WHEN I WAS IN SEMINARY, people would often ask me if I wanted to be ordained and I would always respond the same way: I didn't think women needed to be ordained in order to do ministry, and also, Reverend Christine Kim (my maiden name) sounded like Mister Christine Kim to me. It didn't feel right, as though it went against the natural order of things. In my mind, a reverend is a man. I am not a man. Therefore I should not be a reverend.
In my mind, a reverend is a man. I am not a man. Therefore I should not be a reverend.
Being a missionary, however, was a different story. While I was hard-pressed to find examples of women pastors, there was no shortage of women missionaries. I loved reading biographies of women like Amy Carmichael, Lottie Moon, and Elisabeth Elliot, whose love, courage, and devotion to Christ brought the gospel to the ends of the earth. I was inspired by their lives and had this romantic notion of being a single woman missionary living out in the jungle, translating the Bible for a people group that didn't have the Scriptures in their language. So I headed off to Moody Bible Institute with a plan to go overseas after graduation.
I would describe my theology about gender roles back then as complementarian, that men and women are equal before God but have different roles. Men are the spiritual leaders and women submit to them, both in the church and in marriage. I had never been taught anything else, and I never thought to question it. It's funny because my father, who has been such a big influence in my life, is quite progressive when it comes to women's roles. But growing up, we never explicitly talked about it. He always told my sisters and me that we could do anything. He always encouraged my mother to step out and use her gifts more, which at least when we were younger, she was reluctant to do. But when it came to who the spiritual leader was in our family, it was undoubtedly him. He was the one who led our family devotionals and initiated prayer times together. While there was the female equivalent of elders in the church, there were no women pastors. I never saw women leading men spiritually the way I saw men leading women, and that was fine with me.
One day at Moody, I was sitting in a New Testament class when the question came up of what it meant in 1 Timothy 2:15 that "women will be saved through childbearing" (NIV). The professor responded to the mostly male class, "It means that they should be barefoot and pregnant." And the whole class erupted in laughter. Except for me. Being a stereotypical Asian, I didn't say anything. I was so out of touch with my anger that it didn't register on my emotional scale.
The professor responded to the mostly male class, "It means that [woman] should be barefoot and pregnant."
Another memory was when I was signing up for a Greek course at Moody. Since I was thinking about doing Bible translation in the future, I decided to take Greek so I could have a grasp of the original languages. When I went to register, the person helping me said, "Well, typically the students in the pastoral track are the ones who take Greek. This won't be worth your while." What he meant was that I wasn't going to be a pastor since I was a woman, so there was no need for me to take Greek. I didn't take offense because I understood where he was coming from. I wasn't planning to be a pastor and I had no desire to do so. But I signed up anyway.
That ended up being one of the best decisions I ever made. My Greek professor was named Dr. Sauer. Psalm 1 talks about the man who delights in the law of the Lord being like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season — that was Dr. Sauer. He was steeped in Scripture. He had such deep, biblical wisdom that flowed out from him. Greek may sound like an incredibly boring topic, but he made it so compelling, even applicable to our lives. I was often the only woman in our classes, so Dr. Sauer took me under his wing. Sitting under his teaching during those years had a huge impact on me. I grew in my love for Scripture and conviction for the centrality of God's Word. I began to feel a desire to study more.
During my sophomore year, I had sensed God calling me to surrender my life more fully to Him. I'd been telling God what I wanted to do for Him, that I wanted to go overseas. During a mission conference, I felt convicted that God was saying He wanted me to lay my dreams and plans down, and be willing to go anywhere, do anything for Him, even if it meant staying. Around this time, Dr. Sauer began encouraging me to consider going to seminary after graduation, which had not crossed my mind before. But taking Greek with him stirred something in me, and I ended up enrolling in the Master of Divinity program at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School following graduation.
