Sacred Oppression

(This is #8 in a series).

After everywhere we’ve been in this book, Chapter 7 starts with some surprising facts: Women preached in evangelical churches for a century prior to WWII. Barr cites Timothy Larson’s “Evangelicalism” Strong History of Women in Ministry” (2017), in which he characterizes “women’s involvement in public ministry ‘a historic distinctive of evangelism’” (175). From Methodists to Calvinists to—yes—Southern Baptists, women have been allowed to preach. The SBC even ordained a woman, Addie Davis, in 1964 and sponsored a conference on women’s role in ministry in 1974 (175). Barr spends pages laying out the history.

So what changed?

Barr lays it at the feet of two events. The fundamental-modernist controversy in the early 20th century churches “split evangelicals into liberal and conservative camps, laying the groundwork for the modern culture wars. Liberals wanted a more ecumenical approach to missions and the freedom to modernize traditional beliefs; conservatives wanted to protect traditional beliefs against encroaching cultural pressures” (188). The “central drama” was over biblical inerrancy, with the fundamentalists firmly in the camp that believed “not only that the Bible was without error, but that it had to be without error to be true at all” (188). Barr says “the…emphasis on inerrancy went hand in hand with a wide-ranging attempt to build up the authority of male preachers at the expense of women” (189). A side benefit of inerrancy was “an atmosphere of fear. Any question raised about biblical accuracy must be completely answered or completely rejected to prevent the fragile fabric of faith from unraveling” (190).

The second event was the rise of the Arian heresy in evangelical churches. This heresy, discarded by the church in 325 CE at the Council of Nicaea, stated that within the Trinity, the Son and Holy Spirit are subject to the Father, making the power structure between the three uneven. The council rejected this idea and confirmed that the Trinity is one God in three persons, light from light, true God from true God. To suggest that the Son submits to the Father is to deny the heart of Christianity.

Barr shares the opinion of Kevin Giles that the resurgence of Arianism in the American evangelical church is a failure of education: “’In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, conservative evangelicals were among those with a very weak and sometimes erroneous grasp of the historically developed doctrine of the Trinity’” (195). Without a strong grounding in theology that would have helped them understand that we should be more like God, these preachers “fought to make God look more like us” (195). If the Son submits to the Father, then too the congregation to the preacher, the wife to the husband, the child to the parent, the slave to the master, the poor to the rich, and so on.

Barr presents this information objectively, but it is impossible to read it that way.

And honestly, I don’t know where to begin.

Catholics do not read the bible literally, because there are textual errors in the Bible. For example, the earth is not flat; the sun does not revolve around the earth; dinosaurs were real and the earth is older than 7000 years. The folks who wrote the Bible did the best they could with the information they had. However, we do believe that the truth of the message of salvation is inerrant. For example, when Jesus said “Amen, amen, I say to you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you do not have life within you” (John 6:53), this was not open to interpretation. For 2000 years, we have proven that it is possible to hold these two ideas—that the Bible has errors in it AND the Bible is the Word of God—without our faith wavering or God being diminished.

Also, the idea that the Word is frail is ridiculous. The Word is God. God is not frail. That’s the kind of thing Satan would have us believe.

However, these two events in the evangelical church underscore the point from two weeks ago—the Word is vulnerable. It can be manipulated by those with human and sinful intentions. The truth will out because God can’t be contained, but in the meantime, the Word can be used by those who would make themselves into gods. Barr doesn’t go this far, but I will–to suggest that the Bible in its entirety is inerrant and must be accepted literally is to ask people to accept that the world is flat, the sun orbits the earth, dinosaurs never lived, science is fake—

Do you see? It is a direct line from these two events to where we are today. Evangelicals have been trained to not believe what their eyes see, their ears hear, and their minds know.

None of this—not biblical womanhood, or biblical inerrancy or the emphasis on Greek and Roman hierarchical structures—is about God’s kingdom on earth. It has nothing to do with Gospel.

Last week, I taught my 4th and 5th graders to judge a tree by its fruit. We talked about the fruit that shrivels on the branch and the kind that falls to the ground. We talked about how a healthy tree produces healthy, life-giving fruit and we talked about what that fruit—the fruit of the Spirit—looks like in people: Kindness. Love. Goodness. Gratefulness. Patience. Joy. Peace. Self-control. Gentleness.

It’s time to apply these same ideas to our churches.

The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing Christians that oppression is godly. That God ordained some people, simply because of their sex or skin color (or both), as belonging under the power of other people (173).

