Author: Rese Hood
Category: Men & Women
How silent is this place!
The brilliant sunshine filters through the trees
The leaves are rustled by a gentle breeze
A wide and open space
By shrubs, pink-tipped, mauve-blossomed is o’ergrown
A hush enfolds me, deep as I have known
Unbroken save by distant insects’ drone
A jungle clearing
A track through which we bear our load to Him
It is our Paradise Road
How silent is this place!
How sacred is this place!
The 1997 movie Paradise Road chronicled the harrowing experiences of a group of Allied women interred between 1942 and 1945 in a Japanese concentration camp on the Indonesian island of Sumatra. Beaten, starved, enslaved and threatened, confined by barbed wire fences guarded by abusive soldiers with no word from the outside world and its war except the propaganda furnished by their captors. Despite their dire situation, some of these women secretly formed a vocal orchestra. Using classical scores written from memory, their beautifully blended voices penetrated both the dense jungle air and their captors’ hard hearts with their first performanceeven as they brought hope to their fellow captives, lifting their spirits beyond the walls of their prison.
As I journeyed through the history of women in the church it struck me that, for the most part, women in the Christian faith historically have much in common with these women of Sumatra. The Allied women were confined to the island simply because they were on the wrong side of World War II. Women in the Christian church have been confined simply because they are women on the wrong side of flawed biblical theologies which were compounded and or abetted by intruding secular philosophies and warring political interests. Both the groups suffered privations, suspicion, exploitation and domination by those in power. Information about the larger world and their place in relationship to it was filtered by those who dominated them.
There is a positive side to the similarities. Like the Sumatra captives were inspired by the remembered notes of beautiful music and transcended their captivity, God’s daughters, inspired and equipped by the Living Word and written word, have broken out of imposed boundaries, experiencing the truth which set them free in both the temporal and spiritual realms. They have penetrated their world and lifted the spirits and hopes of their sisters and brothers with the light and life of Christ. The synopsis on Paradise Road’s DVD cover could well be true of both groups, “These diverse women from different countries, speaking different languages, unite to form a vocal orchestra – creating a life-affirming symphony of human voices.” Of course, the women of God were also affirmed by the Holy Spirit’s song of salvation. Instead of vocalizing the harmonies of Mozart, women of God have incarnated, spoken, sung and written of His power and promises and presence, glorifying His Name.
Yet those sacred voices have been either muted or silenced in the history of the church. Tucker and Liefeld, in their work Daughters of the Church, noted in their preface that:
The vast majority of published church histories are histories of men. We considered ourselves fortunate when the index contained the subject “women.” How absurd it would have been…if the same index has listed the subject “men,” which …would have included virtually the entire subject of the book….After all, it is mainly men who have preached, led church councils, and written theology. But frequently women have been overlooked even when they made outstanding contributions.”
In the guided course Women in Church History Dr. Gwenfair W. Adams listed the most common models of womanhood represented in church history: The Temptress, The Sub-Human, The Virgin, The Spiritual Conduit, The Ethical Conscience, The Ideal Mother, The Superwoman, The Weaker Vessel, and The Partner in Christ. It is not possible within the limited purview of this reflection to dwell on each one of these models. However, as I surveyed the history of the church two of the major views of women kept emerging. Eve (who embodies The Temptress and Sub-human) and Mary (who is The Virgin, Ideal Mother and the Superwoman) tend to shape the major views of women at most time periods. However, there were periods when voices of freedom which subverted cultural and theological norms arose out of the ecclesiastical internment of women which will be examined as well. These historical exceptions should perhaps become the present rule for models in the life of the church for this and subsequent generations. I will then offer some concluding thoughts.
Interred in Prisons of Derision and Idolatry
In Paradise Road, the author of the misery of the prisoners was a single individual, Captain Tanaka of the Japanese Secret Police who superseded even the camp colonel’s authority over both troops and captives. In my theological reflections in this course, I noted my conviction that Satan, who “prowls about like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour” deserves, well, the lion’s share of the blame for the suffering of women. Like the camp’s guard, men have been willing accomplices in keeping women in a weakened state – spiritually, intellectually, and economically. However, the chief strategist is a single Enemy, slinking around the garden, inciting distrust and dislike between God’s image bearers to keep the New Creations from taking the Kingdom in its fullest form and power into the world.
