard Kraemer and Mary Rose D’Angelo, eds. New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Dodd, C.H. The Johannine Epistles. Moffatt New Testament Commentary. London: Hodder & Stoughton, 1946.

Farrar, F.W. The Messages of the Books, Being Discourses and Notes on the Books of the New Testament. New York: E.P. Dutton, 1987.

Gehring, Roger W. House Church and Mission: The Importance of Household Structures in Early Christianity. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 2004.

Giles, Kevin. A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.

Harris, W. Hall, III, 1, 2, 3 John: Comfort and Counsel for a Church in Crisis. Dallas: Biblical Studies Press, 2003.

Hiebert, D. Edmond. The Epistles of John: An Expositional Commentary. Greenville, SC: Bob Jones University Press, 1991.

Lieu, Judith M. I, II, and III John: A Commentary. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press, 2008.

MacDonald, Margaret Y. “Reading Real Women through the Undisputed Letters of Paul.” In Women & Christian Origins. Ross Shepard Kraemer and Mary Rose D’Angelo, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Magda, Ksenija. Commentary for 2 John in The Women’s Study Bible: New Living Translation Second Edition. Catherine Clark Kroeger and Mary J. Evans, eds. New York: Oxford University Press, 2009.

Marshall, I. Howard. The Epistles of John. The New International Commentary on the New Testament. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1978.

Smalley, Stephen S. 1, 2, 3 John. Word Biblical Commentary 51. Waco, TX: Word, 1984.

Smith, David. “The Epistles of St. John,” in The Expositor’s Greek Testament. 1879. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1979.

Spencer, Aìda Besançon. “A Cloud of Female Witnesses: Women Leaders in the New Testament,” Priscilla Papers 23, (Autumn 2009): 24.

Wallace, Daniel B. Greek Grammar Beyond the Basics: An Exegetical Syntax of the New Testament. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1996.







Trina Pennington






Hatshepsut, the Builder

Hatshepsut, the Explorer

Hatshepsut, the Patron

Hatshepsut, the Adaptor






The land of Egypt holds many intriguing mysteries; many uncovered and many yet to be discovered. One of those curious mysteries concerns a pharaoh called Hatshepsut. The name Hatshepsut means, “Foremost of the noble ladies.”2 As possibly the first, as well as one of the only female pharaohs in Egypt’s ancient history, Hatshepsut modeled successful leadership. Yet, her story remains largely unknown. It makes one ponder the questions, “Who was this female pharaoh?” and “What contributed to her success?” Writers record varying perspectives about her life, but no one can denounce the fact that she made significant contributions to ancient Egyptian society. “Hatshepsut was … an intelligent woman of uncommon ability with a keen political sense … attractive … ambitious … and wanted to be king, not a mere queen.”3 Her reign lasted twenty-two years and included co-regencies with her husband and her stepson.4

This paper will look at the following areas to discover keys to her leadership success: The Beginnings of Hatshepsut, The Leadership Roles of Hatshepsut, and The Legacy of Hatshepsut. Through a brief study of her remarkable life, leaders can discover valuable leadership principles to enhance their leadership journey.


Ahmes B., the wife of the mighty warrior pharaoh, Tuthmosis I, gave birth to Hatshepsut in the early 1500s BC during the New Kingdom of Egypt (1549-1348 BC).5 At that time period in history, Egypt dominated “the entire known world of the day.”6 The pharaoh sat at the center of Egyptian culture. His role included “the head of civil administration, the supreme warlord, and the chief priest of every god in the kingdom: all offerings were made in his name.”7 Both the pharaoh, who embodied of the falcon-god Horus, and his wife fulfilled significant religious roles in the society.8 An interdependent and complex bond existed between the pharaoh’s reign and the religious exercises of the kingdom. The religious role a queen played as well as her ability to bear heirs for the royal throne gave her value in the kingdom. Egyptian society appreciated all women who gave birth to children, not just royalty.9

Though certain limitations existed, women in ancient Egyptian society were esteemed higher than women in most other ancient societies. Certain cultural factors contributed to women’s worth in Egyptian culture. For example, Egyptians highly respected and gave homage to their gods. Many of their male gods displayed feminine attributes.10 Also, Egyptians honored and worshiped their female gods, called “goddesses,” such as Isis and Hathor.11

Another factor which contributed to Egypt’s respect of women centered on the Nile River. It played a significant role in Egyptian culture. The life-giving force of the Nile nourished the land and produced fertile soil. Egyptian men and women farmed the land and modeled an agricultural society.12 During this time period, two categories of ancient societies existed: agricultural and nomadic. Generally, agricultural societies valued women’s contributions in the community whereas nomadic cultures viewed women as burdens.13 When women worked in the fields, they provided economic strength to the country and food for their families.

All these factors set the stage for the emergence of the rare, but successful rise to leadership of Hatshepsut. She ascended to power in incremental steps, not by one particular act of coronation. Hatshepsut’s rule began when she married and reigned together with her half-brother, Tuthmosis II. Tuthmosis II died prematurely. Since Egyptian annals hold very little information about his life, historians record his reign as “inconsequential.”14 Tuthmosis II’s young and illegitimate son, Tuthmosis III, inherited the throne even though Hatshepsut produced a daughter as an heir, Nefrura.15 Initially Hatshepsut shared the throne with Tuthmosis III. But, because he was young and inexperienced in ruling, Hatshepsut grew stronger in her reign until her role evolved into a more powerful position. Eventually, she formalized her role as successor by taking “on the throne name Ma’atkare which means ‘Truthful harmony’ [a female concept which was also divine].”16 She further legitimized her self-appointment as successor by saying that the god Amun disguised himself as her father, Tuthmosis I, to impregnate her mother. The union of her mother with the god made Hatshepsut divine.17 The combination of her divinity and her royal bloodline qualified her to serve as pharaoh.


Hatshepsut, the Builder

Hatshepsut demonstrated amazing ambition and innovation in architecture. She used these skills to build the kingdom through new and restorative building initiatives. Hatshepsut commissioned hundreds of construction projects spanning from upper to lower Egypt, “outstripping those of her predecessors.”18 Archaeologists continue to uncover monuments, temples, obelisks, and other initiatives she consigned to be built. Her strong spiritual beliefs provided the fuel for her passion. For example, driven by her belief that the gods predestined her to restore temple purity rituals, she rebuilt many temples such as the Temple of Karnak.19 She boasted, “I have raised up what was dismembered.”20 She rebuilt many temples to honor the plethora of gods that Egyptians worshiped.

Included in the complex maze of temples and tombs in Deir el-Bahr stands the magnificent and unique edifice built by Hatshepsut, the djeser djeseru (holy of holies). She built the temple as a funerary for her father and herself.21 The temple proudly stands as the focal point amongst all the structures on the compound. It represents her most outstanding architectural accomplishment. The creativity exhibited in the building remains unparalleled in Egyptian architect. No other structure in Egypt resembles this temple. Builders crafted the temple out of the terraced landscape near the modern-day city of Luxor. Artisans carved her history into the temple walls. These artistic scenes include her building projects, events in her life such as the story of her mythical divine birth,22 and her infamous expedition to Punt.

Hatshepsut, the Explorer

Hatshepsut’s expedition to Punt showcased her courageous and adventurous spirit. Spurred on by the need to resource many building projects as well as to find a supply for incense trees, she organized an expedition to Punt. Archaeologists believe Punt to be modern day Somalia, Eritrea, and Ethiopia.23 The expedition took place over land and sea. It served as a huge diplomatic achievement for Hatshepsut as she expanded trading relations and commerce with neighboring kingdoms.24 Some critics propose the theory that she used this expedition as an outlet for her military. Other than a few campaigns to Nubia, her reign exhibited minimal military accomplishments.25 No matter what the motivation, the expedition proved beneficial to Egypt. Ships bursting with valuable and exotic commodities such as incense, gold, ivory, and African animals sailed back to Egypt.26 These commodities enhanced Egypt’s economy. Also, she transplanted incense trees acquired in Punt in an attempt to furnish the high demands of incense in Egypt. The grounds at Deir el-Bahr still contain the roots of incense trees planted during her reign. Hatshepsut worked hard at fulfilling a pharaoh’s economic obligations by providing resources for her country and by using money from the trade to fund art and architecture projects. Also, she fulfilled political obligations by forging diplomatic relationships with the leaders she encountered.

Hatshepsut’s expedition provided political and economic benefits to Egypt as well as personal satisfaction for herself. She found joy in her adventure and decided to commemorate the journey. The walls at Deir el-Bahr meticulously depict the various scenes of the expedition from the animals they encountered to the ships returning to Egypt. Also, they record her thoughts about Punt as she described it as “her place of delight” and “a glorious region of God’s land.”27

Hatshepsut, the Patron

Hatshepsut demonstrated a generous and symbiotic style of leadership. To her nobles, “she became as important to them as they were to her.”28 She valued unwavering loyalty. In return, she honored her nobles by constructing private tombs for them at Thebes and Saqqara. Also, she commissioned private statues at Karnak to be built for her supporters.29 Senenmut, her adviser and daughter’s tutor, benefited from her generosity more than any other person. Artists etched him onto the walls of Deir el-Bahr in multiple places. One endearing scene pictures him with her daughter, Nefrura. In addition, Hatshepsut gave Senenmut and his family members the honor of a burial site within the temple walls at Deir el-Bahr.30 Royalty normally retained the exclusive honor of a temple burial.

Hatshepsut, the Adaptor

One curious aspect of Hatshepsut’s life involves her adaptation to Egyptian Pharaonic culture. Archaeologists, excavating on Elephantine Island, discovered ancient blocks depicting her as a woman in the early years of her reign.31 In three-dimensional sculptures, artisans freely portray her as a woman. However, on the walls of temples, conservative artists depict her as a male figure, donning a ceremonial beard worn by pharaohs.32 Historians record her as frequently dressing in male clothing.33 One writer describes her as “the female pharaoh so successful Egypt turned her into a man.”34

Another female leader, Queen Elizabeth I of England, embraced a similar cultural practice. During her speeches, she “made references to the male-ness which was somehow inherent in her.”35 Perhaps Hatshepsut adapted the traditional “look” of a pharaoh in order to command the respect of the role as pharaoh. Or, perhaps she wore male clothes to honor her role as the embodiment of the male god Horus.


Hatshepsut died after ruling for over two decades in Egypt. After her death, Tuthmosis III assumed the throne as sole leader in Egypt. In the latter part of his reign, he made an attempt to completely remove her name from Egypt’s history. His people erased her name from monuments and the annals. Then, they replaced it with his name, his father’s name, and his grandfather’s name. Masons bricked up her obelisks.36 Although she remained anonymous for thousands of years, in the past century archaeologists have begun to unearth her accomplishments. Though archaeologists excavated many of her monuments, her palaces remain undiscovered. These excavating projects unveiled her innumerable significant achievements in Egyptian history.37


The life of Hatshepsut offers many valuable principles for leaders. Though not comprehensive, the list below comprises some of the leadership insights gleaned from her example:

1. Spiritual convictions produce the foundation and passion for leaders to fulfill the callings on their lives and make a difference in the world. Hatshepsut used the “calling” on her life to fulfill her predetermined mission and left a legacy behind. When spiritual purpose births initiatives and ministries, the fruit that remains endures.

2. Assuming leadership roles necessitates development and growth in the lives of leaders. The rise to leadership often happens gradually and incrementally, not instantaneously, as in Hatshepsut’s life. As leaders allow God to grow them, doors of opportunity open.

3. Misfortune strikes all leaders. When hardships come, leaders must decide to accept the challenge and rise to lead. Either they choose to step up to the challenge and lead, like Hatshepsut did after the death of her husband, or they choose to fade into the shadows of anonymity.

4. Leaders demonstrate ambition, innovation, and creativity. As Hatshepsut exhibited creativity and initiative to accomplish more than her predecessors, leaders must do the same.

5. Leaders exhibit a courageous and adventurous spirit. Hatshepsut’s expedition to Punt modeled how leaders must explore new territories and take risks.

6. Generosity marks the life of a leader. Leaders generously give resources, such as time and finances, to minister to others just as Hatshepsut demonstrated generosity to those she led.

7. Various contexts require leaders to adapt to their new roles, such as Hatshepsut adapted her “style” to fulfill the role she played.

Hatshepsut’s story is still being written as archaeologists continue excavating her accomplishments. In the same way, God continues to write the stories of leaders who follow His plan for their lives.



1Giovanna Magi, and Patrizia Fabbri, Egypt and 7000 Years of Art and History: English Edition (Firenze, Italy: Bonechi, 2006), 189.

2J. D. Ray, Reflections of Osiris: Lives from Ancient Egypt (New York: Oxford University Press, 2002), e-book, 44.

3Magi, and Fabri, Egypt and 7000 Years,189.

4Magi, and Fabri, Egypt and 7000 Years, 6.

5Magi, and Fabri, Egypt and 7000 Years, 6.

6Magi, and Fabri, Egypt and 7000 Years, 6.

7Aidan Dodson, and Dyan Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt (London: Thames and Hudson, 2004), 11.

8Dodson, and Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, 9.

9John Ray, “Hatshepsut: The Female Pharaoh,” History Today. May 94, Vol. 44, Issue 5, 23, accessed May 14, 2018, https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-15255779/hatshepsut-the-female-pharaoh.

10J. D. Ray, Reflections of Osiris, 42.

11Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018, accessed May 26, 2018, https://www.britannica.com/list/11-egyptian-gods-and-goddesses.

12J. D. Ray, Reflections of Osiris, 42.

13J. D. Ray, Reflections of Osiris, 43.

14Magi, and Fabbri, Egypt and 7000 Years, 189.

15Dodson, and Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, 131.

16J. D. Ray, Reflections of Osiris, 45.

17Dodson, and Hilton, The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt, 14.

18Ian Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), 230.

19Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, 231.

20Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, 188.

21Magi, and Fabbri, Egypt and 7000 Years, 189.

22J. D. Ray, Reflections of Osiris, 53.

23J. D. Ray, Reflections of Osiris, 50.

24Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, 234.

25John Ray, “Hatshepsut.”

26J. D. Ray, Reflections of Osiris, 51.

27J. D. Ray, Reflections of Osiris, 50.

28Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, 234.

29Shaw, The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt, 234.

30John Ray, “Hatshepsut,” 23.

31Elahe Izadi, “The Female Pharaoh So Successful, Egypt Turned Her into a Man,” Independent News, April 24, 2016, accessed 4/19/2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/hatshepsut-the-female-pharaoh-so-successful-egypt-turned-her-into-a-man-a6998176.html.

32J. D. Ray, Reflections of Osiris, 47.

33Magi, and Fabbri, Egypt and 7000 Years, 7.

34Izadi, “The Female Pharaoh So Successful.”

35J. D. Ray, Reflections on Osiris, 46.

36John Ray, “Hatshepsut,” 23.

37Izadi, “The Female Pharaoh So Successful.”



Assmann, Jan. The Mind of Egypt: History and Meaning in the Time of the Pharaohs. Translated by Andrew Jenkins. New York: Metropolitan Books, 1996.

Dodson, Aidan, and Dyan Hilton. The Complete Royal Families of Ancient Egypt. London: Thames and Hudson, 2004.

Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://www.britannica.com/list/11-egyptian-gods-and-goddesses.

Magi, Giovanna, and Patrizia Fabbi, eds.. Egypt and 7000 Years of Art and History; English Edition. Firenze, Italy: Bonechi, 2006.

Izadi, Elahe. “The Female Pharaoh So Successful, Egypt Turned Her Into a Man.” Independent News. April 24, 2016. Accessed April 19, 2018. https://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/africa/hatshepsut-the-female-pharaoh-so-successful-egypt-turned-her-into-a-man-a6998176.html.

Ray, J. D. Reflections of Osiris: Lives from Ancient Egypt. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002. E-book.

Ray, John. “Hatshepsut: The Female Pharaoh.” History Today. May94, Volume 44, Issue 5, p. 23. EBSCO. Accessed May 14, 2018, https://www.questia.com/magazine/1G1-15255779/hatshepsut-the-female-pharaoh.

Shaw, Ian. The Oxford History of Ancient Egypt. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

Sweeney, Emmett. Empire of Thebes or Ages of Chaos Revisited: From the Series Ages in Alignment. New York: Algora Publishing, 2006. E-book.






      Lisa Potter






Amma Sarah

Amma Syncletica of Alexandria

Amma Theodora

Mary of Egypt






To many in the Christian faith the term Desert Mothers remains a foreign expression. These Early Church women lived a secluded and simplistic lifestyle, and most accounts of their lives were originally gathered from oral traditions, appearing in written format much later. The historical stories and wisdom sayings that have survived, however, illustrate a lifestyle given to a genuine expression of faith and the fulfillment of a higher purpose. To fully appreciate the Desert Mothers’ significance and contributions to Christianity requires careful consideration of the early beginnings of the desert spirituality movement, along with the Desert Mothers themselves and their sayings, the purpose of the desert lifestyle, and how Christians today can learn from the disciplines of desert spirituality. 


Desert living and the monastic lifestyle had its beginnings in the early fourth century when Emperor Constantine made Christianity legal. Previously, the Church had experienced much persecution and early Christians often had their faith tested to the point of death. Red martyrdom (sacrificing one’s life rather than recanting faith in the resurrected Lord) was common practice for the Early Church.1 These Christians came to accept the harsh mistreatment as part of their declaration and belief in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, when Constantine became emperor and started supporting Christianity, persecution ended, giving way to an easier life. This led some to have “deep questions about an expression of the faith that was taking on the trappings of the Roman Empire.”2 Mary Earle notes that, as a result, “a kind of restlessness began to grow, a desire to live out the faith in a way that somehow would imitate the faithfulness of the martyrs.”3 Thus the Early Church transitioned from red martyrdom to what became known as white martyrdom—the beginning pilgrimage to the desert for devout women and men.

The solitude of the desert had an additional pull on women. Because of the culture of the time, society treated women harshly, considering them no better than a slave: “Generally, women in the early Christian centuries did not own themselves; they did not have control of their lives or even their bodies. Women were at the disposal of other people, generally men, who owned them.”4 The transitions in the Church, the mistreatment of women, the search for deeper spirituality, along with the appeal of solitude and simplistic living, drew many women to flee to the desert: “One historian of the times tells us that there were twice as many women as men in the deserts. Another scholar said that there were so many Christians who sought to live this life in the desert that the desert became a city.”5 According to “Palladius, in his Lausiac History, … women outnumbered the men two to one, yet it is the stories of the men that are preserved and told.”6


Four women stand out among the Desert Mothers: Amma Sarah, Syncletica of Alexandria, Theodora, and Mary of Egypt. Going against expectations of family and culture, the ammas, or spiritual mothers, sought a deeper, less cluttered way of life. The social status of these women greatly varied. Some had immense financial wealth and gave their inheritance to the poor or funded monastic communities, while others were destitute. Some were even prostitutes who searched for a life free from their demons and the sin that had ruined them.

Amma Sarah

Born to a wealthy Christian family in Egypt, Amma Sarah was affluent and received a good education. Trading her affluence for a simpler life, she moved “to the vicinity of a women’s monastery in the desert of Pelusium (near Antinoe), Sarah lived alone for many years near the river in a cell with a terraced roof. She attended to the needs of the nearby community.”7 A recurring story shared about her life in the desert focuses on her thirteen-year battle against the demon of fornication:

Once the same spirit of fornication attacked her more insistently, reminding her of the vanities of the world. But she gave herself up to the fear of God and to asceticism and went up onto her terrace to pray. Then the spirit of fornication appeared bodily to her and said, “Sarah, you have overcome me.” But she said, “It is not I who have overcome you, but my master, Christ.8

So focused was she to a life of surrender to God, tradition holds that she lived beside a river for sixty years and never looked at it for fear she would see her reflection and commit the sin of vanity. Others believe that “Amma Sarah was not easily distracted. She allowed her surroundings to support her without any need to possess them. She so intensely focused on cultivating total union with God that it seems she was unaware of her surroundings.”9

Even in the desert, however, women like Amma Sarah still faced difficulties because of their gender:

To be woman was to be “fleshly, sinful, sensuous, passionate, and bodily:” qualities Sarah’s culture sought to avoid. To be a man was to be “rational, godlike, angelic, otherworldly:” qualities valued in her culture. To be “manly” (not necessarily a male) was to live beyond the passions: to know them, to be aware of them, yet not let them rule. Several of our spiritual foremothers were referred to by their contemporaries as “this female man of God” –deemed a compliment!10

This cultural value of male superiority led two old men, both great anchorites, to visit Amma Sarah with the goal to humiliate her. They told her, “Be careful not to become conceited thinking to yourself: ‘Look how anchorites are coming to see me, a mere woman.’ Amma Sarah said to them, ‘According to nature I am a woman, but not according to my thoughts.’”11

Among many of her wisdom sayings, some notables include “If a person remembers the words of Scripture: By your words you shall be justified, and by your words you shall be condemned (Mt. 12:37), then he will choose to remain silent.”12 She also said, “It is good to give alms for men’s sake. Even if it is only done to please men, through it one can begin to seek to please God.”13 And, finally, “I put out my foot to ascend the ladder, and I place death before my eyes before going up.”14

Swan concludes, “Much of her desert struggle was centered on calming inner distractions and cultivating those things that bought her close to God. ‘Lust’ and ‘fornication’ were not so much about bodily passions but rather anything or anyone that kept her heart distracted from God.”15

Amma Syncletica of Alexandria

The most prominent of the Desert Mothers was Amma Syncletica of Alexandria, who was well educated and beautiful. Born into a well-respected Christian family of Macedonian heritage, she had a blind sister and two brothers who died at an early age. When her parents died, “Amma Syncletica sold all her possessions and distributed the family wealth among the poor. She then cut her hair as a sign of consecration and moved with her blind sister to the family tomb outside Alexandria. Here she began her life as a desert ascetic.”16

Serving as a spiritual mentor to many, she educated others “in the disciplines of the inner life. She trained her followers to cultivate such qualities as gentleness, patience, and endurance—each grounded in love and vitally needed for spiritual journey.”17 Her teachings centered around the disciplines that encouraged believers to shed themselves of “all stumbling blocks: attitudes, motives, addictions, emotions, not united with Christ, as well as any ignorance that hindered the inner journey.”18 The Church calls her “Amma Syncletica of blessed memory,” and she was known for her profound gifts of the discernment of spirits.19 Amma Syncletica understood desert spirituality as an inner journey of warfare, one in which she struggled with anger, vindictiveness, envy, and ambition: There is “… a good deal of suffering for those who are advancing towards God…It is like those who wish to light a fire; at first they are choked by the smoke and cry, and by this means obtain what they seek (as it is said; ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ (Hebrews 12:24): so we also must kindle the divine fire in ourselves through tears and hard work.20

Amma Syncletica lived into her eighties, although she suffered intense physical suffering in her later years; however, she understood her suffering as a blessing:

If illness weighs us down, let us not be sorrowful as though, because of the illness and the prostration of our bodies, we could not sing, for all these things are for our good, for the purification of our desires. Truly fasting and sleeping on the ground are set before us because of our sensuality. If illness then weakens this sensuality, the reason for these practices is superfluous. For this is the great asceticism: to control oneself in illness and to sing hymns of thanksgiving to God.21

The life of Amma Syncletica speaks to a life secure in Christ regardless of gender. Earle states, “The ammas tell me that from the beginnings of the life of the Church, women have been initiators of new patterns and teachings, opening the way for knowing the wholeness that God offers in Christ.”22

Amma Theodora

While much less is known of Amma Theodora, her life appeared to challenge the cultural norms of the day, for she held much authority. She lived in the fourth century in the desert of Egypt and worked as a colleague with Archbishop Theophilus of Alexandria, where she was often consulted by monastics about the monastic life.23 Another source states that Amma Theodora “was a director of bishops and other men in public positons. We know she was clear in her teaching and strong in her rebukes.”24

Amma Theodora is a great example of how gender in desert society often disappeared. Life in the desert was based on community and it was common for the ammas and abbas to seek guidance from one another. Earle notes, “While solitude, silence, and stillness were the basic structures of the life of the desert elders, they also knew that they needed each other. The desert led them to put away defenses and ways of interacting that might have impeded honesty and vulnerability. In the desert, it became clear that the way was made by walking together.”25

Mary of Egypt

Mary of Egypt lived in the sixth century and entered into the ascetic way after repenting of a life of prostitution. Running away from her parents at the age of twelve, she lived as a harlot in Alexandria for seventeen years until she was dramatically converted:

Mary was prohibited from entering the church by an unseen force. After three such attempts, she remained outside on the church patio, where she looked up and saw an icon of the Theotokos. She began to weep and prayed with all her might that the Theotokos might allow her to see the True Cross; afterwards, she promised, she would renounce her worldly desires and go wherever the Theotokos may lead her. After this heart-felt conversion at the doors of the church, she fled into the desert to live as an ascetic. She survived for years on only three loaves of bread and thereafter on scarce herbs of the land. For another seventeen years, Mary was tormented by “wild beasts—mad desires and passions.” After these years of temptation, however, she overcame the passions and was led by Theotokos in all things.26

The desert became her home and she lived a life of solitude, without seeing a person for forty-eight years until the priest Zosimas came to the desert in search of a holy monk and discovered Mary. Their encounter would be one of strange circumstances, as she stood naked before him, asking for his cloak to cover herself, her hair white and her body frail from lack of food. Looking at the priest, she knew him by name before he had even been introduced and the reason he had come to the desert: 

These words threw Zosimas into greater dread, and he trembled and was covered with a sweat of death. But at last, breathing with difficulty, he said to her, “O Mother in the spirit, it is plain from this insight that all your life you have dwelt with God and have nearly died to the world. …But since grace is recognized not by office but by gifts of the Spirit, bless me, for God’s sake, and pray for me out of the kindness of your heart.” And so, Mary gave the blessing.27

One year later Zosimas would return to find her dead along with a letter to him inscribed in the sand, signed, “Mary, the sinner.”28

The life of St. Mary of Egypt is celebrated in “Western churches, Coptic churches, Greek churches, and on the fifth Sunday of Great Lent. Her story has become a model of repentance for all Christians.”29


Amma Syncleticia of Alexandria addresses the purpose and journey of the desert and how it must always begin in the heart: “There are many who live in the mountains and behave as if they were in town, and they are wasting their time. It is possible to be a solitary in one’s mind while living in a crowd, and it is possible for one who is a solitary to live in the crowd of his own thoughts.”30 In this wisdom saying, Amma Syncleticia ties the journey of the desert to the journey of the heart. Laura Swan notes that for those who seek the desert spirituality of the ammas, “Movement toward simplicity begins within. Alone with ourselves, we can still be crowded with rapid-fire thoughts, conflicting emotions and concerns.”31

In response to a changing world and the call to leave it behind, the purpose of desert spirituality begins to unfold:

These spiritual seekers, who came to be known as the desert fathers and mothers, withdrew from a society where the misuse of human relationships, power, and material possessions ran counter to their sense of the sacredness of life. Their journey into the desert was a movement toward cultivating an intentional awareness of God’s presence and recognizing that worldly pleasures bring little long-term satisfaction. The aim was to experience God in each moment and activity by reducing their physical needs and committing themselves to the discipline of regular prayer and self-inquiry.32

In order to cultivate this inner desert spirituality, “the cell—whether in a monastery or the desert—was important to their spirituality. The cell was the place of spiritual combat, the place where one faced one’s truest self and deepened awareness of one’s sin and woundedness.”33 This cell consisted of a mat on the floor and possibly a few pitchers for water and maybe a few books.

Those who chose the way of the desert shared certain characteristics: apatheia (the quality of the interior spiritual journey in which the inner struggle against inordinate attachments has ceased), discipline, prayer, solitude, silence, stability, conflict, the Bible, hospitality, relationships, humility, suffering, compassion, nature, simplicity, spiritual direction, listening, discretion, and love34 These women sought to “live out the Great Commandment: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Luke 10:27, Dt. 6:5, Lev. 19:18).35


Throughout Christian history the role of women has proved essential in the formation and guidance of the Christian faith. Important early women of the faith not only include those women whose stories appear in the Scriptures, such as Deborah, Esther, Ruth, Naomi, Junia, Lydia, Mary Magdalene, and Martha, but also women remembered in the history of the Early Church—the Desert Mothers, the ammas of the fourth and fifth centuries. Their contemplative lifestyle challenges believers to practice spiritual disciplines. These women and their spiritual leadership provide spiritual lineage to women today, as noted by Mary C. Earle: “I had an intuitive conviction that women had played a far larger role than the scholarship of the time was revealing. I would walk around asking out loud, ‘Where are my mothers?’ ‘Where are my sisters?’ ‘Where are all of those women without whom there would be no faith, no church, no traditions?”36 Indeed, the Desert Mothers are these spiritual mothers and sisters whose lives and practices laid an important foundation for the Church.



1Mary C. Earle, “The Desert Mothers,” Spirituality and Practice, accessed January 28, 2016, http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/features/view/16777.


3Mary C. Earle, The Desert Mothers, Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness (New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2007), 10.

4Christine Valters Paintner, Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom and Sayings, (Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2012), 29.

5Earle, “The Desert Mothers.”

6Laura Swan, The Forgotten Desert Mothers (Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001), 3.

7Ibid, 35.

8Ibid, 37.


10Ibid, 39.

11Ibid, 38.

12Word Press, “Amma Sarah,” Word Press, accessed January 28, 2016, https://ammasarah.wordpress.com.



15Swan, 35.

16Ibid, 42.



19Full of Grace and Truth, “Sayings of St. Syncietika the Righteous of Alexandria,” Blogspot, accessed January 28, 2016, p. 2, http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/01/sayings-of-stsyncletika-righteous-of.html.

20Swan, 43.

21Ibid, 49.

22Earle “The Desert Mothers,” 4.

23Ibid, 63.

24Earle “The Desert Mothers,” 2.

25Earle, 25.

26John Townsend, “The Life of Our Venerable Mother Mary of Egypt,” St. Mary of Egypt, accessed February 11, 2016, http://stmaryofegypt.org/files/library/life.htm.

27Coptic Church, “St. Mary of Egypt,” Coptic Church, accessed February 12, 2016, http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/synexarion/maryofegypt.htm.



30Full of Grace and Truth, 2.

31Swan, 57.

32Paintner, 7.

33Swan, 13.

34Swan, 24.

35Earle, “The Desert Mothers,” 1.

36Ibid, 5.


Carrington, Jr., Henry L. The Wisdom of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. Brewster, MA: Paraclete Press, 2010.

Coptic Church. “St. Mary of Egypt.” Accessed February 12, 2016. http://www.copticchurch.net/topics/synexarion/maryofegypt.htm.

Earle, Mary C. The Desert Mothers: Spiritual Practices from the Women of the Wilderness. New York: Morehouse Publishing, 2007.

Earle, Mary C. “The Desert Mothers.” Spirituality and Practice. Accessed January 28, 2016.  http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/book-reviews/excerpts/view/16749.

Full of Grace and Truth, “Sayings of St. Syncietika the Righteous of Alexandria.” Blogspot. Accessed January 28, 2016. http://full-of-grace-and-truth.blogspot.com/2010/01/sayings-of-stsyncletika-righteous-of.html.

Innes, D. Keith. “Wisdom from the Desert—The Desert Fathers and Mothers.” Church of the St. Mary the Virgin. Accessed January 28, 2016. http://www.ringmerchurch.org.uk/library/catalogue.php

Larkin, Earnest E. “Desert Spirituality.” The Carmelites. Accessed January 28, 2016. http://carmelnet.org/larkin/larkin024.pdf.

Paintner, Christine Valters. Desert Fathers and Mothers: Early Christian Wisdom and Sayings. Woodstock, VT: SkyLight Paths Publishing, 2012.

Swan, Laura. The Forgotten Desert Mothers. Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 2001.

Townsend, John. “ This Life of Our Venerable Mother Mary of Egypt.” St. Mary of Egypt. Accessed February 11, 2016. http://stmaryofegypt.org/files/library/life.htm.

Wordpress. “Amma Sarah.” Word Press. Accessed January 28, 2016. https://ammasarah.wordpress.com.




Jodi Faulkner







Hartford Female Seminary

Western Female Institute

Milwaukee Female College









Born at the turn of the nineteenth century to popular preacher, Lyman, and Roxana Foote Beecher, Catharine Esther Beecher was the oldest of thirteen children of Lyman and his three different wives. Two of the children died in infancy—Harriet, born to Roxana, and Frederick, born to his second wife, Harriet Porter. In 1811, three years after the death of the infant Harriet in 1808, future author, Harriet Beecher (Stowe), joined the family. Eventually, seven Beecher boys and four girls survived into adulthood. All the boys followed their father into a ministerial career, and although the clergy option was closed for the girls, the ladies contributed valuably to society as educators, authors, and as societal crusaders and reformers. Catharine “founded three academies for young women; authored textbooks on domestic science, arithmetic, physical education, and moral philosophy; and worked tirelessly to promote the entry of females into the teaching profession.”1 This paper presents a few highlights and accomplishments of this remarkable woman.


Schooled at home by her mother until the age of ten, Catharine then entered Litchfield Female Academy, founded and run by Miss Sarah Pierce in Litchfield, Connecticut, at the age of ten. Her education continued there until sixteen when her mother’s premature death necessitated that Catharine return home to care for the children and the house. Although forced to return home, her education did not cease. In a letter to her father penned in February 1823, Catharine describes some of her self-education. She writes about the Chemistry, Logic, Philosophy, and Arithmetic that she has mastered. She laments the indolence of past years and states that all of the knowledge that she has acquired thus far has “walked into my head, without any exertion or any care to arrange it.”2 She also continued studies in Latin throughout her life with her brother, Edward, serving as her tutor.3

In fact, Beecher’s superior education earned her the title of “America’s First Female Philosopher and Theologian”4 by Mark David Hall. Hall proposes that while other females taught about philosophy and theology before Beecher, she wrote in the most rigorous, systematic fashion to date. He states that the systematic nature of her thoughts “illustrate(s) her desire to integrate her Christian faith with her philosophical and theological investigations.”


Catharine was engaged to Alexander Metcalf Fisher in early 1822. Fisher, a brilliant scientist, taught at Yale—having earned his professorship at the young age of twenty-four. On a year-long trip to Europe to visit universities there, Fisher drowned in a shipwreck off the coast of Ireland.5 Catharine mourned him and never married.

True to his Calvinist preaching and teaching, Lyman Beecher believed that individuals possessed an original sin nature and that conversion to Christianity stood as their only hope for entrance to heaven. He encouraged all of his children to wrestle with their disobedience to God until they had broken through in victory and salvation. Catharine valiantly attempted to conform to her father’s views, but when Fisher died, she struggled to balance his death with the idea that he would spend eternity separated from God as Fisher had never accepted salvation to her knowledge. She agonized to her brother Edward in a letter, “Are the noble faculties of such a mind doomed to everlasting woe, or is he now with our dear mother in the mansions of the blessed?” Catharine ultimately joined the Episcopal Church, which did not believe in the doctrine of original sin, but instead taught that children were born innocent and eventually became corrupt or guilty as they aged. She even authored a book for the Episcopalians, Religious Training of Children, discussing this issue.6


Hartford Female Seminary

After the death of Fisher, Lyman Beecher encouraged Catharine to seek out gainful employment. She moved to Hartford, Connecticut, and rented a room above a harness shop in the center of town. She opened her first school in Hartford in 1823. “Within five years the Hartford Female Seminary was housed in its own imposing new structure, maintained a staff of eight teachers, and drew its trustees from among Hartford’s leading citizens.”7 Beecher left the school for different ventures in 1831. The Seminary was recognized as one of the premiere academies in New England.

Western Female Institute

She then ventured west with her family as her father had accepted a new post as President of Lane Theological Seminary in Cincinnati, Ohio. In the spring of 1833, she advertised for the establishment of the Western Female Institute, a school dedicated not just to the “technical acquisition of knowledge,” but to “mental and moral development.”8 Beecher had devised a plan for a national system of moral education. At the center of this scheme lay teachers’ seminaries where women could be trained. The women would then in turn train other women in their own seminaries. Sklar postulates that the success of the Western Female Institute served as the key to the positive implementation of that strategy.9 An essay written about Beecher states that she “stridently believed that ‘if this country is ever saved, it must be by woman more than man.’”10 This quote derives from her book True Remedy. The Institute in Cincinnati did not operate successfully, however, and after much discord with people in the city and those helping to run the school, it closed its doors in 1837.

Milwaukee Female College

Beecher’s final foray into the establishment of a model ladies’ seminary or institute proved to be even less amicable than the one in Cincinnati. Heading to Milwaukee in 1850, she had backing and plans for a new school there. She envisioned that she would eventually build her own home at the school and retire on the grounds of the school. This home and retirement did not occur. The Milwaukee Female College was founded and became very successful. It was eventually named the Milwaukee-Downer College until it merged with the University of Wisconsin in the 1950s. Constant disagreements with the board members and founders of the school plagued Beecher’s time there. Even after moving away from Milwaukee, she attempted to control every detail of the venture—including a home of her own that she demanded the school construct. At one point, she filed a lawsuit against the trustees. The lawsuit was eventually dismissed, and Beecher parted company with the Milwaukee Female College. The spring of 1856 marked the end of Beecher’s career as an educator, though she did serve as principal of the Hartford Seminary for a few years in the 1870s. Writing and her extended family dominated the rest of her life.11


Beecher philosophically diverged from some of her counterparts in the arena of a woman’s place or sphere in society. While many ladies in the nineteenth century lobbied for the rights of women to vote and to participate in civic affairs, Beecher firmly believed that women should serve as domestic guardians, nurses, and teachers. “Women should not try to poach on ‘masculine employments,’ which consisted of everything outside woman’s profession.”12 She posited that women were uniquely equipped to train the next generation in strong character and morals. By properly educating women for their profession as mothers and teachers, society would benefit. Even as early as 1829, she penned, “What is the profession of a woman? Is it not to form immortal minds, and to watch, to nurse, and to rear the bodily system, so fearfully and wonderfully made, and upon the order and regulation of which, the health and well-being of the mind so greatly depends?”13 In a seemingly converse thought process, she heartily advocated for commensurate pay for ladies so that they could live self-supporting lives. As well as training women for the teaching profession, Beecher implored schools and society to pay the women a living wage so that they did not remain dependent on their families for their entire lives if marriage did not occur.


Emma Willard, founder of Troy Female Seminary, Mary Lyon, Mount Holyoke Ladies’ Seminary, and Catharine Beecher all concurred in their opinions that girls and young women should receive a quality, equivalent, and rigorous education. For the most part, they all agreed that an educated woman benefited society due to her ability to train and steer the next generation. The three ladies had differing approaches, though. While Willard did not “plan to disrupt the social order,”14 she did speak in public—something Beecher never did because of the impropriety of such an act. Willard did concede even in that arena, though, as she sat down during public addresses so that it seemed more like a conversation than a speech. Beecher strongly advanced the cause of higher pay for female teachers so that the ladies could be financially self-sufficient. Willard and Lyon did not champion that conviction. Lyon, perhaps the most devoutly religious of the three, prepared ladies to serve as teachers and missionaries, while Willard mostly confined her sphere of influence to educational pursuits. Lyon believed that all people should love their neighbors as themselves, and she espoused the “doctrine of disinterested benevolence” as taught by Jonathan Edwards. She did not have interest in the monetary gains of teaching or other professions but instead held that people should undertake such vocations as a duty to their Creator and fellow man. Serving others reigned supreme for Lyon.15


Catharine Beecher’s pioneering efforts in founding educational facilities for ladies allow her the standing as a trend-setting, forward-thinking individual. Her prowess as an author prevails as an equally impressive accomplishment, however. Her keen, resourceful mind and pen churned out pamphlets, letters, treatises, books, and textbooks on a multitude of issues and ideas throughout the years. She created her A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Young Ladies at Home, and at School after discovering in her extensive travels “the deplorable sufferings of multitudes of young wives and mothers, from the combined influence of poor health, poor domestics, and a defective domestic education.”16 Some people identified the book as the first complete guide to housekeeping published in America. Chapters include such subjects as the care of infants and the sick, sewing, arrangement of the household with specific instructions for the proper layout of the kitchen, the care of the yard and garden including how to cultivate fruits and vegetables, proper rearing and education of children, how to mix colors and dye, and even domestic amusements and social duties. Beecher ably addressed a broad spectrum of domestic responsibilities in her writing, and though she never married or had a home of her own, she employed these tasks in many ways—including when she lived with her younger sister, Harriet, as Harriet wrote Uncle Tom’s Cabin. Catharine managed the household and children so Harriet could write.

Beecher’s domestic treatise served not just as a textbook on how to cook a roast or plant beans, however. Her deep intellect and philosophical study shined forth in this book as she quoted widely from Alexis de Tocqueville. She included his statements, “And now that I come near the end of this book in which I have recorded so many considerable achievements of the Americans, if anyone asks me what I think the chief cause of the extraordinary prosperity and growing power of this nation, I should answer that it is due to the superiority of their women.”17 Beecher sought to remind women of their superior station, and she wished to educate them in order that they might perform their duties capably and admirably. She exhorted them that all women “are agents in accomplishing the greatest work that ever was committed to human responsibility,” regardless of whether it is “the woman who is rearing a family of children” or “the woman who labors in the school room.”18


Even though she achieved a variety of significant accomplishments during her lifetime, Beecher did struggle in a few areas. For example, the founding and administration of the school in Milwaukee created sizeable disputes between the school officials there and Beecher as she attempted to control the minutiae of every decision and plan. At the time of the centennial celebratory history of the school in 1951, this was written, “Miss Beecher was not only a person of extreme independence of mind but, as she grew older, of considerable stubbornness and single-mindedness in carrying out her ideas.”19 As previously mentioned, discord accompanied her time in Cincinnati as well.

Beecher also placed onerous demands on those around her. Due to the prohibition on women speaking in public, one of her brothers or brothers-in-law frequently accompanied Beecher in her travels and delivered her addresses for her. Calvin Stowe, Harriet’s husband, wrote to his wife in 1848, “Cate has neither conscience nor sense—if you consent to take half a pound, she will throw a ton on your shoulders, and run off and leave you, saying—it isn’t heavy—it isn’t heavy at all, you can carry it with perfect ease.” He emphatically expressed his desire to have no more to do with her business saying, “She would kill off a whole regiment like you and me in three days.”20

Despite her tireless advocacy for the elevation of the status of women, Beecher remained an anti-suffragist throughout her life. She believed that women could adequately influence from their place in the home and schoolroom. In her Address to the Christian Women of America in 1871, she expressed concern that “suffrage would cause the ‘humble labors of the family and school to be still more undervalued and shunned.’”21 Many of her peers and co-laborers in the fight for equality for women sharply disagreed with her.


Catharine Beecher lived and worked in a time of great political, social, and economic change in America. She tirelessly advocated for the rights and privileges of women. She believed that quality education served as the answer for elevating women to their rightful place. Beecher toiled throughout her days attempting to contribute to society within “the sphere of usefulness for a single woman.” She wrote to her father a few months before opening the Hartford Seminary that she wished to follow “that course in which I could be most extensively useful and at the same time consult my own and the happiness of my friends.”22 She suffered a stroke and died in 1878 after living many useful and productive years.



1Jeanne Boydston, Mary Kelley, and Anne Margolis, The Limits of Sisterhood (Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1988), 14.

2Ibid., 13.

3Kathryn Kish Sklar, Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity (New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1976), 59.

4Mark David Hall, "Catharine Beecher: America's First Female Philosopher and Theologian," Fides Et Historia Vol. 32, (no. 1): 65-80. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 12, 2016).

5Barbara A. White, The Beecher Sisters (New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003), 6.

6Sklar, 260-261.

7Ibid., 59.

8Ibid., 112.

9Ibid., 114.

10Erie M. Roberts, "Architecture of The Millennium: Catharine Beecher, Domestic Economy, and Social Reform," Constructing the Past Vol. 7: Iss. 1, Article 5 (2006). http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/constructing/vol7/iss1/5.

11Sklar, 217-226.

12White, 74-75.

13Catharine E. Beecher, Suggestions Respecting Improvements in Education, Presented to the Trustees of the Hartford Female Seminary, reprinted by Leopold Classic Library (Hartford, CT: Packard & Butler, 1829), 9.

14Margaret A. Nash, Women's Education in the United States, 1780-1840 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005), 107.

15Ibid., 108-109.

16Catharine E. Beecher, A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Ladies at Home, and at School, Kindle Edition (New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845), Location 14.

17Alexis De Tocqueville, Democracy in America, ed. J. P. Mayer, trans. George Lawrence (New York: Harper & Row, 1966), 603.

18Beecher, Treatise, Location 582, Kindle.

19The History of Milwaukee-Downer College, 1851-1951, Centennial Publication, 1950, Selections from Special Collections, Book 2, Lawrence University, Seeley B. Mudd Library, 9.

20Boydston, 14.

21"Only A Teacher: Schoolhouse Pioneers, Catharine Beecher," Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), accessed February 4, 2016, http://www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/beecher.html.

22Boydston, 35.


"Only A Teacher: Schoolhouse Pioneers, Catharine Beecher," Public Broadcasting Service (PBS), accessed February 4, 2016, http://www.pbs.org/onlyateacher/beecher.html.

Beecher, Catharine E. A Treatise on Domestic Economy, for the Use of Ladies at Home, and at School. Kindle Edition. New York: Harper & Brothers, 1845.

———. Suggestions Respecting Improvements in Education, Presented to the Trustees of the Hartford Female Seminary. Reprinted by Leopold Classic Library. Hartford, CT: Packard & Butler, 1829.

Boydston, Jeanne, Mary Kelley, and Anne Margolis. The Limits of Sisterhood. Chapel Hill: The University Of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Hall, Mark David. "Catharine Beecher: America's First Female Philosopher and Theologian." Fides Et Historia. Vol. 32, (no. 1). ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed February 12, 2016).

Kieckhefer, Grace Norton. The History of Milwaukee-Downer College, 1851-1951, Centennial Publications. 1950. Selections From Special Collections, Book 2. Lawrence University. Seeley B. Mudd Library.

Nash, Margaret A. Women's Education in the United States, 1780-1840. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2005.

Roberts, Erie M. "Architecture of the Millennium: Catharine Beecher, Domestic Economy, and Social Reform." Constructing the Past. Vol. 7: Iss. 1, Article 5 (2006). http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/constructing/vol7/iss1/5.

Sklar, Kathryn Kish. Catharine Beecher: A Study in American Domesticity. New York: W. W. Norton & Company, Inc, 1976.

Tocqueville, Alexis De. Democracy in America. Edited by J. P. Mayer. Translated by George Lawrence. New York: Harper & Row, 1966.

White, Barbara A. The Beecher Sisters. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press, 2003.





