Because biblical misinterpretations have far too long caused great harm to women and entire church communities, I’m deeply grateful to Rev. Sherri L. Brown Jackson for her new book Silent Not Me: Reimagining the Text That Keeps Woman Out of the Pulpit. I resonate with what she writes about the trauma women suffer from biblical texts preached out of context; she aptly calls this preaching “malpractice in the pulpit” and “deadly.” Her concise, instructive book challenges churches to preach and teach responsible interpretations that affirm women called to preach, and it inspires women to claim their call.
You may have already left behind biblical misinterpretations that stifle women, but, alas, far too many people have not. It may seem obvious that Christian people, eager to transmit the Good News that we are all created as equals in the Divine image, would affirm women called to ministry; however, some of the largest churches and denominations still take biblical texts out of context to limit women. Rev. Sherri’s book provides solid, persuasive interpretation to use in conversations with people who deny women opportunities to serve as preachers and pastors.
Rev. Sherri and I met in a Facebook group, taught together in an online class, and discovered we have much in common. We’re both ordained Baptist ministers from Louisiana. We both grew up in evangelical churches where women were not ordained. And we both felt a disconnect between hearing the importance of using our talents to be all we can be and seeing no women in church leadership. Nevertheless, we felt called to ministry, and were able to accept our call when we discovered biblical support for the equality of women as church leaders.
In Silent Not Me, Rev. Sherri includes a compelling account of her personal experience of conflict when God called her to preach. She clearly heard the voice of God calling her, but because of words written in the Bible, that she accepts as her “sacred guide,” she struggled. She writes in her Introduction: “There came a time I had to embrace the God of my own understanding and leave behind the understanding of God that had been given to me. I did that by going beyond the written text and digging into the contextual world of the text.”
Growing up, I never saw a woman in the pulpit, except a missionary to Nigeria. And what she did was called “speak,” not “preach.” I never questioned biblical misinterpretations that sanction male-only church leaders. Like Rev. Sherri, I had to be convinced that the Bible supports women ministers. My epiphany came through All We’re Meant to Be, by Letha Dawson Scanzoni and Nancy A. Hardesty. In this book I discovered more than enough biblical support for gender equality in church leadership and in all aspects of life.
Silent Not Me focuses on 1 Corinthians 14:26-40, one of the main passages some people still use in their efforts to justify their exclusion of women from the pulpit. Rev. Sherri gives a thorough examination of this text, making clear that the Apostle Paul’s words do not silence her or any other woman. She assures women: “If God has called you to preach, God has spoken. Let everyone else walk in silence regarding your call.”
The amount of research in this short book is impressive. Drawing from a diversity of biblical interpreters, Rev. Sherri demonstrates that Paul affirms, not prohibits, women’s preaching, teaching, and leading in churches. She makes this biblical scholarship available to laypeople, as well as pastors, by defining key terms and by putting her detailed analysis in a clear, accessible style.
Rev. Sherri explains the term “exegesis” using the helpful analogy of getting all the juice from an orange. The scriptural “juice,” she says, “is inside the contextual world of the text,” that is, the “historical, literary, canonical and cultural contexts.” She also applies the orange analogy to “eisegesis,” which “injects juice into an orange,” that is, injects readers’ own agendas and biases into a biblical text, often resulting in “interpretations that hurt rather than heal.” She defines “hermeneutics” as “the way one interprets scripture,” pointing out that we all read the Bible through our particular cultural and ideological lenses, for example, womanist or patriarchal viewpoints.
Using sound hermeneutical principles, Rev. Sherri explores the historical, socio-political, cultural, literary, and canonical contexts of the 1 Corinthians passage. In a patriarchal culture that valued individualism and competition, Paul proclaimed a message of universalism, inclusion, and equality, as illustrated in Galatians 3:28. Rev. Sherri explains why Paul fell short of this ideal in the Corinthian letter in order to accommodate the “honor and shame system” in that culture. But she emphasizes how important it is “to remember that the culture in which Paul wrote this letter was vastly different from the Western culture in which we live and worship today.” She also refers to scholars who contend that the verses about silencing women weren’t written by Paul, but added by those who didn’t want to include women, and that these words reflect the attitude of Corinthian men that Paul refutes by letting them know that the gospel didn’t originate with them and that they are not a law unto themselves (verse 36).
