The Need for Prominent Women

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In a rather hostile, one-sided “conversation” about feminism and female priests, a priest noted that confession is one reason why female priests would be unhelpful: men would be more comfortable confessing sexual sin to a male priest. I can grant that, though I have been the unlikely confessor for young men’s sexual sin in the past.

But if that’s true, what about the opposite — what about the women and their discomfort with confessing their sexual sin to a male priest? Would that not be an argument in favor of the need for female priests?

What about women wanting female pastoral care, period? Would that not require a female pastoral staff?

As an academic and wannabe theologian, I got used to male mentors. All the pastors were men. All the Bible students were men. All the religion professors were men. Many of my theologically-inclined friends were men.

It was my male pastor who answered all my theological inquiries as a kid. It was a male professor who stopped me outside of Delp Hall to ask about my feelings, because I had been crying during his class the night before (and not, he had intuited, about the Summa Theologica). It was a male professor who oversaw my thesis on gender and spirituality. It was a male professor who heard all the angst about my spiritual life. It was a male counselor who walked me through relationship quagmires.

And yes, I even had dispassionate and theological conversations about sex with men. Was it uncomfortable? Slightly, in the sense that I was wondering whether it was uncomfortable for the man and whether it should be uncomfortable for either of us. But there was nobody else to talk to.

Ministry and academia are dominated by men, and I adjusted to that. I don’t regret any of those friendships or mentorships. I don’t resent my mentors for being men.

At the same time, I did want female mentors. Women have different perspectives than men. Women can talk firsthand about being a wife or a girlfriend or a female, about motherhood, about feminine spirituality (or even if there is such a thing). There are problems and questions I had that I wanted to address to a woman as equally thoughtful, intelligent, and educated as the male professors, pastors, and counselors in my life.

And there were certainly such women at my college (and maybe at my church). They just weren’t obvious fixtures in the community. There were the deans of women, there were pastor’s wives, yes. But those were titles with which I wasn’t familiar. They didn’t connote a pastoral or professorial nature. So I never went to them.

It wasn’t until the end of my junior year when I finally stumbled across these female mentors and struck up equally satisfying friendships with them. Those friendships with intelligent, thoughtful, caring people — both men and women — are what I miss most about college.

All of this leads me to say: We need prominent women in every community that cares for souls — particularly women’s souls. 

I developed relationships with the people who taught and guided me — pastors, professors, and counselors — that is, those readily available. They were advertised as counselors. They stood in front of the class every other day. They addressed the congregation each Sunday. They were visible. Their beliefs and concern for their students or congregants was visible. And that made them prime candidates for mentoring.

In the churches I attended, that was not so. Women were not allowed to lead or teach in any way, shape, or form, so there were no prominent women. You didn’t know if a woman held a theological or counseling degree, and even if she did, whether she wanted to be a mentor or would be a good mentor. You never heard her teach, never could evaluate from afar whether she would be a safe person with whom you could confide.

That, to me, is a travesty. Even the early church had female deaconesses for the care of women before baptism. There’s historical precedent for an organized, prominent group of women for the spiritual life of other women.

It’s all very well and good to talk about the Titus 2 model of mentoring, but the reality is that many women don’t know who those “older women” could even be — because they’re not prominent in the church’s pastoral life. In many churches, there is no opportunity to walk up to a woman after her sermon and kickstart a relationship with a question about her main point — because women aren’t even allowed to read through the church announcements.

Like it or not, the people who look “prominent” in a church or a community are those up front — those you see and those you hear on a regular basis. If communities are serious about providing female mentors for women, they need more prominent women in their community.

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10 thoughts on “The Need for Prominent Women

  1. ruxee

    Very cool post, BUT I just have to say this: the girl in the picture is an aquaintance of mine, and the photoshoot made by some highschool friends! I am so thrilled a little bit of Romania got on one of your posts :))

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  2. Jasmine Ruigrok

    I love this. This is exactly the kind of woman I want to be; someone accessible to other young women seeking support, counsel, or strength. Thankyou for this exhortation. We need mentors who make themselves obviously available.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Mandy PS

    Yes to all this. I grew up similarly in a denomination that at best allowed women to teach children and women’s Sunday School. And I remember being a youth and being like “why are there no female deacons.”

    It never made sense to me. I knew deacons were there to help members. I also knew no married man in our church would meet with a single female one on one. Therefore a deacon would be obligated to bring his wife with him to help a single female out. Didn’t that mean his wife was also acting as a deacon? And what if the single female wasn’t comfortable talking about her problems with a man and therefore only spoke to the wife? If our deacons’ wives are going to act like deacons why don’t we just call a spade a spade and make them deacons.

    And why should a young woman be expected to feel comfortable confessing her deepest secrets to a man but not vice versa. I don’t want to talk to my male pastor about sexual issues or female issues or whatever. They may be able to sympathize with what I’m saying but they’ve not “been there and done that.” We need prominent women we know we can go to who understand.

    So yes, amen to all of this.

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    • Bailey Steger

      Yes yes yes! Curious…did these deacons’ wives have any sort of vocation/calling/knack for mentoring and counseling, or did they just come along solely because they were the deacon’s wife? See, it always bothered me when pressure or responsibility was given to women simply because they were married to a prominent man, when maybe other women were more qualified. There didn’t seem to be any system in place for vetting or training church leaders, period, and if there was, it certainly didn’t address women “leaders.”

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  4. Jean

    Absolutely! We also need to think about how this relates to age discrimination and the demands of real life. I think there is an unspoken expectation that the ‘good’ women will just naturally rise to the top. If a woman is really mentorship quality – she’ll stand out. But that is not always the case. I am in the trenches of motherhood and working a full time job. I don’t have a lot of time or energy to devote to a church community right now – though, in theory, I have many gifts to employ. Older woman are also still living busy, productive lives -supporting children as well as caring for their aging parents, working full time, and pursuing goals.

    This is not to say that women are busier than men – not at all – but whereas men are given space, time, and opportunities for leadership and to cultivate leadership gifts – women are not always encouraged and sought out for the same roles. It doesn’t seem like men have to work so hard to ‘prove’ themselves before taking on a leadership role. Older men seek them out and actively cultivate their skills. They are given a space in the church in which they can grow.
    So a man with 4 children working a full time job and couching a little league may assume the role of deacon or elder and, in doing so, so make cultivating the spiritual wellbeing of the church community more into the center of his priorities.

    I wish we could have a team of mature, serious minded, and gracious women in every church partnering to minister to the community. In college, I was able to attend a Bible study led by such a group of women – very intelligent women who were trying to find a place within the complementarian setting of the church. The lessons I learned from that group were unlike any other I learned. I grew more spiritually in 1 year with them than I had in 4 years of youth group led activities. I don’t know why the modern evangelical church has become so estranged from the ‘Wise woman’ model provided in Proverbs. We need to let them sit at the gates so that they can be heard by the multitude.

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    • Bailey Steger

      These are some excellent, practical points — creating space for women to focus more on ministry. And yes — I learned far more even just from my informal conversations with my mentors than I did the youth group setting!!

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  5. Korie

    So one of my favorite books on this is “Powerful And Free: Confronting the Glass Ceiling for Women in the Church.” The book doesn’t go through all of the Bible verses and convince the reader that women should be in leadership. Rather, it looks at the way Jesus treated women in contrast with the way that they are treated in churches today. And it challenges both men and women to look at how women are treated in the church, even when the church *does* allow women leaders.

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