The Good Girls

Barr opens this chapter with a gnarly cautionary tale from a medieval sermon:

The story goes like this: Sex was considered impure, so medieval Christians were encouraged to abstain from sex during holy times (which was a lot of time on the medieval calendar). A woman wanted to have sex with her husband on Easter morning. He said no. She was so overcome by desire that she tried to seduce her brother-in-law, who also denied her. Mad with lust, she grabbed a sword and cut off his head. When her husband found her, standing with the sword dripping blood, she declared “Lo, all this I have done, you have made me do!”(151)

The point of the sermon was that while we should abstain from sex during holy times, the “marriage debt” is real and should not have been denied. Barr writes “because of the natural weakness of the female body, medieval women were considered more prone to sin, especially sexual sin” (151). In other words, by denying his wife sex, the man caused her to commit the sin of murder, driven mad by her unfulfilled desire.

As a Catholic, this is the sexual trope with which I am most familiar: the Temptress. The more sexual a woman is, the more sinful. After the safety of our children, it’s hard to find a more indelible failure in the Catholic Church than the enduring belief that women are sexually fallen.

But Barr states that this is not the same way evangelical churches view women. Pre-Reformation, women’s sexuality was a sinful temptation, but a woman could eschew marriage and family, enter a convent and be heard as a doctor of the Church. Post-Reformation, women’s sexuality was a fragile, sacred calling to be protected at all costs; voluntary virginity was devalued as “spinsterhood” and a good woman moved demurely from her father’s authority to a husband’s. Barr says that “patriarchy shapeshifted” between the pre-and post-Reformation and “Instead of women finding holiness through virginity, they now found it in the marriage bed. The most sacred vessels were no longer the men and women who rose about their sex to serve God; the most holy institution was now the holy household”(152-53).

Again, as a Catholic, we do not carry these attitudes about the “holy household” in general, at least not in any way that places the father and husband in such a locus of control; marriage is a sacrament and vocation for both men and woman, and children are a result of that sacramental union. In the last 20 years, the traditional conservative side of our church, overly influenced by evangelical politics, has embraced more of the Anglo-Saxon Protestant ethics. Mistakenly, as Pope Francis continues to admonish them.

Regardless—both of these attitudes resulted in a social norming of female modesty as evidence of holiness. In this context, I mean the word “modesty” to apply not just to clothing, but an entire way of being female.

Barr tells the story of taking a group of girls to a church camp in the sticky heat of summer. Some of them wore tank tops. They were asked to change by camp directors: “’The straps on their tank tops are too thin. Their bra straps will show. We need them to cover up’”(154). They provided the girls with giant, shapeless men’s tshirts as an alternative.

Barr says that her girls had followed the dress code which allowed sleeveless tops. While the camp directors acknowledged this, they still wanted the girls to cover up. Barr refused, multiple times. But then she was confronted with this: “Modesty honors God, and didn’t the girls want to honor God?” (155). They covered up.

This concept of modesty as a reflection of “good girl” status stems from the cult of domesticity of the 19th century. Familiar to us through books and movies, this social norm “elevat(ed) the home as the safest space for respectable women” (156). Young girls were taught by governesses and finishing schools the necessary skills to provide a peaceful, well-functioning home for their future husbands.

This reminded me of a scene in Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen.  Austen was famously critical of social mores in 1810s England. Haughty Caroline Bingley, trying to highlight Lizzie’s lack of “training”, describes an “accomplished woman” thusly:  A woman must have a thorough knowledge of music, singing, drawing, dancing, all the modern languages, to deserve the word; and besides all this, she must possess a certain something in her air and manner of walking, the tone of her voice, her address and expressions, or the word will be but half deserved.” Darcy’s reply: “And to all this she must yet add something more substantial, in the improvement of her mind by extensive reading.” The sarcasm is lost on Caroline but would not have been missed by Austen’s female readers of the early 19th century. Nor the fact that Austen’s most accomplished characters are always the most flawed.

Barr argues that the modern (post-1990s) emphasis on biblical womanhood in evangelical churches is really a return to the cult of domesticity, another example where evangelicals read culture into the Bible. As I pointed out in my first post, the evangelical definition of biblical womanhood emphasizes behavior over spirit. A home-schooling mom with a clean house and the soul of a harpy is of less concern than a working mom with a heart of gold. To this point, prominent female evangelical writers and speakers (aka working moms) tie themselves into knots to present primarily as wives and mothers, obscuring their work behind their “holy modesty”. Barr writes that “being a wife and mother gives evangelical women credibility” and that most of them built fame from “the poured foundation of marriage and family” (168). This speaks to Barr’s point that “women adapt to the ever-changing rules of patriarchy” (169).

