Almost 15 years later and on the cusp of doctoral work, I was approached by Sarah, a 20-year-old pastor’s daughter, after a service at my small urban church in Aurora, Illinois. She asked, “What is my role now in the church as a single, young adult woman? Where do I fit?” I knew Sarah well, and her earnest question confirmed that part of my journey as a theologian was to answer her question and to tell some stories about women in early Christianity and how they were instrumental in constructing the church and its teachings.
In graduate school in the 1980s, I, Lynn, read Julian of Norwich’s Showings; I was pregnant with my first child. The juxtaposition is important, for Julian’s vision includes a rich reflection on Christ as our Mother. This 14th century anchorite gave me my first glimpse of women’s influence and authority in the life of the church. I wanted to investigate more and plunged into the church fathers’ work. If reading Julian’s Showings was like a walk in a gentle summer rain, then Tertullian’s hateful comment, “Woman is the devil’s gateway,” stung like hail in a thunderstorm. I decided to abandon the exploration for a time, for lack of a suitable guide to help navigate the unfamiliar terrain.
Recent scholarship, however, has provided important methodological insights that allow today’s readers to navigate the early Christian texts’ rhetoric concerning women and the category of female. Greater attention is now paid to the role and influence of women in theological conversations and controversies. In this context, I have since resumed my journey into the world of Christian women in the early church.
Read more at Christianity Today.