Why does this one little word pack such a punch?
As a female minister and aspiring preacher, I am lucky to be able to say that I have only had one man directly tell me I could not preach because I am a woman.
It was when I was working retail and, after making some questionable remarks about taking my younger co-worker on a date, this man turned to me and said, “I’d say the same to you, but I know you aren’t a day over 18.”
I answered that I, in fact, was 23, had graduated with a 3.49 grade-point average from Belmont University, was married and in my second year of seminary.
To which he responded that women could not be preachers because God made women for certain duties and men for others.
I blew it off. Because to me, his insult to my gifts and my call didn’t matter as much as knowing I would never see him again.
But why does this word, “preacher,” pack such a punch?
Preacher: someone who proclaims and teaches to a group. Or, in my case as a Southern Baptist, a man who proclaims and teaches to a group.
People get nervous when women want to preach. Some lash out with their limited and unquestioned theology about the place of a female, while others do it quietly in other ways.
This quiet protest is more of what I have experienced, and what I think is limiting the role of clergywomen even more.
I can count the times I have been directly told I cannot preach because of my gender, but I cannot begin to calculate the times I have heard, “We can just call it teaching or speaking” or something similar, with almost no follow-through on allowing me a platform to “teach” or “speak.”
The continual presentation of this qualification makes me ask: Does changing the word really change anything?
Are we so attached to the formality of “preaching” and what it has become that when someone contrary to our picture of a preacher dares to ask to preach, we change the word?
Or are we too afraid of actually allowing all those with the call to preach to do so under the same title, even if one of them is wearing high heels?
If you had asked me a few month ago, I would have replied with my classic, “You can call it whatever you want; it doesn’t matter to me as long as I can do it.” This approach, by the way, has resulted in zero “speaking” opportunities.
But now, I am just tired. I am tired of being limited by uncomfortable people turning my gift into a joke and of receiving the same remark about “calling it something different” over and over so no one is offended.
In fact, I am offended.
I am offended that one word causes so much uncomfortable controversy.
I am offended that others would attempt to limit God’s ability to provide anyone with any gift.
And I am offended that the response of “calling it something else” is still met with zero preaching opportunities.
Calling it something else doesn’t seem to be solving any problems. If anything, it is making things worse.
Times are changing. They always have. And Christianity has always changed with them.
Why don’t we go back to the biblical model of the early church and include women in leadership, allowing women to preach and serve as deaconesses? If we want to reach every single person in the pew – instead of half of them – then we must.
And as for me? I’ll keep working on my “teachings.” If your church does follow the model Jesus set in place for inclusion of all and celebration of all gifts, I am available to preach, as are many other capable women called by God to preach.
Elizabeth-Anne Lovell is a third-year MDiv student at Central Seminary in the Women’s Leadership Initiative. She lives in Lebanon, Tennessee and serves as Associate Pastor of Generations of Grace Church.