What does holy fierceness look like?
- seeking justice
- speaking prophetically
- asking the right questions at the right moments
- helping communities see and own their complicity in racist ideologies
- being bold, taking risks, speaking truth to power
- identifying discriminations
- giving thoughtful and intentional compassion to own’s own well-being in order to sustain holy fierceness
This week’s episode of 3MMM share’s a conversation with three women in ministry. Theresa, Casandra and Mary describe the complexity of holy fierceness they learned in divinity school.*
In the past week a lot of U.S. clergywomen and their friends, allies, and supporters, congregations and seminary students have embraced their own holy fierceness to say NO to the ridiculous pronouncements of evangelical preachers about women.
In fact to be a woman called to ministry requires a certain kind of holy fierceness every day to just get up and do your job. If the holy fierceness takes the face of righteous indignation every day, however, you may find, as Mary* says, that “no one likes you and you are just tired.”
I used to listen to John MacArthur on my car radio as I drove to Carson-Newman two mornings a week from Knoxville. I lived at home because my family could not afford for me to live on campus. I held a job on Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays, and I went to college on Tuesdays and Thursdays, usually four classes in a row each day. I’m not a martyr. I was simply committed to getting my education and getting on to seminary.
I was motivated, because I felt called to ministry. My call was clear enough that I had chosen my seminary before I chose my college.
I didn’t listen to the evangelical bible teacher every day, but I was still listening to Christian radio at that point in my life. (I had not yet discovered NPR.) And I often argued with him even then as I drove up the road. But I was cultivating holy fierceness in my life, although I had not yet discovered that name for it.
It would be two more decades before I met Mary, Casandra and Theresa, who crystalized the approach to living in this posture with the name holy fierceness.
And by the way, the seminary I chose, and to which I was headed, was one of six taken over by the Biblicist party of the SBC. They took control of the board of trustees and they hired Al Mohler as president. Actually, I graduated about 5 minutes before he arrived and my diploma was signed by Roy Honeycutt, who told us that he was in our “graduating class.”
And in 2017 the white men of the Tennessee Baptist Convention forced my beloved Carson-Newman, to submit itself to the Baptist Faith and Message (2000). This is the Baptist document that prohibits women’s pastoral leadership.
Three years ago my home church was taken over by a predatory congregation, with initiative and support of the same white men and biblicists of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. The losses there are still too many to count. It is the church that ordained me in 1996. I am the only woman they ever ordained to the work of ministry.
My own holy fierceness feels like little more than like a mighty squeak in the face of these losses. My childhood denomination, college, seminary, and church are all now under the control of men who agree with John MacArthur that women like me should just go home.
So I have been contending with MacArthur and his ilk all my life. And yes I am sick to death of their small minded theology, their pious certainty about what the Bible says as if they wrote it themselves, and misguided view of God’s love and grace is not really for all people. Most of the time I think Calvinism is just an excuse to say some people are excluded. I’m sick of their marketing ploys and fear tactics and Bible conferences that police people instead of nourishing them toward flourishing meaningful lives. Where is that millstone….?
These are white men in power and they go through life oblivious to the dangers and damage that their work and their language, and their so-called teachings do to undermine the well-being of millions upon millions of people. They say they are benevolent patriarchs called to protect women and children. How ironic.
Thousands of us have walked away from evangelical and southern Baptist churches, and I don’t just mean women. I have neither time nor energy to dwell on these griefs. Yet each loss and each observation of the implicit and explicit sexism, racism and homophobia of these white men in power, does something. It cultivates in me and many other people a holy fierceness to speak up, to act and to be create change that embodies the values and people who have been pushed to the margins over and over in my lifetime (and long before!).
And what do I do with it? I work to channel the energy generated from the anger that MacArthur and his minions ignite in me toward make the world a better, more generous, kinder, and more loving place with room for all the neighbors. I lean into the question of how my own participation in these harms has shaped me and how I am complicit in racist, sexist and homophobic speech and harm as well. Part of recovering and making change, is owning my part it in.
What about you if you’ve read this far?
I’ve channeled my anger into good work rather than let it beat me up, suck me into depression, or steal my faith. Now to be clear I’m equal parts faith and doubt. But that tension keeps me alive and keeps me wrestling with questions. I have enough disgust some days to walk away from questions altogether. And plenty of white men with better theology than John MacArthur have ticked me off.
Holy fierceness is essential if we want to make and be the change. It must be tended as the fires the of a hearth lest it burn us down. Accessing and channeling the energy and warmth of the fires of holy fierceness is crucial for enacting the positive values to which Jesus has called us and God sustains us.
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*Mary, Theresa and Casandra are pseudonyms. They are participants in the Learning Pastoral Imagination Project. This story is shared with their permission.