I vividly remember reading Dorothy Sayers’ Are Women Human? for the first time. Concerning the things Jesus did not say about women, her witty comment, “’The women, God help us!’ or ‘The ladies, God bless them!’”succinctly reflects the church’s view of its “feminine side.” It reinforces the chief examples of womanhood – “Eve, God help us” or “Mary, God bless us!” The songs of censure or praise for these two archetypes provide the background music for many of the particular tunes various ages have played about women. They serve well as “representative heads” of the two major views of women in ecclesiastical history.
The Curse of Eve
Several of the models of womanhood are refracted through a particular view of Eve: the Temptress and the Sub-Human and in some cases the Weaker Vessel. I would even venture the Ethical Conscience has some of its roots here – particularly in its effort to keep women out of society due to their weak understanding and propensity for falling prey to error and sin.
Jesus did not blame women for sin and Paul’s straight-forward assertion that “through one man sin entered the world,”many church fathers vigorously and strenuously asserted women were indeed the primary cause of the presence and woes of sin. Though writing mainly to encourage women of faith to break with the fashions and sensibilities of his day, Tertullian’s strategy included reminding them of their despised place in God’s salvation history:
“And do you not know that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that (forbidden) tree; you are the first deserter of the divine law; you are she who persuaded him who the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God’s image, man. On account of your desert…even the Son of God had to die.”
Later Tertullian points them to their truest garb and appropriately limited sphere:
“Submit your head to your husbands, and you will be enough adorned. Busy your hands with spinning; keep yourself at home; and you will please better than gold. Clothe yourself with the silk of righteousness, the fine linen of holiness and the purple of modesty. Thus painted, you will have God as your Lover!”
Here is the Weaker Vessel picture juxtaposed with the Temptress model with perhaps a bit of the cloistered Ethical Conscience put in for good measure. Here is an excellent exhibit of the complex real view of women, even given the apparently uncompromising theological convictions of writers such as Tertullian. Whereas he absolutely condemns them through Eve, he does afford them some degree of grace through Christ. This patristic writer embodies the love/hate relationship his contemporaries and many today have with women.
In the third century, Origen responded to the problem of heretical prophetesses by asserting that even the prophetesses of Scripture – Deborah, Huldah, Anna and the four daughters of Philip – while truly gifted by God, never actually exercised their gifts in a public setting. It’s ironic that he bases his argument regarding the public silence of women on the silence of the Scriptures.
Thus the accepted pattern of thinking was set quite early – women are by nature evil and weak. As such, they are appropriately suspect in matters of promiscuity, false teaching, and witchcraft – the three chief sins of which they are repeatedly accused. Even the gospel, if proclaimed by the lips of a woman, was so compromised it resulted in damnation not salvation.
So, unless they were virgins or widows – or, up to a particular point in history, appointed a deaconess - the roles available to women in the community of faith were restricted or nonexistent. The reformers, to be sure, in their re-establishment of the honor of the secular life, offered more dignity to both sexes. They elevated the role of the wife and mother over vows of celibacy. However, with rare exception, the best and safest place for women in their estimation was in the home – precisely as Tertullian prescribed over a thousand years earlier. This view continues in many mainstream, conservative evangelical churches and parachurch organizations to the present day.
The Cult of Mary
Mary is the perfect literary foil for Eve. For the countless millions who felt that flesh and blood women were particularly susceptible to the wiles and ways of the devil, the mother of Jesus provided an object of adulation and imitation and outlet for the affections due the female sex.
“[T]he Virgin Mary has been the subject of more thought and discussion about what it means to be a woman than any other woman in Western history. To an extent that many have chosen to ignore, explanations about Mary or portraits of her in words or in pictures can tell us much about how “the feminine” has been perceived.” 
Mary’s was “the face that most resembles Christ’s” because it was from her that Emmanuel received His human form. For Catholics and Reformers alike her full participation in God’s plan was ‘guarantee of the reality of the incarnation and of the human nature of Christ.” One would think that such an appreciation of the obedience of a woman in delivering the Incarnate Word by her flesh and blood might have translated into a kinder view of women in general. Yet, over time Mary has become less the example of human devotion and more Superwoman – untouchable and unreachable.
With this in mind, one can see that several of the models for womanhood emerge as subsets of the Mary category: the Virgin (obviously), Spiritual Conduit, Ideal Mother and forms of the Ethical Conscience.
It is these super-idealized notions of perfection and expectations for women that really stood out as I considered Mary as a model for women. In his chapter on the Mater Dolorosa, Pelikin notes that as Mediatrix “Mary was addressed as the one who could bring cleansing and healing to the sinner and as the one who would give succor against the temptations of the devil; but she did this by mediating between Christ and humanity.”