Brenda C. Pace






Phoebe Palmer the Leader

Phoebe Palmer the Social Reformer

Phoebe Palmer the Revivalist

Phoebe Palmer the Author

Phoebe Palmer the Theologian





There is a woman in the pulpit! They call her the “Female Finney.”1 I watch her and notice there is little about her that is attractive. She is simple in both manner and dress. In fact, to a degree she is severe and drab. Yet, she is also gracious and refined. She speaks calmly, but with great confidence. She is not like any preacher I have ever heard, but of course, I have never heard a woman preacher. They say she does not call herself a preacher, but it is evident she has a call of God on her life. She tells stories that draw me in and make me want to listen. She speaks of power—Holy Ghost power—that will change my heart and give me victory over sin. Who is this woman in the pulpit?2

An observer of Phoebe Palmer as she conducted a holiness meeting could have spoken these words. Historical annals of the religious life of America can give the impression that women made insignificant contributions. In fact, a perusal through an American history textbook on religion used in a major Christian university does not mention the name Phoebe Palmer.3 Yet, upon close inspection one cannot deny her pivotal role in the mid-1800 revivals, the Methodist renewal, and the entire Holiness-Pentecostal movement. This paper will investigate the life of Phoebe Palmer, who because of her influence in the Pentecostal movement one historian described her as “arguably the most influential female theologian in Christian history.”4


Phoebe was born in New York City on December 18, 1807 to Henry and Dorthea Wade Worrall.5 Her father became a Christian at age thirteen during one of John Wesley’s 5 a.m. revival services.6 After immigrating to the United States in his early twenties, Wade Worrall became a successful owner of an iron foundry and machine shop, a profession that provided his family a comfortable life. The family was very active in the Methodist Episcopal Church, but did not leave the church responsible for the religious teaching of the children. Family worship took place morning and evening in the Worrall household.7 This disciplined time of worship for the Worrall children was an intentional effort by the parents to make conversion and holy living a priority.8 Phoebe wrote these words in third person of her own conversion providing a glimpse into her spiritually sensitive nature, “When about thirteen, she acknowledged herself before the world as a seeker of salvation, and united herself with the people of God.”9

In 1827, at age nineteen, Phoebe married Dr. Walter Clark Palmer.10 Dr. Palmer was a homeopathic doctor who shared Phoebe’s heritage of growing up in a pious Methodist household. Records of the marriage grant insight into a happy union of two people who loved, valued and respected one another. Phoebe wrote that Walter was her “dearest earthly treasure.”11 By all accounts, their marriage was a display of unified spirits and a model of team ministry, unprecedented for their time.12

Although Phoebe stated her conversion came at age thirteen, throughout her teen and young adult life she was troubled by a lack of assurance of her own salvation. Her conversion was not a result of an overwhelming sense of her own sinfulness and was not dramatic or extraordinary, which seemed to exacerbate the feeling of insecurity that plagued her concerning her salvation.13

Her crisis of belief came as the result of the death of her infant sons. When Alexander and Samuel died as infants, Phoebe resolved that she had devoted too much time and attention to them and not enough to God. In reflection she wrote, “From henceforth, Jesus must and shall have the uppermost seat in my heart.”14 However, it was not until a year after the tragic death of a third child, Eliza, that deep despair would lead Phoebe to what she described as her “night of nights” when she was “weaned from the world” and saw her life as one dedicated to the proclamation of Christ.15 On a night in 1837 as Phoebe praised God out of what she felt was a sense of duty she experienced a spiritual breakthrough. Biographer Charles White details the mystical experience that followed, “She was ushered into a region of light, glory, and purity.” Phoebe rested in the “embrace of God and He swallowed her up in a sea of love.”16

Soon after this experience, even though she did not like to speak in public, Phoebe began to teach a women’s Bible study class. Her willingness to take this step illustrates her attitude that her spiritual experience was not hers to keep, but to share.17 Phoebe’s notes give insight into her teaching style and portray her as more of a facilitator of a discussion than a teacher who lectured. She trained the members of the class to study ahead in order to be prepared for the discussion and affirmed their collective wisdom as teachers of one another.18 Her chosen methodology, which today educators categorize as an effective adult learning model, shows the high priority she placed on equipping laity. The class became popular over a nine-year period and was just the beginning of what became a far-reaching ministry.19


Phoebe Palmer the Leader

In 1840, Phoebe replaced her sister Sarah as the leader of the Tuesday Meeting for the Promotion of Holiness. These meetings took place in the Palmer home and included women and men who represented a variety of denominations, vocations, and social standing20 Phoebe desired these meetings to be a safe place for people to share their faith stories. She designed the environment as “a little social circle where experimental testimony may be heard on the subject in unreserved fellowship.”21 The attendance grew so much that the Palmer’s built an addition to their home and later even moved to larger quarters. Phoebe refused to move the meeting to a church out of concern that the informality and neutrality of denomination would be lost.22 Church historians note the Tuesday Meeting as a spark that ignited the holiness movement during the middle decades of the nineteenth century.23

Phoebe Palmer the Social Reformer

Phoebe Palmer’s submission to Christ made her a responsible steward of her time and money and motivated her social benevolence. She was active in social reform as an initiator of ministries in New York City slums and prisons. In 1850, she founded the Five Points Mission, an urban outreach consisting of a chapel, school, and free housing.24 This organization played an important role in the development of the way the church ministered to the poor, providing a model of nineteenth century missional living.25

On the topic of women’s rights, some have described Phoebe Palmer as an advocate, and others, a bystander.26 There are those who would even label her a feminist, yet, one cannot brand her with this title in a political sense. Her stand was for a woman’s right to exercise her God-given gifts in the church.27 As stated by Hatch and Wigger, “hers was a renewal rather than a protest effort.”28 She saw her role of wife and mother as ministry and felt that her holiness experience helped balance her duties inside and outside the home.29 She believed she was a better wife to Walter and a better mother to her three surviving children because of God’s work of sanctification in her heart.30

Phoebe Palmer came on the scene during a critical time in the history of women‘s rights in the United States. Through her writing, speaking, and leadership, she resisted the forces that restricted women in the Victorian era. Her ideas and example provided a precedent for women’s ministry, as well as women in ministry, in the church. Biographer Charles White asserts she “showed that women could speak with power, think with clarity, and act with effectiveness.”31 Interestingly, Mrs. Palmer never sought official licensure for preaching because she felt it was simply her duty to share the Good News.32 In her opinion, the term “preaching” held a negative association with the technical hair-splitting of scripture.33 Whatever her thoughts were about preaching or the rights of women, she wrote a seminal work on women in ministry titled, The Promise of the Father. Her thesis is based on God’s promise in Joel 2:28 to pour out his Spirit on sons and daughters.

Phoebe Palmer the Revivalist

While Phoebe did not see herself as a preacher, she did see herself as an equipper. She worked diligently to equip lay people for evangelism through not only her Bible class and Tuesday Meeting, but also through a rather intense traveling ministry that began in 1841. Often in poor health, for almost a decade, she traveled alone to various one-day meetings, revivals, and camp meetings until the late 1850s when her husband retired from his medical practice to accompany her.34 She organized efforts for lay evangelism by developing a campaign plan for both pre and post meetings. She recognized people who often came to a meeting merely for spiritual fire insurance and then return home unchanged. This inspired her to train others to do follow up through Vigilance Bands. These weekly prayer meetings took place throughout cities to carry on the work begun in her revivals.35

Phoebe and her husband Walter traveled throughout the United States and Canada where reports such as “Revival Extraordinary” made headlines of widely read Methodist publications.36 During the course of 1859-1863, the Palmers traveled to England where over 1300 people were converted.37 Along with Dwight L. Moody and Jeremiah Lanphier, author Elmer Towns credits Phoebe Palmer as leading one of the ten greatest revivals in history, the Layman’s Prayer Revival of 1857-1861.38

Phoebe Palmer the Author

Many people first became acquainted with Phoebe Palmer’s life and beliefs through her writing. During her lifetime, Phoebe wrote and published eighteen books, numerous articles and thousands of personal letters. Historians estimate her book, The Way of Holiness, sold over 100,000 copies worldwide.39 The Palmer’s periodical magazine, Guide to Holiness, had the largest subscriber list of any Methodist periodical during the years 1870-1873.40 Like the Tuesday Meetings, the magazine featured testimonies of sanctification and became a powerful tool for the promotion of the holiness movement. Writing became an especially meaningful outlet for ministry during the periods of illness that plagued Phoebe throughout her adult life.

Phoebe Palmer the Theologian

Phoebe did not consider herself a theologian. Just as the term “preaching” held a negative connotation for her, so did the term “theology.” Theology to Phoebe called to mind “a complex substitute for God’s simple truth.”41 The theology espoused by Phoebe Palmer was one in which inner transformation was the desired outcome.42 This transformation was the result of a second distinct work of grace that filled the converted heart with love and made Christian perfection possible in the here and now.43

Even though Palmer based her view of sanctification on that of John Wesley, she advocated a shorter way to Wesley’s Christian perfection. She outlined the process in her book The Way of Holiness advocating the believer follow three steps to entire sanctification: place all on the altar, take God at his word, and give public testimony of the commitment.

Following the publication of The Promise of the Father in 1859, Phoebe began to refer to holiness as the full baptism of the Holy Spirit. She linked and equated the second blessing of sanctification with Pentecost in Acts 2.44 Biographer Charles E. White elaborates that this is what made her a forbearer to the Pentecostal movement:

Her popularization of Pentecostal language and her emphasis on immediate sanctification … laid a firm foundation for later Pentecostal developments. Even the three steps commonly taught as a means of receiving the baptism of the Holy Spirit, (conversion, obedience, belief), are similar to the steps Mrs. Palmer taught.45

Pentecostal historian, David Roebuck agrees that Palmer’s shift in language introduced the idea of needing a fresh outpouring of Pentecost. Roebuck concludes Palmer’s use of Acts 2 language46 helped pave the way for the Pentecostal outpouring that took place in the early twentieth century.47


So, who was that woman in the pulpit? Her name is Phoebe Palmer and her contributions to America’s religious history are vast. She was a social reformer who provided hands-on ministry and training for the poor. She was a mentor for women who directly influenced the likes of Catherine Booth of the Salvation Army, as well as Frances Willard of the Women’s Christian Temperance Union.48 She was an educator who showed tremendous forward thinking in her teaching and discipleship methods. She was a coach who affirmed the ministry of laity and valued their contribution. She was a communicator who modeled the power of story in her speaking and teaching. She was a theologian who emphasized the person and work of the Holy Spirit in the life and ministry of believers. Over the course of her lifetime that woman in the pulpit exhorted over 100,000 people to turn to Jesus and generated a revival that brought nearly a million people into the family of God and earned her the right to wear the title, Mother of the Holiness Movement.49


1Charles E. White, The Beauty of Holiness: Phoebe Palmer as Theologian, Revivalist, Feminist, and Humanitarian (Grand Rapids: Frances Asbury Press, 1986), 118.

2Fictional account compiled from a variety of sources describing her and her ministry. 

3Edwin Gaustad and Leigh Schmidt, The Religious History of America (San Francisco: Harper, 2004). Textbook used for Religious History in America class at Liberty Theological Seminary in 2008.

4Charles Edward White, “Phoebe Palmer and the Development of Pentecostal Pneumatology,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 23, no 1-2 (Spring/Fall, 1988): 198.

5Harold E. Raser, Phoebe Palmer: Her Life and Thought (NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1987), 21.

6White, The Beauty of Holiness, 1.

7Ibid., 2.

8Raser, 22

9Priscilla Pope-Levison, Turn the Pulpit Loose: Two Centuries of American Women Evangelists (NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004), 61.

10Amy Oden, ed., In Her Words: Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994), 282.

11Raser, 33.

12Richard Wheatley, The Life and Letters of Phoebe Palmer (NY: W. C. Palmer, Jr., Publisher, 1876).

13Kevin T. Lowery, “A Fork in the Wesleyan Road: Phoebe Palmer and the Appropriation of Christian Perfection,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 36, no 2 (Fall, 2001):198. ATLA Religion Database with ATLASerials, EBSCOhost (accessed August 12, 2012).

14Pope-Levinson, 61.

15White, The Beauty of Holiness, 9.

16Ibid., 19.

17Ibid., 21.

18Ibid., 13.

19Raser, 50.

20Pope-Levinson, 63.

21White, The Beauty of Holiness,161.

22Ibid., 164.

23Nathan O. Hatch, John H. Wigger, Methodism and the Shaping of American Culture. (Nashville: Kingswood Books, 2001), 282.

24Oden, 282.

25Charles E. White, “Holiness Fire-Starter”, Christian History 82, (April 4, 2004), www.christianitytoday.com/ch/2004/issue82/4.16.html (accessed August 10, 2012).

26Allyson Jule and Bettina Tate Pederson, eds., Being Feminist, Being Christian (NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006), 114-118.

27White, The Beauty of Holiness, 206.

28Hatch and Wigger, 296.

29White, The Beauty of Holiness, 195.

30Ibid., 197.

31Ibid., 188.

32Pope-Levinson, 69.


34Ibid., 63.

35White, The Beauty of Holiness, 71.

36Elmer Towns, Douglas Porter, The Ten Greatest Revivals Ever (Ann Arbor, MI: Servant Publications, 2000), http://emiconlibrary.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/06/10_Greatest_Revivals-Elmer-Towns-Douglas-Porter-1.pdf (accessed August 10, 2012).

37White, The Beauty of Holiness, 71.

38Towns (no page numbers listed).

39White, The Beauty of Holiness, 29.

40Charles E. Jones, “The Inverted Shadow of Phoebe Palmer,” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31, no. 2, (Fall 1996): 122. http://wesley.nnu.edu/fileadmin/imported_site/wesleyjournal/1996-wtj-31-2.pdf (accessed August 10, 2012).

41White, The Beauty of Holiness, 105.

42Raser, 150.

43Susie Stanley, “Sanctified Feminism,” Wesleyan Quarterly Review 23, no. 4, (Winter 2003): 391.

44Allen Anderson, An Introduction to Pentecostalism: Global Charismatic Christianity (Cambridge, UK: University Press, 2004), 27.

45White, The Beauty of Holiness, 158.

46Ibid., 126. During this time, Phoebe Palmer’s meetings incorporated a pattern of Pentecostal language and themes. The meeting would open with a hymn about Pentecost. Dr. Palmer would follow with the reading of Acts 2 and a brief commentary. Phoebe would then exhort those present to experience an inward “baptism of pure fire.” Those who desired the blessing would come forward for prayer at the altar and urged to share their testimony.

47David Roebuck, interview by Brenda Pace, Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, TN, August 6, 2012.

48Philip W. Davisson, “Catherine Booth and Female Ministry: Foundations and Growth,” Salvation Army Word and Deed 6, no. 1 (Nov 2003): 50-65.

49Elizabeth Heath, The Mystic Way of Evangelism: A Contemplative Vision for Christian Outreach (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008), 63.



Davisson, Philip W. “Catherine Booth and Female Ministry: Foundations and Growth.” Salvation Army Word and Deed 6, no 1 (November 2003): 50-65.

Palmer, Phoebe. Promise of the Father. Boston: H. V. Degan, 1859.

Jones, Charles, E. “The Inverted Shadow of Phoebe Palmer.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 31, no. 2, (Fall, 1996): 120-132.

Jule, Allyson, Bennina Tate Pederson, eds. Being Feminist, Being Christian. NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2006.

Lowery, Kevin T. “A Fork in the Wesleyan Road: Phoebe Palmer and the Appropriation of Christian Perfection.” Wesleyan Theological Journal, 36 no 2, (2001): 187-222.

McDannell, Colleen. Religions of the United States in Practice, Volume 1. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2001.

Oden, Amy, ed. In Her Words: Women’s Writings in the History of Christian Thought. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994.

Pope-Levison, Priscilla. Turn the Pulpit Loose: Two Centuries of American Women Evangelists. NY: Palgrave MacMillan, 2004

Raser, Harold E. Phoebe Palmer: Her Life and Thought. NY: Edwin Mellen Press, 1987.

Roebuck, David. 2012 Interview by Brenda Pace, August 6. Pentecostal Research Center, Cleveland, Tennessee.

Stanley, Susie. “Sanctified Feminism.” Wesleyan Quarterly Review 23, no. 4, (Winter 2003): 386-399.

Towns, Elmer, Douglas Porter. The 10 Greatest Revival Ever: From Pentecost to the Present. Ventura, CA: Vine Books, 2000.

White, Charles E. “Holiness Fire-Starter.” Christian History 82, (2004). www.christianitytoday.com/ch/2004/issue82/4.16.html (accessed August 10, 2012).

———. The Beauty of Holiness: Phoebe Palmer as Theologian, Revivalist, Feminist and Humanitarian. Grand Rapids: Frances Asbury Press, 1986.

______. “Phoebe Palmer and the Development of Pentecostal Pneumatology.” Wesleyan Theological Journal 23, no.1-2, (Spring/Fall, 1988): 198-212.

Wiggler, John H., Nathan O. Hatch, eds. Methodism and the Shaping of American Culture.  Nashville: Abingdon Press, 2001.







Susan Comiskey











A mind picture, the lady with the lamp, usually accompanies the instantly recognizable name of Florence Nightingale. A sweet nurse gliding softly through the corridors of human misery dispensing peace and comfort as she moves. However, there is so much more to the story and person of Florence Nightingale than the public persona of one of England’s most famous daughters. Florence Nightingale can be described as passionate, persuasive, difficult, demanding; she was a visionary and a voice for change. In a period of history when women of her station and class were expected to be quietly preparing for marriage and a life of social activity based upon her husband’s position, she was an unusually strong woman. Florence Nightingale never married but instead, pursued her dream, the dream of becoming a nurse.

This paper will explore Nightingale early years and the formation of her passion and life focus. It will consider her religious affiliation and how her faith accompanied her life work. The war in the Crimea produced the impetus for Florence to launch into nursing and established the legend of the Lady of the Lamp. The years following this momentous season in her life will round off and provide the conclusion to the myth and actuality of the incredible Florence Nightingale.


Florence Nightingale was born into a wealthy English family in 1820.1 She and her sister experienced a life of comfort and ease. Her father and mother travelled extensively, bringing their two small daughters with them. The family owned two large properties, Lea Hurst in Derbyshire and Embly Park in Hampshire. The children were used to being waited upon by household servants and enjoyed a life of social activity.2 In such a wealthy, socially well-positioned family, it was expected that the daughters would make appropriate marriages and settle into a life similar to their socialite mother. Young Florence however was already expressing an interest in something more than what was expected of her. This would be a notable theme in her life ahead – Florence never did what was expected. Florence Nightingale became a woman who broke new ground and challenged long-held concepts.

Florence’s parents were not only wealthy, but they were also devout protestant adherents. The two girls often accompanied their mother to give gifts to the poor in addition to regular church attendance. The contrast between her life of ease and the difficult lives of others could have caused the intelligent and thoughtful Florence to consider a different life course. Some biographers write of an early conversion to Christ accompanied by a call to Christian ministry.3 Others write of a conversion to Christ after reading a book by an American Congregational minster, Jacob Abbot, and recording in the event in her diary.4 Although the intimate details of her faith journey remain vague, Florence Nightingale’s spiritual interest in living a life of purposeful accomplishment is well documented. Florence had laid out before her a life of leisure but longed to do something more meaningful with her life. Strachy describes the tension that pervaded Florence’s early years, “so she dreamed and wondered; and taking out her diary, she poured into it the agitations of her soul. And then the dinner bell rang, and it was time to go and dress for dinner.”5 Some writers suggest she expressed the desire to engage in missionary service.6 Although a handful of young single Victorian women went into missionary service, Florence did not. Her parents opposed many of her early ideas to forge out alone into some kind of spiritual service. However, Florence did have a devoted father who took great interest in her education. Schooled extensively by her father in several languages, Florence was articulate and well educated.7 At every opportunity she visited nursing homes, clinics, hospitals and began to ask her parents to allow her to pursue some kind of training in nursing or helping the poor.  It is unclear exactly when the passion for nursing was sparked but she has been quoted as saying “since I was twenty four there was never any vagueness in my plans or ideas as to what God’s work was for me.”8 After several attempts to enter training in nursing, Florence’s parents finally agreed for her to live and study at the Kasierwerth Institute in Germany in 1850 for three months.9 Now thirty years of age, she had at last begun a journey of combining her faith and service in a meaningful way. This period proved strategic in helping Florence to focus her life call. Florence Nightingale never looked back, she would help the sick in the name of God.


After returning from Germany, Florence’s parents allowed her to “work” at a Harley Street, London nursing home for gentlewomen recovering from illness. Public perception of nurses in the Victorian age was dismal. Nurses were considered ignorant, immoral, dirty, and untrustworthy to carry out simple medical procedures.10 Horrified at the prospect of their daughter becoming part of such a profession, the Harley Street establishment allowed her parents a certain amount of dignity and placated Florence’s agitation to train as a nurse. While in London Florence excelled in her work and became known for her outstanding administrative abilities.

Concurrent to this period Florence kept regular contact with many of her parent’s political and academic connections. She mixed socially with well-placed politicians, one of whom, Sidney Herbert, later became the British war secretary. These connections proved to be another link that catapulted Florence into her most notable role, the Lady with the Lamp, at Scutari Hospital Constantinople.

When the Crimea War broke out in 1854, nursing and nurses still had the same terrible reputation. The sick and wounded often suffered immeasurably at the hands of uneducated medical attendants. Many soldiers survived the battlefield only to succumb to disease and die of their wounds due to a lack of hygiene and poor nursing attention. Wounded and dying British soldiers were sent to Scutari hospital in a suburb of Constantinople, escaping the battlefield only to die in the filthy, poorly run hospital. Journalists detailed the appalling conditions and highlighted the unnecessary deaths to the British public.11 Sidney Herbert, the war secretary (and a friend of Florence) had a disaster at hand. He personally asked Florence to lead a delegation of nurses to attend to the sick and dying, and to try and avert further bad press. What happens next is the making of a legend. In a hostile and difficult situation, the full force of Florence’s abilities began to show. She organized, bullied, agitated, and worked tirelessly to create a hospital of cleanliness and order. Often misunderstood and opposed, she labored on. All accounts of her time in Scutari testify to her resilience and tenacity at changing the hospital from an early grave into an actual place of restoration. At times Florence even used her own money to fund necessities, but gradually she oversaw a change of situation. Strachy writes, “her good will could not be denied and her capacity could not be disregarded.”12 After a long day at work Florence would walk the wards at night with her lamp to check that all was in order. Many soldiers wrote home to testify of the lady with the lamp that brought such comfort to their hearts. The transformation of the Scutari hospital from a dire situation to a place of healing was attributed to Florence Nightingale’s administrative abilities and her dedication to detail. Her tenacity paid off and her patients were the direct beneficiaries. Armed with a formidable reputation and enormous good will with the British public, Florence returned to England in 1856 at the end of the war.13 The lady with the lamp, diligently devoted, an antithesis to the common perception of nursing, a sweet savior to the dying troops, her legacy and legend intact for decades to come.  


Although Florence spent only two years in the Scutari hospital, it is the enduring memory of this remarkable woman. Florence Nightingale returned to public adoration and began a lifetime of advocating for nursing reform. Often in ill health, she withdrew at times from public sight to rest and recuperate; however, the work of overhauling nursing was never neglected. Over the next forty years Florence Nightingale used every bit of good will and positive public perception to leverage off and launch change in her profession. Previous political connections coupled with her reputation proved useful in pushing for reforms, in particularly within the British army.14 She opened a nurses’ training hospital at St Thomas Hospital London, wrote over two hundred articles and published pamphlets encouraging better standards of hygiene and nursing, and consulted on numerous government projects both within England and abroad, notably India.15

Florence was well connected and intentional in her endeavors. However, she also had a reputation for being difficult and obstinate. Some commented that had she been a man, she would have been viewed differently, perhaps even praised for her brutish leadership abilities and political maneuvering. Others noted that without her close friendship with the politician (and former war secretary) Sidney Herbert, many of her reforms would have gone unheeded; it is suggested that his collaboration helped her overcome gender barriers.16 She often frustrated those who wanted to discuss and debate with her ideas. She had little patience with bureaucracy that did not listen to her advice.  During the forty years post-Scutari the indomitable Florence struggled with ill health, flirted regularly with living the life of a recluse and used manipulation to wield power.

Her accomplishments, however, are outstanding. Nursing became a reputable profession. Hygiene standards and hospital organization were vastly improved. Her quick mind and ability to use statistics to argue the case for change were invaluable. By the end of her life, legislation had been pushed through and government policy was changed for the better. Florence Nightingale not only glided through the halls of a battlefield hospital with a lamp, she lit a fire of reform in the houses of parliament.


The public perception of a sweet angel-like figure was attributed to Florence all her life and even until today, yet it only reflects a small part of her personality and life work. Florence Nightingale lived a life of purpose and dedication to helping the sick. Amongst her many achievements and accolades, a few are outstanding. She established and oversaw a Royal Commission into the treatment of wounded soldiers. She was the first woman elected into the Royal Society of Statistics. Queen Victoria of England awarded her the Royal Red Cross. The Norwegian government honored her with the Norwegian Red Cross, and she received a British Order of Merit.

Destined by society to play a passive role in community life, Florence Nightingale rose well above the average expected. Her strong tenacious personality coupled with an unshakable faith shaped a life of brilliance. She pursued her passion with grit and determination to see dreams and convictions realized. The war in the Crimea provided the launching pad for this girl with a strong desire to make a difference and she responded positively when the opportunity came. Florence never looked backwards at what might have been but strode confidently into her destiny. Though she never married and left no natural heirs her posterity is secure. Florence died in 1910 aged ninety years old. Florence Nightingale positively revolutionized the office of a nurse and the profession of nursing. Her legacy remains until today.



1Cristobal Krusen. They Were Christians. The Inspiring Faith of Men and Women Who Changed the World (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016), 58.

2Helen Kooiman Hoiser. 100 Christian Women Who Changed the 20th Century (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2000), 231.

3Mark Bostridge. Florence Nightingale, The Woman and Her Legend (London, England: Penguin Books, 2009), 54.

4Krusen. They Were Christians, 62.

5Strachey. Eminent Victorians (Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003), 98

6Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton. Why Not Women? A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership (Seattle, WA: YWAM, 2000), 21-22.

7Krusen. They Were Christians, 60.

8Kooiman Hosier. 100 Christian Women Who Changed the 20th Century, 231.

9Monica E. Baly and Mathew H.C.G. “Nightingale, Florence.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2018). Accessed May 28 2018. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/35241

10Strachey. Eminent Victorians, 99 - 101

11Strachey. Eminent Victorians, 104-105.



14Baly, Monica E. and Mathew H.C.G. “Nightingale, Florence.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2018). Accessed June 15, 2018. https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/35241

15Lytton Strachey. Eminent Victorians, 130.



Baly, Monica E. and Mathew H.C.G. “Nightingale, Florence.” Oxford Dictionary of National Biography (Oxford University Press, 2018). https://doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/35241

Bostridge, Mark. Florence Nightingale, The Woman and Her Legend. London, England: Penguin Books, 2009.

Cunningham, Loren and Hamilton, David. Why Not Women? A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry and Leadership. Seattle, WA: YWAM, 2000.

Hosier, Helen Kooiman. 100 Christian Women Who Changed the 20th Century. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 2000.

Krusen, Cristobal. They Were Christians. The Inspiring Faith of Men and Women Who Changed the World. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2016.

Strachey, Lytton. Eminent Victorians. Oxford, New York: Oxford University Press, 2003.





Lisa Potter











Hailed a poet, teacher, musician, hymn writer, preacher, lecturer, saint, home-mission worker, and the “Queen of Gospel Song Writers,”1 Fanny Crosby impacted not only the nineteenth century in which she lived but continues to impact generations long after her death. Refusing to see her blindness as a handicap, the petite woman made enormous marks on gospel music, Christian history, and current culture. The Christian Church considers the blind poet the greatest hymn writer in its history, with songs such as: “Blessed Assurance,” A Shelter in the Time of Storm,” “He Hideth My Soul,” “Pass Me Not,” and “To God Be the Glory.” These hymns represent only a few of the nearly ten thousand hymns attributed to her name and her two hundred pseudonyms. Of her blindness and hymn writing she believed that “it seemed intended by the blessed providence of God that I should be blind all my life, and I thank him for the dispensation. If perfect earthly sight were offered me tomorrow I would not accept it. I might not have sung hymns to the praise of God if I had been distracted by the beautiful and interesting things about me.”2


Early life for Fanny J. Crosby started in the township of Southeast, Putnam County, New York, approximately sixty miles north of New York City. Villagers were primarily of English descent, connected directly to the original Massachusetts Bay Colony settlers. Edith L. Blumhofer notes that “these connections later allowed Fanny Crosby—to whom such things mattered deeply—the delight of membership in the exclusive circle of the Daughters of the Mayflower.”3

Born in a working-class farming community, the Crosbys lived with extended family in a small one-story cottage. The only child of John and Mercy Crosby, Fanny arrived on March 24, 1820 and was later baptized Frances Jane Crosby. She was a healthy baby girl until six weeks old when she developed an inflammation in the eyes. The customary village physician was gone, but needing to seek medical attention for their child, John and Mercy Crosby allowed another doctor to treat Fanny. The harsh treatment required hot poultices on the baby’s red inflamed eyes. Although the infection did clear, the treatment left white scars on Fanny’s eyes and lasting blindness.

Hardship continued to write their story when Fanny’s father died before her first birthday. At the age of twenty-one and widowed, the financially strapped Mercy Crosby was now a single mother of a blind child. Shortly after the funeral of her husband, as a means to support her daughter, Mercy sought work as a maidservant for a nearby wealthy family.

Fanny’s early years left her in the care of her grandmother, who despite Fanny’s apparent handicap, treated her the same as any of the other children. Fanny played in the fields, climbed trees, and rode horses. During long walks with her grandmother, she would learn to distinguish many different types of flowers and trees by simply smell and touch. She taught Fanny about the birds, described the sunrise and sunsets, and gathered the children for stories, Bible reading, and prayer. As deeply devoted Christians of Puritan influence, the Crosbys believed in the Bible and the memorization of Scripture, but they also learned literature and songs. Blumhofer states, “Crosby always insisted: ‘It was Grandma who brought the Bible to me, and me to the Bible. The stories of the Holy Book came from her lips and entered my heart and took deep root there.’ At Eunice’s knee, Fanny learned to kneel and say her prayers.”4

In 1830, at the age of ten, Fanny and her mother Mercy, who sought better employment, moved to Ridgefield, Connecticut. There they lived in the boarding home of Mrs. Hawley, where Fanny’s exquisite memory became more apparent. Mrs. Hawley would read passages of Scripture repeatedly to Fanny, resulting in her memorizing the first four books of the Old and New Testaments, many psalms, the Book of Ruth, the Song of Solomon, and many other poems.

Although Fanny enjoyed learning, she also found it a source of frustration. Often, she would make her way to the local schoolhouse in an effort to learn with the other children, only to leave upset because of the headmaster’s inability to teach her because of her blindness.

In November 1834, Fanny Crosby’s prayers were answered when Mercy Crosby heard about a school for the blind in New York City. In March 1835, at the age of fifteen, Fanny Crosby left home to embark on a new journey at the newly founded New York Institute for the Blind. A long time dream was finally fulfilled, a place where she could be understood and properly educated. Seventy years later Fanny would still recall this day as “the happiest day of her life.”5


Fanny Crosby’s entrance into the New York Institute for the Blind came at a time when women were not allowed to vote and were shut out of any political activity. Women’s roles placed them largely in the home for the purpose of getting married and rearing children. Fanny’s journey, however, took her to a place where her mind, gifts, and influence would lead to a world much bigger than she could ever imagine. The Christian and Puritan beliefs she held gave her the foundation that the sovereign God is in all things and that she should always trust in His leading. This strength came early. At eight years old, Fanny received the news that her blindness was irreversible, and she penned her first poem: “Oh what a happy soul I am, although I cannot see! I am resolved that in this world contented I will be! How many blessings I enjoy that other people don’t! To weep and sigh because I’m blind. I cannot—nor I won’t.”6

With this determined attitude and her brilliant mind, Fanny became a stellar student in nearly all of her subjects at the institute, with the exception of mathematics and braille. Fanny called mathematics the “great monster” and rarely used braille after leaving the institute.7 To the dismay of several instructors at the school, Fanny preferred to spend her days in the music room, playing guitar, piano, harp, the organ, singing in her beautiful soprano voice, and composing her poems. They continually tried to discourage her talent until one day a phrenologist, Dr. Combe of Boston, visited the school to study “the shape and texture of the skull for determining character and mental capacity.”8 Upon examining Fanny’s head, Combe said, “Here is a poetess! Give her every advantage. Read the best books to her and teach her to appreciate the best poetry.”9 With this declaration, the school provided a poetic composition instructor, Hamilton Murray, who taught Fanny the proper techniques of rhyme, rhythm, and meter. Bonnie Harvey notes that “because of this discipline, in later years she was able to compose as many as a dozen hymns in a day. She was forever thankful to Mr. Murray for his help and encouragement.”10

Her life at the institute would span seven years as a student and eleven years as a teacher. Institute life presented her many prestigious acquaintances along with numerous firsts as a woman and a blind person in the nineteenth century, such as an invitation to speak and perform at Congress. In 1843, at the age of twenty-three, Fanny J. Crosby joined a group of lobbyists in Washington, D.C. to argue for the support of education for the blind. This invitation made Fanny J. Crosby the first woman to speak in the United States Senate, where she would subsequently speak on numerous occasions throughout her lifetime. In addition, she often held audience with the president: “Because of her long life, Fanny Crosby had an extraordinary relationship with several United States presidents, even penning poems in their honor on occasion, and she was influential on the spiritual life of or a friend to Presidents Martin Van Buren (8th), John Tyler (10th), James K. Polk (11th), and Grover Cleveland (22nd and 24th).”11 Other distinguished associates included William Cullen Bryant, Horace Greeley, General Winfield Scott, Henry Clay, and other visitors from foreign lands. Fond memories for Fanny were of a young Grover Cleveland, who interned at the school long before he had political aspirations to become president of the United States.

Her years at the New York Institute for the Blind would come to a close on March 5, 1858, when she and a former student and later teacher at the institute, Mr. Alexander Van Alstyne, were married. Van, as Fanny referred to him, was an accomplished musician and a composer to many of Fanny’s early hymns. A year later, in 1859, they had a baby who did not survive. Neither Fanny nor Van ever spoke about the sex or the death of the child because they considered it a dark time for both of them. Even though they lived apart much of their life, the couple remained happily married until Van’s death in 1902.


A natural and prolific poet, Fanny J. Crosby launched her first volume of verse under the title The Blind Girl and Other Poems in 1844 at the age of twenty-four: “Many of these poems were autobiographical. Others were the addresses in poetic form with which she had greeted famous visitors to the Institute. Monterey and Other Poems followed in 1849. On the year of her marriage, 1858, she published A Wreath of Columbia’s Flowers.”12

Even before her marriage, Fanny Crosby was on her way to a life career in producing religious verse. In 1851, she began collaborating with George F. Root and William Bradbury. Both of these men trained under Lowell Mason, starting a movement for better sacred music. The collaboration with Mr. Root became so successful they would write sixty songs “all having a wide circulation and some became the most successful songs of the period.”13 Four years later, these two would join ranks to produce the first American cantata The Flower Queen.

In the early years, Fanny also worked with William B. Bradbury, composer of “Just as I Am” and “Jesus Loves Me.” Bradbury was a “prolific composer for the Sunday School, a devout man who believed in consecrating his talent to religious uses.”14 Bradbury died early in their friendship, cutting short their work together. Fanny later mentioned to a namesake of his that “of all my friends, I loved him the best. When I get to heaven I am going to ask first for William B. Bradbury.”15

Her partnership with Bradbury brought her notice. Bradbury connected to the beginning and growing Sunday School movement, producing songs and melodies easy for children to sing and introducing many of these songs into the public school. Blumhofer notes that “her work with Bradbury linked Crosby to a host of other musicians who were intent on promoting Sunday schools—William Doane, William J. Kirkpatrick, Robert Lowry. They all found in the schools a lucrative market and, more, an extension of children’s music education (a discipline Bradbury also helped introduce into the New York City public schools).”16 In an era when women and men did not collaborate outside of the home, “her blindness may have made it easier to break with custom … it made her exceptional and permitted her to do things other women of her generation might not.”17

Fanny’s brilliant mind, honed by her reliance upon other senses, produced undeniably amazing gifts. Phillip Phillips, the singing evangelist, once commissioned Fanny to write forty hymns: “These she did one by one, storing them all in her mind till all the forty were ready; not until then was the amanuensis called in. Not one of them was put on paper until all were done.”18

With William H. Doane she collaborated on “Pass Me Not, O Gentle Saviour,” “Rescue the Perishing,” “I Am Thine, O Lord,” “Jesus Keep Me Near the Cross,” “To the Work, to the Work,” and “Safe in the Arms of Jesus.”19 Of the writing of “Safe in the Arms of Jesus,” the story is told of Mr. Doane arriving at Fanny’s room on April 30, 1868 saying, “’There are just forty minutes before my train leaves for Cincinnati. Here is a melody. Can you write words for it?’ Twenty minutes passed in silence broken only by the ticking of the clock, Mr. Doane waiting, Miss Crosby thinking. Then she turned to him. ‘It is all done,’ she said, and dictated her verses.”20 “Safe in the Arms of Jesus” would become one of her best-known songs and one of the first to be transcribed into foreign languages.”21

Fanny wrote “Blessed Assurance,” one of her best known hymns, while visiting her composer friend Phoebe Knapp, who “played a new melody she had just composed. When Knapp asked Crosby, ‘What do you think the tune says?’ Crosby replied, ‘Blessed assurance; Jesus is mine.’”22

George F. Root, William Bradbury, Aleander Van Alstyne, Phoebe Knapp, William Doane, Ira D. Sankey, Robert Lowry, George C. Stebbins, Dwight L. Moody, and Phillip Phillips are but a few of the great composers and evangelists who worked with Fanny J. Crosby. For her multitude of hymns, she was paid a mere two dollars each. One day, later in her life, she sat on the platform of a church gathering with her collaborator Mr. George C. Stebbins, and the congregation sang

with much gusto, “Hide Me, O my Saviour.” Miss Crosby, who was sitting on the platform, liked it and turned to Mr. Stebbins to inquire the authorship. But the meeting was breaking up and in the confusion he made no answer. The same hymn was sung in the afternoon and again she asked Mr. Stebbins the author’s name. After making sure that she was in earnest, he answered, “You are the guilty one!” For once, the wonderful memory had failed.23

Fanny Jane Crosby died on February 12, 1915 in Ridgeport, Connecticut. Her life was summed up on her tombstone with the inscription, “Blessed Assurance, Jesus is Mine.”


Sightless and small framed, standing four feet, ten inches, and weighing less than one hundred pounds, Fanny J. Crosby made extensive contributions to nineteenth century music and poetry, but most importantly, she expanded the church music library with an enrichment of songs that congregations still sing today. With all of this considered, and ten thousand hymns later, it seems ironic that as a little child, she simply hoped for a life of usefulness.

As the writer of this beautiful hymn, Crosby lived the very essence of the song. “Perfect submission, all is at rest! I in my Savior am happy and blest. Watching and waiting, looking above, filled with His goodness, lost in His love. This is my story, this is my song, Praising my Savior all the day long.”24 Bradbury writes, “Fanny Crosby has ‘tasted and seen that the Lord is good’ and desires others to enjoy the same bountiful feast. Shut in from the distracting sights of the outer world, she has seen deeply into eternal truth and has put that truth into verse that has influenced countless thousands of lives.”25


1Heroes, Heroines, and History, “The Queen of Gospel Song Writers,” Heroes, Heroines, and History, accessed February 13, 2016, www.hhhistory.com/2015/11/the-queen-of-gospel-song-writers.html.

2Hymn Time, “Frances Jane Crosby,” Hymn Time, accessed January 23, 2016, https://www.nyise.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=428557&type=d&pREC_ID=935699

3Edith L. Blumhofer, Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby (Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005), 34.

4Ibid., 46.

5Bonnie C. Harvey, Women of Faith, Fanny Crosby (Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1999), 36.

6The New York Institute for Special Education, “Fanny Crosby, Blind Hymn Writer Dies,” https://www.nyise.org/apps/pages/index.jsp?uREC_ID=428557&type=d&pREC_ID=935699accessed January 18, 2016,

7Harvey, 39.

8Ibid, 40.


10Ibid, 41.

11C. Michael Hawn, “History of Hymns: ‘Blessed Assurance,’” Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Church, accessed January 23, 2016, www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-blessed-assurance.

12Woodman Bradbury, “Fanny Crosby,” Wholesome Words, accessed January 18, 2016, http://www.wholesomewords.org/biography/bcrosby8.html.  




16Blumhofer, 248.

17Ibid, 270.










Blumhofer, Edith L. Her Heart Can See: The Life and Hymns of Fanny J. Crosby. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2005.

Bradbury, Woodman. “Fanny Crosby by Woodman Bradbury.” Wholesome Words. Accessed January 18, 2016. www.wholesomewords.org.

Earnestly Contending. “Frances Jane Crosby.” Earnestly Contending. Accessed January 18, 2016. www.earnestlycontending.com.

European-American Evangelistic Crusades. “Frances Jane van Alystyne (Fanny Crosby).” European-American Evangelistic Crusades. Accessed January 18, 2016. https://www.eaec.org/

Harvey, Bonnie C. Women of Faith: Fanny Crosby. Minneapolis: Bethany House Publishers, 1999.

Hawn, C. Michael. “History of Hymns: Blessed Assurance.” Discipleship Ministries, United Methodist Church. Accessed January 23, 2016. www.umcdiscipleship.org/resources/history-of-hymns-blessed-assurance.

Heroes, Heroines, and History. “The Queen of Gospel Song Writers.” Heroes, Heroines, and History. Accessed February 13, 2016. www.hhhistory.com/2015/11/the-queen-of-gospel-song-writers.html.

Hymntime. “Frances Jane Crosby.” Hymntime. Accessed January 23, 2016. http://www.hymntime.com.

New York Institute for Special Education. “Fanny Crosby, Blind Hymn Writer, Dies.” New York Institute for Special Education. Accessed January 18, 2016. www.nyise.org.

Ruffin, Bernard. Fanny Crosby, The Hymn Writer. Uhrichsville, OH: Barbour Publishing, 1995.





Alaina G. Battaglia





Life in England

Life in America

The Impact of Henderson, Kentucky


Blackwell Makes History

La Maternité

In the World of Hospitals


Private Practice

Return to England





“It is well worth the efforts of a lifetime to have attained knowledge which justifies an attack on the root of all evil—viz. the deadly atheism which asserts that because forms of evil have always existed in society, therefore they must always exist; and that the attainment of a high ideal is a hopeless chimera.” Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell

While Elizabeth Blackwell is most commonly known for her pioneer efforts in the medical field, a truer summation of her impact to society lies in her perception of the “moral fight”—the responsibility all people have to, once having seen an injustice, take action to remedy it. Born into a tumultuous time in Britain’s history Miss Blackwell was confronted with injustices of many natures at a young age and soon developed an iron will that once grown would touch the abolition movement, woman suffrage, education, medical discovery, and much more. Her story, however, begins a generation earlier with her father.


Life in England

Samuel Blackwell was a man of many paradoxes. A Whig in politics and a Dissenter in religion, he was also a man who would, in the early 1830s, save the very lives of the “rags of popery” he so opposed.1 Blackwell was an abolitionist who owned a sugar refinery rooted in the African slave trade of London, which would prove formative in the later life of his daughter Elizabeth. Most importantly, he was a father deeply committed to the education and imagination of not only his sons, but his daughters as well. Elizabeth was the third, eldest daughter amidst nine brothers and sisters, all of whom were exposed to education and encouraged to read avidly. One morning, Elizabeth and her two older sisters, Marianne and Anna, wanted a better view of the sky through their spyglass, so they felt it would be best to climb the roof. Anna carefully crafted an excellent exposé on the importance of being granted permission to climb the roof and received this response from her father in return:

Anna, Bessie, and Polly, Your request is mere folly,
The leads are too high For those who can’t fly.
If I let you go there, I suppose your next prayer
Will be for a hop To the chimney top!
So I charge you three misses, Not to show your phizes
On paraphet wall, Or chimney so tall,
But to keep on the earth, The place of your birth.
‘Even so,’ says Papa. ‘Amen,’ says Mamma. ‘Be it so,’ says Aunt Bar.2

This home of playful creativity and learning was located in Bristol, England, where Elizabeth was born in 1821. Being a desperately quiet and independent child, the beautiful countryside of England was a great escape to Elizabeth. Although Blackwell was extremely close to her father, her other family relationships were a bit strained for the first seventeen years of her life. Elizabeth’s mother experienced the loss of multiple children, leaving Elizabeth in the middle of two sisters and two brothers with a significant gap in age on both sides. She found herself tagging along with her sisters most frequently, but felt she paled in comparison to their vibrant personalities.3 Elizabeth loved to read and write poetry like her father, but she scarcely spoke. Her timidity of speech, however, was no indication of a timidity of spirit. Elizabeth was known in her family for fierce determination and strong opinions internally. One of the staunch ideas of the young Elizabeth Blackwell was that sickness or fatigue was a sign of physical and personal weakness. When sick as a child she refused to be helped, locking herself in her room to “overcome” her weak body. The idea of allowing sickness to “win” was incomprehensible to her because it signified a relinquishing of the will.4 Her disgust for all things dealing with the human body was certainly not the obvious prelude to a career in medicine, and it would take several years and tragedy before the idea of medicine as a profession would cross her path.

Life in America

At the age of eleven, Elizabeth and her family boarded the “Cosmo” and sailed to New York in hope of a more secure business situation for the sugar refinery.5 It was here in Long Island that Samuel Blackwell threw himself into the anti-slavery fight exposing his family to dinner guests like William Lloyd Garrison and Reverend Cox. These great men fascinated Elizabeth and since her father was unusually sympathetic to women exercising their intellect beyond the realm of domesticated tasks,6 he encouraged Elizabeth to be a part of these dinner conversations. Financial tragedy continued to plague their family, so again in 1838, they relocated to Cincinnati, Ohio.

At first, the family enjoyed the wildness of the land and society, but when summer hit the oppressive heat proved too much for her father’s disposition. Shortly after their move, bilious fever took her father’s life, leaving the Blackwells with no means of provision and the already isolated Elizabeth without her closet companion. She would later refer to losing her father as an “irreparable loss.”7 In typical “Bessie” style, Elizabeth set aside her loss and got to work finding a means of provision for the family. She started a boarding school for young women and recruited her two older sisters to help her. As soon as he was old enough, her brother obtained a job in the Court House of Cincinnati to help with the financial burden. Although she loved her family very much, Elizabeth still felt disconnected from them relationally. She records in her private journal feeling as though she was carrying a major part of the burden of her family’s survival.8 Although there is a clear desire for relational intimacy throughout her writings, it is also clear that Elizabeth distanced herself from intimate relationships being one “who so loves a hermit life.”9 Finally, in 1844, Elizabeth decided to move away from her family and accept a teaching position in Kentucky. What began as a desperate attempt to remain independent became a pivotal season that would launch Blackwell into her future.

The Impact of Henderson, Kentucky

Having grown up in the sugar trade and with a father entrenched in the abolition movement, Blackwell was no stranger to the slave trade, but nothing could have prepared her for what she experienced in Kentucky.10 She enjoyed teaching her class and the people of Henderson were kind to her personally, but the treatment of slaves continually outraged her sense of justice. At the end of the first term, Elizabeth headed home to her family in Ohio. Although her time spent in Kentucky was only a matter of months, the experience left a major mark on her. The feeling of forced silence from outside social restraints released something within her. Suddenly she had a newfound moral and social freedom that had previously only existed in the girlhood “Bessie’s” dreams. Upon her arrival home, the change was noticeable and even her siblings were surprised to find that “their Elib could be such a talker.”11

With this newfound sense of freedom came deep friendship with influential women like Harriet Beecher Stowe and Lady Byron. Along with deep friendships came a new kind of relational intimacy. Elizabeth had always held romantic notions for her future, but felt that no man would ever measure up to her father. She soon, however, fell in love with a man of culture and education thinking he might be the one to embody Samuel Blackwell. One night, hoping to enter into an intellectual debate with her love, she shared her thoughts on some radical theories of the day, to which he responded, “Come now, you shouldn’t be bothering that pretty little head about social theories that no woman could possibly understand. Better to leave the reforming of society…to us men…”12 Elizabeth promptly ended their courtship and prayed to find a cause she could throw her life into, so she would never again have to consider marriage.


