Shawna Atteberry

Baker, Writer, Teacher

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori offering closing prayer at National Prayer Service

This is from Episcopal Life Online:

Presiding Bishop Katharine Jefferts Schori will offer the closing prayer at a National Prayer Service set for January 21 at Washington National Cathedral. President Barack Obama and his family are scheduled to attend the invitation-only service.

The Very Rev. Samuel T. Lloyd III, Dean of the Washington National Cathedral, will welcome attendees to the event, followed by an invocation from Diocese of Washington Bishop John Chane.

The 2009 Presidential Inaugural Committee announced on January 16 the spiritual leaders who will participate in the service, which is a tradition dating back to the inauguration of George Washington and is considered the conclusion of the official inaugural events.

The prayer service, set to begin at 10 a.m. EST, will be broadcast live on the cathedral’s website. Online participants can light “virtual” candles and leave personal messages of hope, renewal, and reconciliation at the website. Online visitors can also access an historic presidential photo gallery, view video footage of the national prayer service, and explore the role of this “church for national purposes” throughout the years, according to a news release from the cathedral.

The service will include scripture readings, prayers (including those for civic leaders and the nation), hymns and blessings delivered by faith leaders from across the United States. The Rev. Sharon E. Watkins, general minister and president of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) will deliver the sermon, the first time a woman has preached at the service.

I am not only one happy Episcopalian, but I am one happy feminist theologian. Two women who are ordained and the leaders of their national religion/denominations are part of the National Prayer Service at the Washington National Cathedral on Inauguration Day. I will be watching the live broadcast that morning. I am so happy!

Most Blessed of Women? Jael

"Deborah: Words, Women and War" by Nathan Moscowitz

During the times of The Hebrew Scriptures, the tents were women’s work. Women spun the goat hair, wove it, and made the tents. They pulled down and packed the tents when the household left for another place. When the day’s journey was done they would unpack the tents and set them back up. This means that Jael knew her way around a tent peg and a hammer.

We first hear about Jael’s husband in a verse that comes out of nowhere in the middle of the Deborah and Barak story. Deborah has called Barak and told him that God want’s him to attack the Canaanite army that has been oppressing Israel for 40 years. Barak will not go into battle without Deborah, God’s envoy. Deborah tells Barak she will go, but that Sisera will die by the hand of a woman. Deborah, Barak and the Israelite army march out. In Judges 4:11 we read, “Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the other Kenites, that is, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had encamped as far away as Elon-bezaanannim, which is near Kedesh.” In the next verses Sisera, the Canaanite general, hears that Barak is gathering an army at Mt. Tabor, and he and the Canaanite army march to meet them. Who is Heber, and why is he mentioned now?

We find out in the next few verses. Deborah gives the command for Barak and the army to attack, and God sends the Canaanite army into a panic. The Israelites rout the Canaanites, and Sisera abandons his post and runs away. Now we find out why the reference to Heber appears earlier: “Now Sisera had fled away on foot to the tent of Jael wife of Heber the Kenite; for there was peace between King Jabin of Hazor and the clan of Heber the Kenite” (v. 17).

Jael welcomes Sisera into the tent, gives him milk, and then covers him as he lays down to sleep. He commands her to tell anyone to come by that she has not seen him. Jael waits until he falls asleep, and then she graps a tent peg and her hammer and quietly goes to Sisera. She pounds the tent peg through his temple, and then goes out of her tent to wait for Barak. When he and the army arrives, she tells him that Sisera is in her tent.

Why would Jael kill Sisera when there was peace between her husband and Sisera’s king? And why would Deborah sing in Judges 5:24 that Jael is “the most blessed of women” (the only other woman called “most blessed of women” is Mary). In her book, Warrior, Dancer, Seductress, Queen: Women in Judges and Biblical Israel, Susan Ackerman outlines the clues that suggest Jael was acting in a cultic role. Earlier in Judges we are told that the Kenites were descended from Moses’ father-in-law (1:16). The biblical traditions don’t agree on what his name was, but they all agree on one thing concerning Moses’ father-in-law: he was a priest. Judges 4:11 is the first time we have seen “Kenite” since chapter one, and the writer once again points out that the Kenites are descended from Moses’ father-in-law. The writer wants us to connect Heber and Jael with their priestly ancestor. By connecting Jael to the Kenite community the writer is giving her actions priestly authority. By inserting one word he is telling his readers that Jael is functioning in a cultic role parallel to Deborah’s prophetic role.

The second clue we are given is that Heber has moved away from the Kenites, and he and Jael have encamped at Elon-bezaanannim, near Kadesh (4:11). Elon-bezaanannim, which means “the oak of Zaanannim.” This is a clue the place where they encamped is sacred space, because oaks were often used to symbolize the holy. In other places in Scripture oaks are places where divine revelations and teaching occur (see Gen. 12:6; 13:18; 14;13; 35:8; and Jud. 9:6). Ackerman also notes the root that oak is from in the Hebrew is the same root that “God” or “gods” comes from, el. For Jael’s tent to be pitched by or under an oak tree is to signify that it is a sacred spot, holy ground.

This is further confirmed in the next place name given to show where Heber and Jael live: they live near Kedesh. In Joshua Kedesh had been designated as one of the cities of refuge where someone who unintentionally committed murder could flee to escape the revenge of the kinsman redeemer. It is also a city whose lands were given to the Levites, so they could graze their animals. Kadesh was identified with both a sanctuary and Israel’s cult. It is also the only city in Naphtali that has this dual claim.

