Junia Who?

I came across the Junia Project only recently but have been really impressed with the quality of their posts. For those who don’t know, Junia is the name of a woman from Rome in the first century and she is called an apostle in the New Testament. (Romans 16:7) However for the last hundred years or so most English translations gave her the masculine name Junias, hiding the fact that she was a woman in ministry.

Obviously I too am a woman in ministry. But the “issue” of women in ministry has been one I’ve sometimes been a bit reluctant to talk too loudly about. Partly because I hate the thought that my life and work is an “issue”! I don’t want to be defined by this debate, nor do I wish to be seen as pushing an agenda. I didn’t go into ministry to prove anything to anyone; I simply responded to God’s call on my life and listened to the affirmation of the family of churches He placed me in.

I have been privileged to have male friends, colleagues and pastors who have been and are incredible advocates for me and for all women serving in our churches. I am grateful to them because we all need to hear their voices. They can say things that I cannot and say them far more powerfully than I ever could.

But I have also been given opportunities to speak around this topic and others because of my still relatively rare circumstance. When I was ordained I was the only ordained woman in my denomination in my state. Now, ten years later, I am one of four. Our family of churches have been wonderfully supportive, but we still face challenges in really listening to women’s voices in all their diversity of ministry experiences.

I‘m still figuring out how best to use my voice on this topic. But the Junia Project is challenging and inspiring me. I found this article on How To Avoid Undermining Your Theology Of Gender  particularly helpful. Sometimes it is the more subtle things we do that risk undermining what we overtly say we believe. I would think nearly every Christian woman I know would have personal experiences of the kinds of things this article is talking about, and many of us have also done some of the things it challenges us to avoid. We’re all learning together how to navigate the implications of the gospel in a culture still heavily influenced by ‘gender wars.’

Without wanting to jump on any soapboxes, high-horses or bandwagons, because none of those sound like particularly fun places to be, I’m looking forward to listening and exploring more of what it means to use my voice and influence well when it comes to the challenges facing women in the church and in the world today.

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15 thoughts on “Junia Who?

  1. Thanks Mel, coincidently yesterday I read John Dickson’s short book ‘Hearing Her Voice’ which seems to have stirred controversy in his world (Syd Ang). Love to hear your view on it…

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    1. Hi Tim! Yes, I’ve read John’s book. I really like the way he writes and I appreciate something of the context he is coming from (which is significantly different from my own) but in the end it felt to me like he had to do some exegetical gymnastics to get to where he got. I think there are some more straightforward hermeneutical methods!
      I’ve read so many different things on this topic, but one of the simplest presentations I think is in Scot McKnight’s book The Blue Parakeet. It’s a book on biblical interpretation but he uses women in ministry as a “case study” throughout.
      I actually used it one year as a textbook for my class on basic hermeneutics, but particularly the younger students felt like he spent too much time on that one issue. I think they were totally with him, they just wanted him to move on to some other topics and examples which they thought were far more difficult and controversial!

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  2. Hi Melinda,
    What an encouraging and inspiring blog! I am so glad you found us and am looking forward to hearing more from you! Thank you for being bold and following the call God placed on your life. You always have a place at The Junia Project and please let us know if you ever need anything 🙂

    Kate

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  3. Melinda, I was delighted to follow the link-back from our site and even more delighted to read this post and hear the The Junia Project has been helpful to you in your journey. If you would be willing, I would love to share your thoughts with our readers as part of a post summarizing our second month. It could be anonymous if you prefer. Please email me and let me know what you think! Blessings. gail@juniaproject.com

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  4. Thanks Mel
    When I read the Junia Project article I assumed it was a woman writing, until point 5 when the author was “outed”. This mis-reading made me realise that women can also stereotype themselves as complementarians.

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  5. Hi Melinda!

    Thanks for the link to the article. I reckon those subtle things are so important. I’ve had the rather disconcerting experience of none of those things being done when I’ve worked in an egalitarian church and seeing a much greater effort being made when I worked in a complementarian context!