Blackwell Makes History

The answer to her prayer came much quicker than expected. Elizabeth had a dear friend diagnosed with a terminal illness. Since Elizabeth struggled with sickness and empathy in situations involving illness, she had long procrastinated visiting her friend. When she finally gathered her resolve and visited Mary in her home, she found that due to the nature of the disease, Mary had often felt the most pain from the embarrassment and discomfort of having a male physician. This was in part why Mary felt Elizabeth should become a doctor. “You are fond of study, have health and leisure; why not study medicine?” Mary felt that if she had been treated by a “lady doctor” her worst sufferings would have been spared.13 Elizabeth immediately repudiated the suggestion knowing her aversion to things regarding anatomy, but the seed was planted and as the weeks progressed, it burrowed deeper and deeper in Elizabeth’s heart, thoughts, and determination. Upon Mary’s death in 1845, Elizabeth began to poll family friends in the medical profession and universities on the benefits and possibility of a woman becoming a doctor. While the responses were kind in intent the message was unanimous: “it was a good idea, but impossible.”14 A woman would never be accepted to medical college and even if she managed to be accepted, no one would ever allow her to practice on them. Although Elizabeth describes her decision to pursue medical school as an “inevitable sprouting and springing of a seed well planted and nourished,”15 the response to her inquiry was the final clench. For Blackwell, if something was a good idea and would bring value to society than to refuse to try to implement it was foolish and unacceptable.

As it turned out, her “poll” results were not globally unanimous, and she soon found an advocate in Dr. Sam Dickenson. Blackwell studied with Dickenson and under his tutelage applied to twenty-nine medical colleges across America. Twenty-eight said no. One said yes. In October of 1847, a small country college in Western New York sent her this:

I am instructed by the faculty of the medical department of Geneva University to acknowledge receipt of yours of 3rd inst. A quorum of the faculty assembled last evening for the first time during the session, and it was thought important to submit your proposal to the class (of students), who have had a meeting this day, and acted entirely on their own behalf, without any interference on the part of the faculty. I send you the result of their deliberations and need only add that there are no fears but that you can, by judicious management, not only ‘disarm criticism,’ but elevate yourself without detracting in the least from the dignity of the profession. Wishing you success in your undertaking, which some may deem bold in the present state of society, I subscribe myself,

Yours respectfully, Charles A. Lee, Dean of the Faculty.16

It was not until years later that Elizabeth found out her acceptance was achieved on the perception of a hoax. The Board of Trustees at Geneva were only willing to accept her application if approved by a unanimous vote of the student body. Although some most likely voted in the affirmative because they truly believed in Elizabeth’s cause, some thought her application a hoax from a rival school. Regardless of the motive behind her entrance, the fact remained—a female had gained entrance into an American Medical College for the first time in history.

La Maternité

Elizabeth enjoyed her study at Geneva Medical College and built strong rapport with faculty and peers. Two years later, she graduated as Elizabeth Blackwell M.D. and headed to Europe to study at the La Maternité. Elizabeth received excellent training and gained valuable theories she would later build her private practice on, however, the strict routine and closed quarters led Elizabeth to refer to La Maternité as her “imprisonment.”17 Elizabeth now felt that she knew her future; she was determined to be a surgeon. Unfortunately, her life was about to take yet another unexpected turn. While treating a patient for Purulent Opthalmia, some water squirted into Blackwell’s eye and, sadly, she contracted the disease. She tried travelling to Prussia under the care of Oculist Desmarres to rejuvenate her eye to a level necessary for an anatomical surgeon but ended up suffering permanent loss of sight in her left eye. Being a surgeon was no longer an option.18

In the World of Hospitals

Elizabeth joined the St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London to put her years of study to official use. She enjoyed the work and the friendship of Dean James Paget, despite the fierce prejudice she received from her fellow British females. Amidst the voices of dissention, she also met great friends of medicine: Bessie Rayner Parks, Misses Leigh Smith, Lady Byron, and her closest friend Florence Nightingale. Nightingale dreamed of turning an old English building into her own hospital ward with Elizabeth at the helm. Blackwell would have loved to set up practice in London, but there were obstacles that made her feel it would be unwise. The positive public opinion towards women in medicine felt in America combined with a concern of going into debt in London brought Elizabeth to the defining decision to set up her own private practice back in New York. 


Private Practice

In July of 1851, Elizabeth began her “uphill battle”19 of private practice. The first seven years were not met with the openness she expected. Patients were slow to come to her, and consultations were ill received. A year later Elizabeth found herself back to her educating days of old and began lecturing in a small basement Sunday school. These lectures eventually resulted in her first publication, and the opening of her own dispensary. In 1856 Emily Blackwell, Elizabeth’s younger sister, graduated with her medical degree and joined Elizabeth in New York. Together, along with Dr. Maria E. Zackrzewska, they opened the New York Infirmary for Women and Children Hospital on Bleecker Street.20 It is from this very small beginning that the infamous New York Infirmary and College for Women arose.21

Return to England

A decade later, reform was well underway in America so Blackwell turned her attention back to her beloved England. Elizabeth found that there was much to be done in England and after grueling reform, she finally saw her and Nightingale’s dream of a hospital for women and children in England realized. Wasting no time, Blackwell joined the staff of the university in London as Dean of Med School, but her declining health quickly required her to step down. Blackwell spent the rest of her life writing and speaking across continents about the importance of women having equal opportunities for education and practice within the medical field.22


May 31st of 1910, Elizabeth Blackwell left Hastings, England to join her father in rest.23 She built her life on the belief that once aware of a societal wrong it was her commission to right it. Dr. Elizabeth Blackwell came into a world where slavery ran rampant, women had little hope of an education, and no American female would dream of bearing the initials M.D. She left her world with an Emancipation Proclamation, women making up at least ten percent of the medical college population, and approximately seven thousand women in the medical profession.


1Dorothy Clarke Wilson, Lone Woman; the Story of Elizabeth Blackwell, the First Woman Doctor (Boston: Little, Brown, 1970), 38.

2Elizabeth Blackwell, Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women: Autobiographical Sketches (London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1895), 2.

3Wilson, Lone Woman, 81.

4Wilson, Lone Woman, 21.

5Blackwell, Pioneer Work, 8.

6Wilson, Lone Woman, 27.

7Blackwell, Pioneer Work, 11.

8Wilson, Lone Woman, 87.

9Blackwell, Pioneer Work, 17.

10Blackwell, Pioneer Work, 24, 25. Blackwell denotes a few specific instances of the people of Henderson’s treatment of their African slaves. She records them as leaving a deep impression in her mind.

11Wilson, Lone Woman, 114.

12Wilson, Lone Woman, 117.

13Blackwell, Pioneer Work, 27.

14Blackwell, Pioneer Work, 29.

15Wilson, Lone Woman, 123.

16Blackwell, Pioneer Work, 65.

17Blackwell, Pioneer Work, 149.

18Howard Markel, “How Elizabeth Blackwell Became the First Female Doctor in the U.S.,” PBS News Hour (2014): 3.

19Blackwell, Pioneer Work, 190.

20“Elizabeth Blackwell Biography,” AE Telev. Netw. (n.d.): 2, https://www.biography.com/people/elizabeth-blackwell-9214198.

21“Elizabeth Blackwell Biography,” 2.

22Blackwell, Pioneer Work, 265.

23Richard Bauman, “Elizabeth Blackwell-America’s First Woman Doctor,” World I 32.12 (2017): 4.


Bauman, Richard. “Elizabeth Blackwell-America’s First Woman Doctor.” World I 32.12 (2017): 5.

Blackwell, Elizabeth. Pioneer Work in Opening the Medical Profession to Women: Autobiographical Sketches. London: Longmans, Green and Co., 1895.

Elizabeth Blackwell, and Emily Blackwell. “Medicine as a Profession for Women.” Trustee N. Y. Infirm. Women (1860): 13.

Markel, Howard. “How Elizabeth Blackwell Became the First Female Doctor in the U.S.” PBS News Hour (2014): 5.

Regina Morantz-Sanchez. Sympathy & Science: Women Physicians in American Medicine. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2000.

Wilson, Dorothy Clarke. Lone Woman; the Story of Elizabeth Blackwell, the First Woman Doctor. Boston: Little, Brown, 1970.

“Elizabeth Blackwell Biography.” AE Telev. Netw. (n.d.). https://www.biography.com/people/elizabeth-blackwell-9214198.






Irene Runge





Close Relationship with God

Lack of Bitterness

Cheerful and Optimistic Attitude


Sacrificial Giving





Harriet Tubman, the Moses of her people, was a third-generation slave. She was born in Dorchester County, Maryland, around 1820-1825. The exact date is unknown. Harriet believed that she was born in 1825.1 She changed her birth name, Araminta, to Harriet when she married a free black man, John Tubman. Throughout her growing up years, she endured torture and whippings from slave owners. When she was a teenager, she sustained a head injury that affected her for the rest of her life. “Harriet refused to restrain a fellow slave that was escaping; the overseer picked up a heavy metal weight to throw at the escapee; missed and hit Harriet in the forehead.”2

Harriet was illiterate, black, and female. Everything in her life seemed to be against her. Yet this woman became the Moses of her people, leading over 300 people to freedom through the Underground Railroad and being the first female to lead a military expedition in the Civil War for the Union. She did not allow her position in life to dictate to her what she would do or become. Her deep faith in God was evident in every area of her life. No matter what happened, Harriet walked in her deep faith in God. God guided her through constant communication with Him. She did not become bitter. She resolved to accomplish what she felt God had given her to do. She gave sacrificially.


Close Relationship with God

Harriet was passionate about her Lord, Jesus Christ. Marcia Riggs writes,

Brought up by parents possessed of strong faith in God, she had never known the time, I imagine, when she did not trust Him and cling to Him, with an all-abiding confidence. She seemed ever to feel the Divine Presence near, and she talked with God “as a man talks with his friend.” Hers was not the religion of a morning and evening prayer at stated times, but when she felt a need, she simply told God of it, and trusted him to set the matter right.3

Her faith, passed on from her parents, set the course for her life. She learned to talk with God throughout her daily activities.

I prayed all the time, about my work, everywhere; I was always talking to the Lord. When I went to the horse trough to wash my face and took up the water in my hands, I said, “Oh, Lord, wash me, make me clean … .” When I took up the broom and began to sweep … “Oh, Lord, whatsoever sin there be in my heart, sweep it out, Lord, clear and clean.”4

Harriet knew God’s voice of the Lord and felt God direct her life from a young age. This voice protected her and her missions many times. Because she could not read, she memorized many Bible verses. Her favorite was Isaiah 16:3b, “Hide the fugitives, do not betray the refugees.”5

On a journey north, she stopped at one of the stations to learn that the person’s house had been searched and they pleaded with her to leave right away. She stopped in the street and repeated a prayer often said, “Lord, I’m going to hold steady on to you. You’ve got to see me through.”6 A plan came into her heart. She hid the slaves in the woods and waited till night, unsure of what she would do then. Dusk came. She heard a man singing on the road, telling her where a horse, wagon, and supplies were located for them. She had no idea how this man knew about them. “But these sudden deliverances never seemed to strike her as at all strange or mysterious, her prayer was the prayer of faith, and she expected an answer.”7

Harriet’s faith also had a prophetic ability. She shared at least a couple of situations with her biographer, Sarah Bradford. Right before her escape, “her inward monitor was whispering, ‘flee for your life’ (vision/dream) beckoning hands were ever motioning her to come and she seemed to see a line dividing the land of slavery from the land of freedom, and on the other side of that line she saw lovely white ladies waiting to welcome her and to care for her.”8

Another vision given by God came three years before the first shot was fired at Fort Sumter. While staying with a friend in New York, she awoke singing, “My people are free! My people are free!” She had a dream and was shown that slavery would end. Three years later, President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, giving freedom to the blacks that lived in the slave states. Supporters at that time asked why she was not celebrating, to which she replied that she had seen it and celebrated three years earlier.9

Each of her missions south was prompted by hearing from God. Harriet had made several trips, when she received an intimation from God that her parents were in trouble and she needed to rescue them. God miraculously provided the money. She left for her parents and found that her father was to be tried for helping slaves escape.10 Another time, Harriet was leading a group when she felt that they were in trouble. They left the path and waded through a river. Afterwards they were told that just up the road officers were there to arrest her. Harriet displayed tremendous confidence in the voice of God.

Lack of Bitterness

It is easy to become bitter and resentful when bad things continue to happen in a person’s life. Harriet suffered many tragedies and unfair treatment throughout her life. In childhood, two sisters were sold to a chain gang in the deep-south and separated from the family. She suffered unfair treatment at the hands of the slave owner. In her youth, she was hired to another family to watch a baby. When Harriet arrived at that household, the woman forced her to clean and work the house all day and at night keep the baby quiet by rocking the cradle. If the baby woke up and cried, Harriet was whipped. The slave owner rented her out to another family that forced her to wade through cold water to check muskrat cages even though she had the measles.11

In the late 1840s, Harriet hired an attorney to investigate the legality of her mother’s enslavement.

It was discovered that under the terms of her owner’s will, her mother Harriet Greene at the time, was to serve her master’s granddaughter, Mary Patterson, and later Mary’s children. This arrangement was to continue until Mary died or Harriet Greene turned forty-five, whichever came first. Mary Patterson never married. In fact, she died shortly after the will was made, meaning that Harriet Greene should have gone free.12

Harriet accepted this fact as the will of God and did not let it build bitterness in her.

The many slave rescue trips developed Harriet’s leadership skills. She knew the swamps and forests better than most. Those attributes brought her to the attention of the governor of Massachusetts, John Andrew. He asked her to help the Union cause in the roles of a spy and scout. The book, “Under God,” states that she “became the only woman in American military history ever to plan and conduct an armed expedition against enemy forces.”13 She cared for the wounded soldiers, cured many of them with natural, herbal remedies that she made from vegetation in the area, and she performed household duties. She helped wherever she saw a need. She was forced to support herself during those years and in her later years the federal government denied her a pension for her service.

These and many more incidents could have produced a very angry and bitter personality for Harriet. However, she knew she was in the Lord’s hands and He would take care of her. She did not rebel against the unfair treatment and left it in the Lord’s hands. In her book Harriet Tubman, Rebecca Janney writes,

Harriet’s admirers couldn’t get over how, in the face of terrible danger, with the odds against her, she had such a vital sense of hope, joy and fearlessness. How could she march straight into the enemy camp and attempt the most incredible rescues anyone could imagine? The reason, she insisted, was because of her firm belief that God would take care of her until her time came.14

Cheerful and Optimistic Attitude

Harriet did not focus on the problems or difficulties of her life. The squalid conditions that Harriet grew up with as a child were soil for seeds of depression, anger, and bitterness to take root in. She could have lamented about the condition of other slaves, but she envisioned what life could be like for them. Consequently, after she reached freedom, she went back about nineteen times to bring more to freedom. Her work with the Union Army was inspired by her hope and dream for the total abolishment of slavery. She continued to look forward to what could be and worked toward that goal.


When Harriet received a revelation as to what God wanted her to do, she would start and complete the assignment. She did not let things like money, weather, or other obstacles stand in her way. There was a complete trust that God was walking with her and if He asked her to do it, then He would be there to help her.

The first example of this happened when she escaped from slavery. She did not know the route, how far it was, or where she would be able to find supplies. Her brother turned back because of the unknowns, but she kept going forward. The North Star was her guide in the sky and she listened for the Lord to tell her if there was danger. All alone she managed the trek from southern Massachusetts to Pennsylvania. Harriet told Sarah Bradford, “I reasoned two things out in my mind. I had a right to liberty, or death; if I could not have one, I would have the other, for no man should take me alive; I should fight for my liberty as long as my strength lasted, and when the time came for me to go, the Lord would let them take me.”15

When she needed money for a trip, the Lord would tell her who had the money for her and she would go to that person. Most of the time the people were waiting for her and gave her what the Lord had told her. While in New York, the Lord directed her to an office of a gentleman that was friendly to former slaves. Harriet told him the Lord brought her here to get money from him. He informed her that he had no money and she was mistaken. She sat down and fell into a deep sleep (which was common from the head wound) and when she awoke, patrons of the gentlemen had whispered around and there was sixty dollars in her lap.16 She did not leave when he said he had no money. God had directed her there and she was not going to leave until she received it.

It took a lot of perseverance to trek through the woods and swamps with slaves, adults, and children. The trips were long, hard, cold, and often there was little to eat. She kept the groups moving. If someone wanted to give up and return, she would pull out her revolver, then tell them that a dead slave tells no stories. She could not risk someone revealing things under torture if they had been allowed to return.

Sacrificial Giving

Another godly characteristic that Harriet displayed throughout her life was her sacrificial giving. She gave of her life in many ways. There were many trips back into slave states that cost her time and money. Even when her supporters in the North feared for her safety, she continued to make trips to bring slaves to freedom.

When she first arrived in Philadelphia, she worked in kitchens and any other odd jobs she could get. The wages she earned were saved; she only kept enough for food for herself. Harriet needed money for supplies to make the freedom trips. She sacrificed her own comfort so she could bring others north.

Later in life, friends tried to give her money to take care of herself and she would not take it. She was always looking to help others. Harriet used her home in New York to house families that needed help to establish themselves in freedom. They were allowed to stay with her rent free. She wanted to help them not just reach freedom, but also become established with jobs and homes. Rebecca Price Janney described her later years as follows, “The people of Auburn loved and respected Harriet for her works of mercy, and responded by providing food and money to help whenever they could … . Harriet thrived on her labors because she loved caring for people so much.”17 On the land around her house she grew vegetables and shared them with anyone who stopped by. She was definitely a servant of her Lord, spreading love, kindness, and mercy to those who were around her.

After the war, Harriet still believed that her people needed her as much as before. She again gave of her time and resources to build a hospital for aged and destitute blacks. Another project involved raising money for schools for the children. Instead of resting from the hard labor of years before, she kept giving of her time and money to make life better for others.


Harriet Tubman was a great leader and the most famous conductor on the Underground Railroad. Kris Vallotton, in her book Fashioned to Reign, writes, “She faced insurmountable challenges in her life. She was a dirt-poor, completely uneducated, illiterate female slave. Yet in spite of her circumstances, hundreds of slaves were liberated from captivity because of her outrageous courage and self-sacrifice. She became an agent for social justice.”18 Beyond the slave movement, she served in the Union Army as a nurse, scout, and spy. She believed so strongly in the outcome of the war that she worked for four years with the government and raised her own money to support herself.

She was confident in God’s protection and care. He transformed her because of the trust she had in Him. One of her favorite sayings was, “Oh, Lord! You’ve been with me in six troubles, don’t desert me in the seventh.”19

There are many lessons to be learned by studying Harriet Tubman’s life. Maintaining a close relationship with God strengthens you and gives you wisdom and direction. Do not become bitter when life is unfair; continue to look to the Lord. When the road gets tough and it is easy to give up, keep going. Persevere to complete the mission that God has called you to.

Love your neighbor as yourself could easily have been Harriet’s motto for life. She was a great woman, but not a perfect one. She had sins and troubles to learn to deal with, but she did not let this stop her. God gave her the courage and strength to change and push on.



1Catherine Clinton, Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom (New York, NY: Time Warner Books, 2004), 4.

2Rebecca Price Janney, Harriet Tubman (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1999), 17.

3Marcia Y. Riggs, ed., Can I Get A Witness (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997), 25.

4Janney, 27.


6Toby Mac and Michael Tait, Under God (Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2004), 111.

7Sarah Bradford, Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People (Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2004), 31.

8Ibid., 15.

9Ibid., 49

10Bradford, 43-44.

11Jean M. Humez, Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories (Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003), 14.

12Janney, 37.

13Mac and Tait, 113.

14Janney, 32-33.

15Bradford, 17.

16Bradford, 43.

17Janney, 131.

18Kris Vallotton, Fashioned to Reign (Bloomington, MN: Chosen Books, 2013), 97.

19Bradford, 33.


Bradford, Sarah. Harriet Tubman: The Moses of Her People. Mineola, NY: Dover Publications, 2004.

Clinton, Catherine. Harriet Tubman: The Road to Freedom. New York, NY: Time Warner, 2004.

Humez, Jean M. Harriet Tubman: The Life and the Life Stories. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press, 2003.

Janney, Rebecca Price. Harriet Tubman. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 1999

Larson, Kate Clifford. Bound for the Promised Land: Harriet Tubman, Portrait of an American Hero. New York, NY: Ballentine Books, 2004.

Mac, Toby and Michael Tait. Under God. Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House, 2004

Riggs, Marcia Y. ed. Can I Get a Witness. Maryknoll, NY: Orbis Books, 1997

Wills, Garry. Certain Trumpets, The Call of Leaders. New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, 1994.

Vallotton, Kris. Fashioned to Reign. Minneapolis, MN: Chosen Books, 2013.





Kathleen Hardcastle






Lillian Trasher can easily be categorized as one of the best-known missionaries of the twentieth century. Although it was not her goal to be a role model for women in ministry, her life has been an inspiration to many other women who have felt called to full time service.

Lillian Trasher was born in Jacksonville, Florida, on September 27, 1887. Her family was Roman Catholic, but in her teens Lillian chose to make a personal commitment to Christ and received the infilling of the Holy Spirit.1 At the age of seventeen, while on a trip to Atlanta to apply for a job, Lillian met Miss Mattie Perry who ran the Faith Orphanage in Marion, North Carolina. Miss Perry told Lillian about the orphanage and how they lived by faith, believing each day that God would supply all of their needs. By the end of their brief meeting, Miss Perry invited Lillian to come to North Carolina and work with her. When the job interview in Atlanta did not go as planned, Lillian decided to take Miss Perry up on her offer and began her journey of ministry that would last over fifty years.

The Faith Orphanage was a great training ground for Lillian. Not only did she learn necessary skills such as cooking, sewing, and caring for children, she also learned about the administration of a large home and what it meant to live by faith. For five years, Lillian worked off and on at the orphanage while also attending Bible School, pastoring a church in Dahlonega, Georgia, and traveling as an evangelist.2

In 1910, Lillian became engaged to a young minister named Tom Jordan. Just ten days before the wedding, she attended an evangelistic meeting where she heard a missionary from India and believed that God was directing her to full time missions in Africa. Lillian answered the call by breaking her engagement and traveling to a missionary conference in Pittsburgh. While on that trip, she met G.S. Brelsford, a Pentecostal missionary working with a Presbyterian group in Assiout, Egypt. Even though she had no money and no organizational backing, Lillian accepted his offer to join his mission team in Egypt. Lillian’s family was not in favor of her move, but when it was clear that she was determined to go, her sister, Jennie, announced that she would travel with Lillian to help her get settled. Jennie remained with Lillian in Egypt for much of her ministry.3

The story is told that in their ship cabin, before sailing, “somebody in their party said, ‘Why don’t you open your Bible and read the first verse that you light upon?’ Lillian smiled, but closed her eyes, and opened her Bible. The first verse she saw was one that she had never noticed before,” Acts 7:34. “I have seen the affliction of my people which is in Egypt, and I have heard their groaning, and am come down to deliver them. And now come, I will send thee to Egypt.” Lillian wrote, “In this unmistakable way God set His final seal on my call.”4

Assiout was the fourth largest city in Egypt, behind Cairo and the lower Egyptian towns of Alexandria and Tanta.  It was the capital of Upper Egypt and had the largest population of Copts (the pre-Arab Egyptians and members of the Coptic Christian church) in the country. The Presbyterians had been evangelizing in Assiout since 1954 and had success within the Coptic community.5

Three months after Lillian’s arrival in Egypt, an event occurred that would change her life forever. She accompanied a neighbor to the home of a dying woman. Although she was unable to help the woman, she agreed to care for the woman’s newborn baby who was also very sick. Lillian and Jennie took the baby back to the missionary station and began nursing her back to life. The crying infant was too much of a disruption for the other missionaries, however, and so Lillian was asked to give the baby back to the family. This is when Lillian made the decision to leave the mission compound and rent a house to begin the ministry of caring for children in Assiout.6

At first, the local people suspected that these American women might be planning on taking the children to America as slaves.  There were those in the community who had personal memories of when Assiout had been a major slave depot.7 As the sisters continued to work in the community, they dispelled the fears of their neighbors and began adding to the children in their home.

Lillian and Jennie had no formal means of support and were not backed by any missionary agency. They relied on the local community, tourists, and donations from individuals in the United States who were kept informed about the ministry through the mail. Lillian had a donkey that she would ride out into the countryside asking for donations. Sometimes she would be gone for several days at a time. The local farmers would give her food and supplies to help her feed and care for the children in the orphanage. Eventually, she even became known as the “lady on a donkey.”8

When the orphanage had grown to about 50 children, Lillian decided to move from the house in town to the other side of the river where the children could have more space. The children joined in to make the bricks needed to build the new house. As was always the case, there was not enough money to purchase the land or build a house. Lillian’s commitment to living by faith meant that she walked forward even when she did not know where her help would come from. This time, a wealthy Coptic family sold her the land at a lower price and a local official helped by giving her almost the entire $250 that she needed.9

As the orphanage was continuing to expand, the surrounding area was becoming more and more politically unstable. World War I added tensions to an already unhappy population in Egypt. The Copts and the Muslims believed that they were ready to rule their own country. The British were not willing to loosen their control. It was a dangerous time in the country, especially for foreign missionaries. Many of the missionaries left their mission stations at this time, but Lillian remained with her children. During the war, the orphanage doubled in size to over 100 children and new rooms were added to the existing buildings to house the growing family.10

As the war was ending, once again the nationals expected to have a say in the fate of their country. The British, however, continued to hold tight reigns and unilaterally made all the decisions at the Paris talks. This time, the Egyptians did not accept being blocked from the process. Riots broke out and the British military were called in to suppress the mobs. Lillian and the children were forced to hide in a kiln next door to the orphanage one night as they heard the bullets flying outside. Nearby houses were looted and burned, but the orphanage was kept safe.11

In 1919, the British consulate required all foreigners to leave the region as they attempted to restore order. Lillian left by boat for Cairo and decided that she might as well use the time to return to the United States. She had been in Egypt for seven years. It was on this trip that she met with the leadership of the newly formed Assemblies of God. Recognizing that this was a missions-minded group, she officially joined the organization. While in the states, she traveled and spoke, raising support for the orphanage in Assiout.12

By 1923 Lillian had 300 orphans and widows in her care. In 1926, Lillian set up a charitable trust into which she put the Assiout Orphanage and all of the lands and buildings. This official organization stated that she could never sell the lands and that she would run the orphanage until her death. She set up a committee to witness the trust. Under the terms of the charitable trust the orphanage was “as a home for the training and education of poor orphans, of any religion and of any denomination.” Lillian said, “I take into my orphanage Mohammedans, Syrians, Catholics—anyone.  My work is not denominational, although I myself am Pentecostal.” The trust stipulated that the Muslim children were to be trained in Islam and Christian children were “to be instructed in the teachings of the Assemblies of God.”13 Muslim children were a minority in the orphanage, although it was often difficult to know because abandoned children had no family identity.

Many of the orphans taken into the home were not actually fully orphaned. If a mother died at birth and the father felt unable to care for the child, he might ask the orphanage to take his baby. Sometimes, children were abandoned due to a deformity or illegitimate birth or because the child was a female. Children in the orphanage may have actually had other family members living in the area who were either unable or unwilling to take the child into their own homes. At one point, the father of Lillian’s original baby girl came to the orphanage and claimed his now healthy seven-year-old. It broke Lillian’s heart to see the girl leave and it was even more difficult when she learned later that the girl had died from illness.14 After this, Lillian created some basic rules for admission to the orphanage that required relatives “to sign a paper that they give the children to us until they are eighteen years old,” at which point they would have reached maturity.15 The orphanage was a community and family for the children.

Of course, Lillian’s desire when she came to Egypt was to see people come to the saving knowledge of Jesus. After many years, she began to see the results of her love and compassion as many of the children entered into their own prayer and worship.  In 1927, Lillian wrote a letter describing the move of the Holy Spirit in the orphanage.

Today I witnessed the greatest revival I have ever seen in my life.  Three days ago we started a revival meeting among the children.  The Spirit was with us from the very first meeting, dozens getting saved and dozens seeking the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

This afternoon I thought the children had better not have a night meeting; they had been praying and crying for hours, so I said that everyone was to go to bed early. I went to my room early also, but soon I heard such a noise coming from all sides that I sent a girl to see if a funeral was passing by. She returned and said it was the children praying everywhere. I went first to the widows’ and blind girls’ department and found they were crying and praying. I went to the big girls’ room; they were all on their faces crying to God or shouting.

But the most wonderful sight I ever saw in my life was when I followed the noise up to the housetop. There were dozens and dozens of little girls shouting, crying, talking in tongues, rejoicing, preaching, singing – well, just everything you can think of – praising God! Several of the children saw visions. I have no idea how many have been baptized in the Holy Spirit. Eternity alone will tell of these results.16

By 1933, the entire world was in the grip of the Great Depression. In Egypt, tensions were increased as the country was experiencing a more nationalistic mood. The Egyptians were beginning to question whether they should allow outside missionaries to proselytize in their country. According to the trust that Lillian had set up, Muslim children were to be educated in the Islam faith. After an investigation, the authorities determined that the Muslim children in the orphanage were not being taught Islam. They came to the orphanage and removed about seventy children identified as Muslim. After this time, the orphanage was only allowed to take in Coptic or Christian orphans and widows.17

By 1939, there were about 700 living at the orphanage. The widows had become an important part of the overall running of the home. They paid for their room and board by helping to cook and clean and care for the children. Lillian could not have run the orphanage without their help. Along with basic school work, the boys were taught skills like carpentry and the girls were taught to cook and sew. Boys who showed an aptitude could continue on to college.  Many of the girls married but some stayed single and remained at the orphanage, helping to care for the children.18

During World War II, again most of the missionaries left the country. Lillian remained at the orphanage. The war caused extreme shortages. An amazing miracle occurred right at this time. The American Ambassador, Alexander Kirk, summoned Lillian to Cairo. When she arrived at his house he was extremely excited to give her the news. Because Greece had just fallen to the Germans, a Red Cross ship named the Kassandra Louloudis, carrying a load of relief supplies destined for Greece was ordered to dump her supplies and return home. A young Scottish soldier on board the ship knew of the Lillian Trasher Orphanage and convinced the captain to unload the supplies in Alexandria. In a warehouse waiting for Lillian were supplies including “two thousand six hundred dresses. Nineteen hundred handmade sweaters. One thousand nine hundred pairs of boys’ pants. Three thousand eight hundred blankets. Eleven hundred towels. Seven hundred kegs of powdered milk. One thousand two hundred sacks of rice . . . “19 Lillian’s prayers had been answered again.

In 1952, the British backed government fell, and a new era of military rule was ushered into the country. Once again it was not safe for foreign missionaries. Once again, Lillian remained at her beloved orphanage. The country was transitioning under the newly elected president, Gamal Abdel Nasser.20

In 1956, another crisis developed when Nasser declared the Suez Canal to be Egyptian property. In October of that year, Israeli forces invaded the Sinai Peninsula and Britain and France landed troops in Egypt to take back the Suez Canal. It appeared that a new war was about to break out as Nassar sank forty ships in the canal to block it. Thankfully, the United Nations was able to pressure a cease fire and all of the foreign troops finally withdrew. The Suez Canal was now under Egyptian control and the country was being run by Egyptians.21

The orphanage continued to gain the respect and appreciation of the community and even of President Nasser. In 1959, a donated car arrived from the United States for the orphanage. Its delivery was being held up in Cairo due to customs issues. President Nasser personally intervened on behalf of the orphanage and wrote a note to Lillian:  “I would like to tell you that your work for the orphans is very much appreciated by everyone in this country. I wish you continued success in your philanthropic endeavour.22

Lillian’s entire ministry life was one of faith. She never had more than a few weeks worth of money and supplies available to support the hundreds of children that she cared for. Throughout her ministry, she never lost her faith and God always supplied her needs.  In October of 1956, she wrote,

Last week a visitor, hearing that we had just opened a new school for the older boys (who were too many) said to me: “But that will cost you an awful lot of money to run such a large school! Books, teachers ... How much will it cost you?” I said, “Why, I don’t know. But there are over 100 boys and we must have the school.” He said, “But do you mean to say you have already started the school and have not counted the cost of running it?” “Why, yes,” I said, “we never count the cost; we only look for the need. Then we go ahead and do it. God meets the needs as we go along … Counting the cost just isn’t the way we run this Orphanage. It just has to be God!”23

Lillian Trasher passed away in 1961. She was in Egypt and had her sister, Jennie, by her side. At the time of her death, the Lillian Trasher Orphanage had grown to over 1,200 children.  The orphanage had expanded to thirteen buildings, including a church, a clinic and a primary school. “Mama” Lillian is buried in a simple Egyptian tomb several miles outside the city of Assiout.

“One day, not long before she was hospitalized, a news reporter had asked Lillian, ‘Miss Trasher, what is the secret of your missionary success? What is the greatest thing you ever did?’

‘There isn’t any secret,’ Lillian answered quickly. ‘I just stayed! I did not quit. I stayed with the work God gave me to do.’”24


1“Lillian Trasher,” AllExperts, http://en.allexperts.com/e/l/li/lillian_trasher.htm (accessed October 18, 2009).

2Gary B. McGee, People of the Spirit (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2004), 166.

3Benge, 43-48.

4Beth Prim Howell, Lady on a Donkey (New York: E.P. Dutton & Company, 1960), 59.

5Hassan, Fayza, “Liberty Blues,” Al-Ahram Weekly On-line (accessed October 19, 2009).

6Howell, 76.

7Jerome Beatty, Nile Mother: The Story of Lillian Trasher (Springfield, MO: General Council of the Assemblies of God, 1939), 12.

8Howell, 104.

9Ibid., 99.

10Ibid., 141.

11Janet & Geoff Benge, Lillian Trasher: The Greatest Wonder in Egypt (Seattle, WA: YWAM, 2004), 11.

12Howell, 150.

13Beth Baron, Revival on the Nile: “Mama” Trasher and the Assiout Orphanage, (Oxford: City University of New York, 2006), 19.

14Howell, 126.

15Lester Sumrall, Lillian Trasher: Nile Mother (Springfield, MO: 1951), 22.

16Lillian Trasher, Letters from Lillian (Springfield, MO: 1983) 17-18.

17Benge, 144-148.

18Trasher, 121.

19Benge, 168.

20“History of Modern Egypt,” Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_modern_Egypt (accessed October 18, 2009).


22Hassan, Fayza, “Liberty Blues,” Al-Ahram Weekly On-line (accessed October 19, 2009).

23Howell, 215.

24Benge, 189.


A Work of Faith and Labor of Love: The Assiout Orphanage, Assiout, Egypt. Springfield, MO: Foreign Missions Department, 1937.

Baron, Beth. Revival on the Nile: “Mama” Trasher and the Assiout Orphanage. 2006.

Beatty, Jerome. Nile Mother: The Story of Lillian Trasher. Springfield, MO: The General Council of the Assemblies of God. 1939.

Benge, Janet and Geoff. Lillian Trasher: The Greatest Wonder in Egypt. Seattle, WA: YWAM Publishing, 2004.

Dean, Michael and Kathryn. “Lillian Trasher.” Christian Heroes. (Accessed October 12, 2009).

Hassan, Fayza, “Liberty Blues,” Al-Ahram Weekly On-line, 30 March – 5 April, 2000. (accessed October 15, 2009).

Howell, Beth Prim. Lady on a Donkey. New York: E. P. Dutton & Company, 1960.

McGee, Gary B. People of the Spirit: The Assemblies of God. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2004.

Sumrall, Lester. Lillian Trasher Nile Mother. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1951.

Trasher, Lillian. Letters from Lillian. Springfield, MO: Division of Foreign Missions, 1972.





Jodi Detrick






It would be hard to think of a female in the twentieth century who inspired and impacted more lives around the world by her courage and faith than a woman named Corrie ten Boom. At the same time, it would be difficult to imagine someone who would have been considered less likely to do so for the first half of her ninety-one years of living.

Born one month premature on a Good Friday, April 15, 1892, Cornelia Arnolda Johanna joined two sisters and a brother as the youngest child of Casper and Cornelia ten Boom. Corrie, as she was called, came into the world in Amsterdam, Holland, but shortly after she was born, the family moved to Haarlem where her father would work in the Ten Boom Horlogerie (watch shop), which his father started back in 1837.

That simple watch shop and dwelling (called the Beje) where Corrie’s family would live, at Barteljorisstraat 19, was a small three-story building, two rooms wide and one room deep. At some point in its long history, it had actually been joined together with the house directly behind it by a narrow, winding staircase. This conglomerate house and watch shop with its odd angles and quirky lines would play a big role in the dramatic turn of events affecting Corrie’s life and the ministry she would have, first to some frightened Jews during World War Two, then to hundreds of thousands of people in many countries. But no one could have foreseen that when three-month-old Corrie was christened in the Dutch Reformed Church in July the same year.

Corrie was born into a family with a long heritage of vibrant Christian faith. Her grandfather, Willem ten Boom, founder of the watch shop, had begun a prayer group to pray for the peace of Jerusalem in 1844. It is likely he would have been amazed at how God would use the little granddaughter, born just four months after he died, to help answer his prayer for the Jewish people. Corrie’s own father, Casper, a well-loved expert watchmaker who was known as “Haarlem’s Grand Old Man,” also had a love for the Jewish people and prayed regularly for them.

Both of Corrie’s parents were devout Christ-followers. Every morning, promptly at eight-thirty, Father Ten Boom would pull the large brass-hinged Bible from its place on the shelf and call for everyone in the house to come together for the reading of Scripture and prayer. Evenings in the Beje ended the same way, after which he would lovingly tuck each child into bed. Mother Ten Boom, though in fragile health due to tuberculosis, was a kind and compassionate woman who was constantly visiting and serving the poor, sick, and neglected in her community. She was always ready with a bowl of hot soup or a cup of coffee for anyone who came to her door in need.

Indeed, the Beje seemed to be a hub for those with needs of all kinds during Corrie’s growing up years. Mother Ten Boom’s three sisters, Tante (meaning “aunt”) Jans, Tante Bep, and Tante Anna, all lived with Corrie’s family for many years until the time of their deaths. Two of the aunts in particular, Jans and Bep, were not easy to live with because of their critical tongues and dour outlooks. Tante Jans was known all over Holland for the fiery Christian tracts she wrote and distributed, as well as for her various causes and crusades against one thing or another. But Father and Mother Ten Boom treated them with the utmost patience and courtesy, even giving Tante Jans the largest set of rooms in the house.

In addition to raising their own four children to adulthood, through the years the Ten Booms took in eleven more foster children, some who were the offspring of missionaries. This largess was not lost on Corrie who, though she considered herself shy and not good with words, started several Christian girls’ clubs and worked with the “feeble minded” (those with mental handicaps and retardation) until the Nazis declared all such meetings illegal in 1940.

Although Father Ten Boom had no opportunity for an advanced education, he placed a high value on learning and had taught himself history, theology, and literature in five languages. His insistence that his children learn English and German, in addition to their native Dutch tongue, would serve them well, especially during the war years. Willem, Corrie’s older brother, was the only Ten Boom to graduate from college. He wrote his doctoral thesis on the problem of anti-Semitic racism and went on to become an ordained minister in the Dutch Reformed Church. Later he would become head of the Dutch Reformed Church’s program to reach Jews. As for Corrie, at age eighteen she took classes at a Bible school in Haarlem for two years but failed the final exam. She finally did receive her diploma from the school eight years later, however.

Even though they were farthest apart in ages, Corrie (who was youngest) was especially close to her oldest sister, Betsie. As time went by and both Willem and Nollie married and had families of their own, the seven years between Corrie and Betsie seemed to fade into insignificance. Betsie, who suffered with frail health due to pernicious anemia, was told she would never be able to have children. Knowing that, she had determined not to marry but would continue to work as bookkeeper in her father’s watch shop. Corrie, on the other hand, was an avid reader of romance novels, though she considered herself quite plain and was tongue-tied around the opposite sex. She longed for her own love story and almost had it with a man named Karl, one of Willem’s friends at the University. For a time, they saw each other regularly and began to speak of a possible future together. But, sadly, Karl’s family pressured him to marry into wealth and when he unexpectedly brought his new fiancé to meet Corrie, she was heartbroken.

As had happened so many times before when she was a little child, Father ten Boom’s gentle wisdom comforted Corrie when he found her sobbing on her bed. She tells of that encounter:

“Corrie,” he began instead, “do you know what hurts so very much? It’s love. Love is the strongest force in the world, and when it is blocked that means pain.

“There are two things we can do when this happens. We can kill the love so that it stops hurting. But then of course part of us dies, too. Or, Corrie, we can ask God to open up another route for that love to travel. …When we cannot love in the old, human way, Corrie, God can give us the perfect way.”

I did not know, as I listened to Father’s footsteps winding back down the stairs, that he had given me more than the key to this hard moment. I did not know that he had put into my hands the secret that would open far darker rooms than this—places where there was not, on a human level, anything to love at all.1

For the next several decades, life went along predictably for Corrie ten Boom, though there were significant gains and losses. Nieces and nephews were born, and more foster children kept coming into the Beje until they grew up and had families of their own. One by one her aunts died, and Corrie took over the cooking and other housekeeping chores. Her beloved mother had a series of strokes and, after being without most of her vocabulary or mobility for three years, passed away when Corrie was twenty-nine years old.

At that point, Corrie, who had completed her watch-making apprenticeship in Switzerland, and Betsie, who much preferred the duties associated with running the household, swapped roles and Corrie began working full-time in the watch shop with her father. She found she loved the meticulous work and even excelled at the bookkeeping; a role Betsie had dutifully performed but despised. With Corrie’s involvement, the shop thrived as never before. In 1924 at the age of thirty-two, Corrie became Holland’s first licensed female watchmaker.

During those fulfilling, peaceful years of quiet obscurity, Corrie could not have imagined what would be asked of her ordinary life. In 1937 when the Beje was celebrating its one-hundredth anniversary of being a watchmaker’s shop, Corrie was forty-five years old. Looking back at that day of joy, she writes, “How could we have guessed as we sat there—two middle-aged spinsters and an old man—that in place of memories were about to be given adventures such as we had never dreamed of? Adventure and anguish, horror and heaven were just around the corner, and we did not know.”2

What Corrie could not have known was that in just two years time, the second World War would begin (in 1939), when Germany invaded Poland. Increasingly, the ten Boom family saw the poison of Hitler’s anti-Semitic philosophies spreading, infecting even their beloved Holland. Although, in a radio address given in May of 1940, their Prime Minister assured the country they would be spared from war because of their neutral political stance, just five days later Germany invaded Holland. Their homeland would be occupied for the next five years.

Under German occupation, the persecution, arrests, and disappearances of many Jews in Holland became increasingly common. The Ten Boom family who had loved and prayed for God’s chosen people for generations could not remain passive. In 1941, Corrie began to help find “safe houses” in the country for the Jewish people who began showing up at the door of the Beje. Corrie’s prayer became, “Lord Jesus, I offer myself for Your people. In any way. Any place. Any time.”3

By the following year, almost without realizing it she had become active in the Dutch underground resistance movement. At the age of fifty, Corrie would get on her old bicycle after curfew, when it was illegal to be on the darkened streets, and pedal to deliver messages, ration cards, and forged identities that would save the lives of many desperate Jewish people. Repeatedly she witnessed God’s hand of protection over her life and those she was working to save.

By 1943, the Beje had become more than just a pass-through for relocating Jews to safety. It was a hub for the underground movement and an elaborate system of alarm buzzers and signals had to be established for the safety of all who were coming and going. In the meantime, several Jews who were too hard to place were staying permanently with the ten Boom family. This put everyone in grave peril since the Beje was located only a half block from the police station which had become the local Nazi headquarters.

As a solution, members of the underground movement decided a secret room must be built in the Beje and one of Europe’s most famous architects would soon show up at their door to begin the project. As another evidence of God’s amazing providence, the quaint old building with its odd angles and peculiar lines was the perfect structure in which to build a secret room (eight feet long, two feet wide, and ten feet high), much to the delight of the architect. And so it went that “the hiding place,” which was virtually undetectable and almost soundproof, was built into Corrie’s bedroom, a place of safety for frightened, hunted people.

Over the months that followed, this little band of people living in the Beje would frequently practice drills to see how quickly they could get their illegal guests into the secret room without leaving any tell-tale signs of their presence behind. Then one evening, when Corrie had a raging fever from the flu, she heard the alarm buzzer going off. She thought to herself, she had not remembered scheduling a drill. Suddenly the six-extra people (four Jews and two underground workers) in the Beje dashed through her room into the hiding place. She could tell by the looks of terror on their faces that this was no drill.

Within seconds of their disappearance, the Gestapo burst through her door, arresting Corrie, Betsie, and their eighty-four-year-old father. Other family members (including siblings Willem and Nollie, who were later released) and acquaintances were also rounded up and arrested in this raid on February 28, 1944. Within ten days, Corrie’s precious father who had said, “In this household, God’s people are always welcome”4 would be dead. Yet forty-seven hours after the raid, all six of the people in the hiding place would be rescued by the underground operatives and relocated to safe places.

After their arrest, Corrie (age fifty-two) and Betsie (age fifty-nine) were sent to the federal penitentiary in Scheveningen where they would be separated for the first time in their lives. Corrie, who was still very weak from the flu, being beaten, and having little food or water, spent her fifty-third birthday in solitary confinement. She also worried about the fate of her family and friends, especially Father Ten Boom, and Betsie, whose health was already precariously frail.

But it was in those first dark days of imprisonment when Corrie learned she also had a “hiding place,” a refuge from the loneliness and fear, the cruelty of the guards, and a world seemingly gone mad. All the years of spiritual nurturing from her parents, all those mornings and nights spent in reading the Word of God and praying, had become a secret place where Corrie could hide. She remembered some of the last words her father had said after their arrest as he quoted from Psalm 119: 114 from memory, “Thou art my hiding place and my shield: I hope in thy word.”5

Even so, the next several months would be a succession of hellish experiences for Corrie and Betsie ten Boom. But one thing brought them great joy. Upon their transfer to the Vught Concentration Camp in another part of Holland during June of that year, they were again reunited. A further blessing was the gift of a Bible, furtively passed to Corrie by a kindly nurse. By September, the two sisters found themselves being herded into the box car of a train (eighty women were crammed into a space that would be crowded with thirty) for a nightmarish three-day ride into Germany and the notorious Women’s Extermination Camp, Ravensbruck.

More than ninety-six thousand women would eventually die at Ravensbruck. When Corrie and Betsie arrived, they shuddered to see the gray smoke curling up from the smokestack in the middle of the camp, an acrid testimony to the atrocities that were a regular part of the evil there. Yet in this darkest of places where unspeakable cruelties were the norm, God once again showed Himself to be both mighty and gracious to and through these two aging sisters.

One of the first miracles occurred when Corrie was able to bring her pouch containing their precious Bible and a vial of vitamin drops through the scrutiny of the guards without being seen, even during a strip search. Another miracle happened when the tiny bottle of vitamins kept producing drop after drop of vitamins, which Betsie so generously insisted they share with the sick around them, long after it should have run out.

And then there were the fleas, an unlikely miracle indeed. The huge barracks where Corrie and Betsie were assigned were filled with fleas, making their miserable conditions even worse. Betsie, however, determined they should give thanks in all things so reluctantly Corrie agreed to thank God for the fleas. Later they would learn their unusual freedom to gather their fellow prisoners for open Bible study, prayer, and worship was because the guards refused to come into their barracks due to the terrible flea infestation.

