**DISCLAIMER**- This is a post about church and the stories of women in the Bible. If you have subscribed for medical content – this one’s not for you!
The hashtag #whitewashedOUT recently trended on Twitter in response to the film industry’s repeated casting of white actors for Asian characters:
- Emma Stone as “Allison Ng”
- Scarlett Johansson as “Motoko Kusanagi,”
- Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One.”
As a white woman, I have the privilege of seeing people who look like me represented on TV and in films all the time. But I still feel like I can relate because I am a woman who grew up in an evangelical church culture where women have been “#patriarchiedOUT.”
The strongest parallel can be drawn through the story of Junia. Paul wrote about her in Romans 16:7:
“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.” (NIV)
*****errrr – record scratch*****
Wait a minute. What is this about a woman apostle?!
Never heard her name?
Not surprising. If you check out various translations of Romans 16:7 on Bible Hub, you will see that this apostle is referred to as both Junia (a woman) and Junias (a man).
Was she an ancient transvestite? Was gender ambiguity a thing back then? How did this happen?
The best account of how one woman came to be known by two names comes from Scot McKnight in “Junia is Not Alone.” He explains that the original Greek texts that scholars and pastors use are actually composites of a variety of ancient manuscripts and translations. Experts use multiple sources of data to construct the best version of the Greek New Testament they can. In these texts, Junia was Junia until 1927 when the 13th edition composite Novum Testamentum Graece edited by Eberhard Nestle changed her name to JuniaS. He included a footnote that other Greek New Testaments used Junia, but he did not explain the name (and consequently gender) change whatsoever. Which is totally like whitewashing – except with gender instead of race. In 1979, Kurt Aland, a famous New Testament textual scholar, published an edition without the footnote and bada-bing bada-boom, JuniA ceased to exist. It wasn’t until 2011 that the NIV corrected her name.
While Junia is the only woman in the Bible I know of that suffered a textual sex-change, hers is not the only story that is rarely told.
- As a child, I colored countless pictures of David killing Goliath with a stone to the head. I never once got to color a picture of Jael driving a tent peg through Sisera’s skull. (Judges 4 & 5)
- I knew the names Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah before I was eight (also known as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego of fire-y furnace fame), but I didn’t learn the names of prophetesses Miriam, Huldah, or Anna until I was past my 20’s.
- A member of my family belonged to a multi-national male-only “club” called “The Gideons.” Gideon was a judge who oversaw an Isrealite victory over the Midianites. Deborah, too, was a judge. She led an Isrealite victory over the Canaanites. But there is no evangelical club named after her (to my knowledge) and I certainly never heard her leadership abilities commended by a pastor from the pulpit.
While troubling in retrospect, this phenomenon is not difficult to understand. John Piper, a famous evangelical pastor, recently shared his belief that women shouldn’t be police officers. So it’s not surprising that he – and Christian leaders like him – would not use the valuable attention of a rapt audience to share the story of a woman judge who led a military victory.
How could an evangelical pastor tell the story of Abigail (1 Samuel 25) who found favor with King David by doing the opposite of her husband?
Nabal, her husband, is literally called, “a worthless man.” Abigail’s defiance of her husband saves her family and shortly thereafter her husband’s heart “turns to stone” and he dies. Abigail later marries David.
**In complementarian culture, good things aren’t supposed to come to women who defy their husbands.
How could a conservative pastor extol the cunning of a woman like Tamar? (Genesis 38)
She secured her future by tricking her father-in-law into sleeping with her by dressing as a prostitute. If he had been a righteous man, such actions would not have been necessary, but his failure to honor the traditions of the time made her carry out a plan to trap him. She got him good! And she benefited from it.
**Lying about one’s identity and dressing up like a prostitute doesn’t really go along with Christian purity ideals for women.
This sort of female subversiveness cannot be promoted in churches that require women to “be silent” and “ask questions of their husbands at home.” Bless.
What would the world come to if women were empowered to be like Abigail, and go against the will of “worthless men” who occupy leadership positions in churches? What if women used cunning, like Tamar, to trick and deceive powerful Christian leaders for the sake of exposing their unrighteousness?
It would be…revolutionary.
I spent 30+ years of my life going to church, but never once heard a sermon about Jael or Deborah or Junia. Like the faces of Asian actors who have been #whitewashedOUT by Hollywood, the names of women whose stories do not exemplify complementarian ideals of passivity and meek submissiveness were “#patriarchiedOUT” of Sunday sermons.
When I first walked away from the church culture that raised me, I felt like I wanted to drive a tent peg through a skull like Jael!
I wanted to duct-tape the mouths of pastors who preach that women should not speak and lead and teach. I wanted to pound some sense into Christian men who couldn’t lead a flea out of a pillowcase, but still felt entitled, by birthright, to lead a wife through life without question. I wanted to punish the men sitting in churches who grew up being good at very little, but still feeling superior to all women.
The words that soothed my fighting spirit the most were Sarah Bessey’s in Jesus Feminist. In its first pages she invites readers to an imaginary beach bonfire and shares her thoughts on, “the Table,” – the place where Christian men have long denied a seat to women. She writes, “Let’s be done lobbying for a seat at the Table,” and goes on to say:
“I want to be outside with the misfits, with the rebels, the dreamers, second-chance givers, the radical grace lavishers, the ones with arms wide open, the courageously vulnerable, and among even – or maybe especially – the ones rejected by the Table as not worthy enough or right enough. The Table may be loud and dominant, but love and freedom are spreading like yeast. I see hope creeping in, destabilizing old power structures. I feel it in the ground under my feet. I hear it in the stories of the people of God living right now. We’re whispering to each other, eyes alight, ‘Aslan is on the move.’”
The first Christmas after I made my home outside the traditional church with other rebels and radical grace lavishers, I wondered if the story of Christmas would still hold some magic for me. Every year, women get to hear messages about Mary. (Thank goodness they didn’t change her name to MarK!) Mary is a woman worth emulating, but I have always found it kind of hard to relate to her. If I had visions of an angel who told me I was pregnant with the son of God, I’d be on my way to check myself into a psych hospital for a long stay and some really strong anti-psychotics! I have heard jokes from the pulpit about how there’s no record of Mary complaining while she was pregnant – even though she spent days full-term riding a donkey. I, on the other hand, lamented that I only had two pairs of shoes that fit my swollen feet at the end of each pregnancy. I am not a Mary.
That December, the mega-est of mega-churches in Savannah hosted a grand recreation of the world of Mary and Joseph and Mickey took Kharis and Kai while I was working in the ED. It takes hours to journey from the beginning to the end and ticket-holders are given Biblical names and coins to pay taxes to King Herod. Kharis – was given the name…
And there it was. A little piece of the divine just for me. My daughter will grow up knowing Junia’s name – knowing that she was an apostle. One of her favorite books is, Brave Girls’ Bible Stories. She knows the names and stories of women who were decision-makers and leaders. If we were in Narnia, I think the icicles outside my window would be dripping.
Photo credit: icicles – Flikr, Chris Potako, creative commons license.