I am willing to be wrong, but this does not sound so very different than the generally held sentiments of the Cult of True Womanhood of the nineteenth century or those of ‘biblical womanhood’ in our day:
“The good woman can be readily identified by her piety, purity, domestic skills, and highly submissive attitude toward males…Marriage and family relationships are primarily the woman’s responsibility. If marriage and/or family relationships deteriorate, it is the woman’s fault. It then becomes her responsibility to fix what is wrong…Christian women are uniquely responsible for our national welfare and survival. It is God’s will that they preserve our nation from moral destruction…they draw their value only from their roles as wives mothers and helpers of males. This is God’s design and His will for their lives.”
Thus under the guise of exalting “biblical womanhood,” a fence of velvet but razored wire imprisons women. Just as Mary is prevented from being fully human by adulation or minimization, so women today are prevented from exploring all the possibilities God may have because of a standard handed down as “thus saith the Lord.” In both cases, idolatrous notions of femininity keep God’s daughters from becoming all the real imago Dei might be in and through them.
Voices of Freedom:
Calls to Claim our Completeness in Christ
After the brutal murder of one of their friends in Paradise Road, Adrienne Pargiter and Daisy Drummond hit upon the idea of forming a vocal orchestra for the women of the camp. One naysayer decries it as crazy and sure to bring trouble; another says the horrible death they all witnessed destroyed any mood to sing - it was not the right time. They counter it is the perfect time. Oppression and death are thus defied as they secretly write down music, tune their voices and rehearse right under the nose of their captors.
Daughters of the Church shows God’s consistent call to His daughters to raise His standard in the face of oppression and death. Not surprisingly, these opportunities and platforms seem to always appear on the margins of the church, not unusual given the purpose of the structure to preserve the power status quo.
Lest I give the impression by the previous section that I do not esteem the domestic roles of women, it’s apparent the chief influence women have had has been through their homes and families. This is largely due to the fact that this is usually the sole realm given them. However, it cannot be denied that mothers such as Monica and Susanna Wesley as well as millions of others shaped their world for generations because of their care and diligence as godly mothers. Martin Luther’s “Lord Kate” tirelessly gave herself to God and to His people as one of the first Protestant pastor’s wives. I am amazed at how her whole-hearted service in her sphere enabled her husband to fully give himself to his. Indeed, one can argue that she prolonged his life and thus his years of service by her care.
Another role that women supplied quite regularly was as exemplars of the devotional life in prayer, writing, visions and mentoring. Their spiritual authority came through their spiritual authenticity – they were real, honest, humble, struggling saints and gave themselves without restraint. Teresa of Avila’s reach certainly extended far beyond her immediate sphere, making her influence felt even in monasteries. In a similar manner, Amy Carmichael’s writings circulated in an ever-widening arc from the confines of Dohnavur in India. It is interesting that they were both hampered by illness and had to focus on writing. It is a kind of variation on Paul’s imprisonments and his consequent need for epistles to the church – God does love a writer! Jerome’s valued friend Paula also comes to mind as an early influence on the monastic movement and the Cappadocian’s sister Macrina who was recognized for her great abilities by her brother and his friends.
There are those who ascended to spiritual leadership positions. These are truly trail-blazers. Here again is Paula, Teresa and other monastic leaders. Amy Carmichael was a force to be reckoned with in Tamil Nadu while Pandita Ramabai challenged ancient Indian traditions through her Aryl Mahila Somaj The indomitable Katherine Zell and irrepressible Sarah Osborne and countless others did what God requested of them despite pressure to conform to more acceptable norms. They are models of perseverance and sacred courage. The incredible Catherine Booth and Henrietta Mears co-labored as respected colleagues with men and their eternal influence is immeasurable.
Occasionally God placed a woman in a strategic political position. Beginning with Deborah and Esther in the Old Testament to the leading women mentioned in Acts 17:12 and possibly Flavia Domitilla and through such as Marguerite of Navarre and her daughter Jeanne d’Albert and Elizabeth I, God’s strong arm of protection for His people often came by the hand of a woman.