I believe this particular adaptation comes with a high cost. Many evangelical women are working within a framework they did not invent, but it often feels disingenuous to me, a pernicious type of virtue-signaling by a certain social class of Christian women. The primacy of their wife- and motherhood is a lie—they are moguls—but it makes their voices palatable to evangelical men. Who it hurts is other Christian women without their opportunities and/or resources, or who are struggling just to do the wife and mom part.  It is an impossible benchmark for most women to hit. We have only begun to understand the impact this constant comparison has on the mental and emotional health of women, but it feels like another type of oppression.

I want to recognize that this is a privileged conversation from start to finish, largely devoid of any consideration of race or class. Barr quotes an infamous 2018 blog post from The Transformed Wife (www.thetransformedwife.com, visit at your own risk), written by Lori Alexander:  “The chart, titled ‘Should Women Have Careers?’ went viral in 2018. Her answer, clearly, was no. In Alexander’s opinion, a stay-at-home mom has a ‘fulfilling life’ and ‘her husband and children rise up and call her blessed’, whereas a working mom has a life that is ‘falling apart’” (172). It’s hard to imagine a more privileged point of view which simultaneously shames mothers everywhere and ignores the very real struggles of class and race.

It is no surprise that the women who espouse their own imprisonment work tirelessly to justify it. Human nature requires us to be better than someone.

More on that later.

The Word is Vulnerable

(This is #7 in a series)

One of the things I have always wanted to ask a biblical literalist is this: How did you decide which translation of the Bible is the right one? 

Even the King James has five versions, spanning 160 years.  If you drop into Biblegateway.com to grab a verse or two, the menu has over 200 translations in many, many languages.

On one hand, all these versions which are mostly alike are proof of the power of the Holy Spirit at work. A few more books on the Catholic side (73), a few less for the Protestants (66), but overall, the—if I may—plot points are the same.

On hand two is this inescapable fact: the work was done by fallible humans. And as Barr says: “Translations matter”. If we think the bibles we have are a “plain reading of Scripture”(130) then we just aren’t paying attention.

To this point: Barr speaks mostly of gender inclusive language within the Bible, citing the 1997 Zondervan New International Version of the Protestant Bible, which caused scandal in evangelical circles: “Zondervan authors were supposed to avoid using masculine pronouns (mankind, man) as ‘generic placemarkers’ and instead use gender-inclusive terms like humanity and people” (130).  

I will shout down the PC cops on this one, especially since many of them are men who have never EVER had to tuck themselves under the umbrella of “womankind”.

The gender inclusive battle is as old as the Reformation, which brought new versions of the Bible, and a dodgy Protestant narrative about medieval Catholics to justify it: the medieval (Catholic) church was a “sit n’ git” proposition in which laypeople understood or had access to very little of Scripture or salvation. Barr points out the Reformation could not have happened if the layperson did not have enough access to their faith and Scripture to demand change . But since the crux of the Reformation was “new and proper understanding” of an existing text, the narrative was necessary:

To this day I grit my teeth over the church history series used by Capitol Hill Baptist Church. It paints a grim picture of a sordid, corrupt medieval church in which few people, except for a remnant of “scattered monks and nuns” found salvation. (I) will point out only this sentence from the online curriculum: medieval Christianity “reminds us what happens when people are illiterate of our Bibles—we drift from knowing what constitutes acceptance with God”. Medieval people did not know their Bible, this Protestant church history curriculum states, and consequently most of them were eternally damned” (138).

Barr lays out the proof that this was simply untrue, from famous medieval preachers who commanded great crowds, to the addition of gender-inclusive language to the Scripture as early as the Middle Ages. Barr writes “These changes were made in late medieval manuscripts for accuracy. The inclusion of “woman” and “every man and woman” had nothing to do with political correctness or a feminist agenda. Preachers were concerned that Scripture readings be taken to heart by all church members”(142). I laughed when I read this, as my cynicism got the best of me. I can just see a fussy monk somewhere in France translating “adam” as “human” (the correct translation) instead of “man” (140) to make sure women knew these rules applied to them as well.