So in Barrack 28, which was designed to hold four hundred women and instead held fourteen-hundred, Corrie and Betsie faithfully comforted the dying, told the good news of Jesus, preached the Word, and offered hope where there had been only despair. Over the months, the atmosphere of savagery and selfishness gradually softened into patience, camaraderie, and selflessness.

Yet, too, over the months, Betsie grew weaker and weaker from the grueling hard labor, the cold and deprivation of sleep, and the lack of proper nutrition. But even during those last pain-wracked days of her life, Betsie’s eyes would light up as she talked to Corrie about her vision of what they would do when they left Ravensbruck, which she was sure would happen by the first of the coming year. Betsie said they were to tell as many people as possible that “… there is no pit so deep that He is not deeper still. They will listen to us, Corrie, because we have been here.”6

Betsie also envisioned a large, lovely house with tall windows, inlaid wood, a broad sweeping staircase, statues set into the walls, and gardens where those who had been damaged by living in concentration camps could come to heal until they were ready to live a more normal life again. The final part of her vision was to come back to Germany to turn one of the horrid concentration camps into a place of healing for the German people, the persecutors, themselves. She saw their cruelty as a brokenness, which only God could heal and often pitied them even more than the prisoners. She told Corrie they were to paint the barracks a lovely spring green and plant window boxes on the buildings so those affected by war could watch things grow again.

On December 16, 1944, at the age of fifty-nine, Betsie went to be with the Jesus she loved so deeply. Just days later, on December 30, Corrie was released from Ravensbruck by a clerical error, one week before the order came to kill all the woman her age. Betsie was right. They both would be out of the horrid death camp by the New Year.

Upon her return to Holland, Corrie began to fulfill the vision of ministry that had been spoken into life by the lips of her dying sister. The once shy woman began to speak publicly about the hope Jesus brings into the darkest places of living. She would speak in churches, factories, community centers, hospitals, mental institutions, universities, prisons … anywhere a door was opened, sometimes up to twenty times a week.

Eventually Corrie would speak to many hundreds of thousands of people in sixty-four countries around the world. Calling herself a “tramp for the Lord,” she would keep a grueling traveling schedule until she was well into her eighties. She frequently spoke with Billy Graham at his crusades, and regularly traveled with the famous Bible smuggler, Brother Andrew. Corrie often made appearances as a guest on radio and television. Many who never heard her voice would read one of the many articles or books she penned, including her best-seller released in 1971 entitled “The Hiding Place.” Released in 1975, a major motion picture called “The Hiding Place” would be made about her life. (Four other films would be made by or about her, as well.)

Corrie received many honors, including being knighted by the Queen of the Netherlands with whom she became good friends. On February 28, 1976, she was honored by Israel at the Yad Vashem Holocaust Memorial because of all the Jewish lives she saved. A tree was planted in her honor in the Garden of the Righteous there. Her home, the Beje, is now a museum called the Corrie ten Boom House. It receives thousands of visitors every year.

Betsie’s other visions for post-Ravensbruck ministries were also fulfilled through her sister. After the war, Corrie founded a place for those suffering the traumatic affects of confinement in a concentration camp at a beautiful home offered by a wealthy widow from Bloemendaal. Although Corrie had never seen it before, the fifty-six-room mansion had tall windows, inlaid wood, bas-relief statues set into the walls, a sweeping staircase, and lovely gardens. There, hundreds of war victims were ministered to exclusively until 1950, when it was also opened to those from other segments of the population.

In 1949, with the help of the German Lutheran Church and the evangelical Sisterhood of Mary, Corrie rented the former concentration camp, Darmstadt, as a home for German war refugees who had lost their homes in the war. The barracks were painted a spring-green color and window boxes were planted on the buildings to welcome former enemies. The camp would stay open as a place of healing and spiritual restoration for the next eleven years, until 1960.

Corrie ten Boom, the self-described “spinster” who had lived such a quiet, ordinary life until she was in her fifties, is an inspiring reminder that any woman who trusts in God can rise to the occasion and make a difference in this dark world, despite her age, her marital status, and her gender. She can ‘find another route for love to travel,’ as Father Ten Boom had suggested so long ago. For Corrie, that path would take her all over this globe, leaving a wake of hope behind her.

On April 15, 1983, Corrie’s route took her home to her dear parents and her beloved Betsie at the feet of Jesus. It was her ninety-first birthday.


1Corrie ten Boom, Elizabeth Sherrill, and John Sherrill, The Hiding Place (Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1971; 35th anniversary ed., 2006), 60.

2Ibid., 23.

3Ibid., 90.

4Ibid., 94.

5All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the King James Version.

6Ibid., 227.


Moore, Pamela Rosewell. The Five Silent Years of Corrie ten Boom. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1986.

______. Life Lessons from the Hiding Place: Discovering the Heart of Corrie ten Boom. Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2004.

Smith, E. “History.” The Corrie ten Boom House Foundation Website. https://www.corrietenboom.com/en/foundation (accessed September 4, 2009).

Ten Boom, Corrie, Elizabeth Sherrill, and John Sherrill. The Hiding Place. 1971. Reprint, Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 2006.

Ten Boom, Corrie, and Jamie Buckingham. Tramp for the Lord. Grand Rapids: Fleming H. Revell, 1974.







Jamie Morgan













A brush with Vonette Bright was an event impossible to forget. This was the widespread response of everyone who encountered her. She was a simple, yet extraordinary, woman who lived to support the dreams of others, but also had remarkable accomplishments of her own.  She was a passionate firebrand, with a heart of submission, whose life affected vast multitudes.  Through the ministry that she co-founded, and the movement that she birthed, millions of unsaved have come to salvation and millions of Christians are committed to soul winning and the place of prayer.


Vonette Zachary Bright was born in Coweta, Oklahoma, in 1926.  She was the oldest of the four Zachary children and boasted of a happy childhood.  Her family attended church, and though her parents were wholesome, moral, and upright, they lacked the most important ingredient: a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.1

Vonette admittedly felt an inner void and was always trying harder to be good enough to gain God’s approval. Her prayers felt shallow and her Bible study meaningless. By the time she was ready to enter college, seeds of doubt about God had engulfed her heart and what little faith she had begun to waver. A letter she received, however, from hometown boy, Bill Bright, would alter the course of her life. Bill penned that he was extremely interested in pursuing a dating relationship.2

Vonette began corresponding with Bill. A three-year, long-distance dating relationship was born filled with letters, weekly phone calls, flowers, and candy. Bill and Vonette were not only divided by geography, but more importantly, they were divided spiritually. As their relationship continued, Vonette learned that Bill was what she considered to be a fanatical Christian, and Bill viewed Vonette as lukewarm at best.3

Despite the fact that they were unequally yoked, Bill asked for Vonette’s hand in marriage. She accepted his proposal, but seriously considered returning the engagement ring until she could reform him from his radical Christian ways. “I decided Bill had become a religious fanatic and that somehow He must be rescued from this fanaticism,” Vonette reminisced. “And he knew he could not marry me until there was a change in my spiritual life.”4

After Vonette’s college graduation, Bill invited her to a Christian conference in California.  Despite her parent’s reservations, she traveled to the west coast knowing that their relationship was teetering on the brink of breakup. At the conference, Vonette met other young people who were as radical about Jesus as Bill. Vonette heard testimony after testimony of young adults who had been transformed by Jesus Christ and who were genuinely excited over answered prayer and the Bible, which whet Vonette’s spiritual appetite to know more about God.  Bill encouraged her to meet with his mentor, Henrietta Mears, who was a Bible teacher at his church, Hollywood Presbyterian.5

Vonette agreed to the meeting, not realizing that hundreds of Bill’s friends were praying for her salvation. At the meeting, Henrietta presented Vonette with the Gospel and persuaded her to give her life over to Jesus Christ. Vonette finally surrendered and, upon doing so, had a vision. Vonette recalls,

I was standing in utter darkness on the edge of a diving board. I do not swim; as a matter of fact, I almost lost my life in a swimming course in college. I passed the course but have not jumped off a diving board since. In the dream, I did not know whether or not I could swim, but I knew I had to jump—and I found out that I could swim and that God is real! I gave Him all my trust, and He didn’t fail me.6

Their engagement was saved and Vonette married Bill Bright in December of 1948.7


Bill Bright was a strong, entrepreneurial leader, and when he and Vonette married, they owned a prosperous candy business. However, in 1951, he left Bright’s California Confections to launch Campus Crusade for Christ (CRU) on the campus of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA). Bill felt that if CRU could succeed on the liberal campus of UCLA, other college campuses would ensue. His ministry vision was to “win the campus today, and win the world tomorrow.”8 His philosophy was that on fire college students would go into their sphere of influence and set the world on fire.9

When Bill first told Vonette what he planned to do at UCLA, she was filled with fear. Vonette confessed,

When I heard about Bill’s vision, I was apprehensive, although I was careful not to let Bill know my fears or to debate his dream.  In my mind’s eye, I could see everything we had talked about, dreamed of and hoped for fading into oblivion. Both of us had expensive appetites, and material possessions meant a great deal to us.  Now Bill was talking about selling our business, moving to UCLA campus and living by faith.  Imagine that! I didn’t know anyone who lived by faith in the extravagant fashion I wanted to live.10

Despite her misgivings, a year after CRU’s inception, Vonette left her public school teaching position to work for the ministry in order to show support for her husband’s dream. While initially struggling to find her role in his ministry, she put her hand to the plow and began to work with female students and staff members. She instructed staff members on etiquette, proper dress, and table manners. She began ministering to female students and saw fifty come to Christ the very first semester. Vonette became known for her acclaimed soul winning and discipling skills.11

Touted the largest parachurch ministry in the history of the world, CRU is ranked the nineteenth largest charitable organization in the United States with an annual budget of $500 million. CRU boasts a paid staff of 27,000 and a volunteer base of 300,000. There are CRU chapters on thousands of college campuses in 190 nations of the world. In 1991, forty years after launching, CRU built a beautiful, state-of-the-art campus in Orlando, Florida. The official mission statement of CRU is to “give people everywhere the opportunity to know and experience God’s love and plan for their lives.”12

CRU gave birth to many subsidiary ministries including Athletes in Action, Women Today International, FamilyLife, Alliance Defending Freedom, CRU Military, JESUS Film Project, Global Aid Network, Josh McDowell Ministry, Christian Embassy DC, Christian Embassy UN, Bright Media Group, and Inner City.13 But one of CRU’s most renowned ancillary ministries was the JESUS Film Project. The JESUS Film is a two-hour movie about the life of Christ based on the Gospel of Luke. The movie is used by CRU to evangelize but has become a major ministry of its own.14

In 1979, Bill Bright approached a Jewish Hollywood producer with the proposal of helping him make a film about the life of Jesus. He accepted the challenge, and they immediately began working on the film on location in Israel. While filming in Israel, the producer saw the hand of God at work on the movie set and became a follower of Christ. He was the very first JESUS Film convert.15

The JESUS Film has been shown to two billion people in every nation of the world and has resulted in 200 million decisions for Christ. The Guinness Book of World Records chronicles that the movie holds the record for being the most translated film of all time—dubbed into 1,394 foreign languages. The JESUS Film also has a downloadable smart phone application for the film to be viewed by anyone, anywhere, in almost every language of the world.16


Vonette’s reach was not just to CRU, but also in the realm of prayer. Kathy Bright, her daughter-in-law, stated that Vonette had a massive influence on prayer both nationally and internationally. Her prayer impact could be felt as early as in the year 1952.17

CRU’s first year of ministry was marked with little fruit. Vonette immediately orchestrated a twenty-four hour, seven day a week prayer chain to intercede for the evangelistic efforts of their fledgling ministry. Her goal was to give CRU a strong spiritual foundation by bathing every aspect of the ministry in prayer. She was confident that, through prayer, their ministry would turn around and go full speed ahead to win the world for Christ. She was right.18

With Vonette’s influence, prayer continued to be a driving force behind everything that CRU accomplished. When CRU built its brand new campus in Orlando, Florida, the entire fourth floor was fashioned into a prayer center. The Great Commission Prayer Center is comprised of seven beautifully appointed prayer rooms, named for each of the seven continents of the world.  The purpose of the prayer rooms is to ensure that intercession goes up for the salvation of the lost in every nation of the world as well as for the protection of their missionaries.19

Another major prayer accomplishment was the formation of the National Prayer Committee (NPC). This committee was comprised of prayer ministry leaders from various streams of Christianity all across the United States. In 1982, seventy-two prayer leaders convened in Washington D.C. for the very first NPC meeting. Annually, they continue to gather to intercede for the spiritual awakening of America and to formulate prayer strategies to effectively pray for our nation. Since their inception, the NPC has received five billion dollars in donations. Vonette was chairwoman of the NPC for nine years after which she handed the leadership baton to Focus on the Family’s Shirley Dobson, who is still at the helm today.20

In 1988, Vonette took the United States Congress to task on behalf of prayer. She feverishly lobbied congress to write and pass a bill to designate the first Thursday of every May as the National Day of Prayer. Her younger son, Brad Bright, recounted how his mother spent morning after morning, getting up as early as 4:00 a.m., to call and persuade congressmen and senators to sponsor a bill to put the National Day of Prayer on the federal calendar as a permanent, annual event. He recounted that his mother had a tenacity and perseverance that some felt was an annoyance, but that God used to benefit the body of Christ and the world.21

Congress passed the bill and, with Vonette Bright standing over his shoulder, President Ronald Reagan signed the piece of legislature into law. The United States is the only nation in the world that has a day of prayer on its federal calendar.22 Every year on the National Day of Prayer, there are over 600,000 prayer gatherings, with forty million Americans interceding for the United States of America. The National Prayer Day of Prayer Task Force publishes over two million prayer guides annually to help Americans pray for their nation and trains 300,000 volunteers to call America back to prayer.23

Anna Lee, who was Vonette’s personal prayer partner for the last ten years of Vonette’s life, observed that her immense love for America, coupled with her revelation of the power of prayer, is what tirelessly drove her to marshal Americans to prayer for their country. Anna remembered that Vonette’s faithfulness and readiness to serve God in the area of prayer was contagious and, with the Holy Spirit’s empowerment, started a prayer movement that continues to grow exponentially today.24

Steven Douglas, current president and chief operating officer of CRU, contends that Vonette’s greatest prayer contribution was not seen at CRU or the National Day of Prayer, but in her own prayer closet. He recounted the many times he saw her turn to prayer and encouraged others to do the same. He marveled at the revelation she possessed regarding the privilege and power of prayer and the preeminent place it had in her own life.25

Douglas recalled one particular incident that illustrates his point. Both he and Vonette sat on the board of a financially failing Christian college. A state of hopelessness had prevailed at one particular board meeting as one person after the next declared the dismal financial state of the institution. In the middle of this intense board meeting, Vonette shouted, “Let’s get on our knees and ask God to rescue us! He is our ever-present help in trouble!” Every board member fell to their knees and petitioned God for the much-needed finances to keep the doors open. Within a week, every dollar they requested was received and the college was saved. Douglas shared that God frequently used Vonette’s boldness to say whatever was on her mind in order to spur people on to pray!26

The Rev. Billy Graham, however, best sums up Vonette’s prayer legacy. He greatly admired Vonette’s heart and passion for prayer. In a letter penned to Vonette in 2011, he wrote, “Your single-minded focus on the power of intercessory prayer has been both an encouragement to my life and a model for the church. Heavenly records will one day reveal the full impact of your prayer life and the teaching ministry in the lives of countless persons who have come to faith in Christ.”27


In addition to all of the accomplishments mentioned, Vonette founded the Great Commission Prayer Crusade, launched a radio ministry, Women Today International, and served on the Lausanne Committee as chair of the Intercession Working Group and as member for World Evangelization. She also received many awards in her lifetime: the Board of Directors Award from the National Religious Broadcasters, the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Extraordinary Women Conference, and Christian Woman of the Year Award.28

Vonette was the author of over twenty books. She wrote books for women, on family life, entertaining and hospitality, and evangelism; however, the topic she most frequently wrote about was prayer. Some of her prayer books include For Such a Time as This, How to Organize Prayer in the City, Uniting People to Pray, and the Personal Prayer Journal. Her gift for writing was recognized by Christian Women in Media when they awarded her with the Excellence in Communication award.29

Vonette earned two degrees. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Home Economics from Texas Women’s University and a Master of Education at the University of Southern California. She was also awarded six honorary doctorate degrees from: Colorado Christian University, Taylor University, Liberty University, Palm Beach Atlantic College, King Sejong University, and Los Angeles Bible College.30

Vonette’s personal assistant, Mary Canada, was employed by CRU for over twenty years and agreed to meet for an interview. It was Mary’s last day before her retirement, and she was honored to spend her last hours at CRU recounting Vonette’s life. The interview was conducted in Vonette’s office at CRU. The room was filled with her achievements, mementos, family photographs, and beautiful furniture. Her office was as everyone described Vonette to be lovely and hospitable.31

Through tears, Canada described Mrs. Bright, as she called her, to be gracious in all situations. She said that Vonette made sure things were done right the first time, in a spirit of excellence, which drove everyone crazy, but in the final analysis she extended grace to all. Her no-pretense manner made everyone feel comfortable, but she was ever the picture of dignity. The three things that Mary will remember most about Vonette were her passion for prayer, her heart for evangelism, and how she mentored other young women, many who went on to do great things for God.32

Dick Eastman, founder of Every Home for Christ and who served with Vonette on the National Prayer Committee (NPC), described her as “courage clothed in joy.” He expressed that she was a unique person in many ways and “when she entered a room, you knew everything was going to be alright.”33 Glenn Sheppard, president of International Prayer Ministries and an original member of the NPC, emphasized that Vonette never stood in the shadows of Bill Bright, but right next to him. He also recounted that when Vonette met with Joy Dawson and Evelyn Christianson, all members of the NPC, “theological sparks would fly.” He revealed that she was like a “big sister” to him and expressed that he would always carry with him fond memories of her.34

Several characterizations marked Vonette Bright’s life and ministries, but there were two traits that seemed to be the overarching keys to her many achievements: simplicity and devotion.  She simply focused her devotion on God’s Word, prayer, the Great Commission, people, and serving her husband. Dr. Crawford Loritts, a current CRU board member, at Vonette’s home-going service indicated that she was “brilliantly simple.”35 Brenda Josee, a former personal assistant, added to his sentiments by sharing Vonette’s favorite quote, “I am wholeheartedly devoted to Jesus Christ and recklessly abandoned to the will of God.” This was her life’s motto and can be seen etched on the walls and elevators of CRU’s campus.36


Despite Vonette’s many and varied leadership accomplishments, her view of women in ministry was considered by some to be legalistic. There are two primary camps regarding the view of women in ministry: egalitarian and complementarian.  Egalitarians fully embrace women as pastors and the ordination of women ministers, while the complementarians reject these positions believing that each gender should stay in their prospective lanes.37

The organization that promotes egalitarianism is the Christians for Biblical Equality; conversely, the one that is equated with complementarianism is the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Bill and Vonette Bright were board members of the latter.  Their personal position on women in ministry, as well as that of CRU, squarely fit under the complementarian umbrella.38

Proof of her complementarian stance on women in leadership happened in 1987 when she signed the Danville Statement. This document was named after the city of Danville, Massachusetts, where the first meeting of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood was held. It outlined that only men could have leadership roles, in both the home and the church, and completely denounced the egalitarian view.39

Excerpts from the CRU Staff Manual will further illustrate the role that women had in their ministry. It stated, “sew buttons and mend seams for single men, sort your husband’s mail; the domestic sphere is your special responsibility.” Vonette firmly saw herself in the role of helpmate to Bill.  She had given up all of her hopes and dreams for his, and saw herself in a subordinate role at CRU, referring to it as “Bill’s ministry.” For an understanding of how Vonette’s theology of women in ministry was shaped, one has to be well acquainted with the robust influence that Henrietta Mears, Glenn Zachary, and Dennis Rainey had on both Vonette and Bill.40

Henrietta Mears was not only Bill and Vonette’s Sunday School teacher in the early years of their marriage, but after they married, they lived with Henrietta in her Bel Air mansion next to the campus of UCLA. She had a predominant influence on the Bright’s overall theology, including that of their complementarian view of women in leadership.41 Henrietta was a prolific expositor of the Bible, growing her Sunday School class from 450 to 6,000 in three years.  She was also a person of huge vision, a mighty prayer warrior, a passionate soul winner, and a strong leader.  She was convinced that her Sunday School classes were filled with future world leaders and she taught them as such.  Two of those leaders were Bill and Vonette Bright.  Henrietta had such an influence on the Brights and their ministry that Bill Bright admitted that the three most influential people in his life were his mother, his wife, and Henrietta Mears.42

Mears was considered to be one of the most powerful Christian women of the twenty-first century but worked extremely hard at not appearing like she was pushing the fundamentalist gender norms.  She “taught” instead of “preached,” and selected women leaders as a “last resort” when men were not available. Henrietta believed that she could recruit “the best examples of young men” to her Hollywood Presbyterian Sunday School class by filling the Christian Education department with beautiful young women. She called herself a “Bapterian” and stated that she learned her theology from Dallas Theological Seminary and Moody Bible Institute speakers.43

To further illustrate the kind of impact that Mears had on the Brights, in the mid-1950s, Henrietta forged a friendship with Oral Roberts and became open to the baptism in the Holy Spirit. While the Brights never changed their official public doctrinal stance on speaking in tongues due to pressure from their cessationist supporters, they most definitely took a softer, gentler approach to this charismatic doctrine. Mears not only influenced them in the early day of their ministry, but her influence progressed for the duration of her life. When her theology changed, so did theirs. There is little doubt that Henrietta mightily swayed the views that Vonette held regarding women in ministry and, in many ways, Vonette’s life reflected that of Henrietta’s: a woman who was larger than life, but who desperately held on to evangelical gender norms.44

Glenn Zachary, Vonette’s brother, also helped shape her complementarian view. He was a graduate of Bob Jones University (BJU), which has one of the most ultra conservative, legalistic Christian campuses in America, including their view that women cannot hold positions of leadership in the Church. CRU forged a close relationship with BJU with Zachary as the catalyst. Bill reported that the two ministries “fit like a glove with one another.” It was a relationship of reciprocity—BJU supplied CRU with a never-ending stream of new staffers and Bill encouraged young men at CRU who wanted to pursue a degree to attend BJU. Bill made frequent trips to BJU to speak at their chapel services and to solidify their ministry relationship.45

CRU’s close relationship with BJU continued for several years until they parted ways.  Two of CRU’s advisory board members were Billy Graham and Bob Jones, Jr. These two men sharply disagreed over doctrine, with Jones accusing the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association of becoming too theologically liberal. Bill Bright was forced to choose sides and favored Billy Graham’s argument. As a result, BJU abruptly severed their relationship with CRU. Although their ministry relationship is still fractured, there is little doubt that CRU’s close alliance with BJU helped to impact CRU theologically.46

The third person of interest who had a direct effect on Vonette’s anti-women in ministry leadership view was Dennis Rainey, director and chief executive officer of FamilyLife. FamilyLife was CRU’s marriage ministry and taught that both genders had a specific divine role in marriage and the church. Rainey, concerned that gender standards in the Church were going adrift, drafted the Family Manifesto. The purpose of this document was to protect the biblical institutions of marriage and family and to express concern that evangelicals were falling into “the enemy’s camp” of egalitarianism.  Many felt that the document was designed to pressure CRU to take a more proactive stand for complementarianism. Bill and Vonette attended the Family Manifesto ratification ceremony, signed the document, and, in turn, was handed a donation of $100,000 by Rainey to “thank them for their support.”47

Five years after the signing of the Family Manifesto, the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) augmented their doctrinal statement on their view of women in ministry. The SBC had always been complementarian, but they wanted to bolster this long-held view and clear any misconception to the contrary. Evangelicals were divided over the issue and, in order to not lose any of their donor base, the Brights decided to remain neutral and did not publicly state their view on the matter.48

Dennis Rainey, however, did not take this decision sitting down. He purchased a full-page advertisement in USA Today to show his support of the SBC complementarian doctrine. He also privately pressed the Brights to openly express their support. At Rainey’s insistence, Bill and Vonette conceded and adopted SBC’s anti-women leadership doctrine. Rainey later admitted that if they had not agreed, FamilyLife would have parted ways with Campus Crusade. The Brights maintained that their support of SBC’s statement was more of a rejection of the philosophies of the feminist movement, rather than siding with a particular faction of evangelicals.49

To further galvanize the Bright’s anti-feminist posture and alliance with Rainey, CRU conducted “Feminars” for students and staff. These conferences taught “what God expected from women” and how females can win the world for Christ despite not holding positions of leadership. Vonette, when asked at one of the “Feminars” about her position on women having spiritual authority in the church, stated, “I think that as long as she acts under the authority of her husband and the minister, then this would be perfectly fine, if she is capable.”50

Vonette publicly maintained her complementarian position until the end of her life; however, it is interesting to note, that she served as the only woman on CRU’s male-dominated board of directors, always took a public leadership role in the ministry of CRU, and was referred to as the “co-founder” of CRU by everyone at CRU, including by Bill. She also led a national prayer movement and served on the board of several Christian ministries and colleges.51


Vonette and Bill spent over fifty years building Campus Crusade for Christ.52 In 2002, Bill was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a disease that slowly causes hardening of the lungs. Vonette was shattered by the news. She admits her doubt and fear regarding his impending death in her devotional book Vonette Bright: In His Hands. “It was devastating news. My husband had always been a tireless, energetic man who could keep on going longer than most men half his age.  What would a debilitating disease do to him? Would it change his faith in God? What about me? Would my faith withstand the pressure of this test?”53 Vonette’s faith withstood the pressure, as did Bill’s. Dr. Williams R. Bright died in 2003, at the age of 81.54

For twelve years after Bill’s death, until she was diagnosed with acute leukemia, Vonette continued as a spokesperson for CRU and continued to travel extensively. Vonette Zachary Bright died on December 23, 2015, at the age of 89.55 A public memorial service was held at First Presbyterian Church in Orlando, Florida, on January 8, 2016, in her honor. Thousands were in attendance, including swarms of media outlets. Among those who participated in her service were the current president of CRU, Steve Douglas; her sons, Zachary and Brad Bright; three of her four grandchildren; her friend Kay Arthur; and her spiritual daughter, Nancy DeMoss.56

Vonette’s life seemed paradoxical. She was passionate about her causes, yet well behaved; a trailblazer, yet dutiful; and was at times vocally outspoken, yet wanted to be seen as the picture of submission. She was a strong female leader, yet both directly and indirectly discouraged other women from doing the same by her complementarian posture. Vonette worked hard at playing by the rules of evangelical political correctness.

Nevertheless, Vonette was a world changer and left a huge impression on twenty-first century Christianity. When I visited the CRU campus, I was awestruck by the immense vision that Vonette, and her husband Bill, possessed. They took what little they had, asked God to bless it, and labored tirelessly to see it come to fruition. What she and Bill accomplished is no less than remarkable!

In addition to that, the modern-day American prayer movement would not be what it is today without the influence of Vonette Bright. Her passion for prayer permeated every area of her life and ministry. Every person won to the Lord Jesus Christ through a CRU encounter, and every prayer uttered at a National Day of Prayer gathering is, in part, the fruit of her labor. Her fingerprints are on the spiritual lives of a vast harvest of souls. The annals of church history will record the undeniable impact that Vonette Bright made on the lives of believers and unbelievers all around the world.


1Vonette Bright, “In Vonette’s Own Words,” CRU, 2 January 2016, https://www.cru.org/us/en/about/vonette-bright/her-story.html (23 January 2016).



4Matt Schudel, “Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ dies at 89,” The Washington Post, (26 December 2015), n.p., https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/vonette-bright-co-founder-of-campus-crusade-for-christ-dies-at-89/2015/12/26/4a381218-ac06-11e5-8058-480b572b4aae_story.html (3 January 2016).

5Vonette Bright,In Her Own Words,” n.p.

6Vonette Bright, “In Her Own Words,” n.p..

7John G. Turner, Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2009), Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 1, Location 185-525.

8Mark DeMoss, “Vonette Z. Bright Memorial Newsroom,” DeMoss Public Relations (23 December 2015).


10Vonette Bright, Vonette Bright: In His Hands, (Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2010), 48.

11Turner, Chapter 1, Location 185-525.

12Mark DeMoss, “Vonette Z. Bright Memorial Newsroom,” DeMoss Public Relations (23 December 2015).

13Schudel, n.p..

14Freda Shingleton, Public Relations for JESUS Film, interview by author, Orlando, FL, 25 January 2016.



17Kathy Bright, daughter-in-law to Vonette Bright, Memorial Service of Vonette Bright. Orlando, FL, 8 January 2016.

18Anna Lee, Global Prayer Trainer of CRU, interview by author, Orlando, FL, 27 Janurary 2016.


20Lisa Crump, Prayer Mobilization Director of the National Day of Prayer Task Force, interview by author, Orlando, FL, 27 January 2016.

21Brad Bright, son of Vonette Bright, Memorial Service of Vonette Bright, Orlando, FL, 8 January 2016.




25Steven Douglas, President and Chief Operating Officer of CRU, Memorial Service of Vonette Bright, Orlando, FL, 8 January 2016.






31Mary Canada, Personal Assistant to Vonette Bright, interview by author, Orlando, FL, 26 January 2016.


33Dick Eastman, Founder and CEO of Every Home for Christ, interview by author, Orlando, FL, 28 January 2016.

34Glenn Sheppard, Executive Board Member of the National Prayer Committee, interview by author, Orlando, FL, 28 January 2016.

35Crawford Loritts, Board Member of CRU, Memorial Service of Vonette Bright, Orlando, FL, 8 January 2016.

36Brenda Josee, former Personal Assistant to Vonette Bright, Memorial Service of Vonette Bright, Orlando, FL, 8 January 2016.

37Stanley J. Grenz and Denise Muir Kjesbo. Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995), 18.

38Turner, Chapter 8, Location 2542-2893.


40Turner, Chapter 1, Location 185-525.


42Earl Roe, Dream Big: The Henrietta Mears Story (Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2012), 21-23.

43Ibid, 21-43.

44Turner, Chapter 1, Location 2542-2893.

45Turner, Chapter 3, Location 873-1076.


47Turner, Chapter 8, Location 2542-2893.



50Turner, Chapter 1, Location 185-525.

51Turner, Chapter 8, Location 2542-2893.


53Bright, Vonette Bright: In His Hands, 16-17.



56Mark DeMoss, “Vonette Z. Bright Memorial Newsroom,” DeMoss Public Relations (23 December 2015).



Bright, Brad, son of Vonette Bright. Memorial Service of Vonette Bright, Orlando. FL, 8 January 2016.

Bright, Kathy, daughter-in-law to Vonette Bright. Memorial Service of Vonette Bright. Orlando, FL, 8 January 2016.

Bright, Vonette. Vonette Bright: In His Hands. Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2010.

Bright, Vonette. “In Vonette’s Own Words.” CRU, 2 January 2016, n.p. https://www.cru.org/us/en/about/vonette-bright/her-story.html (23 January 2016).

Canada, Mary. Personal Assistant to Vonette Bright. Interview by author. Orlando, FL, 26 January 2016.

Crump, Lisa, Prayer Mobilization Director of the National Day of Prayer Task Force. Interview by author. Orlando, FL, 27 January 2016.

DeMoss, Mark. “Vonette Z. Bright Memorial Newsroom. DeMoss Public Relations (23 December 2015).

DeMoss, Mark. “Vonette Z. Bright Memorial Newsroom.” DeMoss Public Relations (23 December 2015).

DeMoss, Mark. “Vonette Z. Bright Memorial Newsroom.” DeMoss Public Relations, (23 December 2015).

Douglas, Steven, President and Chief Operating Officer of CRU. Memorial Service of Vonette Bright. Orlando, FL, 8 January 2016.

Eastman, Dick, Founder and CEO of Every Home for Christ. Interview by author. Orlando, FL, 28 January 2016.

Grenz, Stanley J., and Denise Muir Kjesbo. Women in the Church: A Biblical Theology of Women in Ministry. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1995.

Josee, Brenda, former Personal Assistant to Vonette Bright. Memorial Service of Vonette Bright. Orlando, FL, 8 January 2016.

Lee, Anna, Global Prayer Trainer of CRU. Interview by author. Orlando, FL, 27 Janurary 2016.

Loritts, Crawford, Board Member of CRU. Memorial Service of Vonette Bright. Orlando, FL, 8 January 2016.

Roe, Earl. Dream Big: The Henrietta Mears Story. Ventura, CA: Gospel Light, 2012.

Schudel, Matt. “Vonette Bright, co-founder of Campus Crusade for Christ dies at 89.” The Washington Post. 26 December 2015. https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/religion/vonette-bright-co-founder-of-campus-crusade-for-christ-dies-at-89/2015/12/26/4a381218-ac06-11e5-8058-480b572b4aae_story.html  (3 January 2016).

Sheppard, Glenn, Executive Board Member of the National Prayer Committee. Interview by author. Orlando, FL. 28 January 2016.

Shingleton, Freda, Public Relations for JESUS Film. Interview by author. Orlando, FL. 25 January 2016.

Turner, John G. Bill Bright and Campus Crusade for Christ: The Renewal of Evangelicalism in Postwar America, Chapel Hill, NC: University of North Carolina Press, 2009, Kindle Electronic Edition: Chapter 1-8, Location 185-2893.








Kerry Clarensau














Sitting on a chair in her sunroom is a pillow stitched with the words, “To everything there is a season.” Throughout Peggy Musgrove’s sixty years of ministry she has transitioned through many open doors with authenticity and a noticeable dependence on God. Her life teaches so many things, but mostly what it means to live fully in the moment. Peggy embraces every season with faithfulness and then shows others what it is like to humbly let go and move on to all God has prepared for her in the next stage of life and ministry. 

Peggy’s life has impacted many individuals in the local churches where she and her husband, Derald, ministered. Serving in the Kansas district and national offices of their denomination, the Assemblies of God, the Musgroves had the opportunity to help shape the lives of many pastors and lay leaders. As a woman in leadership, Peggy has influenced women around the globe as a speaker, author, mentor, and friend.


Peggy was born Hazel Joanne Collins on August 14, 1930, to Pete and Hazel Collins in the small western Kansas town of Garden City. Hazel Joanne is the name on her birth certificate, but when her grandfather heard her name he said, “You can name her what you want, but I’m going to call her Peggy.” It stuck, and today hundreds of lives have been touched by the little girl called “Peggy.”

Her early life was significantly marked by the Depression, severe drought, the Dust Bowl days, and World War II. The Dust Bowls devastated farms in western Kansas and her father moved his family many times for the possibility of work, causing Peggy to live in ten homes during her twelve years of schooling.

Peggy had three brothers. Actually, she was the only female born into her family over a fifty-year span. Even though she received special treatment in her family for being the only girl, she spent most of her childhood years feeling like the outsider. Her shy demeanor and the fact she was always the “new girl” hindered her from forming close relationships. 

During those childhood years, Peggy attended church off and on. Her mom, Hazel, was filled with the Holy Spirit at the age of fourteen, but Hazel’s mother did not allow her to attend a Pentecostal church. After she married Peggy’s father, she took her children to church whenever it was possible.

In one of Peggy’s 200 online articles, she shared lessons she learned from her mother:

When our assigned tasks were done, then we helped our siblings: ‘You work as long as anyone else is working,’ mother would say. (I often have wished I had not learned that, in volunteering for church projects.) She actually had a jingle she taught us about work. Again, she underscored the need for diligence and excellence: When a task has once begun, never leave it ‘til it’s done. Be the labor large or small, do it well or not at all.1

Peggy learned to garden, to can fruits and vegetables, to cook and sew, to clean and maintain a house, which included upholstering furniture and wallpapering. If anything needed doing, they would try it. Her mother’s work ethic has stayed with her throughout her life. It is not surprising that she has a passion for the “Father’s business.”

Hazel, Peggy’s mother, had a philosophy, “What can’t be helped has to be endured.” She could not stop the howling winds, drought, or World War II but she had a faith that could help her endure. This acceptance of life carried Hazel through her four years of paralysis and confinement in a nursing home. She patiently endured what came her way. She did not complain to God or blame others. She never played the “if only” game or indulged in self-pity. She could not change the effects of the stroke, so she endured her helpless state.

Peggy shares,

Her example of endurance comes to my mind when I read Paul’s exhortation to Timothy: Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus (2 Timothy 2:3, NIV).  When I hear of ominous events on the global horizon, I try to remember my mother Hazel’s example as well as the scriptural exhortations. I do what I can to help effect change. But what can’t be changed, with the Lord’s help, I can endure.2

The unique time in history, her family of origin, and the many lessons of a godly mother shaped the woman Peggy became. At the age of nineteen, Peggy made a firm decision to follow Christ. Through the encouragement of her pastor’s wife, she decided to commit her life to ministry and attend Central Bible College in Springfield, Missouri. This decision was life-altering. Not only did she receive biblical instruction and preparation for ministry, she met the fun, outgoing Derald Musgrove.


When Peggy met Derald, she thought he was the most enjoyable person she had ever met. He made her laugh and she really enjoyed spending time with him. That enjoyment turned into love and they were married in 1951.

While Derald always felt a distinct call to ministry, Peggy defines her call as more circumstantial than experiential. She simply walked through the open doors every step of the way—discovering God’s plan as she obediently lived her life.

In her book Musings of a Maraschino Cherry, Peggy admits, “Nothing I had studied (in college) prepared me for what was expected as minister’s wife.” It was in those moments of uncertainty that she grew dependent upon God’s Word. Scripture became her personal source of strength and guidance. One night after receiving criticism, something she never expected in ministry, God spoke to her through Isaiah 54:17, “No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper, and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment, thou shall condemn. This is the heritage of the children of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.” Through the encouragement of God’s Word, she came to understand that the thoughtless words of people must be weighed against the timeless Word of God.3

Peggy admits that when she found herself in the role of pastor’s wife, she had no idea what she was doing. Then she said, “And I never got over that. Even this current season—I have never been here before, I’m still very uncertain and learning as I go.” She now finds herself in the role of caregiver. She is sacrificially cherishing every moment as Derald is facing his final season on this earth.

In an unpublished article entitled, “Living in the Shadow of Death,” Peggy writes:

“The young man I fell in love with could race down the court and sink a basketball with style; the same man today inches carefully down the hall hoping to get to the bathroom on time. The man who could administrate a district, guide churches through difficult decisions, and encourage pastors over a cup of coffee cannot remember how to cut his steak with a knife. After almost four years, we have settled into a simple routine of daily living. I have learned a lot while living in the darkness of death’s shadow.

The greatest thing I’ve learned is that in spite of the darkness of death’s shadow, we live in the light of God’s presence. I have learned the truth of the psalm: ‘Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death …thou art with me.’ Death is casting its shadow on us daily; but the presence of the One who conquered death casts a light on everything we endure, giving us a panoramic view of the Kingdom beyond this valley where death shall be no more.”


The opinion an adult child has of his or her mother is one of the truest assessments that can be made, for children see their mothers at their best and their worst. Derald and Peggy were blessed with two beautiful daughters, Darla and Diane. In talking with them, you will discover that Peggy is exactly the same person in public and as she is in private.

Peggy’s daughters are a beautiful reflection of Peggy and her mother, Hazel. They share ten simple, life-changing lessons they have learned from their mother:

1. Salvation and living by God’s Word are the most important things in life.

2. Relationships are highly valued, above possessions or accomplishments. They remember her saying, “I prefer presence to presents.”

3. Family is the first and truest community. Support each other.

4. Serving others is a high calling and brings true fulfillment.

5. Hold positions with integrity.

6. Intellectual activity is good—no time spent reading or thinking is wasted.

7. Work smart. Do things right the first time.

8. Almost everything looks better after eating right and getting a good night’s sleep.

9. If you take care of yourself, your relationships, and your possessions, you will have nice things.

10. Being at peace is more important than winning the argument.4

Today Peggy’s daughters continue to pass down the lessons learned from their mother and grandmother. Their children are blessed by the lives of the godly women who have walked before them.


In the 1970s Derald served as the Kansas District Secretary-Treasurer and Peggy served as an assistant to the District Superintendent, Paul Lowenberg. One day, Derald received a letter requesting him to write for God’s Word for Today, a daily devotional guide for their denomination. He had no interest in writing the devotions, so he asked Peggy to return the letter and decline the offer. Peggy, who always loved to write, asked Derald if she could write the devotions for him. He agreed and she returned the devotions with the request. After several weeks, they received a check in the mail for more than the designated amount. An enclosed note explained that since the article was so well written, they did not need to send the material to an editor, so they were sending Derald both the payment for writing and for editing.  

Several months later, Derald received another letter commending him for his excellent writing and asking if he would be willing to write Sunday school curriculum. Knowing it was Peggy who impressed them with her writing, he called the editor to tell him that she wrote the devotions. The editor’s response was quite surprising—he was quite regretful, because they did not allow women to write adult Sunday school curriculum. However, a few years later an editor from the same department called Peggy to ask her to write Who’s Who Among Bible Women. This was the first book Peggy published. She also wrote Praying Always, Pleasing God, and The Musings of a Maraschino Cherry, and co-authored four Bible studies produced by the National Women’s Department of the Assemblies of God.


When sharing about Esther in her book, Who’s Who Among Bible Women, Peggy encourages her readers to understand that God places them in the time and place where He can use them the most. Then it is up to them to do something with the opportunities He brings their way.

God purposefully brought little Hazel Joanne (Peggy’s given name) to the Collins family on August 14, 1930 in Garden City, Kansas. He had plans for her to grow into the woman she has become, and He desired to use her life to influence many people through her obedience in the opportunities He provided.

From 1978 to 1992, Peggy served as the District Women’s Ministries Director in Kansas, and later served as the director of the National Women’s Ministries Department of the Assemblies of God, 1994 to 1998.  In these positions of leadership, she planned events for women, spoke at women’s events around the world, wrote and taught leadership training materials, and led teams of regional leaders. But even in the busy times of public ministry, Peggy always took opportunities to speak into the personal lives of individual women. Each of them was impacted by the personal attention she willingly offered.

Peggy was the first woman to serve on two official boards—Berean School of the Bible and Evangel University. She explained the unique experience of being the first woman on the Berean’s board. Brother G. Raymond Carlson, the General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God at that time, would stand and pull out her chair as she approached the table and the rest of the board, all men, would stand as she was seated. She shares how these men did not know how to interact with women as peers. It was extremely awkward for everyone in the room. But they soon learned to value her insights and contributions to the team.

Many individuals have been impacted by the leadership of Peggy Musgrove. God strategically placed her in positions of great influence in local churches, in the Kansas district, and in the national arena of the Assemblies of God. Women can follow her example as a woman who served with grace, wisdom, competence, and fervent spirituality.


When asked what practices contributed the most to her personal spiritual growth, she said, “The personal pursuit of Scripture is the single most important thing I do. Through His Word I’ve come to know Him and who I am in Him. It is only through knowing His Word that I’m able to obey Him and to view my circumstances with the right perspective. He speaks to me through His Word—it is critical for experiencing peace, joy, and fulfillment.”

Peggy has made a practice of reading through the entire Bible each year. However, this year she has made a new commitment: to memorize one thousand Scripture verses. She systematically chose key passages from almost every book in the Bible. Her goal is to be able to quote all one thousand passages by the end of the year–and she is on target. She commented that many of her contemporaries (Peggy is currently eighty-two years old) say they can no longer memorize, but she believes it is because they simply do not try.

When asked what three things she would share with young women in ministry, Peggy said:

1. Know who you are in the Lord. This can only happen as you spend time alone in His Word. You can allow the Holy Spirit to guide you and shape you into the woman God created you to become. As you mature your character will reflect more and more of Christ and less of your sinful nature. 

2. Never compare yourself with others. When she was a young pastor’s wife, Peggy allowed the expectations of others to determine her role. But along the way she discovered she could only be who God created her to be. She encourages others to realize that we are created to be exactly who we are. This is not an excuse for continuing negative attitudes or sinful behaviors; we must continually grow more like Christ. But understanding and developing our unique gifts and abilities will lead to a more productive, fulfilling life.

3. Learn sensitivity to the Holy Spirit. We can be aware of His presence every moment of our lives and can allow Him to guide our thoughts, attitudes, and behaviors. This too is a by-product of spending time in God’s Word.5

Peggy is a woman who lives by the advice she offers to younger women. She consistently allows God’s Word to shape her identity, security, acceptance, and purpose. What you see with Peggy, is exactly who she is. She never tries to be something she is not. But she does not allow authenticity to be an excuse for negative attitudes or behaviors; she continues to grow more in the image of Christ. And even in the midst of this difficult season of her life, she allows the Holy Spirit to guide her each moment of the day.


Recently, I spent the afternoon with my cherished friend and mentor, Peggy Musgrove. She is one of the wisest women I have had the privilege to know personally. Peggy has taught me so many truths throughout our twenty-five-year-relationship. Some things I have learned by simply watching her live her life, and other lessons I have learned through conversations like the one we enjoyed a few weeks ago.

Peggy said, “It is critical for us to understand how to hold things loosely. We need to know when to embrace and when to let go. And right now, quite honestly, I’m struggling to let go.”

Peggy’s husband, Derald, is quite ill and his days on this earth may soon come to a close.6 She realizes that she may have to let go of the man she has cherished for more than sixty years. She knows what it means “to walk through the valley of the shadow of death.” But Peggy has lived her eighty-one years by embracing fully and letting go with incredible grace. Undoubtedly, if the day comes when she must say good-bye to Derald, she will depend upon the One she has faithfully depended upon throughout her lifetime.

Peggy’s verbal and non-verbal testimony clearly shares several insights:

Relationships: Hold relationships tenderly, but loosely. Loving well is what life is all about and it is the obedient response to God’s greatest command. But to love much also means we will experience pain when it is time to say good-bye. There is a time to embrace our parents, spouses, children, family, and friends, and there is a time to let go. Life is a series of embracing and releasing.

Positions: Hold positions with great humility, but loosely. While we are challenged to give our best efforts and strive to please God in all we do, we cannot allow our positions to define us, or look to our roles to bring our lives ultimate fulfillment. Many times, people hold on to their positions long after the appropriate time, hindering the work that needs to be done, as well as their own potential in the next season of their lives. Peggy has transitioned amiably from one season to the next—graciously letting go of positions, while remaining true to her character.

Possessions: Possessions must be held with gratitude, but loosely. Peggy has transitioned beautifully through many life stages—including the downsizing of homes and possessions. Because she holds them loosely, she is able to embrace the next season with incredible peace.

God’s Word: Peggy is a picture of a woman who holds tightly to God and His Word. Throughout the years, she has allowed Scripture to define her, comfort her, strengthen her, convict her, encourage her, and guide her.

Peggy may never say the words, “Follow me as I follow Christ.” But her life is a portrait of a woman who has lived every season to the fullest, for the sole purpose of pleasing God.  Peggy’s written words teach many critical lessons for every woman in leadership. And her living example is not one to simply admire—it is one to emulate.



1Peggy Musgrove, “Things I Learned from My Mom (02): You Don’t Get Up To Read,” For Every Woman, Reflections, 2010, https://women.ag.org/ (accessed May 16, 2012).

2Peggy Musgrove, “Things I Learned from My Mom (03): What Can’t Be Helped Must Be Endured,” For Every Woman, Reflections, 2010, https://women.ag.org/ (accessed May 16, 2012).

3Peggy Musgrove, Musings of a Maraschino Cherry (Eugene, OR: ACW Press, 2004), 20.

4Diane Awbrey and Darla Knoth, interview by author, Springfield, MO, June 1, 2012.

5Peggy Musgrove, interview by author, Springfield, MO, May 9, 2012.

6Derald Musgrove passed away on December 11, 2012.


