“May it never be said that we ignored the cries of the helpless and focused on ourselves. Let it instead be said that God used those cries to awaken a sleeping giantess and filled her with a terrible resolve—half the church, angered and outraged at the unchecked forces of evil in God’s world. That we made up our minds to do something, that our efforts forced the darkness to recede, and that we left the world better off than we found it. May we be remembered as a generation who caught God’s vision, faced our fears, and rose up to serve his cause.”
All my life I’ve been waiting for someone to issue me a challenge like this one, which I found on page 142 of Half the Church: Recapturing God’s Global Vision for Women, the most recent release from Carolyn Custis James.
I thoroughly enjoyed this book, and I was inspired by nearly every page. The only thing I didn’t like about the book was that its impact was softened by its too-close ties to Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. I wish the book would have given a nod to Half the Sky, then soared off on its own, building a Christian conversation about the plight and calling of women rather than what felt like simply adding a Christian footnote to a big conversation already taking place. Most of the stories seemed to come from Half the Sky, and James returned repeatedly to this book as the starting point for her own commentary. At the same time, I suspect there was very little she could have done differently. After all, how many Christians are conducting and publishing this kind of research, these kinds of stories about what life is like for women around the world?
That said, as I read I found myself growing in dedication and determination to use my gifts and resources to influence the world in a way it won’t be influenced without me. I became more convinced that God created me for a purpose and placed me where I am, at this point in time, intentionally. Some people may not realize how rare it is for women to hear a message like that.
Growing up in the church, I was inspired to serve the Lord with all my heart, soul, mind, and strength. When I was a teenager, I responded enthusiastically to the messages I heard in youth group—visions of the impact God can make on the world with the life of one courageous Christian; calls to discipleship; challenges to think biblically and boldly about ethical and moral dilemmas that are easier to avoid. I signed up for outreach opportunities, service projects, and leadership training.
When I became an adult, I realized the church must have been talking to the boys in the youth group. Because joining the ranks of grown women meant I stopped hearing those challenges, stopped having church-sponsored opportunities to reach out to others, do something difficult in the power of Christ, and ask myself tough questions about it means to follow Jesus in this brilliant and terrifying world. I received a new set of messages from the church. This is how the church challenges women: Attend the Christmas tea. Keep quiet. Being a mother is your highest calling. The best way to serve your neighbors is to indulge in shopping for fair trade items you don’t need. Enjoy spa day. Be modest. Be sexy in a Christian way. Lose weight by praying and eating foods grown in ancient Palestine. Breastfeed or else. Your greatest accomplishment is being weak enough to be rescued and protected. Stay in the background. Spend all your time with other Christian women. You’re too busy; let us make life easier for you.
No wonder so many women are weak, neurotic, and standing on the sidelines. We are educated, gifted, equipped, and called to shoulder half the burden God has asked the church to carry. And we are chronically underchallenged.
It’s not that we don’t have enough to do. We’re definitely busy enough. We are taxed and weary and worried. But we aren’t expected to do great things. We are overworked and underchallenged.
When people are underchallenged for long periods of time, they become bored, unhappy, and unmotivated. They stop growing, stop thinking, weaken, and lose their vision and courage for what they could and should be doing with the gifts God has given them. I believe this is the general state of Christian women in our culture. We underestimate and undervalue our own contributions. We buy into the lie that our great Christian mission is the pursuit of our own spiritual comfort. That a Christian lifestyle means living the say way as the world around us, with the addition of a few items we purchased at a Christian store. We settle into the belief that our sphere of influence can and should extend only as far as our family and friends. And by doing so, we reject the mission God gave each of us when he placed us here, now, for the sake of his own kingdom.
We can’t wait for someone else to change this; the ones to challenge women are women themselves. We must awaken and invest ourselves in things that will remain long after we’re gone. We must expect more of ourselves and each other. And reading Half the Church would be an excellent way to start.
© 2011 Amy Simpson.