Especially in the latter three categories: spiritual exemplar, leader or ruler, women made their strides because they embodied excellence in their private pursuits and public realms. This, in turn, earned them the respect of key men. Elizabeth I is a case in point:
“Each day she held successive private consultations with her ministers, read letters and dispatches, wrote or dictated others, checked accounts and received petitions. She kept letters, memos and notes in a ‘great pouch’ hung around her waist, or in her bedroom, and threw them away when they were not needed. She rarely attended the daily Council meetings, knowing that her councilors would try to impose their opinions on her – although she was perfectly capable of arguing the point with them. She preferred to keep a tight rein on affairs from behind the scenes. In the early days of her reign, Cecil tried to prevent her from dealing with matters too weighty, in his opinion, for a woman to cope with, but as the years passed he conceived a deep respect for and trust in her, both as his sovereign and as a shrewd and clever woman.”
Each one of these spheres is worthy. It is clear that God has no predetermined notions of where and how His daughters can be used, though humanity can be deceived into believing that there are. What He clearly desires is that each one of His children – sons or daughters – be transformed by the renewing of their mind, equip, empower and enable one another to be a royal priesthood to one another and ambassadors of reconciliation to the world.
One of the most striking scenes in Paradise Road occurs after the first performance of the vocal orchestra. One of the more brutal guards, called “The Snake” by the captives, singles out orchestra conductor Adrienne Pargiter from a road work crew and forces her at gunpoint into the jungle. Given his cruelties, both Adrienne and the viewer wonder what torture will come. Instead, The Snake asks her to sit, puts down his rifle and begins to sing a song of his homeland to her. At its finish, he looks at her uncertainly and asks, “You like?” Tearfully, she smiles, nodding “yes.” Their love of music transcended all the barriers between them.
Can our love of Jesus transcend all the barriers between men and women in His Body?
The Snake in our garden is not a mere man persuadable by music to have mercy, but a supernatural being determined to keep us at war with one another, believing lies about who we really are in Christ and functioning within a religious realm. If we defy him in Christ and put on the armor God, taking our stand upon His truth in the powerful divine context of the Kingdom of our Father we will truly be free and the Kingdom will march forward in all its potential power.
How can we be so captive to the King that we are supernaturally of one mind and able to lay aside temporal differences and with unite our voices to sing the symphonic strains of grace, faith, hope and love to a world that lays imprisoned by sin?
Margaret Dryburgh was a Presbyterian missionary in Singapore and one of the prisoners on Sumatra. In the movie, her story was told through the character of Daisy Drummond. During the two burial scenes depicted in the film, poems were read over the graves. These were poems penned by Margaret herself during the internment. One of them describing a journey felt appropriate to open this reflection paper. Another, describing peace despite any current state of affairs for us as women seems appropriate to close it:
The Captives’ Hymn
Father, in captivity, We would lift our prayers to Thee, Keep us ever in Thy love, Grant that daily we may prove Those who place their trust in Thee More than conquerors may be.
Give us patience to endure. Keep our hearts serene and pure, Grant us courage, charity, Greater faith, humility, Readiness to own Thy will, Be we free or captives still…
May the day of freedom dawn, Peace and justice be reborn, Grant that nations loving Thee O’er the world may brothers be, Cleansed by suffering, know rebirth, See Thy kingdom come on earth.
Died in prison camp
April 23, 1945
According to the film’s closing credits, the orchestra was subsequently encouraged and eventually performed more than thirty compositions in 1943 and 1944. In fact, the vocal scores used in the film came from the hand written manuscripts that survived the internment.
 Ruth A. Tucker and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987),
 Dr. Gwenfair W. Adams, Lecture Notes, CH-661 Women in Church History, Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Charlotte, North Carolina. Fall 2004.
 1 Peter 5:8, NASB
 Dorothy L. Sayers, Are Women Human? (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1971), 47
 Romans 5:12 NASB
 Lecture two noted, these men were heavily influenced by the dualism of Platonism and Neo-Platonism; thus their reading of Scripture was understandably but unfortunately skewed.
 Tertullian, “On the Apparel of Women.” Translated by S. Thelwell, quoted in Barbara J. MacHaffie, Readings in Her Story: Women in Christian Tradition (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 1992), 27
 Ibid, 33
 This is seen in today in such works as John Piper and Wayne Grudem, ed., Recovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood: A Response to Evangelical Feminisim (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991) but this is a topic for another paper.
 If this is too strong a term, perhaps we can insert the word ‘ambivalent.’
