The conversation in my class at Dallas Theological Seminary came to a shocking halt. The professor had been leading a discussion on women learning about Jesus. Not women teaching about Jesus, which some find controversial, but women learning about Christ. I had been quick to join the lively discussion because, after all, that’s why I was there—to learn. And if women in seminary classes can’t engage in a conversation about women in seminary, then where can we talk about it?
Raising my hand, I confessed to the professor, “I’m scared to learn too much about Jesus because I am a woman.”
Even as the words came out of my mouth, I’d started to process how ridiculous it must sound to hear a human—an image bearer of God—say that she feared loving Jesus too much.
That’s when one of my male classmates had started shouting at me: “Just stop!”
He wasn’t speaking to the professor or engaging in the class discussion. Instead, his whole body faced me, and he extended his arm, pointed his finger, and raised his voice to warn me: As a woman, I could learn too much about Jesus. In fact, when women learn too much about Jesus, he said, they become dangerous; a threat to the local church and a threat to marriage.
You could’ve heard a pin drop as we waited to see what the prof would say in response.
He slid his glasses off, leaned into his podium, and looked me square in the eye. Choking back tears, he thundered, “Don’t stop. Don’t ever stop. Keep going, sister of the faith.”
The tension in the room was palpable until the professor called for an unplanned break. Bolting as fast as possible to the women’s restroom, I rushed to hide my ugly-cry. Now, in addition to being scared, I was humiliated.
Would you believe that student followed me to the women’s restroom? He took one step inside and put a hand on the door to pry it open.
“I have one question for you,” he said. “Why are you even here?”
He didn’t speak with frustration or anger but with disgust. My desire to learn more about the Bible offended him.
With tears rolling down my face and stutter-filled conviction, I tried to communicate that I was a theology student for the same reasons he was, to learn about Jesus. Unsatisfied with my answer, he turned around to leave. It took me several minutes to compose myself, wipe off the mascara smears, and return to class visibly shaken. Nevertheless, I returned.
To be clear, my encounter with this seminary student stood out as an exception to my overall experience at Dallas Theological Seminary. All my life I’ve received the gracious encouragement of godly men urging me to pursue God more. I daresay, I know what it’s like to have my brothers in Christ in my corner. They are cosigning on the spiritual gifts of women because they want to see everyone thrive. They remind me often that God designed Adam and Eve to co-rule together, co-subdue together, to be fruitful and multiply together.
You would think all this support from my brothers would silence any other voices tempting me to approach discipleship judiciously, but it doesn’t. Those annoying, sometimes hateful critics like the older gentleman in my class seem to use a megaphone in our lives, able to drown out a whole cheering section.
Thankfully, the professor’s words rescued me from the messages that were holding me back from loving God with my all. And the student’s words, intended to harm me, God has used for my good. Although I had to endure a seminary student yelling at me, that’s exactly what it took to reveal my beliefs. You see, I was afraid to learn too much about Jesus because I am a woman and he was afraid I could learn too much about Jesus because I am a woman. As much as I hate to admit it, he and I shared the same beliefs until that “just stop” moment in class.
Simply put: the progress we’ve made to dignify women as image bearers of God is not enough. Women may be breaking barriers and glass ceilings in the workplace, our communities of faith are finally starting to hear women’s voices, and institutional change continues across the board. But some people still caution women to stay in their places.
I’ve shared my “just stop” story many times, and the typical response is “Oh no, he did not!” Sometimes, women jokingly ask me to hold their earrings as if they are ready to defend my honor, and almost everyone wants to know his name. Thankfully, I don’t know his name. And he is not the point. The point is, we have more work to do encourage and equip women to love God with all their heart, soul, mind and strength because progress will require men and women coming to terms with their gender bias and scriptural misapplications. And I believe by God’s grace, through his son Jesus Christ, and the power of the Holy Spirit, the word of God will embolden women to move past barriers, find their worth and serve God anywhere he leads. No more holding back.
Cover image by Nsey Benajah.