“Karon is a good student, but she talks too much.”
Almost every report card of mine as a young child included some such comment. At six-years-old, I didn’t understand why this was a problem. I loved school. I studied. I made good grades. And I was sure I did not talk any more than the boys because they were mostly leading the discussions. When I walked into first grade sporting an unruly pixie cut with one curl on the right that stuck out from a hair twirling habit I’ve never been able to shake, I had a voice, and I liked to use it. I am sure I drove teachers crazy with all the questions in all the world that I insisted be answered. The voices of children are typically born open, free and curious, but somewhere along the way, as little girls mature, they learn to dial it back a bit, be less assertive with their voice and end up taking a back seat to the boys who are encouraged to develop theirs fully.
It never occurred to me to quiet my voice before first grade, living in a household of five verbal daughters. To this day, you would have better luck silencing a hurricane than trying to shut us up when we are all together. We had the freedom to speak, and we learned to work things out when we didn’t agree. Our father relished in the constant chatter of our home. Our mother joined right in.
Schools were not as accepting of my free voice, so I learned to speak less, as I fear many little girls still do. I understand there are many factors at play to explain why little girls begin to quiet their voice, and I am not blaming teachers here. It is a complicated issue. Girls step back not only in classroom settings but in many public settings. As a fifty-something graduate student in a predominately male seminary, I still sometimes struggle to find my voice in that setting. My concern for our girls who learn to question if what they have to say is important is the dangerous consequence of increasing their vulnerability.
In a recent talk to church planters, Bible teacher Jen Wilkin described how women, unlike men, typically maintain some degree of life-long vulnerability. Please take the time to watch her entire message here:
Female vulnerability is most likely what Peter is referring to in his letter when he calls wives “the weaker partner,” and instructs husbands to be considerate of them. (1 Peter 3:7) The vulnerability of women may be harder to recognize today because women have opportunities like never before in history, but I think it is critical in understanding why we must be proactive in protecting and celebrating the voice of women.
History has proven over and again that we tread with great danger in places where voices begin to be marginalized or silenced, especially in the vulnerable. Oppression and abuse thrive freely where there is no voice. We know this. Evil feeds and grows on the silence of its victims as real-life monsters Harvey Weinstein and Larry Nassar have well proven of late. Too many women and tragically, too many little girls who learned to quiet their voices have paid high prices for societal marginalization and sadly, distorted religious teachings that value female reticence over healthy female expression.
It is time for this to change.
“Speak out on behalf of the voiceless, and for the rights of all who are vulnerable.” (Prov 31:8) We often overlook that it was a mother, someone who understood vulnerability, who gave this Proverbs 31 instruction to her son, King Lemuel. Let it be an important reminder to us that the church is particularly charged to protect and seek the flourishing of every image-bearer of God, but especially the vulnerable and voiceless. That means speaking up for those who cannot. That means making a space for the vulnerable to be heard. More often than not, it means taking the time to listen and responding with moral purpose. Vulnerable voices prove to be valuable voices only when given the opportunity to be heard.
May the Church of Jesus Christ lead the way.
“How much is a little girl worth?”, Rachael Denhollander repeatedly asked in her now famous courtroom statement at the sentencing of her convicted abuser, Larry Nassar. These profoundly simple words by this present-day Esther figure should strike every decent heart of humanity at its core, especially those of the church. Many of those little girls who were victimized managed to muster an enormous amount of bravery to use their small voice to tell someone, only to be told they were mistaken or just plain wrong and sent right back into the hands of their abuser. (See her statement: here)
In light of this, we must ask ourselves why we as a society devalue the voice of girls and women and as the church, we must ask ourselves if distortions of biblical texts and teachings on the roles of women have been complicit in some way. If we do not, or worse, will not value the voices and influence of women in the Kingdom of God, we cannot begin to protect our little girls. So, church, let me ask a slightly different question:
How much is the voice of a little girl worth?
First prophesied in the Old Testament and later fulfilled at Pentecost, we live in the time where God’s Spirit is poured out on all flesh when sons and daughters prophesy and the young see visions and the old dream dreams. (Joel 2:28, Acts 2:17) The Bible uses the term prophecy to describe church teachings gifted by the Spirit to both women and men. Jerram Barrs of Covenant Theological Seminary summarizes the Apostle Paul’s definition of prophecy this way:
“It is speaking with the mind, after reflection on God’s truth, for the strengthening, comfort, and encouragement of people. It includes declaring in an intelligible way the good news of the truth about Jesus Christ so that the unbeliever is convicted of sin and comes to repentance and faith” (1 Corinthian 14:1-25). “Prophecy is also edifying God’s church by clearly instructing his people with the truth. This gift of prophecy, of communicating God’s truth, is a gift that all believers, all women, and all men, are to seek and to be ready to exercise.” (Jerram Barrs, Through His Eyes: God’s Perspective on Women in the Bible (Wheaton, Crossway: 2009) 311.
