The Witness of Women Is Written on the Walls

I needed female heroes, and I found them in ancient churches.

I grew up believing women could do it all. In rural South Dakota, I was surrounded by farm women, who are some of the toughest, most resilient people I have ever met. My mom could bake delicious chicken and also slaughter them.

South Dakota also frequently leads the nation in the percentage of women and mothers who work outside the home. So as a young girl, I never doubted that women could do whatever they wanted, that they were as equally capable as men. I could become president. I could be an astronaut. I could do whatever I set my mind on doing.

But as I prepared to do so, I discovered a gap between what I had always been told and what I now saw—and that gap was distinctly female-shaped. Despite the many women visible in the workforce in South Dakota, women felt largely invisible when it came to the work of theology. My home church had never had a female preacher. During seminary, I had one female professor. In my doctoral studies, I had two, but none in my religion classes.

I was confident that Scripture supported women in teaching and leading the church: Women were the first to proclaim the gospel (Luke 24:5–12), and Paul names women like Junia and Phoebe, who acted as apostles and deacons (Rom. 16:1, 7). But compared to the pages and pages dedicated to Peter and Paul, Augustine and Aquinas, Calvin and Luther, women often felt like names merely mentioned in the margins.

I wanted more than names. I wanted to see women leading. I wanted to see women teaching. I wanted to see their faces and hear their stories. I wanted exemplars I could imitate: women who, with Paul, could say, “Imitate me, just as I imitate Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1, NLT).

I wanted heroes.

Eventually, on a trip to Italy, I found them. It …

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