Do women have a voice? Yes!

Photo: Miguel Bruna, Unsplash. Photo: Miguel Bruna, Unsplash.

BEING a woman is a gift from God. Women are blessed with many talents and skills but not always given opportunities to fully use them.

Sometimes it is the church that holds women back.

One cause of this restriction is how some people interpret 1 Corinthians 14:34-35.
What does Paul mean that women must never say anything in church?

“Women should be silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be subordinate, as the law also says. If there is anything they desire to know, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church.”

I believe the controversy over this passage is due to a misreading or misinterpretation.

Earlier in his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul says women are praying and prophesying in church (1 Corinthians 11:5). That means they are leaders. A prophet is called by God to speak for God. Prophets admonish, warn, direct, encourage, intercede, teach and give counsel. They bring the word of God to the people of God.

Joel 2:28 says God declares: “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy . . .” This word of the Lord appears again in the New Testatment when Peter quotes it in Acts 2:17.

If sons and daughters are prophesying, all are free to minister as their gifts allow.

That means 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 should not be used as a commandment in our churches. It was only applicable to the people Paul was addressing.

The controversy over whether women should have a voice has caused a lot of injustice. Many world cultures ran with these verses without context or consideration of their impact.

This has caused women to be relegated to the back seat. Women have had to face indifference, discrimination and inequality.

When women have been bold enough to use their God-given gifts, in some places they are misjudged as attempting to usurp men’s authority. In some churches, women are still restricted from leadership roles.

Today I celebrate courageous women, past and present, who did not allow misguided opinions to hold them back.

In Anabaptist history, I celebrate the women of Augsburg in 1527 and 1528 who made a considerable impact. One was Susanna Doucher, who gathered several hundred Anabaptists at her house to worship, despite the risk of imprisonment. Many courageous Anabaptist women offered their homes for meetings, lodging itinerant ministers or housing refugees — knowing they might be martyred or exiled.

Today, I celebrate women on the U.S. national scene, women like Kamala Harris — the first female, first Black and first Asian American vice president — and Ketanji Brown Jackson, the first African American woman to serve as a Supreme Court justice.

Women were created to be brokers of peace. Those blessed with a quiet and gentle spirit are not precluded from demonstrating a depth of understanding of God’s divine will.

I think of those involved in Mennonite Church USA’s Women in Leadership organization. WiL “works to dismantle patriarchal systems . . . by empowering women to live out the call of God on their lives, increase their capacities and contribute their wisdom in congregations, area conferences, agencies and institutions.”

I think of the biblical examples of Deborah and Esther.

Deborah was both prophetess and judge. The people came to her for words from God. No one seemed to object based on her gender.

In Judges 5, Deborah leads the people in song after leading them to victory in battle. “The peasantry prospered in Israel . . . because you arose, Deborah, arose as a mother in Israel” (Judges 5:7).

I celebrate the Esthers in the church today. Brave, selfless and humble, Esther saved the entire Jewish population from slaughter.

The peace that women want is a transformative peace, with justice and socioeconomic services for victims of violence. Radhika Coomaraswamy, a Sri Lankan lawyer who was the lead author of a United Nations report on women, says, “We want a demilitarized peace through a civilian process.”

Women — mothers, wives, sisters, friends, pastors, executives — are equal to men as contributors to society.

Women, you are strong, able and powerful. You have proved you are no less than a man. Keep holding people together in our families, churches and society. Keep brokering peace.

Happy Mother’s Day! It is a day to celebrate all women.

Anthonia Onye

Anthonia Onye is regional minister for Southern California for Pacific Southwest Mennonite Conference.

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