Allen, Arlene, Peggy Musgrove, Lori O’Dea, and Candy Tolbert. A Woman’s Impact on Her World. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2005.

______. A Woman’s Influential Relationships. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2005.

______. A Woman’s Inner Life. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2004.

______. A Woman’s Unlimited Potential. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2004.

Musgrove, Peggy. Musings of a Maraschino Cherry. Eugene, OR: ACW Press, 2004.

______. Praying Always. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1993.

______. Pleasing God. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1991.

______. “Things I Learned from My Mom (02): You Don’t Get Up To Read.” For Every Woman, Reflections, 2010. https://women.ag.org/  (accessed May 16, 2012).

______. “Things I Learned from My Mom (03): What Can’t Be Helped Has To Be Endured.” For Every Woman, Reflections, 2010. https://women.ag.org/ (accessed May 16, 2012).

______. Who’s Who Among Bible Women. Springfield, MO: Radiant Books, 1981.







Erica Abell Huinda







Healthcare Reform

Faith and Prayer to Find New Direction

Moving Beyond “Hillarycare”







The early years of Hillary Rodham Clinton began in a God-fearing conservative family in the solidly middle-class neighborhood of Park Ridge, Illinois. Well-liked by friends and teachers, Hillary remained highly active in both school and church, where the Methodist Church’s teaching that the Christian life engages the world through “faith in action” became her guiding principle.1 True to her upbringing, upon going to college, Hillary became president of the Young Republicans club during her freshman year at Wellesley.2 While there, however, she began to have doubts about her Republican identity, especially as it pertained to civil rights and the Vietnam War. Still, she spent the summer of 1968 doing an internship at the House Republican Conference, working for Gerald Ford and GOP candidate Governor Nelson Rockefeller. When Nixon’s more hard right conservatism clenched the GOP nomination, however, Clinton began to have concerns.3 The crises of 1968, with the escalation of the Vietnam War and the assassinations of both MLK and Robert Kennedy, led to Clinton stepping down as president of the Young Republicans.4 This political awakening, combined with her deep-seated faith and calling to a life of service to others, began an extraordinary public service career that continues to this day.


After Wellesley, while studying law at Yale, Clinton met black civil rights activist Marian Wright Edelman, who made a profound impact on her. Marian founded Head Start and the Children’s Defense Fund, which fights for poor children, children of color, and children with disabilities.5 Marian hired Hillary to research the education and health of migrant children, inspiring Hillary to study child development. At the Yale Child Study Center, she learned about child abuse and wrote legal procedures for hospitals to use when dealing with victims.6

Throughout the early 1970s, Hillary continued working for the Children’s Defense Fund. She knocked on doors throughout New Bedford, Massachusetts, to investigate school enrollment discrepancies, which was “revelatory and heartbreaking. I found children who weren’t in school because of physical disabilities like blindness. … I also found school-age siblings at home, babysitting their brothers and sisters while their parents worked.”7 The research Clinton compiled eventually led to the Education for All Handicapped Children Act, requiring public schools to accommodate and educate children with disabilities.8


While at Yale, Hillary met Bill Clinton. In 1975, after a lengthy courtship, the two married and moved to Arkansas, where she joined the prestigious Rose Law Firm and continued her work in child and family advocacy. She represented a couple who wanted to adopt a foster child they had been parenting, but the state’s Department of Human Services refused, “citing a policy against permitting foster parents to adopt.”9 Hillary won the case, and the state eventually changed its policy. Later, she also founded the Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families to improve the state’s child welfare system.10 In 1979, Hillary became partner of the firm, and President Carter appointed her to the board of the Legal Services Corporation, which serves the poor. While Bill was governor, she also chaired the Rural Health Committee, working closely with him to tackle healthcare reform in Arkansas. They successfully set up a network of health clinics and recruited more physicians and healthcare workers for the state’s rural areas. In addition, she also oversaw the successful reform of Arkansas’s public education.11


By 1991, the Clintons were well on their way to the White House. While campaigning, Bill proudly recounted Hillary’s long record of advocating for children’s and family issues, joking that “we have a new campaign slogan: ‘Buy one, get one free.’” The joke was meant to illustrate their partnership over the years and explain how Hillary would continue to assist him.12 However, the comment “Buy one, get one free” quickly “took a life of its own,” leading many to believe that Hillary “harbored a secret agenda to become co-President.”13

Healthcare Reform

Shortly after Bill took office as president, he announced that Hillary would chair his taskforce on healthcare reform to address spiraling health care costs and the growing number of uninsured Americans.14 Hillary worked with senior administration officials to iron out a “quasi-private system” that would manage competition, set required standards for quality insurance benefits, and establish purchasing cooperatives.15 Hillary testified frequently to Congress about the healthcare initiative, where she received positive responses. This alarmed Republicans, however; fears over a healthcare win fueled a long and unprecedented attack on the presidency known as Whitewater.16 The investigation, led by independent counsel Kenneth Starr, lasted for years. Although it ultimately proved no wrongdoing by the Clintons, the ulterior motive for the tactic had worked. The drawn-out investigation eventually sank healthcare reform and villainized the Clintons, further eroding the public’s trust with Hillary—a tactic that Kenneth Starr later regretted and apologized for twenty years after the investigation.17

Faith and Prayer to Find New Direction

Feeling despondent over failed healthcare reform and the recent death of her father, Hillary contemplated “withdrawing from active political and policy work.”18 She leaned heavily on her women’s prayer group for support and new direction. The group regularly prayed for Hillary and sent her daily Scriptures and devotionals. They also gave her a handmade book filled with inspirational messages, quotes, and Scriptures. Hillary describes that “of all the thousands of gifts I received in my eight years in the White house, few were more welcome and needed than these twelve intangible gifts of discernment, peace, compassion faith, fellowship, vision, forgiveness, grace, wisdom, love, joy, and courage.”19 As she struggled to make sense of the events, she prayed and got counsel from her pastor, Rev. Dr. Phil Wogaman. In addition, two friends sent her The Return of the Prodigal Son, by Henri Nouwen. The book “struck like an epiphany,” reminding her to practice “the discipline of gratitude.”20 Spiritually refreshed, Hillary determined to move forward.

Moving Beyond “Hillarycare”

After “Hillarycare,” Hillary began working with Senator Ted Kennedy to create the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP), which provided health insurance to several million children.21 She lobbied to expand Medicare to cover annual mammograms, worked with the Departments of Defense and Veterans Affairs to address Gulf War Syndrome, and helped get adoption reforms passed, such as nonrefundable tax credits for adoptive parents. She also drafted a plan that led to the passage of the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997, which gave states “financial incentives to move foster children into permanent adoptive homes.”22

Bill also increasingly relied on her for diplomatic work. She lobbied Congress to reject cuts to USAID, the federal funds used to advance living conditions in developing countries. She took frequent diplomatic trips to focus on human rights abuses abroad, especially as they related to women and children.23 She visited war zones such as Bosnia-Herzegovina, pressured the Thai government to crack down on the sex trafficking of women, and worked with the State Department and members of Congress to write the Trafficking Victims Protection Act.24 She met with Tanzania’s President Benjamin Mkapa about eliminating laws that limited women from owning and inheriting property. In response to her lobbying, the country enacted the Land Law Act and the Village Act in 1999, removing women’s barriers to property ownership.25


By the end of Bill’s second term of office, Hillary was a seasoned diplomat and well-versed in working with Congress. Exhausted from the relentless attacks on the administration and the Monica Lewinsky scandal, Hillary yearned to get out of the public eye.26 However, Senate Democrats had other ideas and began heavily persuading Hillary to run for New York’s vacant Senate seat.27 After over a year of prayerful deliberation, she made the decision to go for it. She ran against Congressman Rick Lazio and won the Senate race, 55 to 43 percent.28

The tragic events of September 11, 2001 marked much of Hillary’s work as a junior senator. In addition to securing $20 billion to rebuild New York City, she accurately predicted a looming health crisis among first responders and garnered $12 million to screen Ground Zero workers for suspected illnesses.29 Within three years, she successfully expanded the program to $90 million to provide healthcare to 50,000 first responders and residents and exposed the EPA’s coverup of the toxic fumes and health hazards at Ground Zero. Philip Landrigan, the head of the World Trade Center medical program at Mount Sinai, credits the success of the program “to Clinton’s relentless pursuit of the subject coupled with her attention to detail. ‘She became deeply knowledgeable on the subject, not just fiscal and administrative details, but also about medical and mental health problems. She was a sponge for knowledge.’”30 In addition, Clinton earned wide respect among members of Congress for her diligence, attention to detail, and ability to work on bipartisan issues, including Alzheimer’s research, economic development, and the expansion of Tricare health insurance coverage for military families.31


After Clinton waged an unsuccessful run for president in 2008, President Obama asked her to serve as secretary of state, telling her that she “was the best person—in his words, the only person—who could serve in that role at this moment in time.”32 Anxious to go back to the Senate, Clinton declined. After further discussions and careful deliberation, Clinton realized that Obama “needed a Secretary of State who could step immediately onto the global stage and begin repairing the damage we had inherited. Finally, I kept returning to a simple idea: When your President asks you to serve, you should say yes.”33

As secretary of state, she set course to shift American foreign policy away from only the “hard power” of military force or the “soft power” of humanitarian diplomacy to employ “smart power,” which focused on choosing from an array of tools—technological, public-private partnerships, diplomatic, economic, military, political, legal, and cultural—“to solve the toughest national security challenges.”34 She used smart power to address the growing terrorist networks in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and other hotspots, where America was “losing the communications battle to extremists living in caves,” and created a four-pronged approach with CIA director Leon Panetta and counterterrorism analysts to “slow the spread of radicalization.”35

Clinton’s State Department partnered with experts from across the government and “communications specialists fluent in Urdue, Arabic, Somali, and other languages” to infiltrate al Qaeda online via chat rooms and websites.36 They established a dedicated roundtable to partner with allies around the world to share best practices and discuss common concerns. They also increased training of foreign law enforcement and counterterrorism forces throughout the world. In addition, they used economic development programs in targeted neighborhoods “to break the cycle of radicalism and disrupt recruiting chains.”37

Other examples of the success of Clinton’s smart power approach include the delicate balance she struck in securing the release of Chinese dissident Chen Guangcheng and his family while allowing China to save face, protecting U.S.-China relations at a particularly critical time.38 Clinton also effectively nurtured Burma’s progress in establishing a credible democracy while maintaining accountability over human rights violations and urging the country to end long-running ethnic conflicts.39 In addition, she negotiated a ceasefire over an air war between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, taking a situation that had been only hours away from exploding into a much larger and deadlier ground war and giving Israel the “quietest year in a decade.”40

During her tenure, she continued to press governments for the welfare of women and girls around the world, not only because of moral and ethical imperatives but because she viewed the plight of women as a cause “that cuts to the heart of our national security,” based on the growing body of research that correlates stable societies with improved living conditions for women.41 In response to the argument she made on this issue at the summit of Asian-Pacific leaders in September 2011, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe of Japan declared a bold plan to increase women’s economic participation: “He detailed plans to improve access to affordable child care and extend parental leave …, and asked the country’s biggest businesses to each appoint at least one woman executive.”42


Clinton ended up being the most active secretary of state in American history, visiting more countries and building more diplomatic relationships than any other secretary of state. Henry Kissinger, former secretary of state under Nixon and Ford, declared her the most effective secretary of state he had ever seen.43 She famously logged more than one million miles and visited 112 countries as she sought to “build a world with more partners and fewer adversaries, more shared responsibility and fewer conflicts, more good jobs and less poverty.”44

Following her tenure as secretary of state, Hillary Clinton once again ran for the nation’s highest office in 2016. She became the first woman to earn a major party nomination and, with sixty-six million votes, won the popular vote against the GOP candidate. While unsuccessful in her bid to become president, Clinton’s legacy as an outstanding secretary of state, senator, first lady, lawyer, and advocate for women, children, families, and human rights will persist for generations to come. Her career and service to this nation reflect a profound moral clarity “to stay engaged in the cause of justice” and “express God’s love through good works and social action,” something she endeavors to do to this day.45


1Hillary Rodham Clinton, Living History (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003), 22.

2Ibid., 28.

3Ibid., 34, 35.

4Ibid., 31.

5Children’s Defense Fund, “Our Mission,” Children’s Defense Fund, accessed May 25, 2018, http://www.childrensdefense.org/about/.

6Clinton, 49.

7Ibid., 64.


9Clinton, 80.

10Ibid., 81.

11Ibid., 94-95.

12Ibid., 105.

13Mike Royko, “Hillary, The Woman Who Would Be Co-President,” Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1992, accessed May 26, 2018, http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19920320&slug=1482005.

14Clinton Digital Library, “Health Care Taskforce,” William J. Clinton Presidential Library, accessed May 26, 2018, https://clinton.presidentiallibraries.us/collections/show/68.

15Clinton, Living History, 150.

16Ibid., 143-155. 

17Ibid., 245; Amy Chozick, “Kenneth Starr, Who Tried to Bury Bill Clinton, Now Only Praises Him,” New York Times, May 24, 2016, accessed May 26, 2018, https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/25/us/politics/ken-starr-impeachment-bill-clinton.html.

18Clinton, Living History, 261.

19Ibid., 168.

20Ibid., 267.

21Ibid., 248.


23Clinton, Living History, 298.

24Ibid., 389-390.

25Ibid., 403.

26Ibid., 471-507.

27Ibid., 495.

28Ibid., 523.

29Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, “About Hillary,” Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton, accessed May 26, 2018, https://www.hillaryclinton.com/about/; Andrea Bernstein, “9/11 Tapes Reveal Raw and Emotional Hillary Clinton, The Guardian, September 9, 2016, accessed May 26, 2018, https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/09/hillary-clinton-9-11-attacks-response.


31Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton.

32Hillary Rodham Clinton, Hard Choices (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014), 15.

33Ibid., 18.

34Ibid., 33-34.

35Ibid., 189.


37Ibid., 190.  

38Clinton, Hard Choices, 83-100.

39Ibid., 100-103.

40Ibid., 471-487.

41Ibid., 562. One example of the growing body of evidence is in Latin America and the Caribbean, which “steadily increased women’s participation in the labor market in the 1990s” and resulted in a 30 percent decrease in extreme poverty in the region (Clinton, Hard Choices, 571). 

42Ibid., 571.

43Cheryl Chumley, “Hillary Clinton ‘Most Effective’ Secretary of State: Henry Kissinger,” Washington Times, September 10, 2014, accessed May 26, 2018, https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/sep/10/henry-kissinger-touts-hillary-clinton-most-effecti/.

44Clinton, Hard Choices, xi.

45Ibid., 559.


Bernstein, Andrea. “9/11 Tapes Reveal Raw and Emotional Hillary Clinton.” The Guardian, September 9, 2016. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2016/sep/09/hillary-clinton-9-11-attacks-response.

Children’s Defense Fund. “Our Mission.” Children’s Defense Fund. Accessed May 25, 2018. http://www.childrensdefense.org/about/.

Chozick, Amy. “Kenneth Starr, Who Tried to Bury Bill Clinton, Now Only Praises Him.” New York Times, May 24, 2016. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/2016/05/25/us/politics/ken-starr-impeachment-bill-clinton.html.

Chumley, Cheryl. “Hillary Clinton ‘Most Effective’ Secretary of State: Henry Kissinger.” Washington Times, September 10, 2014. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://www.washingtontimes.com/news/2014/sep/10/henry-kissinger-touts-hillary-clinton-most-effecti/.

Clinton, Hillary Rodham. Hard Choices. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2014.

———.  Living History. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2003.

Clinton Digital Library. “Health Care Taskforce.” William J. Clinton Presidential Library. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://clinton.presidentiallibraries.us/collections/show/68.

Friedman, Thomas. “Hillary Clinton to Head Panel on Health Care.” New York Times, January 26, 1993. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://www.nytimes.com/1993/01/26/us/hillary-clinton-to-head-panel-on-health-care.html.

Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton. “About Hillary.” Office of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Accessed May 26, 2018. https://www.hillaryclinton.com/about/.

Royko, Mike. “Hillary, The Woman Who Would Be Co-President.” Chicago Tribune, March 20, 1992. Accessed May 26, 2018. http://community.seattletimes.nwsource.com/archive/?date=19920320&slug=1482005.





Deborah Fulthorp





A Heritage of Faith

Early Days

Call to a Life of Ministry

Life’s Challenges


Ministry Formation






Just as God chose His handmaiden Esther to rise and lead her people into deliverance from the hands of the enemy, God called Vernice Cheri Sampson to lead her people from the Salt River Indian Reservation to Christ. In 2011, Pastor Cheri Sampson made history when elected to be presbyter of the Phoenix Metro Indian Section of the Arizona District of the Assemblies of God.1 The first Native American woman to serve in the presbytery, she broke gender and racial stereotypes and continues to pave the way for others to follow.


A Heritage of Faith

A first generation Pentecostal, Sampson’s father, Virgil, along with his brothers, was radically saved under the ministry of Alta Washburn, missionary founder of American Indian College.2 They were known as the drunks and fighters on the Pima-Maricopa Indian Reservation, and according to Washburn, under the power of the Holy Spirit they became “as gentle as babes.”3 Her father received an intense call for the ministry. A couple in Texas affectionately known as “mom and dad Roney” to Sampson invested in her father’s life and ministry. They paid his way to attend Southwestern Bible Institute in Waxahachie, Texas, where he received his Bible school diploma.4 Virgil returned to Phoenix with a passion for ministry and the burden to see a Bible school specialized in training Native Americans for ministry. He shared his desire with Washburn who then championed the need for a Bible school for Native Americans.

Returning to the Phoenix area after completing his education at an AG Bible college that enrolled predominantly white students, Sampson was frustrated at his experience of cultural discontinuity when he asked Sister Washburn: “[W]hy can’t we Indians have our own Bible school? We can preach in our language but we need a place where we can study the Word together; a place where we have more in common than in a school where most of the students are Anglo.5

Washburn took up this challenge. As a result, All Tribes Bible School, currently known as American Indian College, opened its doors on September 23, 1957.6 Virgil continued to travel as an evangelist and soon after met his wife, Eunice Buchanan, who pastored Papago Assembly of God in Sells, Arizona.

Early Days

Vernice “Cheri” Sampson was born July 19, 1959, in Greenville, California. Her parents pastored a predominantly Maidu Indian congregation. In an era when racial tensions ran high, she grew up the daughter of an American Indian evangelist and white woman missionary pastor. Sampson recalls, “They dealt with a lot of outside racism … for all purposes dad was considered a black man because he was full blooded Indian. Mom wasn’t an enrolled Cherokee and [her] family identified with the white race.”7

As a child Sampson dealt with this tension on a daily basis. “I wasn’t white enough for the white people, and for Indian people I wasn’t Indian enough.”8 It was in this environment, God forged her sense of identity at an early age. Saved at only three years old, she recalled feeling dirty and telling her mother she wanted to go up to the front for prayer.9 Her early encounters with God set the course for her life on a trajectory of daily reliance on the Holy Spirit.

Call to a Life of Ministry

It was Sampson’s tenacity as one of the four daughters of a Pentecostal evangelist and a missionary pastor that led her to receive the baptism in the Holy Spirit as an eight-year-old child. Her father was on a trip out of state and she purposed in her heart not to leave church until she experienced the power of the Holy Spirit. “Literally, I put my whole little body over the altar and I said to God, ‘I’m not leaving here until I speak in tongues.’”10

Another powerful memory of her childhood occurred during a vacation Bible school taught by a missions team led by Marcia and William Lichty.11 Sampson remembers Sister Lichty teaching VBS under an open arbor in Salt River, Arizona. The prize for memorizing Scripture was a life-sized doll just her height. She, along with another girl, won a doll for memorizing the Ten Commandments. Sampson attributes memorizing the Ten Commandments as foundational to her young faith. “That base of knowing the Ten Commandments helped the Holy Spirit teach me not to lie and covet, to honor my mom and dad, and to really seek the Lord.”12

Life’s Challenges

Sampson’s faith grew, but for many years she felt alone in her community as her faith and racial identity were challenged. In Laveen, she was bussed to Mesa for school and received a lot of teasing because her father was a pastor as well as a judge for the tribal court system. It was on those bus rides that her faith and identity got tested, but she remained faithful to Jesus. God solidified her identity through prayer and Bible reading on the bus. It was also during this time she learned how to treat people with respect in the face of adversity.

Obstacles continued and her family found itself at a crossroad in Laveen, Arizona, when her father allowed hurt to impede his relationship with the Lord. He resigned his credentials, pastorate, and walked away from God’s calling on his life.13 Seeing her father, a vibrant preacher and evangelist, turn his back on the Lord caused a crisis of faith in her own life. Rigorously spending time praying in her closet she cried out to God on behalf of her dad. Inadvertently, because of her emotional angst, she grabbed a bottle of pills and tried to take her life. As she ingested the entire bottle, nothing happened. In that moment, she recalled God’s voice saying to her, “Your life isn’t your own, it belongs to me. And even if you try to do something to destroy it, I’m your God I will protect you.”14

I remember there was not one adverse effect from the whole bottle of pills, and I remember getting up and walked down the middle of Baseline, from where the church is and it was raining. The Lord told me and poured it into me that He could heal the hurt [and] give me strength. He could be my father. It just solidified for me that God is God. I just knew from that day that I was not ever going to turn and walk alone. I was never going turn away from him. I was never going to try to take myself out. If God can miraculously keep me from overdosing, He could do anything.15

The end of that school year, Sampson completed eighth grade at Westwood Christian School as valedictorian and preached her first sermon at her eighth-grade graduation. Her sermon was titled, “I have fought a good fight,” and edited by her father. By the end of that year, her father made things right with the Lord, received his credentials back, and returned to the ministry.


Cheri Sampson graduated high school in Prescott, Arizona, in June 1977. Upon graduation she was ready to follow in her father’s footsteps and attend Bible college at Southwestern Assemblies of God College. The week before she left, she almost lost her hearing after double ear infections created swelling in both ears. She continued to her destination with multiple questions whether she had made the right decision as everything seemed to go wrong. Her mother consoled her over the phone and encouraged her to continue on despite her trials.

Her time at Southwestern proved pivotal. The Lord “thrust [her] in an area where there were different ideas and all different cultures.”16 Her exposure to people outside her frame of reference caused a paradigm shift and spiritual growth. For the first time she also found lifelong friends and formed close-knit bonds with others that continue to this day.

In Sampson’s twenty-first year, her dad passed away after an extended illness at the age of 49. God sent men into Sampson’s life who became like surrogate fathers to her at a vital time. One of the professors at Southwestern encouraged her to step out with confidence. Dr. Stanley Prather, a science professor, consistently called upon Sampson to answer the questions although she tried to hide in the back of the group. At a critical juncture in her life, he believed in her to become the person God wanted her to be.17

Ministry Formation

As a student at Southwestern Sampson attended her first non-Native church, Trinity Church in Cedar Hill, Texas. Here she learned multiple facets of church life and ministry. A training ground for pastoral ministry, she got involved with children’s ministry, the church plays, the worship team, and church administration. The children’s pastor, Duane Methvin took Sampson under his wing and mentored her and a friend as they became his assistant directors.18 He observed the potential in Sampson’s life and ministry and took the time to cultivate it.

Doug Phelps was another minister who recognized Sampson’s gifting in ministry. Sampson fondly remembered Phelps as one of her mentors in ministry. “He was the first one who said, ‘I have a solo part I want you to sing.’ In a sense he declared it out of me and told me I was a psalmist, that I could do it.”19

The years spent at Trinity proved to be a testing ground for her ministry, character, and identity in Christ. While a part of the worship team, one Sunday morning before the service the pastor removed her from the platform because of her weight.

The music pastor came to me and said, “I’m sorry, you have to be removed from worship team, because you are too big.” You could see he was heartbroken to say it, but that is what he said. I remember leaving the sanctuary before practice and stopping in the hallway at church and literally sliding down the wall and saying God this really hurts.20

Once again, she heard the same voice she heard as a young girl reassuring her as she prayed. Only God was in charge of her destiny. She was the only one who could hinder God’s plan for her life. She left church with her spirit fortified, knowing God would receive the glory. Two weeks later, they reestablished her place on the worship team.

Sampson moved on from Trinity and spent three years as part of a church plant in the inner city of Dallas. It was here as she worked with various cultures that God called her back to serve her people in the Salt River Indian Pima-Maricopa Community. She returned to Salt River in 1995 and for nine years she assisted with administrative work and filled in various roles at the church.

She soon enrolled in Arizona State University, double majoring in English and History. In the end of her last year, the week of final exams, she contracted the West Nile Virus along with viral meningitis. Almost losing her life, she felt the Lord speaking to her heart about things that really mattered. While in the hospital, she literally heard the Lord singing over her, “Be still and know that I am God, I will never leave you or forsake you.”21 This changed the course of her life away from being an educator in her community to engaging full-time ministry. She felt the Lord pulling her away from her education, causing her complete dependence on Him.22

In 2006, while attending a sectional council meeting, she felt pressed by the Holy Spirit to get her ministerial credentials.

While I was sitting in that meeting, I felt really pressed that the Holy Spirit said it is time for me to get credentials. Because where He wants to take me, men need them. And I said, okay. Every part of my life when the Lord said something to me, I did it. I also knew at that meeting, he told me He was going to take me to places where I would need credentials. I would be presbyter. The Lord had already told me what He was going to do to prepare [me].23

In August 2007, Sampson stepped into the role of interim pastor of Salt River Assembly of God, only receiving her licensing with the Assemblies of God a few months before. The Arizona District appointed her to become lead pastor soon after, and in 2009 she received ordination in the Arizona district of the Assemblies of God.24

During Arizona’s district council one year later, something unexpected occurred. Only a few years into pastoring, Sampson’s name flashed up on the screen in the middle of voting for a general presbytery role. To everyone’s astonishment, she tied on the nominating ballot.25 Although her name in the election failed to pass, this demonstrated God’s control over her life. She was fairly unknown across the district, but God was preparing to put her in new areas of leadership for His glory.


The year 2011 proved to be historic. In February, Sampson was appointed treasurer for the Native American Fellowship of the Assemblies of God. She was the first Native American (Akimel Authum) woman to be appointed as an executive officer. In March, Sampson made history when she was elected to be presbyter of the Phoenix Metro Indian section of the Arizona District of the Assemblies of God. She was the first woman presbyter to be elected in the district of Arizona, and the first Native American to be elected as a presbyter. “When I hear ‘the first woman,’ I just pray that I’m not the last,” Sampson says. “With Native American women, and with Native Americans in general, when they see their own people in those positions, they then know it’s possible [for them to one day have the same positions].”26

Sampson attributes much of her strong faith to her mother who instilled in all her daughters an unwavering and consistent faith in the midst of life’s circumstances and trials. According to her oldest sister who was adopted when her mother was a single missionary, her mother never stepped out of the bedroom in the mornings until she spent time with the Lord. She consistently and faithfully prayed and read the Bible.27 When her husband passed away, Eunice Sampson continued on in the ministry with two of her girls still at home.28

Her love for God and her family was evident even in her passing in 2001. A few weeks before her passing, she received a clean bill of health from her doctor. Sampson herself was double majoring in History and English, and as she was coming home from class she felt the same presence of the Lord wrap around her as she felt when her father passed away. When she and her sister Chris found their mother, she simply looked like she passed away peacefully in her sleep. With all of her funeral plans neatly arranged on the table, Eunice Sampson was a woman who accomplished everything the Lord wanted for her life. She was led by the Spirit of God in life and in death.29

Her mother’s faith and practice left an indelible mark in Sampson’s life and ministry. “I believe that women need to do what my mother did all those years ago, which is to step into the calling He has placed on their lives,” explains Sampson.30 Presently she is mentoring young female pastors and working with three women in her church who have a call to preach. Sampson continues to be a historic figure and present-day leader among her peers and within the Assemblies of God. She was recently elected to represent Arizona on the general presbytery as representative for ordained women. This meeting will take place on August 6 in Louisville, Kentucky.


The product of men and women of God investing into her life, Sampson believes nobody achieves anything of worth alone. She actively mentors others. “People have always invested in our lives whether we recognize it or not. We wouldn’t be where we are today if not for people investing in our lives.”31 As Queen Esther of old, God is putting her in places of leadership to make a difference in the lives of people regardless of race and gender. She is an anointed woman of character, compassion, and leadership. Living her life through the statement, “Step in, step up, and step out,” she embraces God’s calling on her life instead of spending time justifying it. Walking in the confidence of the Lord, she is a leader worth following.


1Kara Chase, “First Female Native American Presbyter Elected,” Assemblies of God (USA) Official Website, March 15, 2011. https://ag.org/  (accessed June 5, 2012).

2Joseph J. Saggio and Jim Dempsey, eds., American Indian College: A Witness to the Tribes (Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2008), 60.


4Cheri Sampson, interview by author, Phoenix, AZ, May, 24, 2012.

5Joseph Saggio, “Alta M. Washburn: Iconoclastic Pentecostal “trailblazer” to the Tribes,” Encounter 6 (July 31, 2009), https://agts.edu/ (accessed June 3, 2012).

6Saggio and Dempsey, 66.

7Cheri Sampson interview, May 24, 2012.




11William Lichty, interview by author, phone, June 4, 2012.

12Cheri Sampson interview, May 24, 2012.

13Joy Sampson, interview by author, Phoenix, June 1, 2012.

14Cheri Sampson interview, May 24, 2012.







21Cheri Sampson, interview by author, phone, June 11, 2012.

22Cheri Sampson interview, May 24, 2012.



25Joy Sampson interview.


27Joy Sampson interview.


29Cheri Sampson interview, May 24, 2012.


31Cheri Sampson interview, May 24, 2012.


Chase, Kara. “Assemblies of God (usa) Official Web Site.” Assemblies of God. https://ag.org/  (accessed June 1, 2012).

Saggio, Joseph. “Alta M. Washburn: Iconoclastic Pentecostal “trailblazer” to the Tribes.” Encounter 6 (July 31, 2009): https://agts.edu/ (accessed June 3, 2012).

Saggio, Joseph, and Jim Dempsey, eds. American Indian College: A Witness to the Tribes. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 2008.

Lichty, William. Interview by author. Phone, June 4, 2012.

Sampson, Joy. Interview by author. Phoenix, AZ, June 1, 2012.

Sampson, V. Cheri. Interview by author. Phoenix, AZ, May 24, 2012.

Sampson, V. Cheri. Interview by author. Phone, June 11, 2012.









The Trinity: Hierarchy or Mutuality

Linda Seller












It has been said that anyone who rejects the doctrine of the Trinity may lose his or her soul, but the one who tries to explain it will lose his or her mind. Indeed, the concept of the Trinity is difficult to grasp as we have no other precedent in the natural world to help us understand how God can be both one and three. And yet, Scripture verses such as Genesis 1:26, “Then God said, ‘Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule … .”1 and Deuteronomy 6:4, “Hear, O Israel: The Lord [Jehovah, singular] our God [Elohim, plural], the Lord [Jehovah, singular] is one,” reveal that God is uniquely three yet still one.

While all orthodox Christians believe in the basic concept of the Trinity, there have been recent attempts to hijack traditional understanding of mutuality within the Trinity and impose a hierarchical view in which the Son and the Spirit are subordinate to the Father. That concept has major repercussions on our understanding of God’s character and nature as well as implications for human relationships, especially marriage. This paper will discuss the historical development of the hierarchical view of the Trinity and its subsequent effect on one’s understanding of male-female relationships.


Early Church theologians debated between two extremist beliefs about the Trinity, sometimes defining God as three loosely affiliated Gods (tritheism) and at other times one God who manifests himself in three different roles (modalism).2 The fourth-century Creed of Nicaea solidified orthodox Christian belief about the Trinity, affirming the deity of Christ as one who is “God from God, Light from Light, true God from true God, begotten not made, of one being with the Father.”3 From that point forward, the concept of God the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit as One Being comprised of three equal yet unique Persons was widely accepted as the orthodox view of the Trinity.

Not until the last fifty years did the centuries-old concept of mutuality among the members of the Trinity come into question. It all started with the 1960s gender debate when changing cultural norms in the western world popularized the idea that women are equal to men and should be treated accordingly. Evangelicals with patriarchal belief systems resisted the change. Dr. Kevin Giles, noted author and vicar of the Anglican St. Michael’s Church in Australia, explains the controversy: “Confronted by the new reality of women’s emancipation in the late 1960s, evangelical Christians began abandoning the historic or traditional understanding of women as ‘inferior’ to men. Instead, some evangelicals began to argue that men and women are equals, though God has given them differing roles.”4 By assigning different roles to the sexes, patriarchal-minded theologians could affirm women’s equality in essence but still require them to be subordinate in position. In 1977, George W. Knight, III, expounded on the difference in roles in his book The New Testament Teaching on the Role Relationship of Men and Women, arguing that “women were not subordinate to men in being, nature, or essence, but rather in role, function, and authority.”5 And thus the concept “role subordination” was born. Knight claimed his concept was biblical by asserting that role subordination originated within the Trinity: the Son of God is equal to the Father in “being” but eternally subordinate in “role,” establishing hierarchy in the Trinity.

The concept of hierarchy in the Trinity caught on quickly and became widely accepted in the body of Christ. Scholar Phillip Cary notes that within two short decades of Knight’s book, “evangelical theologians were talking as if every good Christian since the apostles had believed in role subordination in the Trinity.”6 And yet, the concept—developed as a result of evangelical’s response to cultural feminism—is completely novel to the twentieth-century century. Protestant theologian Wayne Grudem popularized the subordinationists’ view by making it a central focus of his Systematic Theology (1994), a text that became widely-used in English-speaking evangelical seminaries in the late 1990s. Grudem posited that holding fast to the doctrine of subordination in the Trinity would prevent the “heresy” of egalitarianism from invading the home and the church.7

Subordinationists like Grudem developed a theology based on their own cultural bias, independent of traditional orthodoxy. Giles argues that, “despite claims made by subordinationists, the eternal subordination of the Son … does not have the historical endorsement of the Nicene and Athanasian creeds, the Reformation confessions of faith, or theological luminaries such as Athanasius, Augustine, and Calvin.”8 Dr. Nancy Hedberg agrees, citing theologians throughout the centuries who argued for mutuality within the Trinity:

Augustine consistently points out that sonship does not necessitate inferiority or subordination … . Athanasius … pointed out that, although during the incarnation Jesus submitted Himself to the Father, when it came to the resurrection, the Son raised his own body … . he was an active, rather than a passive, participant along with the Father … . Basil also argued that being seated at the right hand of the Father (Heb. 1:3) is not a seat of inferiority, but a station of equality … . John of Damascus says … there is one essence, one goodness, one power, one will, one energy, one authority, one and the same, I repeat, not three resembling each other … . Calvin … noted that any implied subordination is restricted to Jesus’ incarnation.9

Additionally, the ancient Nicene theologians contended for mutuality in the Trinity, arguing that the Trinity represents one divine will in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit work together in perfect unity. Thus, an act of the Father is simultaneously an act of the Son and of the Holy Spirit—all three moving as one. If such is the case, it would be impossible for hierarchy to occur within the Trinity since subordination necessarily involves the will. As Cary notes, the divine will cannot be divided within itself: “Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are always necessarily of one will, because there is only one God and therefore only one divine will. And where there is but one will there cannot be the authority of command and obedience, for that requires one person’s will to be subordinate to a will other than his or her own.”10 Consequently, if the wills of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are distinct via command and obedience, then God is no longer one being but three separate Gods with three distinct wills. Hence, the Nicene theologians argued for mutuality in the Trinity.

Thus, despite vast orthodox tradition to the contrary, patriarchal-minded theologians created the doctrine of subordination to defend their own cultural bias.


In addition to the lack of support from orthodox theologians, the concept of eternal hierarchy in the Trinity lacks Scriptural backing. Subordinationists claim that the Son is eternally subordinate to the Father in role but not in being, and they cite verses such as 1 Corinthians 15:28 to support their claim: “When he has done this, then the Son himself will be made subject to him who put everything under him, so that God may be all in all.” However, for as many verses there are that indicate Christ was subject to the Father, there are verses indicating Christ is supreme over all: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Matt. 28:18), and “God placed all things under his [Christ’s] feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church … .” (Eph. 1:22). Likewise, verses such as “… the Father is greater than I” (John 14:38), indicate the Son’s subordination to the Father, yet other verses such as “I and the Father are one” (10:30), denote equality. How does one reconcile the two? Giles explains that subordinationists take aspects of Jesus’ humanity and resulting temporal subordination to the Father and read those back into the Trinity: “They [point] to texts that could be interpreted as teaching that the Son was created in time, and they [note] the many passages that [speak] of his human weaknesses, suffering, and obedience to His Father. They then read back into the eternal Trinity these features of the Son’s historic incarnate ministry.”11

Egalitarians, those who believe in mutuality in the Trinity, contend that Jesus’ subordination was temporary, an aspect of being fully human. Theologian Phillip Cary explains the concept saying, “In his humanity, he [Jesus] is not pre-existent but born of woman just like the rest of us, and subordinate to God just like every other human being.”12 Thus, Jesus’ subordination to the Father was a temporal part of his mission. However, as Giles notes, “We do not read these human traits, limited to his incarnate existence on earth, back into his divine life in heaven. If we were to do this consistently, we would have the Lord of Glory in eternity getting hungry and thirsty in the late afternoon and sleeping at night!13

Stan Gundry, adjunct professor at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary, expounds on Philippians 2 as support for temporal subordination: “The very fact that the Son took on the very nature of a servant suggests that, before the Son came in human likeness, he was not a servant or one who subjected himself to another’s will.”14 Prior to the incarnation, Jesus was unfamiliar with subordinating himself. According to Hebrews 5:8, it was a new concept he had to learn: “Son though he was, he learned obedience from what he suffered.” Thus, obedience was something unusual to the Son’s existence and unique to his incarnation, not an eternal part of his nature in the Trinity.

Moreover, Scripture speaks of the risen Christ as equal with the Father in every regard. For instance, Colossians 2:9 states that “in Christ, all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form,” and Hebrews 1:3 refers to the Son as, “… the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being.”15 Additionally, the Father and the Son receive equal worship in the book of Revelation which pictures both on the throne: “Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. … Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth … saying: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:6, 13).

Thus, when one takes into account the whole of Scripture, the Son is clearly portrayed as an equal cohort with the Father, not a subordinate member of the Trinity.


Subordinationists assert that in the same way Jesus is equal with the Father in “being” but subordinate to him in “role,” likewise women are equal to men in “nature” but subordinate in “authority” and “role.” Grudem’s book Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminism forged the way for the subordinationist agenda, which directly affects the marriage relationship as well as women’s role in the church. Grudem not only cites Scriptures to justify the subordination of women, he devotes entire chapters to explain why women are unfit to lead biologically, psychologically, and socially. Whether in the home, the church, or the workplace, subordinationists deny that God gifted women with the capacity to lead. Men are to initiate; women are to respond. There are no exceptions.

However, as discussed in the previous section, Jesus’ subordination to the Father is not eternal but rather temporal. Thus, applying Jesus’ subordination to fallen human relationships is illogical. Giles aptly articulates why:

Conservative evangelicals who argue that the Son is eternally bound to obey the Father build on the premise that where two or more people live or work together, one person must be in charge. This is how they envisage marriage, especially among Christians. They seem to forget that where love prevails there can be a harmony of wills and a gladly accepted mutual subordination. They err in seeking to explain how the persons of the Trinity related to one another by appealing to a common feature of fallen human relationships.16

In this way, subordinationists practice eisegesis, introducing their own presuppositions into their understanding of the Trinity, which results in erroneous application of Scripture. Proper Bible exegesis demands that what is true of the Trinity should inform human relationships and not vice versa. Acclaimed theologian Karl Barth explains:

The imperative is that human relations should conform to divine relations, not vice versa. In the Trinity, we see the three differentiated divine persons honoring each other, loving each other, giving of themselves to the others and working together in perfect cooperation. This is a paradigm for human relations, especially those between woman and man.17

As further justification for all women to submit to all men, subordinationists often cite 1 Corinthians 11:3, “But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God,” and Ephesians 1:23, “For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior.” In both verses, the word “head” in Greek is kephale, and can be translated “authority” or “source.”18 Obviously, subordinationists favor the translation “authority” while egalitarians favor “source.” What is interesting to note is that Grudem researched 2,336 examples of kephale in Greek literature and discovered the word was not typically used to mean “source.” In fact, only in two percent of his 2,336 findings did Grudem find that kephale was used to mean “authority.” In the majority of cases, kephale was used to refer to a literal, physical head.19 If such is the case, 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 1:23 take on new meaning. A literal head cannot be detached from the body. Rather than being a picture of dominance, the picture in 1 Corinthians 11:3 and Ephesians 1:23 is one of interdependence, oneness, and unity—paralleling the mystery of oneness in the Trinity. In this context, God’s hatred of divorce makes more sense. As Dr. Sarah Sumner, author of Men and Women in the Church, articulates, “It is not so disturbing to imagine a leader breaking up with his assistant. But it is utterly disconcerting to imagine a body being amputated physically from its head.”20

In these ways, reading subordination into the Trinity directly affects one’s view of male-female relationships, especially marriage.


As discussed in the previous sections, the view that the Son is eternally subject to the Father has far-reaching implications. As Gundry so aptly writes,

We must warn that any view of the Trinity that posits an eternal subordination among the Persons of the Trinity, in spite of its best intentions, cannot do full justice to the evidence of Scripture, diminishes the magnitude and significance of the Incarnation, undercuts the unity of the Trinity, and tends to diminish the full deity of the Son and the Spirit.21

With so much at stake, it behooves egalitarian theologians to speak out against the subordinationist perspective. In response, theologian William Spencer in consultation with other noted scholars22 drafted “An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity” which reads:

We believe that the sole living God who created and rules over all and who is described in the Bible is one Triune God in three coeternal, coequal Persons, each Person being presented as distinct yet equal, not as three separate gods, but one Godhead, sharing equally in honor, glory, worship, power, authority, rule, and rank, such that no Person has eternal primacy over the others.23

The above statement concisely summarizes the view of mutuality in the Trinity which has been endorsed by orthodox theologians throughout the centuries and, hopefully, in years to come.


A. W. Tozer said that what comes to our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us. That statement is especially true regarding the doctrine of the Trinity as what one believes about the Trinity will inform one’s understanding of the character and nature of God and the resulting implications for male-female relationships. Is God a hierarchical tyrant on a power trip who necessitates the obeisance of the Son and demands every woman to subject herself to men? Or is He a humble servant who values mutual submission and finds the greatest satisfaction in elevating others above Himself? The latter sounds more like Jesus, who is one with the Father and “did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). Despite evidence to the contrary, subordinationists hold to a view of hierarchy in the Trinity that speaks more of their patriarchal belief system than it does of proper Scripture exegesis that has been affirmed by orthodox theologians throughout the centuries. As a result, the significance of the incarnation, the deity of Christ, the unity of the Trinity, and the equality of women come under question. In effect, God’s character and His Word are maligned. The error of subordinationists is strangely reminiscent to that of the Pharisees to whom Jesus said: “You nullify the word of God by the tradition that you have handed down” (7:13). God forbid.



1All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the 2011 New International Version.

2Nancy Hedberg, “One Essence, One Goodness, One Power,” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4 (Autumn 2011), 6.

3Phillip Cary, “The New Evangelical Subordinationism,” Christians for Biblical Equality, no. Special Edition (2011), 28.

4Ronald W. Pierce, Rebecca Merrill Groothuis gen. eds., and Gordon D. Fee contributing ed., Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005), 338.

5Cary, 29.



8Pierce, 339.

9Hedberg, 7-8.

10Cary, 29.

11Kevin Giles, The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002), 34.

12Cary, 28.

13Kevin Giles, “CBE and the Doctrine of the Trinity,” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4 (Autumn 2011), 20.

14Stanley Gundry, “An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity,” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4 (Autumn 2011), 12.

15Italics mine.

16Giles, The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate, 83.

17Ibid., 91.

18Sarah Sumner, Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003), 144.

19Ibid, 151.

20Ibid, 167.

21Gundry, 13.

22Evangelicals from both sides of the gender conversation stand together in publishing an Evangelical Statement on the Trinity, written by William David Spencer in consultation with Aída Besançon Spencer, Mimi Haddad, Royce Gruenler, Kevin Giles, I. Howard Marshall, Alan Myatt, Millard Erickson, Steven Tracy, Alvera Mickelsen, Stanley Gundry, Catherine Clark Kroeger, and other theologians, exegetes, philosophers, and church historians. For more information, see www.trinitystatement.com.

23William Spencer, “An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity,” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4 (Autumn 2011), 15.


Cary, Phillip. “The New Evangelical Subordinationism.” Christians for Biblical Equality, no. Special Edition (2011): 27-30.

Giles, Kevin. The Trinity & Subordinationism: The Doctrine of God and the Contemporary Gender Debate. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2002.

______. “CBE and the Doctrine of the Trinity.” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4 (Autumn 2011): 20-21.

Gundry, Stanley. “An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity.” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4 (Autumn 2011): 12-13.

Hedberg, Nancy. “One Essence, One Goodness, One Power.” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4 (Autumn 2011): 6-10.

Pierce, Ronald W., Rebecca Merrill Groothuis gen. eds., and Gordon D. Fee contributing ed. Discovering Biblical Equality: Complementarity without Hierarchy. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2005.

Spencer, William. “An Evangelical Statement on the Trinity.” Priscilla Papers 25, no. 4 (Autumn 2011): 15-19.

Sumner, Sarah. Men and Women in the Church: Building Consensus on Christian Leadership. Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2003.







Vicki Judd






Examining a difficult or confusing passage of Scripture requires a great deal of prayer, thought, study, and humility. A person cannot take a passage of Scripture such as 1 Corinthians 14:33-35 and make it a proof-text for a particular point of view, although many on both sides of these controversial verses have tried to do so. One cannot simply say, “God’s Word says it and that’s good enough for me.” Often, those who make this kind of declaration do not hold the same standard in regard to other puzzling passages. Nor can one simply dismiss a difficult passage of Scripture for having cultural implications that do not apply to the Church in the twenty-first century. No, we must examine it in the light of context, content, and culture and in full view of Paul’s teaching on church structure and behavior as a whole.

To one degree or another we all pick and choose what we declare to be the unalterable truths found in Scripture. The multitude of denominations and ministries found in the world today attest to this fact. One group emphasizes baptism, another spiritual gifts. Some groups insist on tithing, others maintain that because tithing is not taught specifically in the New Testament, believers today are exempt from tithing but should give generously (2 Cor. 8:7). No matter the theological bent or motivation, even the most learned and serious Bible scholar interprets the Bible according to his or her own tradition and outlook. My earnest desire and prayer is to make the Word of God alive and applicable to men and women today—to live out God’s eternal truth in our time. Author Scott McKnight puts it this way:

God spoke in Moses’ days in Moses’ ways, and
God spoke in Job’s days in Job’s ways, and
God spoke in David’s days in David’s ways, and
God spoke in Solomon’s days in Solomon’s ways, and
God spoke in Jeremiah’s days in Jeremiah’s ways, and
God spoke in Jesus’ days in Jesus’ ways, and
God spoke in Paul’s days in Paul’s ways, and
God spoke in Peter’s days in Peter’s ways, and
God spoke in John’s days in John’s ways,
And we are called to carry on that pattern in our world today.1

The book of 1 Corinthians was written in response to reports of the struggles the church was facing. Paul knew this church well. He had spent eighteen months establishing the Corinthian church on his second missionary journey (Acts 18:1-18). Corinth was a major seaport on the Aegean Sea. The environment in the city was one of idolatry and sexual immorality of every sort. Paul had heard reports that there were divisions, problems with immorality, and confusion and disorder in the young church. The purpose of Paul’s writing was to bring correction to problems which had been reported to him by a delegation from Corinth related to conflict in the church, and to answer specific questions church members had written in a previous letter relating to problems of morality and principles of order in the church. The book is broken into two sections. Chapters 1 - 6 deal with division, immorality, and disorder in the church; chapters 7 - 16 answer specific questions asked by church members regarding marriage, Christian freedom, public worship, and the resurrection.

