By Bert Montgomery
I don’t recall when I realized I was a feminist. There was no “conversion” moment – I wasn’t not a feminist, then decided to be a feminist. As I was growing up, I simply grew to understand that I am a feminist.
Maybe, like Lady Gaga says, I was “born this way.” Or, maybe it started with my mom.
Not that Mom was a marching-in-the-streets-demanding-equality kind of activist. She was nothing like that at all. She was a classic 1970s “stay-at-home” mom. Her master’s diploma from Tulane University hung on the wall in our house above the washer and dryer. It was a choice she was able to make.
Back in her undergraduate days at Mississippi College, Mom wanted nothing to do with the smug, self-righteousness of the Baptist “preacher boys” in her classes. She would stack all her textbooks on top of the Bible just to spite them (Mom taught me at an early age the dangers of making the Bible an idol). The more they preached down to her, the more satisfaction she gained through little acts of subversion and defiance that made them mad.
Mom was the head of our church’s WMU (that’s the Women’s Missionary Union for those of you unfamiliar with Baptist life). Many male leaders viewed the WMU as a “hobby” that kept the women “occupied” and “out of the way.” Mom viewed the WMU as an important part of the life of the church. The pastor and deacons (all men, of course) were upset that she had the audacity to expect to talk about WMU projects at the church council meetings! That pastor once asked my Dad how he managed to control his “high strung” wife. Nevertheless, Mom persisted.
It wasn’t long before we moved to a different church – another church the next parish over. In this Louisiana Baptist church, in the late 1970s, women were not only ordained as deacons, the deacon chairperson was a woman!
By the time I was in high school, our pastor was a New Testament scholar and seminary professor of Biblical Greek. He often preached about understanding the historical and cultural contexts of our Scriptures, and he warned us that a movement was growing in Baptist life to keep women from serving as deacons, leaders, and preachers – a movement designed to put “women back in their ‘biblical’ place.” (Sure enough, throughout the 1980s that is exactly what happened).
Maybe I’m a feminist because of the Bible itself. Despite the Bible having been written over thousands of years by many different hands, and cultural male-dominance having led to some of the writers to confuse “the way things are” with “the way God intends everything to be” (we still do that, don’t we?), despite all that, from the very beginning, up through the end, we can still see the subversive Spirit of God moving and pushing and prodding and birthing the Kingdom along in this world through independent, disobedient, non-submissive women.
Pharaoh warned and Pharaoh explained, but nevertheless, the women, along with God, persisted.
Can you imagine where we would be today if it were not for women? Without the Sojourner Truths, the Harriett Tubmans, the Rosa Parks, the Susan B. Anthonys, the Edith Windsors? Did you know that the Black Lives Matter movement began with three women?
God is always birthing new movements of freedom and equality through stubborn, strong, courageous, uncontrollable, high-strung women.
Of course, we men don’t like it when God doesn’t act how we expect God should act; we men don’t like it when our power and authority are questioned; and we men get quite upset when God refuses to be confined by our treasured doctrines.
Male preachers have been warning God forever. We’ve given explanations (yes, we’ve “mansplained” the Bible to God). Nevertheless … (you know the rest).
For rule-breaking, free-thinking, subversive, non-submissive, and truly biblical women everywhere, thanks be to God!
Bert Montgomery pastors University Baptist Church in Starkville, teaches sociology and religion courses at Mississippi State University, and believes in the radical notion that women are people, too. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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