“And your daughters shall prophesy” (Acts 2).
Peter preached this from the prophet Joel because it was on the day of Pentecost that God’s Spirit filled the disciples and set their mouths ablaze with God’s powerful Word.
Peter must have learned a thing or two between Easter and Pentecost because only a few short months ago he dismissed the women disciples’ claim that Jesus’ rose from the dead as mere “idle tales” (Luke 24).
Yesterday the disciples silence women in their midst; now, with the Spirit on the loose, Peter affirmed that women were commissioned to preach too.
Woman preachers back then were not uncommon. In the ancient Greek and Roman cultures, women acted as representatives of the gods. In Peter’s own Jewish tradition, women became heroes that spoke God’s truth: Deborah the judge, Ruth the liberator, and Judith the heroine to name a few.
A woman preacher in that new Christ movement, however, was audacious nonetheless. Even Paul wrestled with it in the Corinthian churches when he combated conflict within this newly-formed congregations. Paul tried to explain how these churches could provide the wild flame of Spirit with some semblance of order.
Yes, the Spirit gave gifts to whomever the Spirit pleased, men and women alike. But when one claimed that his or her gift was more powerful than another, it became an autocratic weapon rather than a contribution to God’s Kingdom.
It was to a group of overzealous wives (and their husbands) that Paul gave the instruction to be “silent” in the church in 1 Corinthians 14:34. This command did not come out of nowhere; rather, it was set in the context of how to prophesy (read: preach) in a way that promoted the church’s growth (14:26).
It’s unfortunate that some folks use this verse to silence women even in a post-Pentecost era. Peter learned that women did not speak idle tales, that even the daughters of his friends might declare the Lord’s Word too; and we are to do the same.
In fact, to silence women risks dismembering a part of Christ’s Body. It is an act of violence akin to a different type of crucifixion, for it was the silent Christ who hung on the cross and fell victim to the power and authority of a different type of institution that prided itself on order and so-called peace.
Recently I met a man who fell away from church. When I asked about his past, he remained silent. After prodding his wife about it, she admitted that he didn’t go to church because the church had turned away his parents. She explained that his mother had once been ordained as a minister.
The church in which he grew up laid hands on his mother but soon became the very church that denied her calling whatsoever.
Like his mother, he remains silent in the wake of the violent excommunication that befell the entire family. “We have silenced some of our best spirits,” mourns Atlanta theologian Wendy Farley, “transforming their devotion [to the gospel] into a capital crime.”
Christ’s Body dismembered indeed.
We Protestants are not the only ones who need to learn the same lesson Peter learned long ago. In the midst of debates over women ordination and contraception, the Vatican launched an investigation into the platforms and ideology of the Leadership Conference of Women Religious.
This is a move seen by many a Catholic woman as a threat to North American nuns who work tirelessly on behalf of social justice causes. In this case, the Vatican didn’t accuse the Conference of speaking too much, but not speaking out enough against controversial issues that affect women across the globe.
The real event of Pentecost was not necessarily the wind and fire that accompanied the Holy Spirit, as powerful as those symbols may seem, but the Spirit’s empowering of Jesus’ disciples–men and women–to speak on Christ’s behalf in the “day of the Lord.”
The Spirit will continue to inspire women to prophesy despite man’s feeble attempts to legislate or indoctrinate otherwise, and we should be wise to listen.
Wendy Farley, Gathering Those Driven Away (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 2011), 8.