Where are the Women?

by Christa McKirland

Each month Blogos features an article created in partnership with the Logos Institute’s Logia initiative. This month’s Logia post is by Logia Director Christa McKirland. More information about Logia and additional articles are available here.

The present Logia Blog series has focused on women’s stories from the disciplines of Biblical Studies, Theology, Science & Religion, and Philosophy. The narratives have taken many forms, but the common thread throughout these stories has been: Being a woman explicitly affected each person’s decision to pursue postgraduate studies. To conclude this series, I will share some of my own story and how this has influenced my research interests and where I am today. I will also introduce the new series that will begin this September and carry through until August of 2019.

A few years ago, my mom found a Bible devotional journal of mine from when I was 9. Each page has a short passage of scripture and questions for engagement. I flipped through the pages of my pencil-scribbled responses until a note in the margins caught my eye. Given my predilection for order and rule-following (even as a 9-year-old), to see something scrawled outside the boundaries of the prescribed lines gave my 30-something-self pause. The story was about Jesus miraculously feeding 5,000 men, and right next to the description of this audience, my little hand had queried: “Where are the women and children?”

Even as a small child, I knew something was missing from this story. As my young, imaginative mind likely thought of being on that hillside, I wondered why I wouldn’t have been included in this headcount. Why were the women and children invisible?

Later, I would wonder why women never preached, were never allowed up front in the service, could not serve communion, baptize people, or even pass offering plates. As I wondered about all these things, my developing mind arrived at a singular, though misguided, conclusion: God must want women to be invisible. I didn’t know why—I just knew this is what the Bible said.

The problem was, I knew I was a leader, a teacher, and a preacher. I knew that these were gifts from God to be used for God and that curtailing them was wrong, yet somehow, so was utilizing them.[1] This tension only grew more pronounced as I pursued a double-major in Philosophy and Women’s Studies at the University of Georgia. Philosophy helped me think critically about the illogic of women’s subordination while my Women’s Studies exposure helped me think of patriarchal influences and the role of power in these conversations. Simultaneously, I was serving at a local church as a youth director, teaching nearly 70 students on a weekly basis.[2]

Inevitably, as this youth group consisted of boys and girls, the question of my continuing to teach a mixed audience began to be raised. Here, finally, my crisis came to a head. Either I could abandon my faith or abandon my calling. Thankfully, a mentor of mine recognized my plight and gave me a book expositing another interpretation. I went home and read it for six-hours straight and, for the first time, learned about a third way. A way that was true to my faith and true to my calling.

I had never read about cultural context or conceived that the interpretation of the text and the text itself were two separate things. I had always been taught that “the Bible says it, I believe it, and that settles it.” This book opened my eyes to the depth of the text and the history that surrounded it.[3]

My crash course in exegesis and hermeneutics influenced my story in two pivotal ways. First, it revealed a faithful reading of the texts which encouraged me to pursue studying, preaching, and teaching to anyone who would listen. Second, it uncovered how little I knew about this Book that I thought I knew so well. Thus, I determined that if I was going to stake my life’s work on this interpretation of the text, I needed to learn Greek and Hebrew and pursue postgraduate Divinity education.

Furthermore, upon thinking through all the things I love to do: teaching, preaching, mentoring, and writing, a professorship made the most sense as a future career aspiration. I also knew that influencing the conservative local church would likely require having credibility in the academy. Upon pursuing a Master of Arts in Bible Exposition, I also discovered my love for Theology—especially because ideas have consequences, and theological ideas have especially potent ones. While this can be used for ill, it can also be used for good, and I began to think that I could one day be a theologian. Now, those dreams are becoming a reality as I am completing my Ph.D. in Analytic and Exegetical Theology, and directing an initiative born out of a 9-year-old’s troubled concern: Women and children aren’t invisible—we’ve always been there, and we were fed that day too.

In our new series, beginning with a post from Juliany Gonzalez, we will hear from a range of contributors speaking into a two-fold question: 1) Why is it important for women to study, teach, and contribute to the fields of theology, biblical studies, and philosophical theology? 2) What are some practical ways we can encourage women to do this?

We hope you will journey with us as we answer this question from various perspectives.

Christa L. McKirland is a Research Fellow in the Logos Institute. Her research proposes a pneumatologically-Christocentric anthropology based upon the significance and uniqueness of the fundamental human need for intentional dependence upon the divine presence.

[1] I will be forever grateful that while I received this message implicitly and explicitly from my spiritual communities, I only ever received the fullest support from my parents—my dad, a Southern Baptist minister and my mom, a successful lawyer. I am confident I would not be where I am today, pursuing all that I am, had it not been for their bold (and subversive) encouragement.

[2] I was functioning as a youth “pastor” but the church’s beliefs about what a “pastor” entailed prohibited that language from being used.

[3] In light of learning about a different hermeneutical method, I would now read the feeding of the 5,000 within its patriarchal context in which men were more societally valued. However, such a description does not imply a prescription, especially in light of the radically equalizing “Good News” of Jesus Christ (cf. Gal 3:28).