Trinity was a little more progressive than Moody when it came to women's roles. They had a few professors who were egalitarian — that thought men and women should be equal in their rights and duties — but the dominant view was overwhelmingly complementarian. If you were one of the few women in the M.Div. program at the time, there seemed to be this question in people's minds about whether you might be one of those flaming Christian feminists. Some felt the need to make sure you understood what the Bible had to say about women. In one theology class, we were assigned the book "Four Views of Women in Ministry" that outlined the complementarian and egalitarian viewpoints with two nuanced positions in between. One day, one particular student cornered me in the library and began lecturing me. "There are four views of women in ministry ... " he intoned, seemingly unaware that I had to read the same book. He emphasized why the complementarian view was the biblical one and how egalitarians don't really care about Scripture. I still can't believe I sat there and listened to him so patiently. I remember walking through the library on another day and overhearing him lecturing another woman saying, "There are four views of women in ministry ... "
If you were one of the few women in the M.Div. program at the time, there seemed to be this question in people’s minds about whether you might be one of those flaming Christian feminists.
Some professors were very involved in the Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, a complementarian group created to respond to the egalitarian group Christians for Biblical Equality. They felt that Christian egalitarianism was harming the church and family, and needed to be confronted head on. One of my professors covered the topic, "So What Can Women Do in the Church?" He made a huge list from the senior pastor all the way down to nursery worker. In his opinion, the cutoff for women was teaching a sixth grade Sunday School class. In Jewish culture, a boy became a man at age 13. Since Paul teaches that women should not teach or have authority over a man, women should not teach boys, or "men" rather, once they turned 13. A woman in my class began to question and challenge his perspective. Other students began jumping into the discussion, defending the complementarian view. Yet again, I remained totally silent. I wasn't sure if I agreed with my fellow female classmate. She also seemed angry, which I wasn't comfortable with. My professor's viewpoint sounded like a valid application of the complementarian perspective, which I still held to. So why didn't it sit right with me? Was I just being rebellious and unwilling to submit myself to Scripture?
So why didn’t it sit right with me? Was I just being rebellious and unwilling to submit myself to Scripture?
While I was experiencing this dissonance at school, God brought several women into my life who began to model spiritual leadership to me. I was attending a Southern Baptist Asian American church filled with young adults in their 20s and 30s. The founding pastor was a former missionary kid who grew up in South Korea and had come from that denomination, but didn't necessarily place a high priority on being Southern Baptist. His theology about gender roles was conservative, but in practice, he made space for women to lead within the congregation. One of his right-hand staff members was a woman named Grace, who was a force of nature. She wasn't given the title of pastor, but what a pastor she was. She was a natural spiritual leader who led, taught, organized ministries, and discipled women and men alike with great sensitivity to the Spirit and power. Grace became my roommate during seminary and would drag me around everywhere she went — to prayer meetings, discipleship groups, planning meetings. She had this ability to get you to do things you didn't want to do, and it gave me a front row seat to experience what it's like when a woman leads in a churchwide setting. I saw how the entire body was built up because she was using the gifts God gave her so freely, beautifully, and powerfully.
I saw how the entire body was built up because she was using the gifts God gave her so freely, beautifully, and powerfully.
At the end of my seminary training, I opted to do my internship overseas in Bangkok, Thailand, serving at a seminary that was run by Korean missionaries. While I had sensed that God was telling me to lay everything down, I was still drawn to life overseas. One of the first things I noticed about being in the mission field is that there was an "all-hands-on-deck" mentality. The missionaries never talked about whether someone was a man or a woman, and whether they should be doing this role or that because of their gender. The basic assumption was, if you have a gift, then you have to use it because we need it! There was a heightened awareness of the spiritual stakes out on the mission field. There were bigger fish to fry than arguing about gender roles. People were dying and falling into a spiritual abyss, hence the "all-hands-on-deck" mentality. If you have the gift to preach, then preach. If you have the gift to lead, then lead. If you have the gift to evangelize, then evangelize. And in truth, it seemed like everyone did something. It was there that I saw women preaching, pastoring, leading, and teaching — doing things that I rarely saw women do back home.