Silent Not Me examines one of the main biblical passages used to reject women’s calls to preach and lead churches. Rev. Sherri laments that Paul’s words “have long been used to perpetuate a patriarchal system that silences, stifles and suffocates women” called to preach. The erroneous teaching and preaching of this 1 Corinthians passage have resulted in the oppression and marginalization of women. “For years women have spiritually suffocated and died because they could not give birth to a God-given call to preach.” Rev. Sherri writes that for many years she had rejected her call to preaching and pastoral ministries because she “had been taught that women were only to be helpers and supporters of men, who were destined to lead the church.” Finally, she heard the Holy Spirit over this false teaching and accepted her call. But even then, she says, she “remained uncertain about” her “ability to be a senior pastor because of” her “gender.” I understand. Even after we’ve discovered biblical support for our calls to ministry, clergywomen face internal and external barriers to becoming all we’re created to be. We’ve internalized sexism from what we saw and heard growing up in churches, and we continue to experience sexism even in progressive churches and religious institutions.
This book comes with life-giving power for women and for entire church communities who also suffer from stifling women’s gifts. Patriarchal interpretations of the Bible and misogynist readings of biblical passages still promote discrimination against women in the church and in the larger society. Silent No More is much needed to counter these harmful interpretations. It will be an important resource for Equity for Women in the Church, an ecumenical movement to facilitate equal representation of women as pastors of multicultural churches in order to transform church and society. At an Equity for Women in the Church conference, I heard a clergywoman talk about her experiences of prejudice against her preaching and about her inequitable salary. Even in a church that ordained her and called her as associate pastor, some members say to her, after she’s preached, that they don’t believe women should preach. They have heard and believed faulty interpretations of biblical passages. Also, this clergywoman’s salary is far lower than that of the male senior pastor, and after many years of serving as an associate pastor, she has had no opportunities to become a senior pastor. For these reasons she is passionate about collaborating with others in Equity for Women in the Church to change churches by providing educational tools that promote gender equality. Silent Not Me will be an excellent resource for us to include.
Silent Not Me gives powerful support for the full equality of women as preachers and pastors of churches, and I recommend it to people of all genders and races who want to transform church and society by following the liberating call of the gospel. This book is ideal not only for women struggling with a call to preach, but also for all laypeople and pastors to use in Bible study groups, sermons, and personal study. Written from a pastor’s heart, Silent Not Me is a practical guide to use in countering distorted biblical interpretations that result in unjust practices. Rev. Sherri concludes with an exhortation to women called to preach: “Women, remain silent no more. Go forth and preach with conviction, clarity and confidence. . . . God has spoken! Let all others be silent!”
Rev. Sherri L. Brown Jackson currently serves as pastor of The Healing Place Ministries of Alexandria, Louisiana. Steeped in the Baptist tradition, she grew up in Hammond, Louisiana. She accepted her call to preach in 2002 and preached her first sermon in 2003 at Zoe Outreach Ministries of Racine, Wisconsin. In 2008 she was ordained at St. Matthew Baptist Church in Boyce, Louisiana. Rev. Sherri earned the Master of Divinity degree at United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. She also holds a Master of Science degree in adult education from the University of Wisconsin-Platteville and a Bachelor of Arts degree from Southeastern Louisiana University. She is the author of Not Built to Break and Sermon Prep Made Easy: Six Steps Every Preacher Should Take Before Reaching the Pulpit. Called “The Preacher’s Coach,” Rev. Sherri is passionate about helping women in ministry become “D.A.M. Good Preachers” by guiding them as they “Discover, Accept and Master” their call to preach.