Not so the Reformation Bibles. Barr writes “the early modern English Bible (post-Reformation) was translated in a context that politically, legally, economically and socially obscured women behind the identities of their husbands and fathers. The world of early modern England treated women as dependents on men and this cultural attitude was translated into the English Bible”(144).  

Whew. There it is again.

Barr is not the only scholar doing this kind of close reading of original biblical text, language and translation. I recently attended a virtual seminar as part of the “Women Erased” series through Future Church. It was led by Elizabeth Schrader from Duke University, and focused on very technical study of the earliest surviving transcripts of John’s Gospel and how they have been edited, especially Papyrus 66 (dating back to 200 AD).

In summary: Luke 10:38 is where we meet Martha and Mary of Bethany, in the famous scene where Jesus visits their home. Also, where there is no mention of any brother named Lazarus, in this Gospel.

But in John 11, we meet Lazarus, who is the one who Jesus loved (11:3). He is identified as the brother of Mary of Bethany, and  Martha her sister. As I wrote last week, Martha’s role in this story is one of unquestioning faith; but she also delivers one of the two confessionals in the Gospels—in verse 27 she proclaims Jesus is the Messiah.

You know who delivered the other one? Peter. And in Matthew 16:13-20, Peter’s confession prompts Jesus to name him as the rock upon which he will build his church, which is where the Catholic church finds the authority of the Pope. It’s kind of a big deal that we find this confession in the mouth of a woman. Also–Schrader discovered that Papyrus 66 has been edited. Originally, John 11 only referred to a “Maria” (Mary), sister of Lazarus and the one who perfumed Jesus’ feet; but then, on the original manuscript, it was changed to “Maria and Martha”.

Why is this significant? For one, it confuses the text. Lazarus who Jesus loved comes out of nowhere, especially in light of Luke 10. Also, it’s weird that Mary of Bethany would perfume Jesus’ feet and not the wealthy Mary Magdalene, who traveled with Jesus and would have had a better understanding of what was coming.

Let’s go back to the beginning of Barr’s book, and her idea that Mary Magdalene IS Mary of Bethany. If this is true, a Martha-less John 11 makes sense.  We would expect Jesus to be intimately acquainted with Mary Magdalene’s brother Lazarus and we would expect Mary Magdalene to feel comfortable enough to approach Jesus to anoint him.

Perhaps the Martha and Mary of Luke’s gospel were other women altogether, which would explain the absence of Lazarus. But it doesn’t explain why “Martha” is edited into John.

Schrader hypothesizes that it was because if Mary Magdalene, who was first to receive the Good News of Jesus’ Resurrection, is also Mary of Bethany, who perfumed Jesus and confessed him as the Messiah, this would make her a powerful, significant figure. Further—if she is Mary of Bethany, then the name Magdalene doesn’t refer to her home, but her importance—Magdala means “tower”. If Peter became the first leader of the whole church for his confession of Jesus, a strong argument could be made for the authority of Mary Magdalene, requiring a closer look at her work while Jesus lived and after his Resurrection.

Instead—perhaps in a nod to the cultural norms of the time–she is watered down to three women, and the confessional is placed into the mouth of Martha, a minor figure.

We may never know why the text was edited, but the implications are foundational to the role of women in the Christian faith. If Schrader’s theory is correct, then Mary Magdalene was stolen from Christian women.

Schrader calls this an “illness of the text” and connects it to a line from John 11: This sickness will not end in death No, it is for God’s glory so that God’s Son may be glorified through it (4). She says:

This illness is not unto death. Jesus knows…if the text has been changed—of course Jesus knows…Maybe Mary Magdalene was too strong a female figure for her time; and the text knows, and Jesus knows, what has happened, and it’s temporary. The illness is not unto death but is to show the glory of God. My hope is that if this is correct, I think it would in the long run show…that the text is vulnerable. Just as Jesus’ body is vulnerable, the WORD is vulnerable. You can try to erase, you can try to delete, you can try to get rid of the woman. But God’s weakness is stronger than human strength.

I feel like Schrader and Barr are saying the quiet part out loud, and I can’t help wonder why we don’t say it more often: it is impossible that the biblical texts have not been changed by human hands with human motivations. The truth will out, always but it starts with everyone admitting one thing:

The Word is vulnerable.

Knowledge IS Power

(#6 in a series)

An intrinsic element of a hierarchical society is knowledge—who knows it, and who controls access to it.  