    I reckon heaps of the discussion of this ‘issue’ has focused on the ‘whether’ and not the ‘how’. I mean, when I was a young(er) preacher, one of the things I was interested in was how to preach as a woman, not because I thought I was less authoritative than men (or whatever) but because I figure we bring our gender, personality, etc to preaching. I figured that I probably couldn’t preach in an un-gendered way (any more than a bloke could!) but I couldn’t see myself conforming to some stereotype of women preachers either! Does that make sense? Do you reckon it’s a conversation worth having?

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    1. Tamie, it was nice to hear that someone else has had similar experiences! I was once offered a job at a church that was officially complementarian but functionally egalitarian. I also served at a church that was officially egalitarian but functionally complementarian (in that women in leadership were nearly invisible). I think a lot has to do with the leadership of the senior pastor.

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    2. Hi Tamie, I think that is definitely a conversation worth having.
      I never felt like I had many role models as a female preacher (I remember in the early days stressing a lot about what to wear, both because I had no models and also because of the microphone issues!) and I also hate some of the stereotypes too, because I often don’t fit them at all!
      I think it took me a few years to really find my own “voice” as a preacher, being me in all that am (as a woman, as a Bible teacher, as a logical thinker, as a fast thinker/talker – all of those influence my preaching and I can only preach as I am, not as any one else is). I think I’m pretty comfortable now in being my authentic self when I preach.
      I’m part of a group called the Young Clergy Women Project and one of things that I love about it is that it is a community where we can talk about this stuff – I’ve learned a lot from them about preaching with a woman’s voice (both literally – some listeners have issues with the higher pitch! and figuratively).

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      1. That high pitch issue is a real problem… when women preach passionately, the power of what they say can be lost because of the pitch of their voice… tough and unfair, but true. My voice is deeper now than it used to be, so that takes the edge away, but it’s also worth deliberately choosing not to screech when you raise your voice.

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      2. Haha, I relate to all those descriptions Melinda! I found developing my voice a tremendously creative process and I enjoyed that. Like you, I feel more settled now. (Though I suspect as you change over time your ‘voice’ does too!)

        I love the sound of the kind of community you mention and also all the talk of mentoring below. 🙂

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  6. HI Melinda,

    I recently found The Junia Project also, and have been so impressed by the calibre of their articles – clear and biblically intelligent without being pugnacious or demeaning of opposing views. Gail Wallace has done a fantastic job of pulling together such a great team.

    Like you, I have not wanted this fight. I have merely wanted to do what God has called me to, which has been to operate as a leader in the Church and train others to do the same. However, in the last few years, I have found God calling/pulling/challenging me to stand up more visibly because it’s not about me and my small world. The real issues are more to do with providing a platform from which women can operate in their own calls and giftings, along with the guys, so that the purposes of God can be facilitated in this world.

    Elizabeth Janeway said: We older women who know we aren’t heroines can offer our younger sisters, at the very least, an honest report of what we have learned and how we have grown.

    In this way, that old biblical point of the older women teaching the younger comes into play in a whole new way. I realise it’s incumbent on me and you and every other who has an understanding of these issues, to take responsibility to help others see that the Body of Christ, and therefore the worlds we live in, are poorer without the full, free and complete interaction of the women God has called to take their place and play their part.

    Thanks for your article… really encouraging.

    Bev

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    1. Thanks Bev, I appreciate your comments. Your mention of older/younger women raises another interesting issue for me …. I still think of myself as young! But I am realising as I head at ever increasing speed out of my 30s that I might need to change the way I see myself and step into the role I have as someone who has been around a while and has opportunities and some influence to use those to help provide space for others in the future.

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      1. Chuckle… old/young… it’s all relative, isn’t it. By older, I think I mean, more mature! Yep, mentoring/coaching/encouraging others is a great way to increase productivity, isn’t it..

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