I was initiated into adulthood through more than the traditional graduation from high school.
I will never forget that summer because I was excited to be participating in the National American Baptist Youth Gathering as a small group leader.
My anticipation of an incredible week quickly turned into a nightmare when I learned one of my childhood friends had died in a car accident.
Upon learning of his death, I wanted nothing to do with the rest of the week, but thanks to a wonderful pastor who allowed me space to grieve I finished the week.
This was a complete contrast to a male leader who said he wouldn’t have even told me until the week was over because I was a small group leader and had responsibilities.
And yet, this pastor’s gifts are not fully recognized everywhere in my own denomination because this pastor is a woman.
This causes me to wonder why we continue to read 1 Corinthians 14:34 and 1 Timothy 2:12 as universal imperatives for all time instead of speaking to a specific local context?
Why do we not treat Romans 16 as a universal statement, when it is clear Paul thanks multiple women leaders in the church like Phoebe, Mary and Junia, to name a few.
My suspicion is that what we embrace as universal in reading Scripture when there are texts that contradict or challenge our perspective has more to do with that which is comfortable and familiar.
I will always be an advocate for female pastors because of this woman’s willingness to share in my grief and because of several other women who have taken the time to mentor me in my calling to vocational ministry.
As much as I cannot understand the reluctance to embrace female pastors in the pulpit, I have learned that the inequality of women has far more reaching consequences.
A headline caught my attention recently, which I would have scrolled past and never taken the time to read the story previously. This is not because the story of two teenage girls being raped and hanged in a tree in India is not a horrible atrocity worthy of my attention.
Instead, with the current crises—a possible war between Ukraine and Russia, tensions rising between Japan and China, and hundreds of schoolgirls kidnapped in Nigeria—such a headline often becomes lost in an overwhelming sea of angst taking place all over the world.
Yet the article stuck out to me this time because I had just finished reading former President Jimmy Carter’s latest book, “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence and Power.”
This book is well worth reading this summer because it describes the complex and systematic problems that continue to contribute to the abuse and violence against women in our world today.
In the book, Carter does not hold back. In a reflection on femicide—the choice to abort a female fetus in hopes of trying again for a boy—he writes, “It appears that more than twice as many girls have been killed by their parents during my lifetime as the total number of combatants and civilians lost in World War II.”
This is only one of several haunting statements in his book.
Some of the problems Carter identified did not surprise me because I have heard of them before.
Other times, I was surprised and had to revise my own biases, recognizing the possible scapegoats I had blamed for the continued violence against women in our world today.
One example is the hope that can be found in certain parts of the Islamic world where women are taking on leadership roles in their societies.
Closer to home, I was stunned to learn from Carter that the United States is only one of six nations who has not ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women. The other five members of this list are Iran, Palau, Somalia, Sudan and Tonga.
Truly this is where his book shines in his willingness not to scapegoat and label in an attempt to provide easy solutions, which ultimately would prove ineffective.
While Carter might be stating the obvious in noting that there is still a long way to go in recognizing women as equals, what he challenges, and what makes the book worth reading, is his ability to help us recognize the ways in which we are all complicit in this problem. Our Christian faith included.
Seth M. Vopat is the associate pastor of youth and family at Louisburg First Baptist Church in Louisburg, Kansas, and a graduate of Central Baptist Theological Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter @svopat.