Throughout the medieval period, the Catholic church controlled much of the academia of the Western World. Institutionally, she did not handle this charge well, as evidenced by her poor reaction to the Age of Reason. The Inquisition could be framed as a last ditch effort to keep access to knowledge in the hands of the Vatican.

Catholics will admit that Martin Luther and his 95 Theses were not without merit. I personally believe—and this is greatly simplified—that the mysticism of the medieval period no longer served the evolving world; but instead of seeing this as an opportunity for new evangelism, the church clung to the past in a way that left a gaping void between the altar and the pews.

And into the void stepped the Protestants.

What they offered was revolutionary—an acceptance of science; personal access to God, in words and language that every person could understand; simple, beautiful prayer and worship; no intercessors, nothing to stand between us and our Savior.

This new independence of faith dovetailed with the end of the feudal system and the growth of cities. Leaders in these cities sought to impose law and order, for which the Protestant embrace of science and philosophy was a natural fit—unfortunately for women. Barr refers to The Holy Household: Women and Morals in Reformation Augsburg written by Lyndal Roper:

According to Roper the male political and economic leaders of Augsburg found Reformation theology supportive as they worked to strengthen control over the city and make it more financially stable. These economic and religious changes hardened an “theology of gender” for women  that, far from  improving their lives, placed women more securely under the household authority of their husbands. Marriage guaranteed women stability and significance, but their increasingly subordinate role confined them to low-status domestic work, increased their dependence on their husbands for economic survival and curtailed their economic and social opportunities outside the household (104-105).

Remember my mention last week of the midwife, healer, weaver, grower, alewife, abbess? These occupations began to disappear in cities where men formed guilds that required training or education and squashed the smaller competition, mainly women. A woman need only be trained as a wife under the authority of her husband. Barr makes an interesting observation: “Before the Reformation, women could gain spiritual authority by rejecting their sexuality. Virginity empowered them. Women became nuns and took religious vows, and some…found their voices rang with the authority of men”(103).  But after the Reformation, “(i)n an eerie echo of Roman paterfamilias, the orderly household once again became the barometer for both the church and state, and the waning power of the Catholic priest was replaced by the waxing power of the Protestant husband” (117).

At the same time, the Household codes were transformed. Barr notes that these verses were rarely mentioned in medieval sermons and when they were, it was as example for all Christians. She references 1 Timothy 2:15 (“Yet she will be saved by childbearing”): “the sermon casts the woman as an example for all Christians, who must go through the pain (like childbirth) of cleansing themselves of sin before experiencing the joy of salvation (the child itself)”(119). This is a very different read than the evangelical interpretation that only through child-bearing—and the assumed role of wife and mother—can a woman be saved.

Barr’s assessment: the Reformation placed women on an impossibly narrow pedestal and “as the role of wife expanded, the opportunities for women outside of marriage shrank”(127).

This made me think of the movie Dangerous Beauty, the historical story of a young girl named Veronica Franco who lived in Venice in the 16th century. While her friends marry in “triumph” to rich old men, Veronica’s mother trains her to be a courtesan. The contrast is stark: a gilded cage of marriage and motherhood against the educated, cultured, and financial freedom of the courtesans. The wives believe themselves superior in vocation, but in one wrenching scene, are forced to call on Veronica for news of their husbands at war. Not only does she receive regular letters from their husbands, but she arrives dressed in opulent, colorful splendor, as her position affords her—while they are dressed in stark black and perched on chairs like crows.

I remember wondering “Who would EVER want to be a wife?”

The Lost Women of the Middle Ages

(#5 in a series)

*In this chapter, Barr asserts that Mary Magdalen is the same as Mary of Bethany, sister of Martha and Lazarus. The medieval church believed this as well, thanks to a sermon by Pope Gregory the Great in the 6th century. Since then, Catholic biblical scholars have found more evidence to support that they were not the same woman and in the Catholic church, we tend to draw a line between the Marys (Mama Mary, Mary Mag, Mary of Bethany) as a way of making the point that Jesus purposefully included women in his ministry*

Mary Mag was a prominent figure in all four Gospels. She does not fear the Romans. She is present at the foot of the Cross. She is the first to see the risen Lord. She is the first one to whom he speaks. Barr calls her “the apostle of the apostles”(82) since it was she who carried the good news of Jesus’ resurrection to them.

There is precedent in the Old Testament for the role she plays in the life of Christ: loyal like Ruth, strong like Esther, patient like Hannah. These are the women God consistently puts in front of us in the Bible. They are Proverbs 31 women—grounded, faithful, taking care of business, helping others.