There were bigger fish to fry than arguing about gender roles.
When I returned to the States, I joined staff with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, a campus ministry. InterVarsity is an egalitarian organization and has women serving at all levels of leadership. Similar to my experience in Bangkok, they also had an "all-hands-on-deck" mentality. They even took it a step further — they would be very intentional about developing women as leaders.
I felt most comfortable being in the background, playing a supportive role. It felt safer. But my supervisors would not let me be the typical Asian woman who quietly cleans up after everyone when the meeting is over. They kept inviting me to take on very upfront, visible roles, like being the main speaker for something or leading tracks at our student conferences, which was incredibly uncomfortable for me. I remember times when I would rush into a bathroom stall before having to speak, to hyperventilate and pray, my heart pounding, my stomach nauseous, feeling like I was going to throw up. But God used those times in my life to teach me about what it means to face my fears and insecurities, and to trust and lean on Him. And every single time, God moved in a powerful way, immeasurably beyond what I could have asked for or imagined.
This is about where my story from Part 1 picked up. There isn't enough room to write about all the people and experiences that have contributed to bringing me to where I am now. But I have these surreal moments from time to time, where I see how my journey is about more than just me. I think of the young woman who grew up in a conservative church tradition that didn't allow her to use her gifts because she was a woman. Though she never met me before, she heard that I was being ordained from some All Angels' members. She told me later on that she sat in the back of the cathedral and cried through the entire service. Today, she is serving as a leader at All Angels' and the body is stronger because of her part in it. I think of a divorced father whose daughter is half Korean. One day, he came up to me and told me that his daughter didn't know that I was a priest. He said her eyes grew so wide as that realization dawned on her. And then with tears in his eyes, he said, "I can't tell you how much it means to me that she'll grow up seeing someone who looks like her as her pastor."
"I can’t tell you how much it means to me that she’ll grow up seeing someone who looks like her as her pastor."
I realize that I have not touched at all on the biblical supports for the egalitarian view, possibly further confirming some people's view that egalitarians don't care about Scripture. I haven't talked about this primarily because there are plenty of books out there about this that do a much better job explaining this than I would. Also, and this may scandalize some folks, it wasn't primarily Scripture that moved me from the complementarian to the egalitarian point of view. It was much more complex, organic, and dynamic than reading a passage of Scripture that suddenly changed my theology. It was life. It was people. It was circumstances. It was my own feeble attempts at trying to hear God's voice in the midst of engaging with life and people and circumstances. I am not perfect, and I know that I could be completely wrong about hearing from God and discerning how He has led me. But I take comfort in the prayer of Thomas Merton:
"My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going. I do not see the road ahead of me. I cannot know for certain where it will end. Nor do I really know myself, and the fact that I think that I am following Your will does not mean that I am actually doing so. But I believe that the desire to please You does in fact please You. And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing. I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire. And I know that if I do this You will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it. Therefore will I trust You always, though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death. I will not fear, for You are ever with me, and You will never leave me to face my perils alone."
While I am not certain that I have always followed God's will, I can honestly say that I have desired to please Him: To surrender my plans, my dreams, my self to Him, and to be willing to go where He wants me to go and what He wants me to do. Like Peter, I am trying to keep my eyes on Christ as I see Him standing out on the water, holding His hand out to me, telling me to come to Him. Sometimes He has led me to places that I have fervently desired not to go. But here I am. And whether it's being the only woman in a class full of men, laboring alongside Korean missionaries in Bangkok, leaning against a bathroom wall hyperventilating, or now, serving as a priest in the Episcopal church, I know that He is with me. And wherever He is, that's the only place I want to be.
Like Peter, I am trying to keep my eyes on Christ as I see Him standing out on the water, holding His hand out to me, telling me to come to Him.