The portion of the book where our troublesome passage is found is in the section dealing specifically with public worship (chapters 11-14). Chapter 14 begins with a bridge from the infamous chapter on love. “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts, especially the gift of prophecy” (1 Cor. 14:1).2 Although it is often thought of as such, 1 Corinthians 13 is not a chapter dealing with romantic love. It is a message for the body of Christ instructing them how to relate to one another. Love is the overarching, all-encompassing virtue for every believer. In chapter 8, Paul says, “while knowledge makes us feel important, it is love that strengthens the church” (1 Cor. 8:1b, NLT). All of the problems and issues Paul addresses in 1 Corinthians could be corrected if the Church would just live according to the attitudes and actions laid out in chapter 13.

A missing puzzle piece that could have helped us discern the true meaning behind Paul’s words would have been to know the questions that the Corinthian church asked. We only have Paul’s answers, so we can only assume to know the questions. This missing information would have been helpful, but since we do not have it, we must do the best we can with the information we do have.

Over half of chapter 14, twenty-five of its forty verses, is devoted to the misuse of the gift of tongues and prophetic gifts. No specific mention is made regarding gender. Paul repeatedly uses words like “anyone” and “everyone.” He also uses the term “brothers,” but not in the strict sense of a person of male gender. Rather by definition the word adelphos “came to designate a community of love based on the commonality of believers due to Christ’s work.”3

According to the Key Word Study Bible, verse 33 indicates that the church was in “state of affairs lacking control, order, or governance.”4 This is the context of 1 Corinthians 14:33-35:

“For God is not a God of disorder but of peace. As in all the congregations of the saints, women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allow to speak, but must be in submission, as the Law says. It they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church.”

At first glance, these verses appear to mean exactly what they say. Women are not allowed to speak in the church. They should be silent and submissive. Period. That would mean no praying, no singing, no speaking whatsoever. Silent, means silent. No evangelical church today is this prohibitive toward women. No church completely silences women. Even churches and denominations who hold to the complementarian5 view of women in the church allow women to teach or to speak in children’s and women’s ministries.

If Paul indeed intends for women to be absolutely silent in the churches, why would he give detailed instructions on how a woman should pray and prophecy in the church? (1 Cor. 11:4-5). It may be helpful here to define “prophecy.” According to the Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, “prophecy” is defined, “To foretell the future; to declare religious truths, utter forth words of spiritual exhortation, whether involving prediction or not.”6 If women are to prophecy, they must speak, and speak under the inspiration and authority of the Holy Spirit. Additionally, chapter 12 outlines the spiritual gifts, which benefit the Body of Christ and include speaking gifts and make no distinction between men and women.

Paul clearly demonstrates in Galatians chapter 3 that Christ has broken down the cultural and religious barriers between those who have been saved by faith. “There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:28). Under the new covenant, men and women are not just created equal, but are equal for instruction and also for correction. Men and women alike needed correction for behaviors and attitude that were harmful to the Church.

Some would argue that the verses in chapter eleven deal with prayer and prophecy not specific to the corporate assembly of the Church. A broader view of the book of 1 Corinthians reveals that the entire subject matter relates to the workings of the Church, whether they were meeting in homes, more private settings, or in the public assembly. Additionally, Joel’s prophecy and Peter’s quotation of it in Acts chapter 2 demonstrates that God intended to pour out His Spirit on men and women and use them in ways that broke with tradition:

This is what was spoken by the prophet Joel:

“In the last days, God says, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy, your young men will see visions, your old men will dream dreams. Even on my servants, both men and women, I will pour out my Spirit in those days, and they will prophesy.” (Acts 2:16-18)

Many modern complementarians assert that the injunction to silence was only in regard to judging prophecy since that would be considered teaching and or having authority over men. They maintain that a woman may exercise gifts of inspired speech (praying, prophesying and speaking in tongues), but only if they do not cross the line into teaching or instruction. How could anyone, man or woman, declare religious truths or give words of spiritual exhortation without it being considered teaching? Can a woman pray or prophecy and be silent? Either chapter 11 disqualifies chapter 14 or vice versa.

The word silence (sigao) is used three times in chapter fourteen. It is used to silence a person who is speaking in tongues and has no interpretation (1 Cor. 14:28); it is used to limit prophecy to one person at a time (v. 30), and it is used to prohibit women from asking questions during the church meeting (vv. 34-35). In every case, “the way of love” outlined in chapter 13 and orderly worship gatherings are the principles being illustrated. Craig Keener states, “What is clear from the context is just that restricting one’s own speech is sometimes necessary to preserve congregational order.”7

Without question, a part of the problem with a lack of order in the church had to do with the behavior of certain women; otherwise Paul would not have mentioned it so explicitly. Is Paul’s instruction here specifically for the Corinthian women, or is it a universal command for all women across the centuries? Does the command apply only to wives or to all women?

It seems clear that there was an issue between husbands and wives in this situation. The rather lengthy discourse on headship in Chapter 11 illustrates this. The reference to creation order draws attention back to Genesis 3 and the curse that brought conflict and struggle between husbands and wives. Living the Christian life created new paradigms at every turn for the Early Church. The Corinthians were learning a whole new way of living and relating to one another. Since Paul addresses the marriage relationship repeatedly in his writings, this was an area that the new way of living challenged. Paul may have been saying to the husbands, “Let your wives learn,” and to the wives, “Learn respectfully.” Additionally, the injunction to silence appears to be referring to questions asked at inappropriate times that disrupted the teaching of Scripture or the prophetic word, not to general speech.

First Corinthians 34b instructs that women “Must be in submission, as the Law says.” No specific law can be found that commands women to be silent in public. However, Deuteronomy 27:9 states, “Be silent, O Israel, and listen!” This kind of silence indicates a command to listen in order to learn and obey rather than to be forever silent. First Timothy 2:11 states, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.” The emphasis is on learning, not silence. Women in the first-century Corinthian culture were generally considered to be less educated than their male counterparts. While it is not likely that the women had no knowledge of Scripture, it is highly probable that their knowledge was incomplete.

Keener addresses this question in his book, Paul, Women & Wives. He states,

Why would the women in the congregation have been more likely to have asked irrelevant questions than the men? Because, in general, they were less likely to be educated than men. Most Jewish women knew less of the law than most Jewish men, and most Greek women were less accustomed to public lectures than were their husbands.8

It is evident from the context of the entire book of 1 Corinthians that Paul’s motivation was for the Body of Christ—not just the women—to grow up, to learn, and to become a witness of the gospel in their culture. Chaos, confusion, and an “every man for himself” atmosphere would not serve as a good witness.

The type of speaking specifically mentioned in verses 34-35 is in the form of asking questions. According to authors Gill and Cavaness, Paul was not silencing speaking in general, but continual speaking:

The tense of the verb laleō is not the most common tense (the aorist), but the less common Greek tense (the present) which emphasizes linear (on-going action. Thus, it is better translated “to keep talking.” Paul is saying in verse 34, “[Women] are not allowed to keep on talking,” and in verse 35, “It is disgraceful for a woman to continually chatter in church.” The kind of verbal action indicates that it is not women’s vocal participation but the perpetual disruptive rumble of noise that is disallowed.9

Because the women were generally less educated than their husbands, they naturally had many questions. They were not being told not to ask questions, to the contrary, Paul encouraged them to ask questions, but to do it in a place (the home) where it did not constantly interrupt the meeting. According to Keener, it is not likely that the questions arose out of the prophetic word, this would assume that every husband would have been endowed with a prophetic gift. No, Keener asserts that it is more likely that the interruptions came during the exposition of Scripture. Keener writes, “This would have caused an affront to more conservative men or visitors to the church, and it would have also caused a disturbance to the service due to the nature of the questions.”10

The tone of the instruction here in 1 Corinthians 14 is similar to the instruction Paul gives in regard to observing the Lord’s Supper in chapter 11. Here again the church at Corinth seemed more concerned for their personal rights and expressing their personal freedom in Christ than for the good of the Church as a whole. Keener observes that it is not so much what is being done, but how it is being done.11 Paul is encouraging women to learn, but he wants them to learn in a way that shows honor and submission to the other members of the church. Keener says, “In this case, he is not saying, ‘Let women learn only from their husbands at home, and not in the church services’; he is saying, ‘Don’t learn so loudly in church!’”12

And that leads us to what I believe to be the real crux of the matter, especially in how we apply this passage of Scripture to our lives today. It is clear from reading the letters to the churches from Paul, Peter, and James that a lack of love and mutual submission caused many problems in the Early Church, just as they do today. Over and over again the Early Church was challenged to love, to honor one another, to be humble, and to forgive. The heavy chains of the law were being broken, but the freedom that ensued often resulted in an abuse of freedom.

Philippians 2 gives the template for understanding the confusing and often contentious passage found in 1 Corinthians 14:

If you have any encouragement from being untied with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,

Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus. Who being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:1-11)

If women today would demonstrate this godly humility combined with Spirit-empowered confidence, I am convinced that many of the conflicts and contentions surrounding women in the church could be alleviated. Submission is not being a doormat, but rather it is moving with confidence into the places God has authorized entry. Ephesians 5:21 tells us to “submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.”

Jesus’ interactions with women created a whole new way of thinking and interacting. While Jesus did not include women among the twelve disciples, He did include them as friends and associates (Luke 10: 38). He spoke with them and taught them (John 4:7-26). He touched them and healed them (Matt. 9:20-22). Mary sat at His feet and learned from Him, much to the chagrin of her sister (Luke 10:39). He allowed another woman to wash His feet with her tears and dry them with her hair when His host, Simon, had insulted Him by not even offering water to wash His feet and hands (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus elevated the status of women in a society that looked on women as inferior and unimportant.

If women in ministry today can operate in a spirit and attitude that truly reflects the Spirit of Christ, we will gain access into the areas God is calling us. We need not fear submission. As James clearly states, “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10).



1Scot McKnight, The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible (Grand Rapids, Zondervan, 2008) 27-28.

2All Scripture quotations unless otherwise noted are from the New International Version.

3Spiros Zodhiates, Th.D., ed. Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, New International Version (Chattanooga, TN, AMG International).


5Complementarianism is the theological view that although men and women are created equal in their being and personhood, yet they are created to complement each other via different roles in life and in the church. It is rooted in a literal interpretation of the creation account and the roles of men and women presented in Scripture. It is usually characterized by:

1. belief that God designed marriage to reflect the relationship of Jesus Christ and the Church

2. belief that only men should be appointed into authoritative positions of leadership in the church

3. belief that a Christian wife should submit to her husband as the church submits to Christ

4. belief that a Christian husband should love his wife as Christ loved the church

5. a generally patriarchal view of the family (the father is responsible to lead, provide for, teach his children to know and love God) as found in Scripture.



7Craig S. Keener, Paul, Women & Wives; Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publisher, 1992), 83.

8Ibid., 72

9Deborah M. Gill and Barbara Cavaness, God’s Women Then and Now (Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth Publishing, 2004), 135.

10Keener, 81.

11Ibid., 72.



Gill, Deborah, and Barbara Cavaness. God’s Women Then and Now. Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth, 1996.

Henry, Matthew. “Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary”, http://www.christnotes.org/commentary.php?com=mhc&b=46&c=14 (accessed October 8, 2009).

Herrick, Greg. “The Argument of 1 Corinthians 12-14.” http://bible.org/article/argument-1-corinthians-12-14 (accessed October 13, 2009).

Keener, Craige, Paul, Women & Wives: Marriage and Women’s Ministry in the Letters of Paul, Peabody, MA. Hendrickson Publishers, Inc. 1992.

Kroeger, Catharine. “The Neglected History of Women in the Early Church.” http://www.christianitytoday.com/ch/1988/issue17/1706.html (accessed October 14, 2009).

McKnight, Scot. The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible, Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

Schenck, Ken. “Question: What does 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 imply about women in ministry today?Answer: Absolutely Nothing!, https://kenschenck.blogspot.com/2005/03/1-corinthians-14-and-women-in-ministry.html (accessed October 13, 2009).

Schreiner, Thomas R. Review of Two Views on Women in Ministry, https://cbmw.org/wp-content/uploads/2013/05/6-2.pdf (accessed October 8, 2009).

Zodhiates, Spiros Th.D., ed. Hebrew-Greek Key Word Study Bible, New International Version Chattanooga, TN, AMG International, Inc.







Stephanie Nance













The issue of women in ministry remains debated within various denominations. Where the Assemblies of God acknowledges God’s hand upon women for the work of the ministry, the Southern Baptist Convention refuses to acknowledge that God uses a woman’s voice in the same way that He uses a man’s voice. How can there exist two extreme views on this issue? Does God use the voice of women today to proclaim His truth? The answer to that question must align with Scripture. By taking a close look at the Old Testament and the New Testament, one can conclude that God does use the voice of women to proclaim the gospel.

Close review of Joel 2, Acts 2, and many accounts throughout the Gospels, testify to the fact that God takes special interest in using women in the prophetic and the proclamation of His message. God used the voice of women to influence the world for His glory throughout history, and He desires to continue to use them all over the world today. This paper will take a brief look at God’s use of women in both the prophetic and the proclamation of the gospel in Scripture and in today’s world to show that God’s anointing rests upon women to prophesy and preach.


Many people assume that only men were prophets in the Bible, especially in the Old Testament. Because only a few select men could function as priests, many mistakenly believe that the same requirements for priests held true for prophets. Scripture tells a different story. God used both women and men in the various prophetic functions. Loren Cunningham and David Hamilton believe that Scripture shows at least two roles for the prophet. They say, “A prophet can mean the same thing as preacher—one who speaks on God’s behalf concerning the present—or can mean one who foretells the future.”1

Where priest went before God to represent the people, the prophet spoke to the people on God’s behalf. Throughout the Old Testament God speaks to His people through prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Elijah. God used these men in powerful ways to speak His truth to His people and to the pagans. One cannot overlook, however, the fact that God used women in the role of the prophet, as well. Women such as Miriam and Deborah prophesied in a time when men viewed women as property to own to bear children. God alone selected and anointed certain individuals to prophesy. The Spirit empowered these key individuals to speak forth God’s word “and in most cases it ‘came upon’ them for a relatively brief period of time for a specific purpose.”2

Some scholars argue that prophets like Miriam and Deborah are exceptions in the Old Testament and that the people did not view them in the same way as the male prophets. Some even suggest it is a mistake to label them a prophet. Thoughts like these ultimately question the inspiration of God’s Word. Because men functioned more often as prophets in the Old Testament, readers of Scripture should pay close attention when they read that a woman prophesied or receives the title of a prophet. The Old Testament narrators would possess good reasons to use terms that usually described men to refer to women. These writers chose their words carefully when calling a person, a prophet, especially since prophets spoke the words of God. The writers would not label anyone a prophet without solid evidence. 


In Numbers 11:29, Moses, needing relief from fully carrying the burden as God’s spokesman, declares that he desires all of God’s people to receive the Spirit and prophesy. Moses made this statement to Joshua after Joshua became jealous of others who received the Spirit to prophesy. Joshua did not have a problem when the seventy elders whom Moses chose to receive God’s anointing began to prophesy, but the two additional men who received the Spirit were not among the seventy, and Joshua became jealous for Moses. This did not bother Moses because his heart desired others to receive God’s Spirit for empowerment; he longed to see the Spirit move through all of God’s people. This cry of Moses, however, is more than a wish; Joel 2:28-31 reveals it as the heart and plan of God.

The prophet Joel proclaims a time of judgment, repentance, and restoration of Israel in Joel 2:28-32. This time of restoration will involve an extension of God’s Spirit on all who call on His name, not just a select few. Joel specifically tells of a time when Israel’s daughters will prophesy. This is not because God has not used women in the prophetic previously, but God’s Spirit will come upon all the daughters of Israel’s future generations, not only a selected few individuals. Although God used prophets like Moses and Miriam, He desired to release His empowerment on all His children. Pentecost in Acts 2 reveals the fulfillment of Joel’s prophecy in its fullness, but signs of its coming appear before that time with the arrival of the Messiah.


When the time for the Messiah comes, the New Testament records the prophesying of women. The Spirit of God stirs with the excitement of the coming King. Luke 1:41-45 tells the story of Elizabeth, the mother of John the Baptist, boldly proclaiming an oracle of God. In response to Elizabeth’s oracle, Mary, the mother of Jesus, powerfully praises God when the Spirit of prophecy comes upon her. Next, Anna, another Spirit-empowered woman, arrives on the scene in Luke 2:36-38. Luke tells that Anna recognized the Messiah and proclaimed that the time of redemption for Jerusalem had arrived.

People offended with the thought of women publicly prophesying and proclaiming Jesus need to contemplate these passages. If God does not use women to proclaim Him, why would He use women to usher in the long-awaited Messiah? God revealed himself and His plan to the ones who suffered the most from the result of sinful humanity. He would use those who society viewed as the least and lift their voices to proclaim the greatest message given to humankind. Those who refuse to listen to the prophetic voice of God’s women risk not understanding the inclusiveness of God’s salvation, the essence of the gospel message.

God’s use of women only increases after the birth of Jesus. Jesus intentionally engages women in the proclamation of who He is throughout His ministry and after His death and resurrection. The New Testament records a woman as the first evangelist. This evangelist was not only a woman but also a Samaritan. Jesus dialogues with the Samaritan woman about theology and brings her to repentance. She then becomes an evangelist by returning to her town to spread the news of what Jesus did for her.

Women also first proclaimed the resurrection of Jesus. After his resurrection, Jesus chose to reveal himself first to the faithful women who ministered to him at the cross and the tomb. Why would Jesus choose not to approach the apostles first or send the angel with the news to them? He knew that men did not receive teaching or information from women in His day, yet He purposefully decided to leave the spreading of His resurrection to them. How astonishing that God entrusted women with the privilege and responsibility of being the first to proclaim the resurrected Christ and to allow them the opportunity to preach it first to the apostles.


Acts 2 tells of the day of Pentecost and Peter’s response to the activity. When those waiting upon God’s promise of the Spirit received fully from God, Peter boldly proclaimed that Joel’s prophecy found fulfillment in the Spirit’s decent from that day forward. A new age was ushered in, and God’s people would now function as a new community where all members would operate in the fullness of the Spirit. From that day until now, the role of women has never been the same. 

French L. Arrington notes, “The promised fulfillment of Moses’ desire stands in Joel 2, but the day of Pentecost potentially fulfilled that desire, for with the gift of the Spirit to the disciples the age of the prophethood of all believers has dawned.”3 All believers in Jesus could now function equally as prophets of God. The exclusive ways of the Old Testament were gone, and women were complete participants in what God would do throughout the earth. Deborah Menken Gill explains, “The women at Pentecost are pictured as full participants in the prophetic activities. The Joel text used for the sermon is gender inclusive. Peter’s declaration ‘this is what we as spoken by the prophet Joel’ means that part of the fulfillment he recognized was that among those 120 prophesying persons on the day of Pentecost there were ‘daughters’ and ‘maidservants,’ i.e., female prophets.”4 Jesus’ death and resurrection brought men and women on level ground and the Spirit’s empowerment confirmed it. Women moved forward in boldness prophesying and proclaiming the Word of God.

Exclusivity serves as a sure sign that the Church has lost her prophetic voice. When individual churches and denominations divide according to economic classes and ethnic groups, the Church has forsaken Pentecost. Churches and denominations that exclude leaders because of gender have also lost the Spirit of Pentecost. May God help lead His Church back to her place of birth. Time and tradition have ushered back into existence the exclusive ways of humanity, but Pentecostal believers can stand as an example of an inclusive community for others to see and follow.

John V. York states, “The heart of Pentecostalism is the supernatural empowerment of believers so that they may, in word and deed, adequately bear witness of Christ to the nations of the world.”5 One could accurately state that this should be the heart of Christianity, too. Pentecostalism was the norm in the Early Church. A segment of Pentecostals within Christianity did not exist at that time. As the Church moved away from the day of Pentecost, this mission got lost in the tradition and regulations of religion, and the Church lost what Pentecost gave them—the prophetic voices of women. Christians must continue to live out Pentecost today, calling forth their daughters to prophesy.

The Church continually debates the issue of women ministering in the same roles as men. Good intentioned Christians have sided with the agenda of tradition and culture and not the agenda of the Spirit. However, as John V. York points out, “The agenda of the Spirit is the agenda of the people of God moving in the power of God to accomplish the mission of God (mission Dei) among all made in the image of God.”6 Men and women must focus on God’s mission as the ultimate goal, not promoting women for the sake of gender equality. God pours out his Spirit upon both men and women for His purpose, so the Church must release both to accomplish God’s mission on the earth.


Many pastors read books by David Yonggi Cho of Seoul, Korea, to find out his secret to pastoring a church with such incredible growth. It would surprise many to hear that his key to church growth involves the release of women into the ministry. This all started when Cho released his own mother behind the pulpit.

Cho knew of his mom’s strong gift to preach and teach Scripture. He also knew that his people would not accept a female preacher because of their culture’s limitation on women. Author and friend Loren Cunningham suggested that Cho put Cunningham’s mom, a good friend, before his congregation to preach and then immediately follow her with a sermon by Cho’s mom. Because Cunningham’s mom traveled from another country, the Koreans would show her grace and accept her ministry. Once they accepted Cunningham’s mom, it would allow them to see that they could also accept Cho’s mom.

Everything went according to plan and Cho’s mom emerged in the church as an anointed and powerful leader, preacher, and teacher. Cho now “has seven hundred senior pastors on his staff, including many women. He also has thirty thousand cell groups; the vast majority of these are led by women.”7 Cho believes that releasing women to minister provided the key to his church growth. When pastors of struggling churches seek Cho’s advice on church growth, he counsels these pastors to release their women to see the breakthrough they need. With such an incredible story from an influential pastor, more pastors and church leaders should heed his wisdom. The Church needs the prophetic voices of both men and women proclaiming Christ to a broken world.   


God called His daughters forth to prophesy and preach His message throughout history, and He continues to do so today. He takes pleasure in using their voices to proclaim the message of Jesus. Women must not allow the critics to muffle their voices. Sin results in the devaluing of certain people groups, which includes women. Those who limit women by hiding behind church tradition and refer to it as God’s divine order for the genders are sincerely wrong; they embrace the oppression caused by sin. Jesus’ life, behavior, actions, death, and resurrection proclaim freedom from the chains that a sinful world wrapped around women. As long as people exist who continue to diminish the value of women, children, the poor, and various ethnicities, women must continue to use their prophetic voices to cry out the gospel.


1Loren Cunningham and David J. Hamilton, Why Not Women? A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership (Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2000), 57-58.

2Wayne A. Gruden, ed., Are Miraculous Gift for Today? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996), 246.

3French L. Arrington, The Acts of the Apostles (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988), 28.

4Deborah Menken Gill, “The Female Prophets: Gender and Leadership in the Biblical Tradition” (Ph.D. diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 1991), 164.

5John V. York, Missions in the Age of the Spirit (Springfield, MO: Logion Press, 2001), 185.

6Ibid., 186.

7Cunningham and Hamilton, 67-68.


Arrington, French L. The Acts of the Apostles. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1988.

Cunningham, Loren, and David J. Hamilton. Why Not Women? A Biblical Study of Women in Missions, Ministry, and Leadership. Seattle: YWAM Publishing, 2000.

Gentile, Ernest B. Your Sons & Daughters Shall Prophesy: Prophetic Gifts in Ministry Today. Grand Rapids: Chosen Books, 1999.

Gill, Deborah M., and Barbara Cavaness. God’s Women Then and Now. Springfield, MO: Grace and Truth, 2004.

Gill, Deborah Menken. “The Female Prophets: Gender and Leadership in the Biblical Tradition.” Ph.D. diss., Fuller Theological Seminary, 1991.

Groothuis, Rebecca Merrill. Good News for Women: A Biblical Picture of Gender Equality. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1997.

Gruden, Wayne A., ed. Are Miraculous Gift for Today? Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996.

Kostenberer, Andreas J., and Peter T. O’Brien. Salvation to the Ends of the Earth: A Biblical Theology of Mission. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Lim, David. Spiritual Gifts: A Fresh Look. Springfield, MO: Gospel Publishing House, 1991.

York, John V. Missions in the Age of the Spirit. Springfield, MO: Logion Press, 2001.










Jodi Faulkner








Emma Willard

Prudence Crandall

Mary Mason Lyon

Catharine Beecher








In response to a tract by Sylvain Marechal entitled “Plan for a Law Prohibiting the Alphabet to Women” which contained such sentiments that a woman who learns the alphabet already lost a portion of her innocence, Thomas Wentworth Higginson queried in 1859.

What rational woman, we ask, can be convinced by the nonsense which is talked in ordinary society around her,—as, that it is right to admit girls to common schools, and equally right to exclude them from colleges,—that it is proper for a woman to sing in public, but indelicate for her to speak in public,—that a post-office box is an unexceptionable place to drop a bit of paper into, but a ballot-box terribly dangerous? No cause in the world can keep above water, sustained by such contradictions as these, too feeble and slight to be dignified by the name of fallacies. Some persons profess to think it impossible to reason with a woman, and they certainly show no disposition to try the experiment.1

During the late eighteenth and early nineteenth centuries in America, though women were generally barred from owning property in their own names, voting, attending institutions of higher learning, or even speaking in public forums, many individuals began to advocate for increased equivalent educational opportunities for girls and young women. This paper presents a brief history of some advances achieved by and for women in their procurement of an excellent education.


On March 31, 1776, Abigail Adams wrote to her husband, Congressman John Adams, “In the new Code of Laws which I suppose it will be necessary for you to make I desire you would Remember the Ladies. Remember all Men would be tyrants if they could. If perticular (sic) care and attention is not paid to the Ladies we are determined to foment a Rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any Laws in which we have no Voice, or Representation.” She continued to counsel him by adjuring him that the new laws should “put it out of the power of the vicious and the Lawless to use us with cruelty and indignity.” Adams replied, “As to your extraordinary Code of Laws, I cannot but Laugh.” He refused to endorse the “Despotism of the Petticoat.”2

No public institutions for higher learning for girls existed in America until 1826 when schools opened in New York and Boston.3 Much skepticism existed in America regarding girls’ education. In fact, when John Adams discovered that his young daughter was studying classical languages under her mother’s tutelage, he did not forbid the education, but he asked her to refrain from telling many people because “it is scarcely reputable for young ladies to understand Latin and Greek.”4


Women essentially had no legal rights to property or voting in early America. Through coverture, ladies had no rights to inheritance, and in the context of marriage, they owned nothing—not even their own jewelry.5 Dictionary.com defines coverture as “the status of a married woman considered as under the protection and authority of her husband.”6 A wife’s legal status was incorporated completely into her husband’s identity. Wives could not sue, be sued, sign contracts, sell property, or make wills, for example.7


Taking verbiage from the Declaration of Independence, the Women’s Rights’ Convention in Seneca Falls, New York, in August 1848, confirmed in its Declaration of Sentiments and Resolutions that “all men and women are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights …”8 (emphasis added). This new Declaration contained a litany of complaints regarding the treatment of women in nineteenth-century America including: women were compelled to submit to laws in which they had no voice; married women, in the eyes of the law, were civilly dead; single women were taxed to “support a government which recognizes her only when her property can be made profitable to it;” in Church as well as State, women were allowed only a subordinate position, with men “claiming Apostolic authority for her exclusion from the ministry, and with some exceptions, from any public participation in the affairs of the Church;” different moral codes existed for men and women; men “usurped the prerogative of Jehovah himself” by assigning women a sphere of action, when that “belongs to her conscience and her God;” and, finally, men attempted to destroy the confidence of women and lessen their self-respect by causing them “dependent and abject” lives. These few examples from the document demonstrate the unhappiness experienced by many of the women in the United States. This powerful Declaration then demanded that “one-half of the people of this country…have immediate admission to all the rights and privileges which belong to them as citizens of the United States.” After rousing endorsement by Frederick Douglass, this resolution passed and became the framework for the nineteenth-century feminist movement.9


Emma Willard

Even before the attendees at Seneca Falls drafted the Declaration of Sentiments, people were crusading for quality higher education for girls. These advocates established academies, seminaries, and schools in such places as New York, Connecticut, and Ohio. Emma Willard stood at the forefront of this pioneering educational movement. In addition to founding the Ladies Seminary in Troy, New York, she penned a document in 1819 entitled A Plan for Improving Female Education: An Address to the Public; Particularly to the Members of the Legislature of New York. Willard believed that the highest responsibility of all individuals lay in their “subservience to the Divine” and, in order to please Him; “therefore, to secure this interest, should our education be directed.”10 She lobbied for equality in education for all by noting that institutions for young men were permanent and publicly funded whereas female schools indicated the reverse of this situation. The female schools lacked “permanency, and (were) dependent on individual patronage,” while the “pupils are irregular in the times of entering and leaving school.” The academies for girls contained “various and dissimilar requirements.”11

Willard claimed that women had been “exposed to the contagion of wealth without the preservation of a good education,” which ultimately led to immorality, in her estimation. Though she acknowledged the crimes of ladies in this regard, she charged the men in the legislature with greater guilt for allowing the neglect of education for young ladies. “You know that our ductile minds, readily take the impressions of education. Why then have you neglected our education? Why have you looked with lethargic indifference, on circumstances ruinous to the formation of our characters, which you might have controlled?”12

Willard authored textbooks, devised revolutionary methods of student government at her school, and she loaned about $75,000 to needy girls who wanted to prepare for a teaching career—most of which the girls were unable to repay. In 1846, Willard, driving her own stagecoach, embarked on an eight-thousand-mile journey through the West and South in America to promote and organize better schools. At her death at the age of eighty-three, men and women both recognized Willard as a powerful leader in education.13

Catharine Beecher

Catharine Beecher, the eldest daughter and child of popular preacher Lyman Beecher, served as another forerunner in this fledgling movement. An accomplished author and educator with many published books, pamphlets, and publications in her name, Beecher spent her life promoting the furtherance of ideas which would lead to independent power and status for women. She longed for women to earn enough income to live in their own homes—whether married or single. Beecher never owned her own home; she always resided with family members.

Beecher attended Sarah Pierce’s Female Academy in Litchfield, Connecticut, from the ages of ten through sixteen. Afterward, with her brother, Edward’s, assistance, Catharine then taught herself Latin, philosophy, and higher math and sciences. “Over the course of her lifetime, Beecher founded three academies for young women; authored textbooks on domestic science, arithmetic, physical education, and moral philosophy; and worked tirelessly to promote the entry of females into the teaching profession.”14

Prudence Crandall

Though she was posthumously honored as Connecticut’s State Heroine in 1995, the townspeople of Canterbury, Connecticut, afforded Prudence Crandall quite the opposite treatment when she dared to open a school for African American girls there in the 1830s.

Crandall hailed from a Quaker family in Rhode Island. Unlike many young ladies of her time, she received a quality education in subjects such as arithmetic, Latin, and the sciences at the New England Friends’ Boarding School. The Quakers or Friends believed that young ladies—not just young men—should receive an education. When Crandall dared to admit Sarah Harris, a young African-American girl, into her rigorous, thriving girls’ academy that she had opened, the parents of the white students at the school furiously objected.

Crandall decided then to open a new school just for the education of African-American girls. “I said in my heart, here are my convictions. What shall I do? Shall I be inactive and permit prejudice, the mother of abominations, to remain undisturbed? Or shall I venture to enlist in the ranks of those who with the Sword of Truth dare hold combat with prevailing iniquity?”15

The state of Connecticut subsequently passed the “Black Law,” which barred the teaching of “any colored people...not inhabitants of Connecticut without a town’s permission.” Crandall absolutely did not have acquiescence from the town. Per the new law, she was arrested, spent a night in jail, and was convicted at her second trial, though a higher court later reversed her sentence.

This inequitable law was overturned in 1838, but Crandall had already married and moved to Illinois and then later to Kansas—where she also had schools. She died in 1890 in Elk Falls, Kansas. In a conciliatory effort, the citizens of Connecticut awarded Crandall a pension in 1898.16

Mary Mason Lyon

“My heart has so yearned over the adult female youth in the common walks of life, that it has sometimes seemed as if there is a fire shut up in my bones,” stated Mary Lyon in a letter to a friend in 1834.17 Lyon, the founder of Mount Holyoke Seminary, built her school around extraordinarily rigorous academics which would train girls for careers other than just teaching. She designed the scope and sequence of her curricula similar to that taught in prestigious schools for men. People questioned the rigor of her school and wondered if the girls would survive it. One preacher asked, “Must we crowd education upon our daughters, and for the sake of having them ‘intellectual,’ make them puny, nervous, and their whole earthly existence a struggle between life and death?”18 Some individuals genuinely believed that it was detrimental to the health of a woman to be overly educated. Matthew Vassar, an English-born businessman and founder of Vassar College, resolutely and firmly disagreed with that sentiment. He declared, “It occurred to me that woman, having received from her Creator the same intellectual constitution as man, has the same right as man to intellectual culture and development.”19


Emma Willard espoused that “the loss of republican manners and virtues, has been the invariable precursor, of their loss of the republic form of government.”20 She believed that women imparted the tone for society in both its manners and morals. Thus, a well-educated female politic provided for the betterment of the republic. She planned for female education that “may teach, or preserve, among females of wealthy families, that purity of manners, which is allowed, to be so essential to national prosperity, and so necessary, to the existence of a republican government.”21 Willard and others reasoned that women had an important role to fulfill in the republican ideology. Linda Kerber of the University of Iowa coined the term Republican Motherhood to identify how American women could emulate “the Spartan Mother who raised sons prepared to sacrifice themselves for the good of the polis.22 Education for ladies was permitted because it served the greater good of the republic by allowing women to learn a sufficient amount of material to rear sons and daughters who would serve the country. Women still played no active role in voting or government, but by promoting republican values within the next generation, they achieved some slight advances in their standing in society.


All students at the newly-chartered, coeducational Oberlin College in 1833 were required to take rhetoric class—even the college’s women.23 This regulation presented a problem for the ladies, though, as they were forbidden to speak in any class. Merriam-Webster defines rhetoric as “the art or skill of speaking or writing formally and effectively especially as a way to persuade or influence people.”24 The college amended these challenging, contradictory requirements within less than five years, and Oberlin became the first college in the United States to admit and graduate men and women equally. While Oberlin’s forward-thinking ideas were welcome, the struggle for equal education for women in America continued for many more years.


Scripture provides precedent for the education of women and teaching by women. Acts 18:24 tells of a Jew named Apollos, “an eloquent speaker who knew the Scriptures well” (New Living Translation), who had arrived in Ephesus from Alexandria in Egypt. Apollos had been taught the way of the Lord and was teaching others about Jesus, but he only knew about the baptism of John (Acts 18:25). God used Priscilla and Aquila, believers who had spent considerable time with Paul, to explain “the way of God even more accurately” (18:26). Priscilla knew how to read and how to discern the Scriptures to teach Apollos effectively.

More broadly, the Bible teaches that men and women are created in the image and likeness of God (Gen. 1:27). Passages such as Acts 2:17-18, Romans 12:3-8, and Ephesians 4:1-16 indicate that God furnishes spiritual gifts such as prophesying, preaching, and teaching for all followers of Him. Excluding women from educational and teaching opportunities because of their sex violates the instruction and intent of God’s Word.


John Adams wrote to his wife, Abigail, to concur eventually with her sentiments on the necessity for quality education for women. He acknowledged that whenever one sees a great man in history, some female who “has knowledge and ambition above the ordinary level of women” must surely exist in his life, and that “much of his eminence is owing to her precepts, example or instigation is some shape or another.”25 While contributing to the betterment of society through the enrichment of a man exists as an admirable goal, women also participate in their own merit at every level of culture. Whether they are working inside the home or outside in the public sphere, women provide invaluable contributions to society.

The following idea was expressed in the Declaration of Sentiments regarding a woman’s place in academia as prescribed by men: “He closes against her all the avenues to wealth and distinction, which he considers most honorable to himself. As a teacher of theology, medicine, or law, she is not known.”26 Fortunately, doors to those professions now stand open for women as both scholars and practitioners. Due to the pioneering efforts of Catharine Beecher, Emma Willard, Abigail Adams and others to obtain equivalent educational opportunities for young girls and ladies, examples of women serving in such capacities as ministers, politicians, medical doctors, and as professors in many spectrums now abound. Connie Mariano, MD, offers a modern-day example of significant accomplishments and achievements by a woman through quality education. Mariano, the first Filipino American to reach the rank of Rear Admiral in the United States Navy, also graduated from the Uniformed Services University of Medicine and was the first woman declared Director of the White House Medical Unit, where she served three United States presidents and their families directly.27

To return to Higginson at this beginning of this document, he advised, “Men can hardly be expected to concede either rights or privileges more rapidly than they are claimed, or to be truer to women than women are to each other.” He believed that the final adjustment in the advancement of rights for women “lies mainly in the hands of women themselves.”28 The hard-working, visionary ladies outlined in this paper proved Higginson’s theory.


1Thomas Wentworth Higginson, “Ought Women To Learn The Alphabet?” The Atlantic (February  1859 issue). Accessed January 14, 2016, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1859/02/ought-women-to-learn-the-alphabet/306366/

2Kirstin Olsen, Chronology of Women's History (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994), 99.

3Olsen, 102; 113.

4Cokie Roberts, Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation (New York: HarperCollins, 2004), 74.

5Ibid., 12.

6Coverture. Dictionary.com Unabridged,” Random House, Inc., accessed February 2, 2016, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/coverture?s=t

7Olsen, 82.

8“The Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony Papers Project,” Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, accessed January 15, 2016, https://oirap.rutgers.edu/ResearchCenters/center.aspx?id=3116

9Olsen, 124.

10Emma Willard, A Plan for Improving Female Education (Middlebury, VT: J. W. Copeland, 1819), 15.

11Ibid., 9.

12Ibid., 31.

13S. Alexander Rippa, Education in a Free Society (White Plains, NY: Longman, Inc., 1988), 236-238.

14Jeanne Boydston, Mary Kelley, and Anne Margolis, The Limits of Sisterhood (Chapel Hill: The University Of North Carolina Press, 1988), 14.

15“Prudence Crandall,” Connecticut Women's Hall of Fame, accessed January 27, 2016, http://www.cwhf.org/inductees/education-preservation/prudence-crandall#.Vr0mpPkrLrc.

16“Prudence Crandall,” National Women's History Museum, accessed January 29, 2016, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/prudence-crandall

17Rippa, 238.

18Ibid., 241.

19Ibid., 241

20Willard, 30.

21Ibid., 32.

22Linda Kerber, “The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment - An American Perspective,” American Quarterly Volume 28, No. 2 (Summer, 1976): 187-205. Accessed from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2712349.

23Olsen, 116.

24Rhetoric. Merriam-Webster.com,” Merriam Webster, accessed February 3, 2016, http://www.merriam-webster.com/rhetoric.

25Roberts, 76.

26“The Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony Papers Project”

27Connie Mariano, MD, The White House Doctor: My Patients Were Presidents – A Memoir, Kindle edition (New York: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, 2010).



Coverture. Dictionary.com Unabridged,” Random House, Inc., accessed February 2, 2016, https://www.dictionary.com/browse/coverture?s=t

“Prudence Crandall,” Connecticut Women’s Hall of Fame, accessed January 27, 2016, http://www.cwhf.org/inductees/education-preservation/prudence-crandall#.Vr0mpPkrLrc.

“Prudence Crandall,” National Women’s History Museum, accessed January 29, 2016, https://www.womenshistory.org/education-resources/biographies/prudence-crandall

Rhetoric. Merriam-Webster.com,” Merriam Webster, accessed February 3, 2016, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/rhetoric

“The Elizabeth Cady Stanton & Susan B. Anthony Papers Project,” Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey, accessed January 15, 2016, https://oirap.rutgers.edu/ResearchCenters/center.aspx?id=3116

Boydston, Jeanne, Mary Kelley, and Anne Margolis. The Limits of Sisterhood. Chapel Hill: The University Of North Carolina Press, 1988.

Higginson, Thomas Wentworth. “Ought Women To Learn The Alphabet?” The Atlantic. (1859, February 1). accessed January 14, 2016; https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/1859/02/ought-women-to-learn-the-alphabet/306366/

Kerber, Linda. "The Republican Mother: Women and the Enlightenment - An American Perspective." American Quarterly. Volume 28, No. 2 (Summer, 1976): 187-205. accessed from http://www.jstor.org/stable/2712349.

Mariano, Connie, MD. The White House Doctor: My Patients Were Presidents – A Memoir. Kindle edition. New York: Thomas Dunne Books, St. Martin's Press, 2010.

Olsen, Kirstin. Chronology of Women's History. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1994.

Rippa, S. Alexander. Education in a Free Society. White Plains, NY: Longman, Inc., 1988.

Roberts, Cokie. Founding Mothers: The Women Who Raised Our Nation. New York: HarperCollins, 2004.

Willard, Emma. A Plan for Improving Female Education. Middlebury, VT: J. W. Copeland, 1819.






Trina Pennington






Matrilineal and Matrilinear



Political Influence

Positional Leadership

Influential Leadership

Economical Influence

Social Influence





With the rise of feminism and the popularity of comic book movies featuring women superheroes, the topic of matriarchal societies intrigues men and women alike. Fictional authors write fantasy and science fiction books about civilizations governed by women. Feminists use the matriarchal system as a framework for their utopic society. Do fictional authors and feminists define matriarchal societies according to their personal interpretations, or do they define it according to the facts?

Though few and far between, matriarchal societies have existed for thousands of years. “Mainstream society has by and large been dominated by men for at least the past few millennia. But under-the-radar communities where women are at the center of the culture have long existed.”1 This paper will define matriarchal society terms, share historical background as well as current realities of matriarchal societies, and present strengths and weaknesses of matriarchal societies.



The foundation of understanding matriarchal societies begins with defining necessary terms. Webster defines matriarchy as “a family, society, or state governed by a woman. A form or social organization in which the mother is head of the family and descent is reckoned in the family line.”2 Simply put, a woman leads a family, community, or political state. The mother figure holds the position as head of the family, which includes lineage through the bloodline of the mother.

Heidi Goettner-Abendroth spent years researching matriarchal societies. She redefines it by explaining, “Matriarchies are not just a reversal of patriarchy … . Matriarchies are mother-centered societies … based on maternal values: care-taking, nurturing, motherliness … (and promote) peacemaking.”3 In ideal matriarchal societies, women use their authority to lead and influence others primarily by nurturing. Nurturing qualities inherent in most women help them to love, embrace, and teach others. Women naturally value and respect the strengths of both sexes and empower them to work in their area of abilities.

Matrilineal and Matrilinear

When discussing matriarchal societies, the words “matrilineal” or “matrilinear” frequently arise. The word “matrilineal,” an adjective used to describe people’s descent as being traced through female lineage,4 provides a recognizable identifier for matriarchal societies. In these societies, titles and names often come from the mother. In many cultures, it includes inheritance rights through the female line.5 Mothers give property rights to their daughters as an inheritance.

The words “matriarchy” and “matrilineal” should not be used interchangeably. Just because a society adheres to matrilineal rights does not mean that women lead or govern that particular society. Many contemporary societies consist of male leaders while maintaining matrilineal privileges.


The least familiar word, “matrilocal,” means “located at or centered around the residence of the wife’s family or people.”6 The wife’s home provides the epicenter for her family members. Her home includes her children as well as extended family members. Matriarchal societies welcome family members by expressing unceasing hospitality. Relatives can eat in her home yet sleep in another home. Often the husband visits his mother and sisters in their homes.7 The ties between mother and children remain robust throughout their lives.


A common Comorian saying declares, “The mother is the glue for the family. Fathers come and go, but your mother is always there.”8 In many contemporary matriarchal societies, life revolves around the mother. As the matriarch, she embodies the most important person in the community.9 “Yet it is significant that feminist anthropologists … have found no societies with exclusively female leadership.”10 Matriarchal societies honor the contributions of men and women in various functions.11 Not only do matriarchal societies exhibit shared responsibilities in the areas of political influence through leadership roles, but also in the areas of economic influence, as well as social influence. Females and males collaborate together for the good of the community. Egalitarianism, the belief in the equality of all people, influences the ebb-and-flow of roles played out in the community through political, economical, and social life.12

Political Influence

Typically two types of leadership exist in society: positional leadership and influential leadership. Both types affect politics. People often strive for positional leadership and overlook the powerful effect of influential leadership. In some matriarchal societies, women govern. However, in other matriarchal societies, women appoint men to govern.13 Women hold both positional leadership positions as well as influential leadership positions in their communities.

Positional Leadership

In matriarchal societies, women hold political leadership positions. Sultana Alimah III (Halima) retains the honor of being the first recorded ruler on Anjouon, one of four islands comprising the nation of Comoros.14 In Comoros, women hold government positions as well as serve in community associations. Associations encourage education and participate in various community services to help their people. In Comoros, women serve as the Minister of Communications, Minister of Labor, as state prosecutors, as bank executives, and on the General Planning Commission.15

Influential Leadership

Matriarchal leadership structures include influential leadership roles. Matriarchal societies believe in the complementary leadership roles of men and women. This characteristic can cause confusion when people attempt to strictly define a culture as either matriarchal or patriarchal. When asked to identify the indicators of the matriarchal society in Comoros, a resident responded, “It is hard to classify Comoros as either a matriarchal society or patriarchal society. It seems to be its own unique mix and blend of both with the overriding value of doing things to ‘protect the women.’”16 Matriarchal societies such as the Mosuo of China, the Garo of India, and the Nagovisi of New Guinea all maintain men in political leadership roles.17

Even though women hold political positions in some matriarchal societies, often “major spheres of power are given to males, even if their leadership roles are derived from their mothers. No society gives women all the public roles in government and religion … Matrilineal societies usually give leadership to brothers and uncles.”18

In the Minankabau tribe of Indonesia, women choose the male chief yet retain the power to remove him. In the United States, the council of mothers observed the council of Iroquois chiefs to make sure they ruled wisely.19 Also, political succession can come from the bloodline of the mother such as demonstrated in the Akan of Ghana.20

Economical Influence

Women contribute significantly to the economy in matriarchal societies. Some women work in the market place while others labor in the fields. One woman who works in the Interior Ministry of Comoros boasted, “We both bring home salaries, but in reality, it’s me who’s in charge, who settles the bills, buys food, and pays school fees … I know what our spending priorities are.”21 While some women work in offices, others work by establishing businesses by selling items in the market place. They hand-make or procure items they sell. Sometimes microenterprises require start up loans. In the Comoros, women receive microcredit loans more readily than men because they have a better track record of saving and repayment.22

Another economic contribution that women make involves agricultural endeavors. Some cultures may not esteem agricultural occupations, but matriarchal societies do since many of their economies are based on subsistence farming.23 Nagovisi women provide leadership in their community, but they take more pride in their agricultural achievements.24 Due to the value of farming, many matriarchal societies embrace traditional spiritual beliefs such as the role of the Great Mother Earth “who created everything living.”25 Whether one believes in Mother Earth or not, matriarchal society experts believe that farming bonds women together as they work to provide food for their families.26

Social Influence

Many matriarchal societies maintain peculiar social practices. As previously stated, in many cultures matriarchs delegate power over and responsibilities of care for her children to her oldest brother, the uncle. For example, a Comorian uncle provides school fees, administers discipline, helps arrange marriages, and prepares the wedding for his sister’s children.27 Other matriarchal societies “practice common motherhood of a group of sisters.”28 All women “mother” the children in their community.

