A class I teach includes an overview of women in church history. In addition to reading accounts of women martyrs, students watch the film “Iron Jawed Angels.” Most people don’t realize that Alice Paul, a key leader in the fight for suffrage in the USA, was a Quaker.
Driven by her conviction that God made man and woman equal, Alice Paul worked tirelessly for a constitutional amendment giving women the vote. After viewing the film, one of my students wrote this to me: “All was well until completing the reading for class today and seeing Iron Jawed Angels. The movie had an enormous impact on me. I've realized that all throughout the last few months the word that keeps coming up both within and outside of me is ‘courage.’”
She went on to say that she had always thought of courage as a manly quality rather than a human quality. But as a result of her Spirit-led, film-inspired clarity, she realized courage was for women, too. Consequently, her plans shifted from spending a summer in comfort to pursuing a ministry opportunity in Ethiopia. And that summer in Africa has led to a lifetime of service planned as a missionary living overseas.
I’ve mentioned this story in the past, and I tell it again because I continue to encounter people who associate courage with manhood, which is all well and good, until they disassociated it from womanhood. If courage is manly, they think, then “a woman who acts courageously is acting against her gender. Men were made to rescue, but women were made to be rescued.”
As many conservative churches focus on biblical manhood and biblical womanhood, teaching in some of these contexts at times borders on mentoring in Christian subculture norms rather than the Bible. How can a Christian female roofer in America risk being labeled as “unfeminine,” but a female Christian roofer in Kenya is “doing women’s work”? Aren’t biblical norms supposed to be universal and timeless?
I am all for being masculine and feminine. Truly. But when the labels prohibit us from experiencing our full dynamic range of personhood, and when our churches teach conformity to these labels, aren’t we missing something? Why not focus instead on pursuing Christ and the fruit of the Spirit embodied as a woman or embodied as a man? After all, Jesus cooked fish, Jacob cooked stew, and the deacons in Acts 6 served the widows their food. If we teach service to one another, our applications might even challenge gender norms at times in the name of love and service.
I would argue that courage is for males. But it is also for females. Are not all believers told throughout scripture to “have courage”? And what is “fear not” but a reminder to put off fear and put on courage? More to the point, what was Queen Esther, if not courageous in the face of death? Did she wait for Mordecai to come rescue her? No, she rose up and rescued not only herself, but an entire people group.
And what about Jesus? According to the story in Matthew 9, our Lord encounters a woman with a “female” problem. And notice what He requires of her: “But a woman who had been suffering from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the edge of his cloak. For she kept saying to herself, ‘If only I touch his cloak, I will be healed.’ But when Jesus turned and saw her, he said, ‘Have courage, daughter! Your faith has made you well.’ And the woman was healed from that hour.”
His only imperative was, “Have courage, daughter”?
She was made to be courageous!