The Medieval church revered these biblical matriarchs. Barr writes the church “was simply too close in time to forget the significant roles women played in establishing the Christian faith throughout the remnants of the Roman Empire” (88). While patriarchal and classist, the medieval world was still an “all hands on deck” existence and the role of women was clear: CEO of the castle, with the keys to fit every lock hanging down her skirt; midwife; healer; weaver; grower; alewife, abbess. We think of sending widows or spinsters to the “nunnery” as a medieval banishment, but convents were safe havens for widows, the abused and young girls who would otherwise be used as pawns in war and politics. Women in convents learned to read and write, and from this tradition we have four of the Doctors of the Catholic Church, among whom we count St Augustine and St Thomas Aquinas: St Hildegard de Bingen (b. 1098), St Catherine of Siena (b. 1347), St Teresa of Avila (b. 1515) and later, St Therese of Lisieux (b. 1873). Their works were and are widely read and taught within the Catholic Church.

And then there’s the Golden Legend, a 13th century book about saints by Jacobus De Voraigne.

If you’re familiar with the lives of Catholic saints, then you know they can be a bit…fantastical.  Especially the early church through the medieval period. Take for instance the story about St Martha—in the medieval version, she accompanied her sister Mary Mag/Mary of Bethany to France where, as Mary was preaching to the people, Martha encountered a dragon eating a man on the beach. She “sprinkled  holy water on the beast, confronted the demoniac creature with the cross and calmly tied it up”(83). Then she took it into town where the folks stabbed it to death and declared her their heroine.

This sounds like the Martha of the Bible—practical, capable, focused. Martha was a Proverbs 31 woman who handled her business. Look closely at the words she speaks to Jesus when he arrives too late to save her brother in John: Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. A statement of fact. Then she says [But] even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you (21-22). Martha is not suggesting. She is telling. She doesn’t think Jesus can raise her brother. She expects he will.

This is not the Martha that evangelical women know today. Barr references Sara Mae’s 2016 book Having a Martha Home the Mary Way: 31 Days to a Clean Home and a Satisfied Soul: “Mae includes ‘Mary challenges’ to encourage the spiritual development of women and ‘Martha Challenges’ to inspire women to clean different parts of their home” (81-82).

Martha and Mary Magdalen are not the only women honored in the medieval church who have been de-emphasized in the evangelical church today.

St Paula (b.347), who left her children to answer God’s calling and helped translate the Vulgate.

St Lucy (b.283) who dedicated her virginity to God and stood firm, refusing to marry; as punishment, her eyes were removed, and she is often pictured carrying them on a plate.

St Margaret of Antioch (d.304) who dedicated herself to God, and was imprisoned for refusing to marry a Roman governor. She was attacked by a dragon in her cell, who ate her. Margaret stayed calm in the mouth of the dragon, prayed for God to save her, and the dragon exploded, setting her free (79-80).

St Genevieve of Paris (b.422), who through a “prayer marathon” is credited with saving Paris from the Huns and converting the city to Christianity.

St Brigid of Kildare (b. 451) famous for the miracle of the never-ending butter and her great spreading cloak, and a foundress of multiple abbeys in Ireland.

All of these women—and this is just a small sampling of the lives of women saints—stood in defiance of the rule of men for the love of God and triumphed. Every single one. They walked in the world as role models of faith and light, and they often laid down their lives in exchange. These are the women who gave life to Hildegard, Catherine, Theresa and more.

In the Catholic church, we know them still. We honor them as men and women of tremendous faith on feast days and invoke them as intercessors in our prayers. Not in the same way we did in the medieval period, but they are there just the same.

This is not the case with Protestants. The Saints were an explicit target of the Reformation, rejected as idolatry (this is a corruption of the doctrine of Sainthood in the Catholic Church; we do not worship them. We recognize them as paragons of faith and obedience to God, and as such ask them to intercede on our behalf). They disappeared from Protestantism, and with them, a history that included women as heroes of the Christian faith.

A final point: It is worth noting that during the medieval period, the Catholic church evolved the idea of priesthood to include celibacy, and then used this to effectively exclude women from ordination, thanks to St Augustine who equated sex and child-bearing with Original Sin. The four women recognized as doctors of the church were nuns. My church was not a paragon of equality by any stretch of the imagination, just as guilty as Protestants of pushing women from leadership.