Another common social practice relates to marriage and sexual relationships. Some matriarchal societies participate in nontraditional marriages. For example, the Garo, Mosou, and Ngovisi tribes operate in nonbinding marriages or marriages that are easily dissolved if institutionalized. These marriages are called “visiting marriages”29 or “walking marriages.”30 Other matriarchal societies exhibit monogamous marriages. Johann Bachofen, a nineteenth century scholar, believed that women, naturally chaste, preferred monogamous relationships. His theory proposes that women forced men to accept monogamous unions during the matriarchal stage of ancient society’s evolution.31

The most significant and identifiable social indicator of matriarchal societies involves matrilineal rights. Matrilineal practices may include taking a mother’s name as well as passing the inheritance from mother to daughter. Inheritance rights often include the family’s land. Comorians, Mosuo, Akan, BriBri, Garo, and Minangkabau (the largest known matrilineal society today) all practice matrilineal rights. Perhaps the reason Comorians express more excitement over the birth of a girl rather than a boy is because an heir to matrilineal rights has been born.32 Though matrilineal practices were not practiced in the Bible, after consulting the Lord, Moses gave the daughters of Zelophehad inheritance rights because a male heir did not exist (Num. 27:1-11). “God considered women competent to handle family inheritances.”33


Matriarchal societies exhibit various strengths and weaknesses. The real merit of matriarchal societies lies in how they often value both men and women. Unlike the mythical Amazonian society34 which functioned without men, real matriarchal societies function in harmony with men and women. They encourage shared responsibility in politics, economics, and social life. In politics, they use their authority to influence, not dominate. Due to their strong egalitarian approach to leadership, they empower men to lead as well as women. They choose the “best man for the job,” which might be a woman, recognizing that influential leadership can be as powerful as positional leadership.

When it comes to economics, women work in the business world, market place, on the farm, and in the home. Their position as “head of the household” gives them value and purpose. In regards to social life, their homes provide security for their family members. After marriage, dynamics change but family members are always welcomed back home to enjoy food, fellowship, and shelter. Finally, the role of the extended family, whether expressed through the role of the uncle or the sisterhood of mothering, fosters a feeling of belonging to a community of people who will always love and “be there” for their family.

Weaknesses do exist in matriarchal societies. The spiritual belief in Mother Nature as the source of all life leads people away from the true belief of God, the Creator (Gen. 1:1). The lack of fidelity in some cultures defy God’s plan of one husband and one wife for life (Exod. 20:14; Lev. 20:10). Also, matrilocal practices can inhibit the God-given directive where a husband and wife should leave their father and mother to cleave to each other (Gen. 2:24). The marital relationship should take precedence over extended family members.

This brief reflection on matriarchal societies brings one to the conclusion that these societies typically embrace an inclusive and complementary approach to “doing life.” By valuing and respecting the strengths of both men and women, matriarchal societies potentially empower everyone to work in their gifts. They exemplify what Aristotle affirmed, “the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.”


1Clarissa-Jan Lim, “Societies Where Women Rule (Literally) Do Exist—Here’s How They’re Different From Ours,” A Plus, accessed April 19, 2018, https://aplus.com/a/matriarchal-societies-different-mainstream?no_monetization=true.

2Webster’s American Dictionary, College Edition. (New York: Random House, 2000), 496.

3International Academy HAGIA, “Matriarchy,” accessed April 19, 2018, http://www.hagia.de/en/matriarchy.html.

4Webster, 496.

5Anjana Narayan, “Matrilineal Society,” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018, accessed May 24, 2018, https://www.britannica.com/topic/matrilineal-society.

6Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2018, accessed May 24, 2018, https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/matrilocal.

7Sophie Blanchy, “Culture of Comoros,” Countries and Their Culture, accessed April 20, 2018, http://www.everyculture.com/Bo-Co/Comoros.html.

8Stefanie Woods, interview by author, May 15, 2018.

9Laura Garrison, “Six Modern Societies Where Women Rule,” Mental Floss, accessed April 19, 2018, http://mentalfloss.com/article/31274/6-modern-societies-where-women-literally-rule.

10Rosemary Ruether, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History (Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2005), 25.

11International Academy HAGIA, “Matriarchy.”

12Dictionary.com, accessed May 25, 2018, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/egalitarian.

13Ruether, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine, 25.

14Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership, “Women in Power 1670,” accessed May 24, 2018, https://guide2womenleaders.com/womeninpower/Womeninpower1670.htm

15Ahemd Amir, “Ten Reasons Why Comoros May Be Best Arab State for Women,” Thomas Reuters Foundation News, accessed April 19, 2018, http://news.trust.org//item/20131111123247-fry3c.

16Holly Gilbertson, interview by author, May 18, 2018.

17Garrison, “Six Modern Societies Where Women Rule.”

18Ruether, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine, 25.

19Reuther, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine, 25.

20Garrison, “Six Modern Societies Where Women Rule.”

21Amir, “Ten Reasons Why Comoros Might Be Best Arab State for Women.”

22Caroline Meyers, “Poverty in Comoros: Instability, Investment, and Improvement,” Borgen Magazine, World News, October 22, 2017, accessed April 19, 2018, http://www.borgenmagazine.com/poverty-in-comoros.

23International Academy HAGIA, “Matriarchy.”

24Garrison, “Six Modern Societies Where Women Rule.”

25International Academy HAGIA, “Matriarchy.”

26Ruether, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine,18.


28International Academy HAGIA, “Matriarchy.”

29International Academy HAGIA, “Matriarchy.”

30Garrison, “Six Modern Societies Where Women Rule.”

31Ruether, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine, 255.


33Deborah M. Gill and Barbara L.Cavaness, God’s Women—Then and Now, 3rd English edition (Bangalore, India: Authentic Media, 2009), 52.

34Ruether, Goddesses and the Divine Feminine, 255.


Amir, Ahmed Ali. “Ten Reasons Why Comoros May Be Best Arab State for Women.” Thomas Rueters Foundation News. Accessed April 19, 2018, https://news.trust.org//item/20131111123247-fry3c

Blanchy, Sophie. “Culture of Comoros.” Countries and Their Culture. Accessed April 20, 2018. https://www.everyculture.com/Bo-Co/Comoros.html.

Dictionary.com, accessed May 25, 2018, http://www.dictionary.com/browse/egalitarian.

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Gilbertson, Holly. Interview by author. May 18, 2018.

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Lim, Clarissa-Jan, “Societies Where Women Rule (Literally) Do Exist—Here’s How They’re Different from Ours.” Accessed on April 19, 2018. https://aplus.com/a/matriarchal-societies-different-mainstream?no_monetization=true.

Lund, Alicia. Interview by author. May 16, 2018.

Lyons, Andrew P., and Harriet Lyons. Irregular Connections: A History of Anthropology and Sexuality. Lincoln, NE: University of Nebraska Press, 2004. E-book.

Merriam-Webster Dictionary, 2018. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/matrilocal.

Meyers, Caroline. “Poverty in Comoros: Instability, Investment and Improvement.” Borgen Magazine. World News. October 22, 2017. Accessed on April 19, 2018. https://www.borgenmagazine.com/poverty-in-comoros.

Narayan, Anjana. “Matrilineal Society.” Encyclopaedia Britannica, 2018. https://www.Britannica.com/topic/matrilineal-society.

Ruether, Rosemary Radford. Goddesses and the Divine Feminine: A Western Religious History. Berkeley and Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press, 2005.

Webster’s American Dictionary, College Edition. (New York: Random House, 2000), 496.

Wikipedia. Accessed May 24, 2018. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alimah_III.

Worldwide Guide to Women in Leadership.“Women in Power 1670.”Accessed May 24, 2018. https://guide2womenleaders.com/womeninpower/Womeninpower1670.htm.

Woods, Stefanie. Interview by author. May 15, 2018.






Mindy Hines













Participation in Government: Graça Machel

Participation in Church Leadership: Rebekah





With over three thousand tribes and fifty sovereign countries, Africa’s social context remains vastly diverse. Families serve as the cornerstone of general social structure; therefore, models of various familial systems impact the culture overall. In sub-Saharan Africa, some tribes operate under a matrilineal system of governance whereby kinship, lineage, and relationship all pass through the female bloodline. Conversely, other tribes observe a patrilineal governance. Matrilineal family systems predate patrilineal but are increasingly rare today. Anthropologists generally believe matrilineal families will ultimately evolve toward a patrilineal system if given enough time because patrilineal systems are perceived as advanced while matrilineal appear primitive.1 Family relationships shape children’s most formative assumptions until worldviews firmly establish. As a result, patriarchy remains normative within sub-Saharan Africa.

African feminism, however, continues to gain momentum, and gender equality grows steadily. Against all odds, African women rise up and earn the privilege of participating in their homes, societies and churches. It is an exciting day for African women. The voices of our African sisters ring louder day-by-day, revealing a deep desire to create spaces in which they freely and equally participate. Whether African women give themselves to participation in their homes or in a boardroom, the end goal is the same—participation. Their goal consists not of domination but fundamental participation, a profoundly reasonable request. Africa’s rich “herstory” tells of women who have led well, sacrificed much, and earned the great honor of participation.


The rampant patriarchy within Africa severely limits women’s participation in leadership because it “remains embedded in most institutions, both private and public, and constitutes a major impediment to women’s access and effective participation within formal political institutions … and without.”2 Research on the subject of gender equality in the African context populates a host of material on the subject of patriarchy and male dominance. The value of women is depressed in patriarchal societies, and the role of men is elevated, the ideology of male dominance is taken for granted as representative of the true state of affairs between men and women in Africa.”3 Within the context of a primarily patriarchal society, the approach women take to participation is crucial. A woman who is perceived to be demanding, overbearing, or disrespectful quickly discovers opposition and will likely lose the opportunity to gain influence over time. An initial degree of resistance remains inevitable for most women in the African context; however, patience and grace often pave the way for open doors of participation.


Gender equality remains the fundamental development objective to enable women and men to participate equally in society and in the economy.4 The objectifying of women works against the development of equal participation and increases their vulnerability, especially with young women. In many Sub Sahara African contexts, male teachers require school girls to trade sexual favors to succeed in school. If a girl resists, she accepts the reality of a subsistence existence due to her lack of education. Equal participation places female teachers in the classrooms to act as advocates for young women, dealing a blow to the current broken system.


According to the United Nation, participation of women creates tremendous change in the society overall. When women contribute in the work force, the economy grows. As women earn, the course of household spending focuses tightly to address the needs of the children. For every additional year of education a woman receives, child mortality decreases by 9.5 percent. Companies employing three or more women in senior management score higher in all dimensions of organizational effectiveness. Women power an average of 50 percent of the agricultural labor force in Africa.5 As women develop more avenues for participation in sub-Saharan Africa, growth and development will continue. Everyone benefits when women participate.


The United Nation’s goal of government representation for women around the world is 30 percent. This is the gold standard and a worthy ambition. At present, women represent elected positions at a rate of twenty-three percent.6 While this falls short of the goal, considering the fact that this number has doubled since 2011 remains an impressive accomplishment.7


African women face violations of their rights to health, education, economic opportunity and endure degrees of sexual violence unprecedented and unparalleled elsewhere in the world.8 In the following section, three specific hurdles are examined in more detail: poverty, vulnerability, and dependence.


Poverty holds African women tightly in its grip. Women uniquely experience the effects of poverty. In many countries, when a woman is widowed the late husband’s family has the legal right to take all the earthly possessions the couple acquired. The husband’s family also retains the legal right to any children produced by the union. This practice leaves many widows destitute. Increasingly, the church in Africa rejects this practice and proactively protects widows.


The vulnerability of women in Africa remains without contest or dispute. Non-governmental organizations, churches, and governments of sub-Saharan Africa all agree that women must have greater advocacy and opportunity. In an effort to answer the challenge, the World Bank initiated the “African Regional Gender Action Plan.” Their priorities were included in the 2012, the World Bank’s World Development Report. Their critical areas of engagement are: “reducing excess female mortality, closing gaps in productivity and earnings, shrinking differences in voice in the household and society, [and] investing in youth to break intergenerational cycles of gender inequality.” Africa is the only region in the world where the number of “missing” women has increased in the past two decades. In essence, this indicates that there are more women dying from avoidable deaths than surviving. Women also often work harder and earn less. By addressing the intergenerational propensity to repeat learned behavior, the cyclic tendency of gender inequality can be interrupted. While the vulnerability of women in sub-Saharan African remains, every day hope and awareness increase.


Within the structures of the home and family, African women often have little input on allocating the money they earn. Women are generally paid 35 to 40 percent less than men. In sub-Saharan Africa, 74 percent of women are informally employed.9 As a result, women remain in a position of dependence on men due to the aforementioned circumstances, among others. Lack of public safety and cultural norms, which are often imposed by extended family and legally upheld by cultural common law, contribute to women’s dependence on men. Women remain dependent on men for protection and usually provision. However, as women become increasingly involved in participating in their societies, the level of dependence decreases.


Participation in Government: Graça Machel

African women who choose to participate in society can dramatically alter their outcomes. Such is the case with Graça Machel and Rebekah Banda. Graça Machel is the only woman to ever be married to two different presidents: Samora Machel, was the first president of Moçambique, who died in a plane crash, and later Nelson Mandela, president of South Africa.

On October 17, 1945, Graça was born in Moçambique just twenty days after her father passed away. Her mother struggled to take care of the impoverished family of seven. Graça was exceptionally bright and earned a scholarship from her church to attend a Portuguese school in the capital city Maputo. As the only black student in her class she wondered why “I'm made to feel strange in my own country. They're the foreigners, not me. Something is wrong here."10 Graça attended university in Portugal, becoming fluent in English, Spanish, French, Portuguese, and Tsonga.11 Following Graça’s studies in Lisbon, she was exiled to Tanzania, due to the stand she took on Portugal’s colonization of Moçambique.12

While in Tanzania, Graça underwent training in guerilla warfare and entered the fight for Moçambique’s freedom. A fellow freedom fighter named Samora Machel met Graça in Tanzania and captured her heart. The two fell in love and married. When the war ended, Samora went on to capture the heart of Moçambique and became the first president. Graça served alongside Samora as Moçambique’s first minister of education, and “between 1975 and 1989 Graça was responsible for overseeing an increase in primary school enrollment from forty per cent to over ninety per cent.”13

Tragically, Samora Machel died in October 1986, and upon hearing of his death, Nelson Mandela reached out to Graça. The two became friends and eventually married in 1998. Upon Mandela’s death in 2013, Graça said, “If someone believes in destiny, it's the destiny of my life that I was loved and I loved two extraordinary human beings.”14

Graça’s commitment to fight for the dignity and freedom of others extends beyond the borders of Moçambique or South Africa and reaches worldwide. Vulnerable and forgotten women and children have a strong advocate in Graça. Graça earned her place of participation at many tables serving as the first minister of education and culture for Moçambique, from 1975 to 1989. Recently, Graça was appointment to the UN as an independent expert on the impact of armed conflict on children.

Graça fought much, lost much, endured much, and earned the privilege of participation. She continues to shape and direct her family and her society. Her goal has always been equal participation, without a hint of dominance or superiority. She remains deeply loved and highly esteemed in Moçambique.

Participation in Church Leadership: Rebekah

Rebekah serves as the country director for women’s ministries in one of the Southern Africa Assemblies of God churches. Rebekah’s remarkable leadership did not grow from a place of ease and comfort, but rather from hardship and struggle. Rebekah’s step father was a local drug dealer, creating unimaginable difficulty for her as a young child. Little tolerance existed for childish behavior, and attending school was a luxury for others to enjoy. Forced to leave school after the seventh grade, Rebekah’s determined to learn and to develop despite the odds. As a young woman, Jesus began a transformational work in Rebekah’s life. A wonderful young man fell in love with Rebekah and the two were married. Thankful for God’s wonderful blessings, Rebekah devoted herself to studying God’s Word. Beauty arose from the ashes of Rebekah’s past, as God did deep works of healing in Rebekah’s soul.

As a pastor’s wife, Rebekah enjoyed working for the Lord and experiencing the fulfillment of the growth taking place in their church, but she was constantly aware of the vulnerable women and children around her. Rebekah began ministering to the women in her church and community. This women’s ministry grew strong and fruitful. Before long, Rebekah was invited to help with the national women’s ministries events. A little later, the national convention of the Assemblies of God in her country recognized Rebekah’s extraordinary capacity and commitment. Nine years ago, the national church elected Rebekah to serve as their country director for the Assemblies of God women’s ministries.

A few years ago, Rebekah became increasingly concerned with the growing number of widowed minister’s wives who were left destitute. Desirous to help these precious women, Rebekah worked alongside the missionary team and founded the House of Hope, which serves as a training station for widows to gain a marketable skill such as baking, sewing, or farming. The women stay for a period of three months and receive grief counseling, develop camaraderie, and learn how to earn so they can provide for themselves and their children.

Relevant and substantial ministry grew as an unlikely woman, with a seventh grade education committed to participate fully in God’s great plan. Rebekah affected change within her scope of influence and God nudged doors open on her behalf. Today Rebekah has a strong voice among the church leadership in her country and others hold her in high regard. Rebekah wields great influence within the national movement and holds a place of high esteem among those she serves. Against all odds, Rebekah participates on a level of leadership few women ever achieve.


Time and space fail to contain the voices of African women and their colorful, diverse “herstories.” The daughters of Africa choose each day to step over hurdles of poverty, vulnerability and dependence.  These women have determined to assert themselves and to earn the right to participate in their families, societies and churches. They are self-aware and self-leading women who are capable and courageous. Each day, the odds are against them. African women acknowledge and understand the hurdles of their culture and context, but refuse to give up and quit. Rather, it seems the obstacles ignite determination for African ladies advance toward creative genius and inspiring ingenuity. African ladies are relentless in their commitment to creating a bright future for their daughters. The women of Africa face tremendous difficulties, but they are strong and possess the courage to challenge their environment, meet needs, and take opportunities to lead. Progress is undeniable, as hairline cracks emerge in the African patriarchal culture. The steady, unrelenting pressure to recognize the equality of women bears down on African patriarchal context, and evidence of a societal shift is undeniable. Africa’s daughters call out for their opportunity to participate equally, and they will not be silenced.


1Anjana Narayan, “Matrilineal Society," Britannica, accessed January 22, 2016, http://www.britannica.com/topic/matrilineal-society.

2Maria Nzomo, “Women and Political Governance in Africa: A Feminist Perspective,” Pathways to African Feminism and Development, accessed January 25, 2016, http://journals.uonbi.ac.ke/index.php/aws/article/view/1336

3Chris Obbo, “Dominate Male Ideology and Female Options: Three East African Case Studies,” Cambridge University Press, accessed January 25, 2016, http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7902617.

4World Bank, "Improving Gender Equality In Africa,” World Bank, accessed January 25, 2016, http://www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/brief/improving-gender-equality-in-africa.

5UN Women, "Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment,” UN Women, accessed January 25, 2016, http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures.



8Jendayi Frazer, “Topical Review Digest: Human Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa,” January 22, 2016, accessed January 25, 2016, http://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/africa/HRinSubSaharanAfrica.pdf.

9UN Women.


11Fiona Keating, “Profile of Graça Machel, Nelson Mandela’s Third Wife,” International Business Times, accessed January 25, 2016, http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/graca-machel-nelson-mandela-widow-guerilla-fighter-528291.

12Administracao Conselho, “Graça Simbine Machel," FDC, accessed January 26, 2016, https://fdc.org.mz.

13The Elders, "Graça Machel Biograhy," The Elders, accessed January 25, 2016, http://theelders.org/graca-machel.

14Faith Karimi, “Nelson Mandela: 10 Things to Know About His Wife, Graça Machel,” CNN, accessed January 26, 2016, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/14/world/africa/graca-machel-10-things/.


Conselho, Administracao. “Grace Simbine Machel." FDC. Accessed January 26, 2016. https://fdc.org.mz.

The Elders. "Graça Machel Biography." The Elders. Accessed January 25, 2016. http://theelders.org/graca-machel

Frazer, Jendayi. “Human Rights in Sub-Saharan Africa.” Topical Review Diges. Accessed January 22, 2016. http://www.du.edu/korbel/hrhw/researchdigest/africa/HRinSubSaharanAfrica.pdf.

Karimi, Faith. “Nelson Mandela: 10 Things To Know About His Wife, Graça Machel.” Accessed January 26, 2016. http://edition.cnn.com/2013/12/14/world/africa/graca-machel-10-things/.

Keating, Fiona. "Profile of Graça Machel, Nelson Mandela's Third Wife." International Business Times. Accessed January 25, 2016.  https://www.ibtimes.co.uk/graca-machel-nelson-mandela-widow-guerilla-fighter-528291

Narayan, Anjana. “Matrilineal Soceity." Britannica. Accessed January 22, 2016. http://www.britannica.com/topic/matrilineal-society.

Nzomo, Maria. “Women and Political Governance in Africa: A Feminist Perspective.” Pathways to African Feminism and Development. Accessed January 25, 2016.  http://journals.uonbi.ac.ke/index.php/aws/article/view/1336

Obbo, Chris. “Dominate Male Ideology and Female Options: Three East African Case Studies.” Cambridge University Press. Accessed January 25, 2016. http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=7902617.

Smith, David. “Mandela’s Widow Graca Machele Speaks of Her Loss for the First Time,” The Guardian. Accessed January 25, 2016. http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/jun/27/mandela-widow-graca-machel-speaks-loss-first-time.

 “UN Women. Facts and Figures: Economic Empowerment,” UN Women. Accessed January 25, 2016. http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/economic-empowerment/facts-and-figures.

“World Bank. Improving Gender Equality In Africa.” Accessed January 25, 2016. http://www.worldbank.org/en/region/afr/brief/improving-gender-equality-in-africa.





Loralie Crabtree






Painful Experiences

Growing Feminism in the Pew


Focus on Mission

Teach the Congregation

Embrace a Pentecostal Theology





Research conducted in 2011 by the Barna Group shows that for the first time in twenty years American women are leaving the church. Women’s attendance decreased by eleven percentage points since 1991; only forty-four percent of American women now attend church services.1 This means a majority of American women no longer attend church.

The Barna Group is not alone in its findings. Sociologists at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln discovered that although church attendance rates have remained relatively steady over the past thirty years, “sizeable shifts have occurred within traditionally reliable churchgoing groups,”2 including diminishing numbers of women. However, this trend does not indicate that women abandon faith in Christ. The numbers of women professing to be born-again Christians, acknowledging that salvation is the confession of one’s sins and acceptance of Jesus Christ as Savior, actually rose from thirty-eight percent in 1991 to forty-four percent twenty years later.3


Reasons for women’s exodus are as varied as women themselves. In addition to research organizations such as the Barna Group, sociologists and authors have explored the phenomenon. Prominent themes that surfaced in research of this paper include the church’s sexist treatment of and rhetoric regarding women, painful encounters women have endured in the church, and the increasing influence of feminism and its resulting equality for women in spheres outside the church.


Dan Kimball’s book, They Like Jesus but Not the Church, examines six reoccurring sentiments Kimball hears from young adults regarding their departure from church. One of the six predominant reasons is young adults’ perception, “The church is dominated by males and oppresses females.”4 Author Diana Butler Bass also notes young adults’ opinions in her book, Christianity After Religion. She speaks of the smoldering discontent of young evangelicals at odds with the church’s views on women among other issues.5 A young woman interviewed by Kimball states, “I feel the church is very sexist, yet I don’t believe that Jesus was sexist. From what I have observed, women in the church basically sit on the sidelines and are only able to work with children, answer the phones, be secretaries, and serve the men. They seem to be given no voice.”6 On any given Sunday in many American churches, one will observe male ministers, worship leaders, and ushers leading the service. A glance at the bulletin may reveal all male names listed as deacons and elders. Kimball surmises, “As people outside of the church look at us, many think of us as a boys’ club, concluding that the church teaches that females are not as valued and respected as men are. This conclusion keeps many people away who might otherwise trust the church enough to enter into community with us.”7

In many churches, women are socially conditioned and overtly taught to submit to the exclusive male leadership of the church and the home. When women (and men) assert more egalitarian concepts, or simply ask why women are not allowed to serve in leadership capacities, they are often sharply rebuked, resulting in heated arguments with both sides using Scripture as the basis of their conclusions. Carolyn Custis James, in her book, Half the Church, remarks,

Word of this ongoing battle (and other disputes in the church) is leaking out to a watching world. This makes an unappealing impression on women outside the church. Instead of being intrigued and drawn by a community where loving one another is the reigning distinctive, they are repelled by all the infighting and the expectation that the world will grow smaller for them when they step inside. The church seems out of touch and irrelevant at points to the normal lives of Western women.8

Women with advanced degrees and significant accomplishments in the secular workplace encounter huge culture shock if and when they migrate to church. Without opportunity for expression of their knowledge and gifts, some women leave. “How would you feel if you were capable of leading, thinking, guiding, shaping, and forming a spiritual community but were denied the opportunity to do so? This experience leads some women to walk away from the church, Christianity, and in some cases, God.”9

Painful Experiences

Painful encounters with churchgoers and leaders also influence how a person perceives Christianity. Authors Dave Kinnaman and Gabe Lyons discovered that one-fifth of all those outside the church, regardless of age, admitted they “had a bad experience in a church or with a Christian that gave them a negative image of Jesus Christ.”10 This represents nearly fifty million adults who admit they have significant emotional or spiritual baggage from past experiences with so-called Christ followers.11 George Barna echoes this concern as he observes reasons for a growing hostility toward Christianity, “… so many people have had a personally significant negative experience with a Christian church or individual that left them with a negative image of Jesus Christ.”12

For women, these painful experiences are often sexist in nature. Jim Henderson details the stories of women who left church, some of whom left faith altogether, in his book, The Resignation of Eve. In the book, he recounts story after painful story of spiritual, and sometimes physical, abuse heaped on women all in the name of religion.

Growing Feminism in the Pew

In the book American Grace, professors Robert D. Putnam and David E. Campbell conclude that people in the pew have moved increasingly toward feminist conclusions. “In both occupational and normative terms the feminist revolution of the last generation swept as rapidly through the ranks of religious men and women, including evangelicals, as it did through the ranks of secular Americans.”13 The Faith Matters Survey of 2006 shows that most religious Americans believe women should have more roles in church, including pulpit ministry. “In this sense, most Americans today are religious feminists.”14 Phil Zuckerman, author of Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion, says women he interviewed who abandoned faith did so at a point in their lives when they were, perhaps for the first time, “in control of their own destinies.”15 As a result of feminism, women have experienced more equality in the workplace and academy, and expect the same equality in the church.


Focus on Mission

First and foremost, the church must clarify its mission to seek and save the lost, the primary mission of Jesus.16 This mission must compel the church to consider how it comes across to women, particularly those of emerging generations. If women are repelled from Jesus because of many churches’ sexist rhetoric and behaviors, the Church must examine at what expense it champions the subordination of women. Misapplication of Scripture leads to an end result other than what God intends, the salvation of those who do not yet know Christ. The Holy Spirit grieves when Jesus’ followers misrepresent him to the world. “Without at all intending it and with the best of intentions, many churches by lacking female perspective in leadership may be limiting the effectiveness or reach of the work God intends for them to do.”17 Mission must trump personal preferences and traditions.

Teach the Congregation

In addition to church’s review of its mission, pastors need to teach their congregations clear explanations of difficult texts in Scripture that seem to limit women’s roles. “Because many in our emerging culture don’t go to a church, they don’t really build friendships with pastors and church leaders. But they do meet other Christians.”18 Pastors need to pass along their knowledge regarding difficult texts to laypersons who in turn can adequately explain passages such 1 Timothy 2:11-12 to peers who think the Bible oppresses women.

Embrace a Pentecostal Theology

Last, a Pentecostal theology proves empowering for women worldwide. Pulitzer Prize winners Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn contend, “It is particularly crucial to incorporate Pentecostalism into a movement for women’s rights around the globe, because it is gaining ground more quickly than any other faith. … Without a doubt it has a positive impact on the role of women.”19 Our Pentecostal theology encourages the participation of all members in the worship service and in ministry at large based on one’s gifts regardless of gender, including preaching and leading.


At first glance, the departure of women from the American church can prove disheartening. The statistics call for a serious review of churches’ sexist rhetoric and treatment of women and their impact upon fulfillment of the Church’s mission. Church leadership needs to consider advancements women have made outside the Church, and review if they have kept stride or fallen behind cultural trends. Churches should exegete their surrounding cultures and consider how their teachings and traditions repel or draw women to Jesus. However, Pentecostal churches, which fully embrace and employ women’s gifts, stand poised not only to reach women for Christ, but also launch them into effective, gifts-based Kingdom work. This pleases the heart of God who made men and women in his image and bestows gifts upon all reflecting him to the world.


1“20 Years of Surveys Show Key Differences in the Faith of America’s Men and Women,” Barna Research Group, https://www.barna.com/research/20-years-of-surveys-show-key-differences-in-the-faith-of-americas-men-and-women (accessed May 15, 2012).

2“Study: U.S. Church Attendance Steady, but Makeup of Churchgoers Changes,” University of Nebraska, http://newsroom.unl.edu/releases/2010/04/12/Study%3A+U.S.+church+attendance+steady,+but+makeup+of+churchgoers+changes (accessed June 1, 2012).

3Barna Research Group (accessed May 15, 2012).

4Dan Kimball, They Like Jesus but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007), 115.

5Diana Butler Bass, Christianity after Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening (New York: HarperOne, 2012), 80.

6Kimball, 115.


8Carolyn Custis James, Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011), 159.

9Jim Henderson, The Resignation of Eve: What If Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church’s Backbone? (Austin, TX: Barna Books, 2012), 3.

10David Kinnaman, and Gabe Lyons, UnChristian: What a New Generation Really Thinks About Christianity … and Why It Matters (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007), 31.

11Kinnaman and Lyons, 31-32.

12George Barna, Futurecast: What Today’s Trends Mean for Tomorrow’s World (Austin, TX: Barna Books, 2011), 15.

13Robert D. Putnam, and David E. Campbell, American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us (New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010), 241.

14Ibid., 242.

15Phil Zuckerman, Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion (New York: Oxford University Press, 2012), 114.

16Luke 19:10

17Shaunti Feldman, as interviewed in, “Churches Lose Strength When Women are Excluded in Leadership,” by Ronald E. Keener, http://churchexecutive.com/archives/churches-lose-strength-when-women-are-excluded-in-leadership (accessed June 4, 2012).

18Kimball, 127.

19Nicholas D. Kristof, and Sheryl WuDunn, Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide (New York: Alfred A. Knopp, 2009), 143.



Barna, George. Futurecast: What Today’s Trends Mean for Tomorrow’s World. Austin, TX: Barna Books, 2011.

Bass, Diana Butler. Christianity After Religion: The End of Church and the Birth of a New Spiritual Awakening. New York: HarperOne, 2012.

Henderson, Jim. The Resignation of Eve: What If Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church’s Backbone? Austin, TX: Barna Books, 2012.

James, Carolyn Custis. Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2011.

Keener, Ronald E. "Churches Lose Strength When Women are Excluded in Leadership," ChurchExecutive, http://churchexecutive.com/archives/churches-lose-strength-when-women-are-excluded-in-leadership (accessed June 4, 2012).

Kinnaman, David, and Gabe Lyons. UnChristian: What a New Generation Thinks About Christianity…and Why It Matters. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2007.

Kimball, Dan. They Like Jesus, but Not the Church: Insights from Emerging Generations. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Kristof, Nicholas D., and Sheryl WuDunn. Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide.

Putnam, Robert D., and David E. Campbell. American Grace: How Religion Divides and Unites Us. New York: Simon & Schuster, 2010.

“Study: U.S. Church Attendance Steady, but Makeup of Churchgoers Changes,” University of Nebraska, http://newsroom.unl.edu/releases/2010/04/12/Study%3A+U.S.+church+attendance+steady,+but+makeup+of+churchgoers+changes (accessed June 1, 2012).

“Twenty Years of Surveys Show Key Differences in the Faith of America’s Men and Women,” Barna Research Group, https://www.barna.com/research/20-years-of-surveys-show-key-differences-in-the-faith-of-americas-men-and-women  (accessed May 15, 2012).

Zuckerman, Phil. Faith No More: Why People Reject Religion. New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.







Jodi Detrick






With mobility on the rise globally, some might think that women who consider travel an integral part of their service to the Lord only a recent phenomenon. But almost from the time Eve journeyed with Adam out of Eden, women have been on the move in response to what they believed God wanted for their lives.

In Genesis 7:7, one of the earliest biblical accounts is given of a woman who left her home at God’s prompting. Likely at the urging of her husband, Noah’s wife was willing to go on the first “cruise” without prior evidence that such a remarkable journey was necessary, or even possible. Because of her courage and obedience, one could surmise she became the second mother of all humanity (since she was the mother of Shem, Ham, and Japheth). In Genesis 8:16, God said to Noah, “Go out of the ark, you and your wife, and your sons and your sons' wives with you.”1 When God said, “Go out,” He was speaking to Noah’s wife, as well as to Noah. She went and, as a result, was part of the original fresh start. Lot’s wife, on the other hand, seemed to prefer to stay put in the wicked city of Sodom, even when judgment was imminent, and suffered the consequences (Gen. 19:26).

Escaping from judgment was not the only reason women of the Old Testament were on the move. Abraham was seventy-five years old when he left Haran because of God’s command, but he did not go alone. Genesis 12:5 says, “Then Abram took Sarai his wife … and all their possessions that they had gathered … and they departed to go to the land of Canaan.” Somehow Abraham realized God’s promise of blessing all the families of the earth through him involved partnering with his wife, Sarah. God confirmed that in Genesis 17:15-16 when He said, “As for Sarai your wife, you shall not call her name Sarai, but Sarah shall be her name. And I will bless her and also give you a son by her; then I will bless her, and she shall be a mother of nations; kings of peoples shall be from her.”

The story of Rebekah adds a new twist to the traveling women of the Old Testament. Up until her story is told, the record consists mostly of wives who were trekking with their husbands. Rebekah is the first single female who leaves her home to travel a great distance in response to God’s unfolding plan. Another unique thing in this account is the apparent volition she had regarding whether or not to go with the servant who was seeking a wife for Abraham’s son, Isaac. Genesis 24:57-58 says, “So they said, ‘We will call the young woman and ask her personally.’ Then they called Rebekah and said to her, ‘Will you go with this man?’ And she said, ‘I will go.’”

Women continued to say “I will go” throughout the pages of the Old Testament. When Miriam went to the water’s edge to see what would become of her little brother who was floating in a basket on the Nile, she asked Pharaoh’s daughter (who had drawn him out of the water) if she should go find a Hebrew nurse. Genesis 2:8 says, “And Pharaoh’s daughter said to her, “Go.” So the maiden went and called the child’s mother.” One might wonder if this smaller scale rescue mission which required Miriam to go might have been preparation for her much larger role of going as a leader in the Exodus years later.

One of the weightier Old Testament accounts of a woman who traveled for God’s purposes is of the great female leader, Deborah, who served as a judge over the nation of Israel prior to the time of its becoming a monarchy. In the fourth chapter of Judges, Israel is being oppressed by the Canaanite king, Jabin, and his commander, Sisera. In her role as leader and the prophet who spoke for God, Deborah instructed Barak to lead an army out against Sisera, promising him God would grant victory. But even with this promise of success, Barak had a request of Deborah. Judges 4:4-10 gives the details:

And Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go!” So, she said, “I will surely go with you; nevertheless there will be no glory for you in the journey you are taking, for the LORD will sell Sisera into the hand of a woman.” Then Deborah arose and went with Barak to Kedesh. And Barak called Zebulun and Naphtali to Kedesh; he went up with ten thousand men under his command, and Deborah went up with him.

One can only imagine what faith and courage it must have taken for Deborah, likely the only woman among ten thousand men, to go riding out to face the Canaanite army with its fierce commander, Sisera (As Deborah predicted, he met his end at the hands of a woman, Jael). Another noteworthy factor in this story is the first time we see a married woman (Deborah was the wife of Lapidoth), who also identified herself as a mother in Israel (Judg. 5:7), traveling on God’s mission in the company of a man who was not her husband. The quest was a great success and the armies of Jabin were defeated granting Israel forty years of peace, all because one woman was willing to go, trusting God despite the risk of great personal loss.

A look at traveling women of faith in the Old Testament would not be complete without remembering Ruth, the Moabitess, who left native soil to travel with her Jewish mother-in-law, Naomi, back to Israel. These two widows would incur great jeopardy as they journeyed alone between Moab and Bethlehem. The trip, which was approximately seventy-five miles, would likely take them at least seven to ten days. Even when urged by her mother-in-law to turn back (as her sister-in-law, Orpah, had done), Ruth was determined to follow Naomi on this precarious passage to a new homeland.

Although Ruth’s words are often quoted in present-day wedding ceremonies, her story marks one of the first times we see a woman traveling out of pure devotion, affection, and loyalty to another of the same gender. “But Ruth replied, ‘Don't ask me to leave you and turn back. I will go wherever you go and live wherever you live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God’” (Ruth 1:16 NLT). For Ruth to claim Naomi’s God as her own suggests the strong spiritual influence her mother-in-law must have had on her. For this woman, and for this God, Ruth was willing to go anywhere.

There are numerous other Old Testament women for whom life, faith, and travel intersected. Some, like Esther and the little captive servant girl to the wife of Naaman, the Syrian leper, were taken to unfamiliar places, likely against their will. Still they managed to make a positive, life-giving difference in their strange, new settings.

When it comes to the New Testament, there are those who have tried to make a biblical case against women who travel for ministry purposes from Titus 2:4-5 which says, “… admonish the young women to love their husbands, to love their children, to be discreet, chaste, homemakers, good, obedient to their own husbands, that the word of God may not be blasphemed.” The King James Version of that verse uses the phrase, “keepers at home” which some have taken to mean women should be kept at home. However, not all Christian women were, or are, wives or mothers (in fact, Paul encouraged celibacy for young virgin women living under the distress of persecution). This verse cannot be taken as a universal command for all women believers to be stay-at-home homemakers. The evidences in the New Testament that women were not only allowed, but sometimes called, to travel as an expression of their faith and obedience to God are plentiful.

Starting with Mary, many New Testament women were travelers. The young, unwed mother of the unborn Jesus felt compelled to leave home and make the two-hundred-mile round trip to see her older cousin, Elizabeth, because the angel had revealed she, too, was with child. Somehow, Mary’s expression of trust in what God had disclosed prompted her to go and connect with her mentor and encourager, Elizabeth, instead of just staying home and waiting for Jesus to be born.

As Jesus grew into manhood and began his own public ministry, both male and female disciples traveled with him. Luke 8:1-3 (NIV) makes that clear:

After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Cuza, the manager of Herod's household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.

How encouraging for women whose ministry call requires travel to know Jesus included women in His traveling ministry. He and the twelve relied on them and accepted the help of their presence, as well as their financial assistance. Several of these women had a sordid past—they were formerly broken in character, spirit, and/or body. But He had made them whole and now they journeyed with Him. Some of these women must have been financially well off to be able to “support them out of their own means.” Joanna would have been a woman of some social standing, being married to the manager of Herod’s household. Married and single, outcasts and prominent, rich and poor … the women in Jesus’ ministry entourage were from across the whole social strata. He welcomed each of them to be a participant of His itinerant ministry throughout Judea.

In the Early Church, there are more examples of women who used their mobility as a means of service to God. Priscilla (who was likely the more prominent leader of this couple) traveled with her husband, Aquila, and together they accompanied Paul on at least one leg of a missionary journey (see Acts 18:1). Priscilla was not just a wise teacher of the gospel and a house church leader; she was also one who would journey for that same gospel.

Phoebe, a deacon/minister in the Early Church was called upon to travel for ministry. In their book, God’s Women Then and Now, authors Deborah Gill and Barbara Cavaness state, “Phoebe was the letter carrier of the epistle to the Romans. As such she was given great responsibility—as Paul’s forerunner to Rome.”2 Indeed, it was no small thing to be given the task of extensive travel for the purpose of delivering a letter to a church where Paul had never been … a letter which would later become part of the cannon of Scripture.

In 1 Corinthians 9, Paul is making a defense of his apostleship when he states in verse 5, “Do we have no right to take along a believing wife, as do also the other apostles, the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas?” From this, we can infer it was the norm, not the exception, that the wives of the apostles traveled with them in ministry.

Even with the weight of biblical precedence for women who traveled in response to their faith in God, it took some time for most missionary societies in the nineteenth century to approve the sending of single females as missionaries in their own right. Valorie Griffiths writes:

Most missionary societies were still strongly opposed to sending single women out alone. In 1834, most unmarried women in Britain had to live under the protection of their families until they were married, and it was unthinkable that they should live alone overseas; … . If a woman felt called to go overseas, the only solution was to find a husband similarly called. … There was a further difficulty: at that time “missionaries” were by definition men, and mostly ordained men. Women could not be missionaries, even if, when their husbands died, they continued their work for several decades afterwards.3

Yet many women of that era persisted in responding to God’s call to missionary service, which included dangerous overseas travel, often fulfilling the role without wearing the title. In China alone, the effect of these women who were willing to journey for God was very significant. Griffiths says, “By 1900 there were two missionary women in China for every man, and their work among Chinese women was crucial for the growth of the church. In the process, these Western women were liberated from Victorian customs and expectation; they found themselves gifted for work in teaching and evangelism which would have been impossible in their churches at home.”4

Notwithstanding the solid biblical basis for women who travel for God’s purposes, there are also cautions about the matter, both from Scripture and history, which should not be ignored. Not every traveling woman in the Bible was on a noble mission. Jezebel’s journeys (1 Kings 18 – 2 Kings 9, selected verses) were for the purpose of destroying the true prophets of God. In describing a harlot, Solomon writes, “She was loud and rebellious; her feet would not stay at home” (Prov. 7:11). In the New Testament, Paul writes about a tendency among some of the younger widows supported by the church: “And besides they learn to be idle, wandering about from house to house, and not only idle but also gossips and busybodies, saying things which they ought not (1 Tim. 5:13).” Being a gadabout was not godly journeying.

Further, there were dangers associated with travel, even for a married woman who was accompanying her husband. Sarah found that out when she caught the eye of the local king, Abimelech, as they were passing through his territory. He took her to be one of his wives until God intervened and delivered her from sexual assault (Gen. 20:2-18). Likewise, Boaz told Ruth to stay close to his own workers in the field to protect her from attack (Ruth 2:21-22).

The danger of sexual temptation is also a hazard that must not be ignored, especially considering those times when both genders travel together for ministry. Among Early Church women and medieval Christians, syneisaktism (which is virginity for the purpose of freedom to travel in ministry) was often practiced. Many devout young women chose singleness in order to be free to travel and perform acts of charity because they felt God’s calling to do so.

In some forms, syneisaktism also meant that celibate couples could cohabitate (even to the point of sharing the same bed) in a “spiritual marriage” or “chaste marriage” that excluded sexual intimacy as an ascetic discipline. Needless to say, this practice which was denounced by most Early Church fathers often led to the exact opposite of its intended result and was disapproved by many church councils. Bullough and Brundage write, “The arrangement seems often to have degenerated into a form of clerical concubinage, a cause for scandal and sin.”5

In more modern times, some itinerant female ministers have also fallen prey to sexual temptation. In her day (the early turn of the twentieth century), it is hard to imagine anyone who was more popular with the masses and who did more traveling for ministry than Foursquare Church founder and evangelist, Aimee Semple McPherson. She and her mother were the first women to drive across the continental United States (in a 1912 Packard) unaccompanied by a male. Her Spirit-filled messages (though often dramatic and flamboyant) were solidly biblical and her works of charity were undeniable. She was a woman of broad influence, both in the church world and in society in general. Yet she spent many of the last years of her ministry under the cloud of sexual scandal when it was charged that she faked a kidnapping (at first she was thought to have drowned) in order to have time for an adulterous tryst with her married lover, Kenneth G. Ormiston.

Still, the preponderance of evidence shows it is possible for women to maintain their integrity while traveling in ministry, whether they do it with or without male counterparts. Kathryn Cory, a minister to college students through Chi Alpha addresses some very important gender and ministry issues in an article for the Ministry Direct website. She writes:

By creating an oversensitivity to one’s interactions with the opposite sex because of the potential for temptation, each member of the opposite sex is viewed as a possible source of sexual sin and effectively objectified. Consequently, as every interaction with the opposite sex is sexualized, the temptation to sin is actually increased, engendering the behavior that the current system of boundaries is designed to restrict. Furthermore, if sexual sin does occur, the reaction is often to enact more boundaries, rather than an addressing of the true heart of the matter: blind-spots regarding gender, sex, and sexuality. This is neither healthy for anyone nor fair to women.6

Kathryn goes on to give some great practical advice on this matter. She suggests instead of creating rigid boundaries (like never ride in a car with a person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse or relative), each person and each potential interaction must be considered in a unique context. There is no “one-size-fits-all” in this matter. But while she cautions against private meetings with those who are unstable, she encourages both male and female ministers to intentionally engage in appropriate interaction with the opposite sex while actively guarding themselves through transparency and accountability.

Thankfully, we do not have to look far to find examples of godly women travelers who have a stellar track record when it comes to both ministry and personal integrity. Early female Pentecostal missionaries like Lillian Trasher, Alice Luce, and Anna Richards-Scoble were pioneers, paving the way for women who would receive a calling to missions. In the middle to late twentieth century, women like Corrie ten Boom and Joni Earkeckson Tada traveled extensively, bringing a message of hope to hundreds of thousands of men and women around the globe.

More recently, God has raised up an army of female travelers who regularly leave their homes to minister for Him. Some of their names are well-known in the wider body of Christ: Joyce Meyer, Beth Moore, Ruth Graham Lotz, and Jennifer Rothschild. Others within our own ranks in the Assemblies of God, like Beth Grant, Carolyn Tennant, Deborah Gill, and Alicia Chole, are role models for thousands of young women who offer their mobility, along with their hearts, in service to God.

This gets very personal for me when I think of the advice given to my own daughter a few years back. Jana, who had just completed college and earned her ministry degree, was told by a well-meaning pastor’s wife that she should stay home and not pursue ministry until she found a husband. Thankfully, because Jana knows the Word of God and has examples like the ones mentioned above, she disregarded this counsel. She is now a 26-year-old ordained Assemblies of God minister who has touched many lives for Jesus as a result of her willingness to go wherever God calls her, which includes a great deal of travel. She serves alongside her male colleagues, both single and married, in a healthy setting where her voice is respected and her ministry valued.

As I think about all those who have journeyed for God down through the centuries, I wonder what it would have been like to hear the song of the returning travelers, Deborah and Barak, as they sang of triumph in the fifth chapter of Judges. To me, their ballad represents the beautiful and powerful duet produced when both genders are willing to go forth and minister together in harmony. I think each mile traversed this way is music to a hurting world’s ears.


1All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise noted, are from the King James Version.

2Deborah Gill and Barbara Cavaness, God’s Women Then and Now (Springfield, MO: Grace & Truth Publishers, 2004), 111.

3Valerie Griffiths, Not Less Than Everything: The Courageous Women Who Carried the Christian Gospel to China (Oxford, UK: Monarch Books, 2004), 16.

4Ibid., 10.

5Vern Bullough and James Brundage, eds., Handbook of Medieval Sexuality: A Book of Essays (USA: Routledge Publishers, 1996), 105.

6Kathryn Cory, “Moving Beyond the Current Culture of Boundaries: Developing Healthy, Appropriate, and Biblical Relationships with the Opposite Sex,” Ministry Direct (accessed October 13, 2009).


Blumhofer, Edith L. Aimee Semple McPherson: Everybody’s Sister. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1993.

