The following post is written in response to Rachel Held Evan’s blog, which is running a themed week, entitled ‘A Week of Mutuality’. It is hoped that this post will contribute to the ongoing discussion regarding how genders should relate in a Christian context.
When I was eight years old, I had the most unusual conversation with my father. At some point that day, I realised that I was the eldest of two girls and that my father was the only son to his parents. My young mind wondered, with deep concern, what might happen to the good name of Cornish once my sister and I were married off.
Sharing this thought with my dad, I confidently announced the obvious solution: for the sake of the family name, I wouldn’t get married – but I would have a child, so they could have the surname of Cornish and keep the lineage going. My dad burst out laughing and complimented me on my creative thinking. Of course, he didn’t take me seriously, being only eight years of age – but he at least had the ability to recognise that I was trying to think outside the box. A commendable achievement in his eyes.
See, I grew up in a loving, but non-religious household. It was a typical nuclear family with a working father and housewife mother. In many situations like this, there can be an unconscious gender socialisation that takes place – and of course, I underwent this, like any normal kid growing up in the 90s.
However, I never once felt as though I was limited on account of my gender. I grew up cooking, sewing, skateboarding and go-cart making. I played soccer and netball. I danced and swam. My parents bought me Barbies and Lego and took me camping, fishing and surfing. I was a veracious reader because my parents facilitated a love of learning from an early age, no matter the interest – even if it extended to dinosaurs or astronomy, or geology. When I announced my plans to be an architect in the fourth grade, my parents obediently complimented me on my roughly drawn plans for a new resort, or old folks home.
Yes, I was that weird kid that sat in the library at lunch time.
When I was 13, an interesting thing happened. I started attending a youth group with some friends – and as a result, ended up following Christ and regularly attending my local Church of Christ, where I am still am, 13 years later. My youth pastor was a female and I never once sensed that she was somehow inferior to the male leaders around her. At church, gender was never a conscious issue – at least, not to me. I was encouraged according to my gifts and found a safe environment to simply be who I was.
As a result of this, when I was 16, I felt the distinct urge to go to Bible College and to perhaps write and teach in that area – something that my parents were strangely supportive of (in my father’s rough words, “as long as you can prove that you can get a job out of it, I’m OK with it”).
A long and eventful story followed this urge. After a false start and some advice, I realised that a secular education might actually be a good foundation and ended up studying media, communications and journalism at university as a ‘preparation’ for college – but not until I had completed a one-year detour through an architecture program.
Towards the end of my journalism course, I decided to audit two subjects at a local Bible College to test out the possibility of going into an MA in Biblical Studies. Life changing. A feeling of settling. Conviction. Excitement.
But also a slight feeling of confusion and unease. You see, all the lecturers at college were middle aged… and male. Although they were verbally encouraging of my potential postgrad endeavours, I felt oddly alone. Where were the women?
For the first time in my entire life, I felt like maybe I wasn’t cut out for a career in biblical academia. As a woman in her early twenties with a distinct sense of calling, I had no precedent to go by – the leaders at my church barely finished their undergrad studies! It was terrifying to have no model to demonstrate what it meant to be a woman and someone actively engaged in academia. I had heard that some Christians didn’t like the idea of women who taught. Had I sensed wrongly?
Questions started to flood through my head: would I have to become a ‘ball-buster’ to survive in this culture? Would I have to sacrifice my easy-going, feminine personality to operate in this realm? Would I even be welcome? Or, even worse, would I be ignored or treated like a novelty, not to be taken seriously?
So, I walked into the open day at the AOG college where I now teach with a feeling of trepidation. To my relief, I met Dr Jacqueline Grey, a model of what it means to be a serious academic without sacrificing genuine femininity – and as she explained the MA course to me, for the first time, I realised that maybe I could do this after all.
In the following years, this was confirmed over and over again. I witnessed powerful, but confident, genuinely feminine women teaching with the same authority as men and engaging their students – shaping their worldviews and bringing out a thirst for God and ministry. Such observances were enough to make me believe that I could apply when a junior academic position opened up at the start of 2009. Six months later, marking reports, I had a moment where I realised I was doing what I felt called to do at 16. And I smiled. I still smile.
Yet, part of me wonders how many 16-year-old women are in complementarian congregations, with a deep burning to learn and teach – but have been told that they don’t have the authority to.
My family are still non-religious – but there’s no doubt that they’re proud of me and believe I can do what I feel I’m lead into. Despite the fact they don’t understand exactly what it is I teach, they believe that what I do is important – and helpful to the faith community I’m engaging with.
Like my colleagues, they don’t believe that my contribution is stepping out of an intended role, or detrimental due to my ‘lack of a male member’ – and if I may say so, the self-confidence that comes from engaging in something one feels called to is perhaps witness in itself to the crazy notion that God calls according to gifting, not gender.