What is it about the word “woman” that makes her any less important than a man? Are genitalia really an important factor to call to attention to when considering whether a person is worthy enough? Last fall I remember coming across an article on the Huffington Post about the Quebec Roman Catholic Archbishop, Paul-Andre Durocher, proposing that women should be appointed as deacons. For those of you unfamiliar with the term, a “deaconess” is “a female religious leader in the Christian church; deaconesses have had different roles in different times and places” (Anderson and Young, 207). As deaconesses, women “could perform functions that male deacons currently do: preaching, baptizing, witnessing marriages and performing funerals” (207).
What is interesting to me is that Rome used to have female deacons, deaconesses, however, by the fifth century, the role of deaconesses disappeared in the Western churches (Anderson and Young, 195). The fact that the Archbishop is now fighting to bring the role of women back to the churches is a significant accomplishment for the fight for womanly justice everywhere.
More importantly, however, what this article raises for me is the significant roles that women have played in history and how they have lead the way in religious traditions that are still practiced to this very day, even while those contributions have been covered over. The fact that the Archbishop affirms bringing back women deacons is only right seeing that throughout history women have had leadership positions in religion and have had strong influences on them for the better. One example is Deborah, the first prophetess of the Jewish people.
As the story goes, God gave the Jews to the hands of the King of Canaan as a consequence of idol worship. The Jews were persecuted for twenty years under the King’s general’s rule, Sisera. Of course, the Jews cried out to God and the prophetess Deborah was sent to them. The entire Jewish nation respected Deborah and went to her for advice and help. She was seen as a great and holy prophetess. Deborah sent a man named Barak to fight the battle against the Canaanites. He asked Deborah to accompany him because in order to fight the war he needed both her and God by his side.
Ultimately, the Canaanites were defeated and Sisera needed a place to flee to. He found a tent and sought refuge by a woman named Jael. Jael put the evil general to sleep and killed him in his slumber. Deborah then wrote a song about Jael’s bravery called the “Song of Deborah,” which is written down in the Hebrew Bible next to the significant song of Moses. This story of Deborah shows not only one, but two significant women in the Jewish religion – Deborah and Jael who both brought strength and victory to the Jewish people. Just as Barak found strength only with Deborah, a woman, by his side.
Another example is Lydia, known as the first Christian convert in Europe. Lydia was not Jewish by birth but it is recorded that she was a believer in God. She had settled in the city of Philippi, which was the location of the first labors of Paul, Jesus’ apostle, in Europe. One Sabbath day, it is said that Paul found a group of Jews lingering outside the city, with Lydia among them. He preached to them and they converted to Paul’s ways of Christianity. Being a Christian now, Lydia encouraged the missionaries to use her house as a sanctuary. Soon, her home became a gathering place, a church, for Christians.
Paul left to continue to spread the gospel but he never forgot Philippi throughout his travels. Lydia’s church became one of the most memorable places to the apostle Paul. If it were not for the church of Philippi at Lydia’s home, Paul would not have had the inspiration to write his most loving epistle when he was imprisoned in Rome. Lydia, a woman, built a major foundation site for the Christians of Philippi. She was honored and respected and Paul never forgot the church of Philippi that he felt so welcomed and secure in at the start of his practice of his new religion.
It’s about time that women are appreciated for their true value and are represented in the strong leadership roles that they deserve; especially in religion.
Religious history is filled with examples of influential women and it is our job, both women and men, to bring forth these examples so as to not let the world forget these monumental women and how they represent the name of women across the globe: sensational beings that can do just about anything and sometimes even more than what a man can do.
Sara Sasoones is currently a junior at California State University, Northridge. She is studying for her B.A. in psychology. She lives in Los Angeles, California, in a family of seven. Having a big family shaped who she is today.