Bullough, Vern and James Brundage, eds. Handbook of Medieval Sexuality: A Book of Essays. USA: Routledge Publishers, 1996.,

Cory, Kathryn. “Moving Beyond the Current Culture of Boundaries: Developing Healthy, Appropriate, and Biblical Relationships with the Opposite Sex.” Ministry Direct (accessed October 13, 2009).

Cross, F. L., and E. A. Livingstone, eds. Dictionary of the Christian Church. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1997.

Dunn, James D. G. The Theology of Paul the Apostle. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1998.

Fee, Gordon D. Paul, the Spirit, and the People of God. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.

______. God’s Empowering Presence: The Holy Spirit in the Letters of Paul. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1994.

Gill, Deborah, and Barbara Caveness. God’s Women Then and Now. Springfield, MO: Grace and Truth Publishers, 2004.

Griffiths, Valerie. Not Less Than Everything: The Courageous Women Who Carried the Gospel to China. Oxford, UK: Monarch Books, 2004.

Hassey, Janette. No Time for Silence: Evangelical Women in Public Ministry Around the Turn of the Century. Minneapolis: Christians for Biblical Equality, 1986.

Ladd, George Eldon. A Theology of the New Testament. Rev. ed. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing, 1993.







Loralie A Crabtree





A Reform Jewish Rabbi

Kathy Pulley

Ruth Burgess

A Prominent Local Southern Baptist Minister

An Assemblies of God Ministry Student





Lessons Learned






Rosaria Champagne Butterfield, a former lesbian feminist university professor who became a Christian and Presbyterian minister’s wife, experienced profound personal transformation when a kind and hospitable Christ-follower encouraged her to question her worldview. Before her conversion to Christianity, Butterfield concluded that Christians were ignorant and indoctrinated, quick to throw Bible verses into a conversation, but unable to engage at a deep, intellectual level. The perceived hatred of the Religious Right toward her lesbian lifestyle galvanized her opinions about Christians and prompted her to write a newspaper article critical of the Promise Keepers movement, a men’s organization that affirms biblical patriarchy. She garnered both hate mail and fan mail in response to the article; but one letter from a Presbyterian pastor caught her attention and made her uncomfortable. She writes, “It was a kind and inquiring letter. Ken Smith encouraged me to explore the kind of questions I admire: How did you arrive at your interpretations? How do you know you are right? Do you believe in God?”1 The pastor did not argue with her article, but simply asked her to defend her presuppositions. Unexpectedly and uncomfortably, she was confronted with a “worldview divide that demanded a response.”2

Pastor Ken Smith did not mock Butterfield’s stance, but engaged it, inviting her to join him and his wife, Floy, for dinner. She accepted the invitation thinking the conversation could contribute to her research. Over the next two years, a friendship developed in which Butterfield felt safe to have frank discussions. She recalls, “They entered my world. They met my friends. We did book exchanges. We talked openly about sexuality and politics. They did not act as if such conversations were polluting them.”3 She began to read the Bible and started to wonder if Jesus is truly the resurrected Christ. On her own accord, she eventually began to attend Smith’s church and grew to question her lesbian identity. She describes her conversion, “Then, one ordinary day, I came to Jesus, openhanded and naked. In this war of worldviews, Ken was there. Floy was there. … Jesus triumphed.”4

Butterfield’s story beautifully exemplifies how one’s worldview can change, or how one can contribute to the formation of another person’s worldview, when thoughtful and respectful dialogue occurs in a relationship of humility and mutuality toward the “other.” “Experiencing the other side is the heart of dialogue.”5

This paper will first examine the worldviews of five different individuals regarding feminist theology moving from the liberal to the conservative end of a wide religious spectrum. Next, a careful examination of contributing factors and constraints to these worldviews will take place, noting patterns and differences. Then I will share personal lessons gleaned and close with how I feel the Church should respond to feminist liberation theology.


A Reform Jewish Rabbi

Many different feminist theologies exist, including those of Caucasian, African-American, Asian, Hispanic and Jewish women. In discussing this diversity of theology with a seminary professor, she suggested I interview a local rabbi.6 I attended a Holocaust remembrance service at the Jewish temple where this rabbi presided and the professor introduced us. The rabbi graciously agreed to let me interview her later that week.

The rabbi, now a woman in her early 1960s, was raised in a Jewish home in Cleveland, Ohio. Her father was an Orthodox Jew, her mother a Reform Jew. Her grandmother who lived with them lit the Sabbath candles every Friday. The rabbi of the large synagogue in which she grew up was her hero, a man of scholarship, prayer, and kindness. The great Hebrew prophets always said, “Give to the orphan and take care of the hungry. Work for justice and peace.” She saw this in her rabbi’s social action as he marched with Martin Luther King, Jr., assisted with voter registration in Selma, Alabama, and experienced beatings by white supremacists. She considered him her role model and wanted to be a rabbi like him, even though women were not yet ordained as rabbis during her childhood.7

The rabbi I interviewed grew up in the 1950s and 1960s, a time when second-wave feminism contributed to seismic social changes in America, particularly in the 1960s and into the 1970s. Her formation during these unique years in American history as well as her upbringing in a socially-active Jewish synagogue contributed significantly to her feminist consciousness. She remembered as a little girl being asked in class, “How many of you would go to a ‘lady doctor?’”  None of the boys indicated they would and only a few girls replied affirmatively. At that same time in mid-twentieth-century American history, she observed that men had more privilege in marriage if a couple owned a home or had a bank account, to which she mused, “We still have a long way to go, but I’ve seen much progress.”8

As she grew into her adolescent and young adult years, she became aware of prominent feminists such as Betty Friedan, Shulamite Firestone, Germaine Greer, and later, Judith Plaskow—all of whom were Jewish. Her acquaintance with the feminist rhetoric and writing of that period, as well as a growing feminist self-identity, led her to a period of “anti-men” sentiment during her college years. She now reflects that she was immature at that time, and has since become more educated and subsequently more mature. The rabbi described herself as a rebel during college, attending Jewish religious services only on major holy days. She returned to liberal Reform Judaism with greater devotion in her late 1930s. Another contributor to the softening of her anti-men sentiment was falling in love, subsequent marriage (which ended in divorce), and the birth of her son whom she dearly loves.

To this rabbi, “feminism” exists as a positive word meaning that “women and men should have equal rights.”9 She reflects, “Feminism is not an unusual word to me; it doesn’t stand out. It’s a part of my vocabulary and of most of the people I know.” Even in ultra-orthodox Jewish traditions, she stated that women can study and be scholars. One such woman, Nehama Liebowitz, is one of her favorite writers. She pulled a Liebowitz book from her shelf and encouraged me to read it. She then explained to me the four major movements in Judaism: Orthodox, Conservative, Reform, and Reconstructionist, comparing this to the wide spectrum of theological opinion in the Christian church. Only ultra-orthodox strains such as Hasidic Judaism would encourage traditional, domestic roles for women and girls. All four branches of Judaism encourage women to pursue vocations; girls are brought up to go to college. In her local congregation, most of the people are highly educated: doctors, dentists, lawyers, and professors, some of whom I met the night I attended the Holocaust remembrance. The rabbi describes many of them as politically liberal, with which she also identifies.10

The rabbi trained at a five-year graduate-level rabbinic program at Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, so I asked her how she approaches hermeneutics. Hermeneutics often drive one’s scriptural conclusions and practice regarding gender issues, so I asked this question of the theologically trained interviewees. She said the Hebrew Bible is something dynamic, not only open to interpretation but demanding interpretation. Orthodox Jews interpret the Scriptures more literally (as do fundamentalist Christians); Reform Jews such as this rabbi see the Scriptures as having more “story” value, comparable to liberal Christians from mainline denominations. To her, Adam and Eve were not real persons, but mythology. She explains, “God has given that story to learn some things.”11 To me, it is unfortunate that she does not view even the Hebrew Bible as “a treatise on reality.”12

The rabbi cautioned that many Christians misinterpret Jesus’ place in First Century Judaism, especially when contrasted with the Pharisees. She has heard some Christian teachers assert that “the Jews looked down on women and Jesus didn’t,” to which she replied, “He wasn’t the only Jew in First Century Palestine. … To the Jews, Pharisees were intellectual heroes who brought holiness out of the Temple into daily life,”13 contributing to some of their restrictive attitudes toward women. She thinks these Jewish leaders are often misrepresented, prompting an unfortunate anti-Jewish bias among Christians.

I must admit I nearly always have heard Pharisees portrayed in a negative light starting with childhood flannel graph Sunday school lessons. The Pharisees were caricatured as mean-spirited with furrowed eyebrows and stones in hand. I have deciphered the words and actions of the Pharisees through my own church-conditioned lens. I do not think I have an anti-Jewish bias (my great-great-great grandmother, Rebecca Goldsberry, was Jewish), but I have espoused negative opinions about Pharisees, especially when I read first-century Pharisaical writings about women. Evangel professor and Hebrew scholar Wave Nunnally helped me understand Pharisees’ motivation, for it appears as legalistic holiness at first glance, as their prophetic call to shed sinful behaviors for which Israel experienced exile and was living under Roman oppression. Their religious pendulum may have swung toward legalism, but their motive was reform and repentance.

I noted the rabbi’s caution with respect. She added that the Sermon on the Mount, in this regard, was Pharisaical in nature. She recommended I read Pirkei Avot, also referred to as “The Ethics of the Fathers.” I felt her approach to the Pharisees served as her way of reconciling her feminist beliefs with their restrictive behavior and teachings regarding women, as well as her dismissal of Jesus as the divine Rabbi who uniquely stood apart from the others.

After a thought-provoking hour together, we concluded our conversation. I then made a faux pas for which I take ownership of my ignorance. I asked her to pray over me and my education; I was curious to hear a Jewish rabbi pray. She seemed befuddled and replied, “Well, uh, we don’t really do that.” I awkwardly responded, “Oh, okay. Would you speak a blessing?” She answered that she would gladly remember me when she gives thanks for people she has met. I felt foolish for having asked, but also respectfully realized that my evangelical expectations of prayer from a “clergyperson” differ from those of this rabbi.

Kathy Pulley

I knew I wanted to interview a feminist professor from Missouri State University (MSU), thinking this would be my most liberal interviewee.14 I perused the MSU web site and via email I contacted two different professors who teach gender studies in the religion department. Since my topic is feminist liberation theology, I really wanted to hear from an academic well acquainted with the intersection of religion and feminism. I heard back from Kathy Pulley who agreed to meet me at Starbucks. She turned out to be my favorite interviewee, the one with whose ideas I felt the most resonance.

Pulley has strong religious moorings in the Churches of Christ, the denomination of her upbringing. During childhood she was a tomboy, which was not discouraged by her family. She said, “They were always open to me doing what I wanted to do.”15 In her church youth group, progressive youth leaders encouraged her to speak up and ask questions as well as demonstrate leadership. She went on to complete her undergraduate degree at Southwest Missouri State University (now MSU) in Springfield, Missouri, and her graduate degree at Abilene Christian University (ACU). While at ACU, the dean of the Bible and theology division made a strategic recommendation that landed her a full-ride scholarship in the area of biblical studies. Pulley completed her Ph.D. studies at Boston University. She then went on to work in higher administration as the first woman in her field. As well, she was the first female professor in her MSU department; currently six of the twelve departmental faculty members are women.

Pulley defines feminism as “the full equality of women.”16 When I asked her what informs her definition she promptly replied, “Research informs it most of all.”17 She doesn’t see the need to associate the word only with the radical element. To Pulley, women’s rights fall under the category of human rights, and she asserts this is a fair way to talk about feminism “because it’s broad and encompasses every imaginable relationship either in religion or in various cultural contexts.”18 She associates the word feminism with confident women who have taken a position to promote women in the world. She even noted that some men are happy to say they are feminist with this understanding of the word. She said, “It’s been a word that’s been hijacked regrettably. It’s a good word that has carried through the last fifty years. It represents a lot of work done by a lot of women. I like the connections to the past and the work of these women.”19 She explained that some in academia further categorize feminism by first-wave, second-wave, and third-wave, denoting the respective historical periods of each. She said, “The suffragettes wouldn’t have used the word ‘feminism,’ but it has carried through all subsequent women’s movements; all had the same mission to say, ‘I count.’”20

As with other interviewees who had theological training, I probed Pulley’s hermeneutical approach. She noted that conservative Christian traditions quickly use selective passages to restrict women, but she feels, “One has to get outside those two passages, 1 Timothy 2:11-12 and 1 Corinthians 14:34. We’ve got to look at the Bible in a broader way than that. Most of us recognize that proof-texting may serve us occasionally but when educated in biblical language and cultural history, we have to back away and ask, what are the big issues?21 I grew excited when she further elaborated, “We have to expand our view of ethics. What are the higher principles that are intended to be communicated [by the Bible]?”22 She said that when one considers biblical languages, cultural contexts, and Kingdom ethics, seemingly restrictive texts such as those in 1 Timothy and 1 Corinthians “fall to the bottom of the list that should be providing the primary guidance.”23

Pulley feels restrictionists ignore some of these issues in the development of their views regarding women. She added, “I fully understand how they form that perspective; they assume that looking to the Bible only is what counts the most. It’s not a view that I think perpetuates an openness of the Scriptures speaking to every generation.”24 David Entwistle echoes this thought, “It is often the case that the unfolding of archeological, historical, and grammatical studies eventually lead to greater clarity regarding the meaning of Scripture in one period of time than was possible in another.”25

Pulley then explained how any worldview develops at a certain point in history; these worldviews are then perpetuated because of devoted followers. She used the Amish as an illustration of people who chose to draw a line at a specific time in history regarding their prohibition of modern technology including electricity. They could have drawn the line earlier, or later; and their prohibitions may have looked very different. “The restrictionists don’t see that the worldview they have was set at a certain point in history.”26 Echoing her principle-based hermeneutic, she emphasized, “You can never associate with anything that’s not based on the highest of principles which are inclusive; so, so inclusive. You really have to move away from Jesus to adopt those other positions [patriarchal, restrictionist] which are very much guided by culture,”27 to which she added, “Patriarchy comes from patriarchal cultures.”28

Since I knew little about the Churches of Christ, the denomination in which Pulley grew up and still worships, I asked her to tell me more about their beliefs and practice. A non-creedal association of autonomous churches, they prefer doctrine to be based on the Bible alone rather than historic church councils or denominational edicts. She said most Church of Christ congregations do not ordain women to serve as pastors, elders, or deacons, and they usually do not involve women in any public practice unless they teach a class together with their husbands. The congregation Pulley attends provides a little more flexibility; they involve women in public practice, but the other Churches of Christ do not acknowledge the congregation she attends.

Pulley’s continued participation in a denomination that does not explicitly support women in leadership surprised me at many levels since she champions women’s equality. She said that it is her “family,” and as a single woman she likes the enduring relationships she has with people in the congregation. As well, the congregation she attends in Springfield does permit women’s involvement in expanded roles, thus unacknowledged by the larger denomination. She also said her attitudes about weekly attendance have changed. Pulley serves as a nanny on most Sundays for her sister’s children. Her sister serves as a Disciples of Christ pastor, and her sister’s husband pastors yet another congregation. Pulley said, “I will not see myself as not being Church of Christ because I’m not there every week.”29

Pulley was generous with her time; we talked for well over an hour. As we closed our conversation, she invited me to take a graduate course that she will teach at MSU this fall called, “Powerful and Powerless: Women, Faith, and Religion.”

Ruth Burgess

Ruth Burgess is another woman a seminary professor recommended I interview because of Burgess’s perspectives as one raised in classical Assemblies of God Pentecostalism and who also actively countered sexism at a public university. I contacted Burgess through email; she then invited me to interview her at her home in the country. She is the wife of Stanley Burgess, a noted author and editor of Pentecostal volumes such as the Dictionary of Pentecostal and Charismatic Movements. Both Stan and Ruth taught at Evangel University and MSU; Stan also taught at the Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) and Regent University.

Ruth,30 now in her seventies, began to tell me about her upbringing, and I was quickly awed by the breadth of her life experiences. Colorful artifacts on display from world travels caught my eye as Ruth explained she was the daughter of Assemblies of God missionaries and spent her childhood in west India. I realized how her international upbringing and unique educational opportunities later in life contributed to her broad and multidimensional global worldview.

Burgess started with remembrances of childhood. She was the second child of her parents; her older brother died when he was only three months old. When she was born two years later, her father wrote a letter to his mother stating his disappointment that the new baby was not a son. Hindus believed that God was displeased with him since a son was taken from him and a daughter born in the son’s place. Ruth’s older sibling remained a “ghost brother” throughout her childhood; his birthday recognized by the family every year. Burgess positively noted that she and her father had a good relationship during her upbringing, but she feels these early experiences predisposed her to address gender discrimination issues later in her life.

Ruth was raised in classical Pentecostalism. Her mother, Estelle Barnett Vassar, was a first cousin to well-known Assemblies of God minister, Tommy Barnett, former evangelist and long-time pastor of Phoenix First Assembly of God.  Burgess describes her mother as an outgoing, vivacious, five-foot “holy roller” evangelist who sensed the will of God for her life in a small church in Electra, Texas, when she was just sixteen years old. Estelle heard the Lord say to her, “India. India.” A gifted preacher, Estelle who would pray and read the Bible all week in preparation for her sermons as contrasted with her husband who studied in a more methodical manner. Ruth said she could never understand people who did not like women preachers noting, “I saw people run to the altar when my mother preached.”31 Estelle started twelve churches before she married.

As was true of many early twentieth-century Pentecostals, Ruth’s parents were motivated to be busy with the Lord’s work in light of Jesus’ imminent return and spent many years as missionaries to India. They sometimes expressed their Pentecostalism though seemingly rigid expressions of holiness. Stanley was raised in a similar environment also as the child of Assemblies of God missionaries to India. Stan grew up in a predominately matriarchal region on the Malabar Coast of southern India. Ruth told me of these Indian “women communities” mostly inhabited by women and children. The men came at night and rang a bell if they wanted their conjugal rights. I had never heard of such places. She explained that these communities became increasingly patriarchal with the influence of western male missionaries.

After Stanley and Ruth married in 1960, they settled in Springfield, Missouri, where they raised their five children and began to pursue their professional careers. Stanley received much support from colleagues and superiors for his doctoral research and academic success. When Ruth decided to pursue doctoral studies, she did not feel the same support and the administration at Evangel University, where she taught, made her feel she was stepping out of her place. However, she was motivated to climb to a better pay scale so she and Stanley could afford to put their five children through college, so she pressed on to earn a Ph.D. in speech and language therapy with emphases on learning disabilities and educational research.

Ruth then began to teach at MSU. She noticed the school did not promote women to the rank of full professor as quickly as the male faculty even though they had taught the equivalent number of years as the men and had published as much research. Ruth made salary comparisons between the men and women, and noted the additional length of time it took for the women to move from assistant to associate to full professor. She told me, “The men rose faster even if the women had better qualifications.”32 She also discovered that some of the male faculty had sex with female students. When I asked how they got away with it, she replied, “Because the deans were doing it too.”33 She took this evidence to the university president who laughed at the research and took no action. These perceived injustices caused a group of female faculty who were already full professors to form the Women’s Issues Network (WIN). This group of women became known as the “infamous seven.”34 They did not include women who were not yet full professors for fear that these women would not get promoted or tenured. The Women’s Issues Network addressed gender discrimination at MSU and forged mentoring pairs with women faculty of lower rank to assist them in their vocational aspirations.

These activities took place in the 1970s, a time of social unrest in the American landscape as was also noted by the rabbi, when many kinds of discrimination—primarily racial and gender—stood at the forefront of American discussion and policy changes. Ruth reminded me that in 1972, Title IX (federal legislation prohibiting sex discrimination in educational institutions) was passed and put into action, and states received pressure to adopt the Equal Rights Amendment. In the spirit of her suffragette grandmothers, Ruth marched in parades supporting the Equal Rights Amendment.

Another formative experience for Ruth was the opportunity in 1981 to study in Israel under Reuven Feuerstein and his theory of structural cognitive modifiability. Some of Ruth’s doctoral research led her to explore metacognitive behaviors. After completion of her doctoral degree, she grew frustrated that no one at MSU wanted to join her in a research group, so her husband encouraged her to write two people in the world she most admired to ask for feedback about her research ideas. She wrote Feuerstein who responded with great enthusiasm that Ruth was on the cutting edge of research. Now 91 years old, Feuerstein remains one of the world’s leading cognitive psychologists who teaches on the brain’s plasticity and specializes in mediated learning.

Two years after Ruth’s inquiry, Feuerstein invited her to study under him in Israel during her sabbatical. Stan, Ruth, and their four youngest children lived in Jerusalem during this time, adding to her global worldview. Ruth’s studies and research also significantly helped her to understand new ways to teach, particularly children with learning disabilities, but also anyone needing to move from lower order to higher order thinking, including the students in her MSU classroom. For me, hearing Ruth talk about plasticity of the brain and mediated learning challenged my own worldview. Perhaps the manner in which I have taught and preached up to this point has not been the most effective means of communication for learner transformation.

Ruth graced me with her presence for two full hours. Her fascinating story illustrated to me the trajectory of growth and expansion of worldview that can take place in a person when he or she is well-traveled and remains a lifelong learner. As the oldest interviewee on my docket, Ruth also distinguished herself from among the others as having the most broad, global perspective. Although she has lived in southwest Missouri for over forty years, she thinks of herself as a citizen of the world. I hope to continue our conversation, as there is much more I could learn from her.

A Prominent Local Southern Baptist Minister

After three amazing interviews with women, I knew I needed to balance out my listening exercise with the addition of men’s perspectives. I also realized that the three women I interviewed each had a deeply developed feminist consciousness; so I went to the opposite end of the theological spectrum and sought a conservative man. With a little apprehension, I sent an email to the pastor of a large Southern Baptist congregation in Springfield, Missouri. Much to my surprise, he agreed to let me interview him on the topic of feminism. I must admit I felt nervous about this interview; I am an ordained female Assemblies of God minister scheduling an interview with a prominent male clergyperson whose denomination has some of the most restrictive views about female clergy in evangelicalism today. I simply identified myself as an AGTS student.

The day I interviewed the Baptist pastor proved to be a busy day for him. A prominent businessman who attended his church had unexpectedly died a few days prior; the pastor officiated the funeral that morning. When I arrived for my appointment in the early afternoon, a number of cars remained in the parking lot; but the pastor arrived on time and pleasantly greeted me. He introduced me to several administrative personnel as we made our way back to a nice seating arrangement in a vestibule area, with his administrative assistant just around the corner.

As I began to describe further to the pastor the nature of the interview, I felt him carefully assess my presence. Although courteous, he looked at me intently without blinking. I wondered if he thought I would be abrasive and confrontational, considering the topic at hand. I smiled and made polite eye contact with him, hoping to reassure him with non-verbal clues that I was just there to listen and not to prove a position opposite from his stance. He proved to be a perfect gentleman who answered my questions with thoughtful reflection.

I posed my first question, “How would you define feminism?” He identified it this way, “Feminism in the truest sense of the word is to improve the role of women in society.”35 He furthered elaborated that it is a “wide term”36 promoting the role of women. I asked what informs his definition and he replied, “I’ve observed it through the years.” I pleased me when he made a distinction between the generally understood definition of feminism and radical feminism, indicating to me that he did not lump all feminist activity in the same category. He identified radical feminism as having “negative connotations with a lot of people,” noting it as the “banner under which abortion and divorce laws have been approved and made easier.”37 He added, “It’s leaving devastation behind. Women are poorer and more abused than they ever have been,” but also affirmed that “certain parts of feminism are good.”38 He identified those good aspects as “equal pay for equal work and lifting the glass ceiling for women.”39 He further elaborated, “They [women] ought to have the right to any job, including CEO; and be treated with respect. They should be accepted for their role, for being a person of character and ability, not gender.”40 When I asked him if he was aware of first-wave, second-wave and third-wave feminism, he replied that he was not.

I then inquired about Southern Baptist teachings regarding women’s role in the church. He said of his denomination (which actually refers to itself as a convention), “We’re just like everybody else; we’re evolving.” I found this interesting since Southern Baptists retracted their ordination of women as pastors in the early 1980s. That does not seem like evolution to me—at least not in a positive sense, but I refrained from comment. However, I learned that Southern Baptist churches are non-creedal, just as the Churches of Christ. He gave me a copy of their “Baptist Faith and Message” (BF&M), which he said, “lets the world know what most of us believe.”41 When I reviewed the official Southern Baptist web site, I also learned that the “BF&M and resolutions are not binding upon local churches. Each church is responsible to prayerfully search the Scriptures and establish its own policy.”42 His church deviates positively in its position on women from more restrictive Southern Baptist churches.

At this local pastor’s church, women do not serve in any “governing” positions such as deacons and elders to which he commented, “We’re okay with that;”43 further elaborating that his denomination places “a lot of stock in women not exerting authority over a man.”44 But at his church, they expect deacon wives to serve with their husbands, co-teach Sunday school classes with their husbands, serve communion, and some women serve as staff pastors. He told me of one exceptional female staff pastor who was an excellent teacher. He asked her to preach from the pulpit, but she refused. “I would not be opposed to a woman preacher,” he noted; “I’m the rarity.”45 He reminded me that Philip of the New Testament had four daughters who were prophetesses, meaning, “They were all preachers. It’s as clear as the nose on your face,” and further elaborated, “The only way you wouldn’t allow a woman to preach is if you’ve predetermined it’s wrong. … Sometimes our biggest enemy is our own fear.”46

This local pastor’s church ordains women for ministry to children, youth, music, even chaplaincy; but will not ordain a woman to serve as a senior pastor “because of the statement on authority.”47 The inclusion of women in some realms of ministry at this church, although limited compared to my Assemblies of God tradition, is progressive compared to more restrictive Baptist churches. He explained to me that some Southern Baptist seminaries restrict women so much they will not even allow them to take a theology course. He did not agree with this stance.

I was intrigued at his inclusion of women in some ministry posts. I thought Southern Baptist churches were all more uniformly restrictive, so I asked him what contributed to his progressive views to which he quickly replied, “My wife.”48 She feels that women “are very much neglected,”49 and started bringing some of these issues to his attention forty years ago. His position regarding women in church ministry has changed in large part because of her “tremendous influence” on him. “She has forced me to think, to ponder. Early in our marriage she asked, ‘Is there something wrong with us women? Do you need to fear us?’”50

As well, this pastor comes from a family of both Southern Baptist and Assemblies of God adherents, something I did not know before this interview. His father came from a family of twelve siblings; eight were Baptist and four became Assemblies of God. One relative has served as an Assemblies of God minister in Missouri for over forty years. He has a deep-seated passion to see lost people come to Christ, and the worship services at his church are lively, genuine, and demonstrative with clapping and raised hands. Perhaps his acquaintance with Assemblies of God clergy and family members has influenced his stance toward women in ministry.

This pastor hopes that his position on things like women serving communion will have a ripple effect throughout his denomination as word gets out. He hopes to break down barriers, starting with his own church. I found it interesting that when he began to include women as communion servers, he received the most opposition from women, not men. Regarding ongoing transformation in his denomination, he said, “You’re not going to change the fire-breathing fundamentalist. It takes guys like me who are trying to understand Scripture in light of culture. Let’s at least reopen the discussion. … A radical fundamentalist will not do this. The liberals won’t either.”51 He said, “Only the guys in the middle can push anything in the organization.”52 I appreciate that he hopes to contribute to less restrictionist practices regarding women’s ministry involvement in the Southern Baptist Convention. To me, this was probably the most surprising element of our interview. Before this conversation I grouped all Southern Baptists together in a restrictive category.

When I asked him about his hermeneutical approach, he simply replied, “I don’t proof text to prove anything. You can proof text anything. For example the text that says a woman should have her head covered; it was the custom of that time.”53 He basically told me what he does not do hermeneutically but did not elaborate on what he actually does to arrive at sound biblical conclusions. My studies at AGTS have helped me to see the presence of women as pastors of house churches as normative in Early Church history, especially when narrative texts receive the same amount of interpretative value as didactic texts. I feel Southern Baptists proof text certain scriptures to arrive at their prohibition of women serving as lead pastors, but as noted before, I kept my conclusions to myself since my interview with him acted as a listening exercise. I also recognized that he seems to be on a continual journey of discovery as he told me, “We’ve got to get over this authority issue,” referencing the prohibition of women exerting authority over men.

This pastor has a doctoral degree from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. He was the youngest Southern Baptist to earn a doctorate at the time of his graduation. He completed high school in three years, college in another three. He completed graduate school and his doctoral program by the time he turned twenty-four years old. While no small accomplishment, I pondered how the outcomes of earning a doctorate so young compare with older individuals who have more life experience to apply their doctoral studies. I noted that the completion of a doctoral degree likely provided him with critical thinking skills that contribute to his progressive views regarding women. The first four of my interviewees all have advanced academic degrees.

I asked him if he thought someone could be a Christian and a feminist, to which he answered, “Yes.” Although he told me he did not personally know any Christian feminists, he commented, “We don’t have to pass theology tests to go to Heaven.” I dug a little deeper asking, “Are Christian feminists in error? Are they misinformed?” to which he replied, “One word: grace. We just disagree.” I loved the warmth in his reply. He cares deeply about people, for him, an issue like feminism does not function as a litmus test for salvation.

We wrapped up our interview after about forty-five minutes. He prayed over my academic journey and gave me a warm side-hug as he said “good bye.” I was surprised and impressed with his worldview regarding feminism in light of the theological constraints of his denomination. I am pleased that the pastor of this prominent Southern Baptist church in my community would make time for me, a student who does not even attend his church. I tried to obtain an appointment with a much more rigid and fundamentalist Southern Baptist minister in Springfield than this gracious pastor. That pastor never contacted me back.

An Assemblies of God Ministry Student

Three of my interviewees were women, so I desired the remaining two to be men. As well, the first four of my contacts were above the age of fifty (three above sixty), so I wanted to include a younger voice. I found this in an Assemblies of God Bible college student studying to be a minister, a young married man and father in his early twenties.

I first met this young man when he was a student at Central Bible College (CBC), where he studied for three semesters and my husband serves as a professor. He came from a troubled, dysfunctional home. As a boy, he found his dad’s body after his father committed suicide. This led him through a childhood of pain and getting into a lot of trouble, which eventually led to his enrollment at a Teen Challenge center for adolescent boys. His mother tried her best to raise him and his siblings; she prioritized her children, putting her own needs aside, and made sure the children went to church. This young man committed his life to Christ at the age of twelve, but remained in turmoil throughout adolescence. He is now a disciplined, wholesome, transformed individual, which he attributes to the work of Teen Challenge. Without knowledge of his upbringing, I would never have guessed he was an out-of-control teenager. He and his young bride, whom he met at CBC, married nearly three years ago; they have a two-year-old son. He runs a lawn care business and until recently, worked as a fireman. He chose to leave that post because of the long shifts. As well, he found the environment an onslaught to his integrity as the other firefighters shared pornography. He and his wife invited my husband and me over to their small apartment for coffee and dessert so I could facilitate the interview.

His upbringing in a highly dysfunctional home plays a significant role in his worldview regarding men, women, marriage, and the home. He told me, “My dad wasn’t the person he should have been.”54 His father’s poor choices, including suicide, contribute toward his strong desire to be the man his father never was—one who spiritually leads and protects his family. He works hard to be the opposite of his birth father’s example.

When I asked him to define feminism, the topic of this reflective exercise, he more accurately defined the word, “feminine,” characterizing it as “nurturing, someone who has a sensitive side to them, the role of mother, different emotions than from someone who’s masculine.”55 He added further, “It’s a strength that allows them to be a mother given to them by God.”56 When I asked him what informs his definition, he responded, “Probably my mother; she wasn’t really masculine.”57

At this point in our conversation, I took time to more accurately explain the concept of “feminism.” He grasped the direction in which the conversation needed to go and told me his impressions of feminism:

It feels like an attack on marriage and family, and that being feminine—a mother figure and a wife—is not good enough. Something inside women makes them feel they’re not as important so they have to do more to counteract that. Men have caused a lot of that by not being good leaders in the home, not having integrity. There’s a lot of disappointment and fear. I personally feel there are some things men should do, and some things women should do. Men should be the ones who go to battle. I don’t think women should need to have that kind of responsibility and do that type of work. If they’re able to, I think that’s good. But I feel there’s a loss of identity. You see women who dress like men and act masculine. I don’t think that’s how God made them. I don’t know; maybe there’s something in their past [that makes them act that way].58

Overall, he holds negative impressions of feminism, but he positively noted that women should earn equal pay for equal work. However, he desires clearly delineated roles for men and women.

I asked him how he feels about women in church leadership. He had limited exposure to female ministers during his upbringing. When he was twelve, his mother started attending what he described as a “name-it, claim-it, Oral Roberts-style church.” The lead minister of a visiting ministry group that came to the church was a woman. He observed that she possessed a very authoritative demeanor. He told me, “It didn’t seem that she was a like a ‘mom.’”59 He noted she struggled to convey a nurturing side; therefore, she overcompensated with an authoritative countenance that seemed unnatural. He wondered if she felt the need to act this way since the audience included both men and women. He felt extremely uncomfortable with the whole experience.

He also told me about a Facebook page that a group of male CBC students started against women in ministry.60 He confessed that the rhetoric of these young men influenced him, stating, “I was just going with the flow;”61 and noted pride as the motivation. His wife launched him into a new reality. “Since I’ve married [my wife], I think differently. We’ve had a lot of conversations. [My wife] changed my opinion.”62

Hearing me preach at Central Assembly of God in Springfield, Missouri, also contributed to his change. He commented that I acted like myself; I did not try to act in an unnatural way. He appreciated this and said he could respond to the preaching of a woman if she simply speaks from the authenticity of her own personality.

Since this young man has a little bit of Bible college training, I asked him about his hermeneutical approach to scriptures that seem to restrict women’s church leadership involvement. He did not take a hermeneutics class in his short time at CBC, but did say that one should look at the cultural context in which the Scriptures were written. He also said one should reference commentaries. He concludes that Paul’s command for women to be silent was because of problems in the church involving women interrupting the service. He concludes that it is okay for a woman to teach a man at church. His traditional views regarding men and women come more into play in marriage and the home. He believes men are to have a unique influence upon the home as the spiritual leader, and that the man’s role differs from the woman’s role. He said much of the teaching he received on this came from Teen Challenge. He attended a center in Florida, a region dominated by traditional views about men and women.

I asked him if he knew what the Assemblies of God teaches about women in ministry, to which he replied, “No, I don’t exactly. I can clearly see that it’s not against their teaching,”63 and reminded me that he heard me preach at an Assemblies of God church.

I found his closing comments refreshing and illustrated poignantly the ongoing change in his worldview. He said, “We have to look at the big picture. God is doing a work through women. We can have good intentions to keep women ‘in order,’ but it limits the church if we don’t let women do what God wants them to do. It’s not Christ-like.”64 This echoed what Pulley said: “You really have to move away from Jesus” to enforce restrictions upon women. This young man mused that women might not have to resort to acting in unnatural, masculine ways if they were liberated to do what God wants.


After the completion of my second interview, I began to notice reoccurring contributors to individual worldviews. In this next section, I will highlight and reflect upon these patterns as well as deviances from the observed patterns.



Family of Origin

One’s upbringing, particularly his or her family of origin, had a significant influence upon the worldview of each of my interviewees. Most notable was Ruth Burgess’s experience as the daughter of a man whose first-born son had died. Her father’s disappointment that Burgess was not born a boy left her with an early impression of gender discrimination that motivated her later in her life to address sexism passionately in the university setting. As well, Burgess’s mother was a well-loved preacher-evangelist, contributing to Burgess’s view of women in ministry as normative.

The rabbi chose to adopt Reform Judaism as did her mother, rather than the Orthodox faith of her father. She did not elaborate on her choice to be a Reform Jew, other than to note her politically liberal preferences which align more closely to Reform Judaism. Nearly all of my interviewees remain in the religious traditions of their families of origin. Burgess, who recalled the legalistic tendencies of her classical Pentecostal parents, worshiped for many years at Evangel Temple, an Assemblies of God church in Springfield, Missouri; she and her husband now attend a Methodist church.

Pulley remains in the Church of Christ denomination even though the restrictions of this denomination toward women are at odds with her feminist conclusions. She remains because of long-term friendships and the identity to which she has been enjoined all her life. These friendships and identity serve as a security to her as a single woman. The local Southern Baptist pastor remains in the theological tradition of his upbringing, although the spread of Pentecost in the early twentieth century influenced a few of his extended family members. The dysfunction in the young ministry student’s family of origin, particularly the troubling behaviors of his father, understandably contributes to his view that a husband should function as the responsible “protector” in marriage, a traditionally held view in conservative evangelical circles.

I found it interesting that while family of origin experiences influenced Burgess’s fight against sexism, the young ministry student’s dysfunctional family of origin contributed toward his fierce protection of traditional values in the home and marriage. Issues stemming from one’s family of origin can lead people to conclusions at opposite ends of the spectrum.

Global Region of Upbringing

The region of the world in which one was raised also played a role in the development of worldview, particularly for one of my interviewees. Burgess’s global observations heavily influenced her, growing up in India and later studying in Israel under a renowned Jewish professor. She feels she was a third-culture child, one who looks like her birth parents but because of her upbringing in a foreign country did not think like the children of her parents’ homeland. She struggled to adjust socially when her parents moved back to Texas in 1959. Burgess’s worldview resembles a kaleidoscope because of exposure to multiple cultures.

Historical Time Period of Upbringing

Social unrest in American history starting in the 1950s and moving into the 1960s and 1970s contributed to the formation of worldview, particularly for the rabbi and Burgess. Countering various kinds of discrimination resided at the forefront of public consciousness and policy-making. The rabbi adopted ideologies of prominent feminist writers of that time, contributing to her short-lived anti-men sentiment. Burgess marched in ERA parades and actively worked to dismantle what she called “the good old boys club” at MSU. Observations made throughout the same decades as the rabbi and Burgess informed the Southern Baptist pastor’s more conservative opinions. Even though the Baptist pastor could not identify “second-wave feminism,” it influenced him. His support of equal wages for equivalent work by women reflects the impact of the 1960s and 1970s upon his thinking. His conclusions may be different had he lived in a different era.

The young ministry student’s traditional views of marriage and family have existed for centuries, but these views have received pronounced emphasis in recent decades by popular Reformed Christian preachers like Mark Driscoll and Matt Chandler, among others. As well, the anti-women in ministry sentiment espoused by some male CBC students, and which this ministry student shared for a while, does not reflect Assemblies of God Pentecostal theology or heritage, but more closely resembles contemporary Reformed teaching. The pendulum has swung from the inclusion of men and women at the Azusa Street revival (from which the Assemblies of God traces its origins) to a more restrictive evangelical practice inhibiting women’s leadership in the church.

Role Models

A childhood role model most notably influenced the rabbi, her own rabbi at the Jewish synagogue of her upbringing in Cleveland, Ohio. His social justice activity made a deep imprint upon her. She views feminism as the outworking of social justice in her own life and leads her own congregation in many local social justice initiatives. Progressive youth leaders in Pulley’s Church of Christ congregation encouraged her to exercise her natural leadership gifts and gave her opportunity to speak. How might her experience differ today if these role models had not encouraged to grow in her giftedness?

Denominational Affiliation

The denomination of one’s upbringing (or sect of Judaism in the rabbi’s case) had strong bearing on each individual’s attitude toward feminist theology, except for Pulley whose denomination-at-large espouses views conflicting with Pulley’s feminist conclusions. Burgess grew up in Pentecost, which supported female evangelists and missionaries in its early history. Pentecostals viewed women active in ministry as the fulfillment of Joel 2:28, “Your sons and daughters will prophecy.”65 Burgess’s original denomination, the Assemblies of God, further validated the ordination of women to serve as senior pastors at its 1935 General Council, much sooner than other denominations. She has never struggled with theology that supports the presence of women in ministry leadership.

The Southern Baptist pastor was more restrictive in his early years of ministry, reflecting the theology and practice of his Southern Baptist affiliation. His congregation has a few remaining remnants of these restrictive attitudes, but he hopes his current practice as a pastor growing in inclusion of women in ministry will have a ripple effect upon his denomination. The young ministry student’s participation in Teen Challenge, a residential Assemblies of God drug recovery and behavior modification program, led him to continued identification with the Assemblies of God tradition. I now attend the same church as this young man. The pastor and pastor’s wife of this church have a traditional marriage; the pastor views himself as the spiritual leader of their home and his wife practices what she perceives to be biblical submission to her husband. I believe their example influences this young man in his own personal attitudes toward the male-female marital relationship. However, the example of women ministers, such as me, has had a positive effect on his views about women in church leadership.


Four of my five interviewees had advanced degrees; three had doctorates. I noticed the corresponding development of critical thinking skills and expansion of worldview in these four participants. All of them embraced feminist liberation theology in varying degrees, including the Southern Baptist pastor who would be the most conservative of the interviewees with advanced education. He is more inclusive of women than many of his Southern Baptist colleagues; I ponder if higher education contributes to this. The rabbi is the most syncretistic in her worldview; she thinks all religious paths lead to God. Her Reform Judaism, more secular than other Jewish sects, contributes to this belief. Her education at a Reform Jewish seminary cemented her views. The young ministry student who has completed only three semesters of undergraduate education expressed the most traditional views of men and women, primarily as they relate to marriage; however, even in this short time, teachings from professors like my husband cause him to consider biblical interpretations different from previously held conclusions. He is a young man still on a trajectory of learning and discovery. 

The influence of the school where each participant studied was also evident; I discovered this when I inquired about the hermeneutical approach of those theologically trained. The rabbi was taught to view the Hebrew Bible as “story” from which God intends us to derive meanings. She even referred to the story of Adam and Eve as mythology. This approach to Scripture aligns with her syncretistic and liberal theology, including her interpretation and application of feminist liberation theology. The rabbi presiding at the wedding of a lesbian couple corresponds with her liberal education. 

The Southern Baptist pastor studied at the most conservative of all schools represented by the five participants, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. The imprint of this institution was more evident in his early years of ministry. While he said he does not “proof text” to restrict women’s participation in church leadership, this very hermeneutical approach—a literalist reading of the text—contributes to restrictionist theology. Many Southern Baptists consider one’s interpretation about women in ministry to be the litmus test for whether or not he or she believes in the inerrancy of Scripture. However, psychologist David Entwistle contends that one must “distinguish the validity of theological interpretation from the authority of Scripture.”66 The completion of a doctorate seems to have equipped the Southern Baptist pastor with critical thinking skills that, combined with his wife’s influence, cause him to continue learning and broaden his worldview regarding feminist theology.

Pulley referred to “principle-based” hermeneutics that she learned in graduate school, emphasizing that Kingdom principles take priority in the interpretation of Scripture, especially when dealing with difficult texts. I feel this aligns with the approach of Glen Stassen and David Gushee in their book, Kingdom Ethics: Following Jesus in Contemporary Context. The young ministry student adopted the restrictive attitudes of male peers at Central Bible College until other individuals—professors, a female pastor, and his wife—helped change his views.

Influence of Current Family Members

Two of my interviewees’ spouses deeply impacted their attitudes toward feminism. The Southern Baptist pastor articulated how his wife’s question, “Is there something wrong with us women?” prompted him to reconsider his conclusions about women’s involvement in church. The young ministry student noted how his views began to soften after he married his wife and they talked about these issues. Her opinions continue to influence him. Families of origin incubate worldview, but a spouse can have a tremendous impact on its expansion. I noted that the views of their wives most deeply impacted the men, and not the other way around.

Life Experiences

Burgess’s experiences had a profound experience upon her further development of feminist thought and activity. The belittlement she felt at Evangel University when she expressed her desire to pursue a doctorate, combined with her observations of sexism at MSU, fueled her motivation to form the Women’s Issues Network and march in ERA parades. Without the pain and discomfort she experienced as the recipient of sexism, she might never have pursued these activities or expanded her feminist worldview. Pain has a unique potential to propel a person toward new ways of thought and behavior. As well, her continued travels and education throughout the world expanded her worldview from its already global composition.

The Southern Baptist pastor observed the excellent teaching ability of one of his female staff pastors and felt she should share her gift with the entire congregation (a Pentecostal approach to ministry involvement). When he asked her to preach, she declined; however, this exposure to a female minister with outstanding speaking ability caused him to change his initial stance that barred women from the pulpit. The young ministry student modified his preferences after he heard me preach.



Most notably, the men’s preferences came into play regarding the adoption or rejection of feminism. The ministry student’s observations of women in the firehouse galvanize his preferences regarding masculinity and femininity. He desires that women express femininity through gentleness, softness, and nurturing roles, preferably in the home. He does not agree with prohibiting women as firefighters, but women serving in this capacity seems unnatural to him. His preferences carry over into other professions, including the ministry, although his opinions are changing. None of the women expressed preferences pertaining to how each gender should act except that everyone, male or female, should be fair and just.


I found it interesting that both of the men I interviewed acknowledged fear regarding feminist theology, either their own fears or fear detected in others. In the early years of the Southern Baptist pastor’s marriage, his wife asked regarding women, “Do you need to fear us?” He noted that in the books of Acts, Philip’s four daughters prophesied—the equivalent of preaching—but fear keeps his Baptist colleagues from allowing women to preach in their churches. He also recalled the fear a female staff pastor expressed when he asked her to preach from the pulpit, noting that the most pushback in moving women forward in church leadership comes from women in the congregation. The young ministry student thinks women act in masculine ways or move into traditionally-held masculine roles because they are afraid others do not perceive them as “good enough” in traditional female roles. He also noted that men’s fear, as expressed when they try to defend male prerogative, can camouflage pride as he observed of his young male peers at CBC.

Perhaps men feel that power has a zero sum; they fear if they give some of their traditionally-held prerogative away, they will possess less. After my interview with the young ministry student ended and we engaged in further conversation, I explained that I think influence is something that when given away only yields more for the giver. He pondered this for a moment and agreed.


Lessons Learned

Consider the Opposite

This listening exercise, as well as the AGTS course, “Ethical Issues in Contemporary Society,” caused me to engage intentionally with ideas other than my own. “Psychologists encourage the use of a technique they call ‘considering the opposite,’ where we stop ourselves from drawing premature conclusions and, instead, ponder whether we might be misinterpreting the evidence. … That simple technique of considering the opposite has been shown, across multiple studies, to reduce many otherwise thorny cognitive biases.”67 I discovered “the opposite” in the rabbi, who does not acknowledge Christ as the Messiah as I do, and who challenged my preconceived understanding of the Pharisees, going so far as to assert that the Sermon on the Mount was Pharisaical in tone. The rabbi also challenged my views of the Pharisees’ treatment of women.

The “opposite” of what I expected is how I would describe my conversation with Pulley. I assumed she would be my most liberal interviewee because of her role as a feminist public university professor. However, her strong religious moorings actually caused her feminist conclusions to closely align with my own evangelical and Pentecostal feminist identity. I learned from Ruth Burgess that the opposite of patriarchy, “matriarchy,” exists in certain global cultures such as the Malabar Coast of South India. I thought patriarchy was the only expression of one gender powering up over the other, only to learn that matriarchy actually exists in some regions of the world. 

I also unearthed the “opposite” in my discussion with the Southern Baptist pastor, when I realized he was not as restrictive as some of his Southern Baptists colleagues (like theologian and retired pastor John Piper, a vociferous opponent of women in ministry). I did not previously know that the non-creedal characteristic of the Southern Baptist Convention permits some variances in the practice and theology of its congregations. The young ministry student held opposite views from me regarding a man’s role in the home. My conclusions are more egalitarian but the story of this young man’s upbringing helped me to see what shaped his beliefs. He also demonstrated that his views are still taking shape during his young adult y