 This impression was confirmed by Elizabeth Clark who observed, “The most fitting word with which to describe the Church Father’s attitude toward women is ambivalence. Women were God’s creation, his good gift to men – and the curse of the world. They were weak in both mind and character - and displayed dauntless courage, undertook prodigious scholarship. Vain deceitful, brimming with lust – they led men to Christ, fled sexual encounter, wavered not under the executioner’s threats, adorned themselves with sackcloth and ashes.” Women in the Early Church. Message of the Fathers of the Church quoted in Ruth A. Tucker and Walter Liefeld, Daughters of the Church: Women and Ministry from New Testament Times to the Present. (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1987), 90
 “Even if it is granted to a woman to prophesy…she is nevertheless not permitted to speak in an assembly…men should not sit and listen to a woman...even if she says admirable things, or even saintly things, that is of little consequence, since they come from the mouth of a woman.” Origen, Fragments on 1 Corinthians quoted in Tucker and Liefeld. Daughters of the Church, 106
 See for instance, Tucker and Liefield, Daughters of the Church, 131
 Examples Ibid, 97-98, 404. Also, from Heinrich Kraemer and Jacob Sprenger. Malleus Maleficarum: “For as regards intellect, or the understanding of spiritual things, they seem to be of a different nature from men…And when it said that her heart is net, it speaks of the inscrutable malice which reigns in their hearts. And her hands are as bands for binding…with the help of the devil they perform their design.” quoted in MacHaffie, Her Story, 54 and 56 This charge becomes quite widespread in more superstitious times such as the Middle Ages.
 Ibid, 54-55‘…that since they are feebler both in mind and body, it is not surprising that they should come more under the spell of witchcraft.”
 “I have no doubt that millions will go to Hell because of the unscriptural practice of women preachers.” John R. Rice, Bobbed Hair, Bossy Wives and Women Preachers quoted in Tucker and Liefield, Daughters of the Church, 404
 Tucker and Liefield, Daughters of the Church, 107-111
 The Roman Catholic Church provided the monastic way of life as an outlet for women who desired to serve God and have an acceptable outlet for their leadership gifts but in the reformed traditions this has not always been not an option. (Kenneth Scott Latourette alludes to this arrangement in his church history tome but for the life of me I cannot find the reference!) A couple of notable exceptions are The Sisters of the Common Life founded at Dohnavur by Amy Carmichael and the Evangelical Sisters of Mary founded by German Basilia Schlink.
 “Some would argue that the Protestants uplifted the view of woman as a human being. That may well be true, but in doing so, they put woman ‘in her place.’ She would henceforth be regarded more highly for her domestic duties, but the stage was set for a spiritual climate that would discourage professional female ministry. Ministry would be defined by the Reformers as marriage and motherhood. To be sure, women rose above their prescribed role. Through political, social or personal prestige, they often wielded considerable power, but in religious matters their influence was achieved in spite of the Reformation mentality, certainly not because of it.” Tucker and Liefield, Daughters of the Church, 205-206
 Jaroslav Pelikan. Mary Through the Centuries: Her Place in the History of Culture (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1996), 218
 Ibid, 139-151, quoting from Dante
 Ibid, 157
 This is seen most clearly in the matter of the Immaculate Conception (or the great exception as Pelikan put it), Ibid 189-200
 Ibid, 133
 M. Gay Hubbard, Women: The Misunderstood Majority. Overcoming Myths that Hold Women Back (Eugene: Wipf and Stock, 1992), 17-18
 As Janet-Gifford Thorne rightly noted, “[O]ne of the greatest wastes of human energy on behalf of the Church is the way so many…are structured to gobble up the laity’s time and energy in meaningless activity instead of purposeful action. I have learned that organizational structure can serve to either block or empower the ministries of people.” Quoted in MacHaffie, Her Story, 227
 Tucker and Liefield, Daughters of the Church, 123-124
 Ibid, 236-238
 Ibid, 179-181 “Indeed she was highly versatile - a fact that Luther himself acknowledged in his letters…as the preacher, brewer, gardener and all things else.”
 Ibid, 118-119
 Ibid, 120
 Houghton, Frank. Amy Carmichael of Dohnavur (Fort Washington: Christian Literature Crusade, 1988) This biography details her fifty year service to India’s children.
 Tucker and Liefield, Daughters of the Church, 344
 Ibid, 182-184
 MacHaffie, Her Story, 102-105
 Tucker and Liefield, Daughters of the Church, 264-267
 Ibid, 393-394
 Ibid, 95
 Ibid, 186-188
 Alison Weir. The Life of Elizabeth I. (New York: Ballantine Books, 1998), 227