Valor’s Unsettling Saints

Previously posted in March of 2020.

What kind of women are women of valor?

I think they are women who are courageous enough to use their God-given gifts, others-oriented, and are willing to buck the status quo to follow Jesus and bring forth goodness and justice.  

Right off of the bat, I think of St. Macrina the Younger (330-379 A.D.). I mention her frequently in my writings. If I had a patron saint, she’d be it. She lived a life of godliness, convinced her mother to free their slaves, and gave away their money and possessions. She and her mother then became nuns. She also tutored her brothers St. Basil the Great and St. Gregory of Nyssa in theology and in spiritual formation. She was their spiritual director. They were two of the three Cappadocian Fathers renowned for their lives, writing, and work, especially against the Arian heresy.

The third Cappadocian Father was their family friend, Gregory of Nazianzus. What is crucial here is that these brothers took spiritual and theological instruction from their sister, a woman. Setting aside well-worn controversies over women in the pastorate or senior pastorate, there are some today, believe it or not, who insist that a woman cannot teach men theology. They forbid women from being theology professors at their colleges and universities or teaching men in Sunday School classes or other venues in their churches. Honestly, I worry that for many, though obviously not all, it is bred of insecurity, hubris, a desire to maintain power and control, and lack of knowledge of the Bible and church history—a capitulation to patriarchy. Even Priscilla, a woman, and her husband, Aquila, taught Apollos during the first century. St. Macrina, a single woman, used her gifts to bring others closer to Christ. Moreover, through instructing her brothers, she played a part in combatting the Arian heresy that threatened to topple orthodox Christianity.

Hear me: I am not encouraging a revolt, a bloody rebellion.

There is no doubt women can and should go to seminary if they so desire and have the opportunity in order to use their gifts of teaching in the church, seminaries, and undergraduate and graduate programs. I wish the previous statement wasn’t necessary to make in 2020, but I make it for those who might still be in environments where you are told otherwise. To rephrase Paul in I Timothy 4:12: do not let anyone look down on you because you are a woman. Be an example in speech, conduct, faith, and purity. 

Another woman of valor, who had all sorts of odds against her, is Harriet Tubman. After she escaped slavery in 1849, she became an abolitionist and conductor in the Underground Railroad. She led many, many people to freedom. Harriet wasn’t content to secure her own freedom. She wanted freedom for her family members and friends. She risked her life on many missions to lead them to freedom in the North. She was an African American woman, hunted by bounty hunters, hated by those who wanted to maintain slavery, the status quo. 

I am saying that in order to follow Christ you may have to buck the system, even the church system.

Isn’t it interesting that Harriet’s life and behavior ran contra to what many of the Christians, especially in the South, but also in the North, were saying and teaching? She broke the law in the South by escaping and then by going back to help other slaves on the road to freedom. It should be obvious by now that some laws are unjust and ought to be civilly disobeyed in order for us to be our brothers’ and sisters’ keeper. How many of us would have had the gumption to thwart the laws and mores back then in order to live righteously, to do justice? We know abolitionists did it, including lots of our Quaker friends. But there were many who might have intuited that slavery was wrong, but caved to public and church and pastoral pressure to remain silent and inactive, likely in the name of unity or submission to authorities. 

To be a woman of valor in whatever sphere we are in, we are going to have to think through things. We are going to have to be willing to put our reputations on the line in order to do what is right. I think about how Jesus infuriated the Pharisees, not because he did what was wrong, but because he would rather do the will of God than curry the favor of humankind. 

Hear me: I am not encouraging a revolt, a bloody rebellion. However, I am saying that in order to follow Christ you may have to buck the system, even the church system. Just think about recently how many “orthodox” and “Bible-believing, Bible-teaching” churches and pastors actively and resolutely covered—and continue to cover up—sexual, emotional, and spiritual abuse of people, typically women and children. But courageous followers of Jesus have continued to speak out despite retaliation.

I know what it’s like to lose a job at a Christian institution for being a whistleblower. So does my husband and many of our friends. We decided that if we remained silent to try to save our jobs we couldn’t live with ourselves. We decided we would rather have clear consciences than save our jobs and sell our souls. 

I pray that you would be a woman of valor and encourage women and young girls around you to be women of valor in whatever sphere you find yourself. 

Marlena Graves
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