For our daughters to fully exercise this important gift of the Spirit, for the benefit of the church and this world in which we serve Jesus Christ, it takes a voice. We not only make our girls more vulnerable when we value the words of men over those of women, but we also cripple the effectiveness of the church at large. It takes both male and female to reflect God in carrying out the mission of God and our little girls and boys are watching how well we value the unique giftedness of each gender.
“Listen, my son, to your father’s instruction and do not forsake your mother’s teaching. They are a garland to grace your head and a chain to adorn your neck.” (Proverbs 1: 8-9)
This biblical principle teaches us to listen to our father’s teaching without explanation but takes care to warn against forsaking the teachings of our mothers. Perhaps this related warning is necessary because we tend to give less importance to the teachings of women in general, but the church needs the voice and influence of faithful women. Some argue there is no difference in how Christian men and Christian women think about God, talk about God, image him and enjoy the blessings of his goodness and holiness, but how we experience God in our world cannot be separated from the experience of being female or male in our world.
In her book, Love Thy Body, Nancy Pearcey delves into life and sexuality seeking to restore the human body to a place of honor, thoroughly integrated with mind and spirituality over our society’s current dualistic teaching that gender, body, and mind are unrelated and potentially fluid. She quotes Paula Johnson, a cardiologist in support: “Every cell has a sex–and what that means is that men and women are different down to the cellular and molecular level. It means that we’re different across all of our organs, from our brains to our hearts, our lungs, our joints.” Our very biology tells us gender matters and because it does, it should matter to the church and we must not devalue the important experience of being female in our theology and church teachings.
My goal is to encourage the church to recognize the important theological legacy of women as necessary to fully know God and to fully bear his image. We know that the glory of God is too big to be contained within the confines of any one human mind, male or female, therefore when the church forsakes, ignores, or silences the voice, influence, and legacies of faithful women, we run the risk of representing an incomplete or narrow view of God to the world. For the church at large, in both complementarian and egalitarian settings, the principle application of the proverb seems clear: The collective faithful teachings of our Church Fathers and Church Mothers crown the church with the gospel of grace and adorn it with beauty. (For a complementarian setting, this resource is very helpful:)
I often dream of the day predicted when “…the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14) Would the knowledge of the glory, the goodness of God, shine through to us in new places on earth today and in fresh ways by giving an ear to the voices of women? Would giving worth to the voices of girls and women strengthen the church of Jesus Christ today and tomorrow in ways that would glorify God and spread his name throughout the earth? Would the church be humbled to seek repentance for marginalizing the important work and voice of the whole people of God including women, minorities, the poor, the weak, the abandoned and the refugee? The salvation of the world, our only hope of glory, was accomplished by Jesus Christ. It is only through him that we may come to know the God of glory and Jesus Christ has promised to make all things new, even in places where the glory of God was once neglected or dimmed by racial, gender, and cultural prejudices. When we marginalize any part of the body of Christ, we are choosing to continue to look at Christ through dimmed eyes rather than eyes opened to the glory. My prayer is that the church would so desire to see the beauty of Christ lifted high and holy with un-dimmed, clear eyes that all prejudice and fear would melt away until we see him and only him.
This week our world celebrated International Woman’s Day and a New York Times commercial spot honored the day with the line, “The Truth Has a Voice.” As we recognize the hard-won accomplishments as well as the particular struggles of women from all over the world, may the church lead in valuing the voice and influence of faithful women in ministry, seek to learn from, protect and promote their voice, offer opportunities for them to be visible, heard, and positively impact the Kingdom of God for the glory of God.
Yes, Truth has a voice and He speaks to us today in the Word of God: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
Why would Jesus Christ come to us as Word? Because he is the embodied gospel itself, the Good News! Because this Good News is a message meant to be shared, spoken, passed down to our children and our children’s children, even the children yet to be born. (Psalm 78) The timeless, unchanging message of Truth is to be told over and again across the ages by every voice who kneels in submission to Jesus Christ. It takes all faithful voices in the mission of God. May we never be guilty of silencing another single one.