I had dinner with two pastors and their wives at an Assemblies of God district event in Coeur d’Alene recently, and while the other two women caught up on their lives since they had seen each other last, the two men and I had the most delightful conversation on all kinds of lovely theological topics. One of them said he always looked forward to coming to his district conference because he had the chance to do just that with other pastors—and he knew I liked a good theological wrangle.
Later he and his wife and I talked about the concept of being a female intellectual. He said that many times it is used somewhat pejoratively, as if appending “female” to “intellectual” brings down the impact of “intellectual.” And it occurred to me that even when that doesn’t happen, “female intellectual” is used as the exception that proves the rule. There are intellectuals, and then every once in a while there’s a female one, an abnormality even if just as intellectual as the “real” ones. “Female” is unusual among intellectuals, and “intellectual” is unusual among females. Very few people would come right out and state such an attitude, but it’s often present, invisible and implicit.
I’m thankful to this particular pastor for treating me not as a female who wanted to take part in his theological conversation with another pastor but as a fellow lover of theology and a welcome part of his district convention experience. And I’m particularly thankful for an upbringing that taught me not to see “female” as a barrier to anything I was suited to do nor as a detriment to any profession I might enter or activity I might want to take up.
In my family growing up, boys washed dishes and girls cut wood; boys learned to sew and girls learned to fish. These things were things that needed to be done, and everyone did them, and they benefitted everybody. Everybody was expected to get good grades in science as well as in English. Captains Courageous and Tom Sawyer were not books pushed on boys and not on girls; they were on the bookshelf, and anyone could read them who wanted to. My older sister was interested in the small engines class in high school, and I was interested in taking Spanish and Russian at the same time, and both were perfectly fine choices. I grew up recognizing that my parents would be fine with any career choice I made, as long as it wasn’t selling drugs or being a mob boss or something. There was no bias that said girls shouldn’t take up certain interests or professions any more than there was a bias that said people with brown hair shouldn’t do them. You could do whatever your mind was fit for.
Add to that the conviction I had that I could do anything God called me to and gave me the talents to do, and that God called me to ministry and gave me talents for education, language, theology, analysis, contemplation. I’ve never felt out of place in my various educational and ministry settings; in fact, I felt very firmly in place, because I knew I was where God had designed me to belong. For a great part of this I owe thanks to the Assemblies of God, which welcomes women in the callings God has given them. My ministry and theological education has only affirmed me and my place in God’s mission.
Don’t get me wrong: I love being female. I may share my personality type with far more males than females (INTJ in the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator), and I may share interests with more males than females (ministry, theology, science fiction, superhero movies, programming), and I would really, really prefer to have a nice theological conversation than a nice conversation about children or shoes or most anything else that’s stereotyped as belonging to women—but I love dresses and teacups and figure skating and Pride and Prejudice and—well, many things stereotypically assigned to the feminine persuasion. I love being who I am, and being female is part of who I am. Part of who I am. Not the single deciding factor in who I am.
The thing is, I’ve never felt like a “woman in ministry,” that separate and special category assigned to separate and special ministers who happen to be female, and I’ve never felt like a “female intellectual.” I am first of all me, a human being with a brain and a soul and interests and talents and weaknesses and struggles. I am not a female modified by “intellectual,” nor an intellectual modified by “female.” I am me, and I am modified by “intellectual” and “female” and “introvert” and “short” and “quirky” and “American” and everything else that coalesces to describe me. They all have varying effects on each other and on the totality of who I am. Take any one of those things away, and I wouldn’t be me. They are all valuable parts of who God has made me to be.
Before you ever start to classify someone, as, for instance, “the female intellectual” or “the woman in pastoral ministry” or “the introverted youth minister” or “the teenaged writer” or anything that may in any way cause you to discount that person, stop yourself for a moment. Recognize that that person is first of all a sovereign human being, a bearer of God’s image, a person with a calling and a soul, a personality and point of view that has something to offer which you don’t. And only then begin to examine the characteristics which make up that complete person: her gender, her nationality, her race, her interpersonal style, her talents, her weaknesses, her interests. Don’t let “female” or “intellectual” or anything else force you to make assumptions about what that person can or can’t contribute or about that person’s value in ministry or any other situation in life. This is first of all God’s child, a divine, sovereign person valuable in and of herself. Only secondly is she your pastor or your professor or the short, brown-haired missionary who wants to join your theological conversation.