The writer of Judges 4 has given us three major markers that Jael is to be seen in a cultic role: she is a Kenite, descended from Moses’ father-in-law; her tent is under or near a sacred oak, and she lives near Kadesh. Jael’s tent is seen as sacred ground, and this is the reason why Sisera enters. Sisera believes himself to be safe.

But that leaves the question: why did she kill him? Sisera is on sacred ground, and the rules of hospitality are that you will fight, and if necessary, die in your guest’s place, not kill them. First she was in danger if Barak did find Sisera in her tent. She would then be seen as Israel’s enemy. The second reason is possible rape. In Deborah’s song the verses that follow Jael’s murder of Sisera have Sisera’s mother saying that he delays because there is a woman (literally “womb”) or two for each man to rape (5:38-40). She did not want to have the same fate befall her. It is also worth noting that if Sisera’s intentions were honorable, he would have gone into her husband’s tent and not hers. In my “Judges” class in seminary, we learned that the tradition of the time was for the husband and wife or wives to have their own separate tents. There was no reason for Sisera to be in her tent. If her husband came home, she would have been accused of adultery. She was protecting herself from possible rape as well as the possibility of being killed.

There is a third reason for why Jael killed Sisera. Staying with Ackerman’s argument that Jael is functioning in a cultic role, she acts because she is doing what God has told her to do. She knows that this is a holy war God is waging against the Canaanites to deliver Israel from their oppression. This suspends the rules of sanctuary she could provide for Sisera. Jael is acting as Moses, Phineas, and the leaders of Israel acted when the men of Israel had sexual relations with the women of Moab and worshiped Baal of Peor (Numbers 25). Phineas’ zeal for upholding the covenant by killing an Israelite man and the Midianite woman he brought into camp, is commended by God, and he and his family receive a blessing (verses 10-13). As Moses and Phineas protected Israel’s heritage as the people of God, so Jael does. She knows the deeds of this man, his arrogance, brutality, and what he would do if she were a woman of a tribe he defeated. She would finish the battle Deborah had started and help to insure 40 years of peace in Israel. With Deborah she would bring shalom to God’s people by obeying what she knew to be the will of God.

As a priest it was Jael’s duty to stand between God and the people–to intercede. In order to save her family and possibly her people, Sisera had to be turned over to the Israelites. He became her sacrifice. Jael reminds us that standing between God and the people can be a very dangerous place. Hard decisions must be made, and in the end, there are times we wonder if what we did is what God wanted.

The next biblical woman to be written about (drumroll)

Is Jael. She had the most votes. Esther and Abigail tied for second, and I will be writing them about them later. A post will be appearing on Jael a little later today. (I really need to eat something.) I have done some writing on the other women you suggested. The articles are scholarly; the sermons not so much. If you have any suggestions to make the scholarly articles more readable, please let me know.


Career Women of the Bible:The 12th Century B. C. E. Career Woman (Deborah)

Career Women of the Bible: Standing Between Life and Death (Zipporah and Huldah)

Career Women of the Bible: Teachers, Elder, and Co-Workers (Priscilla)


Everyone Has a Story (Deborah and Jael)

God Uses Harem Girls (Esther)

Career Women of the Bible: Phoebe

“I commend to you our sister Phoebe, a deacon of the church at Cenchreae, so that you may welcome her in the Lord as is fitting for the saints, and help her in whatever she may require from you, for she has been a benefactor of many and of myself as well (Rom. 16:1-2). Paul trusted Phoebe enough to entrust his letter to the Romans to her. She is a woman Paul highly commended and respected. She is a “sister,” “deacon,” and “benefactor” to the church at Cenchreae as well as a sister and benefactor to Paul.

Paul uses the word, diakonos to describe Phoebe. The odd thing about Paul using this word to describe Phoebe is that it is the masculine form used to describe a woman. The feminine form is diakona. Most versions translate diakonos as “servant” here, but when it used to describe men, it is translated as “deacon.” It is also paired with “of the church of Cenchreae” This is the only place in the New Testament where diakonos is followed by a specific congregation in a genitive construct: she was the deacon of the church in Cenchreae. This is the only place linking a specific person’s ministry with a specific church. This seems to indicate that Phoebe served as a deacon or pastor in the church at Cenchreae.

Paul uses another word to describe Phoebe: prostatis. This is the only occurrence of the word in the New Testament. It is also another word that is translated so that its main meaning is not obvious in the translation. The normal translation is “helper” or someone who has helped. In secular Greek sources, the basic and most obvious translation of the word is patron or benefactor, and women in this role, are well attested in the Roman world. Women who were benefactors in the Roman world supported the arts and temples, as well as philosophers and debaters. Phoebe was a wealthy woman who served the church out of her means as the women in Luke 8 served Jesus out of theirs.

Aida Besançon Spencer has also suggested that prostatis could be derived from the verb proistemi, which means to “to stand, place before or over,” or “to help by ruling” (Before the Curse, 115). The times the verb appears in the New Testament it has the meaning of ruling or governing (Rom. 12:8; 1 Thes. 5:12-13). In the Pastoral Epistles this word is used to describe bishops and deacons governing their households well. In other Greek sources, such as Josephus, the masculine form of the verb is used to describe rulers and leaders like Moses, Herod, and Agrippa (ibid). This word could mean that Phoebe was a ruler or another overseer in the church.

Phoebe was an independent woman who had her own means, and served the church in a leadership role. Paul comes very close to commanding churches he had no hand in planting, and Christians, most of whom had never met him, to welcome her and provide anything she needed because she was both a deacon and a benefactor/ruler in the church. She was not only the benefactor and leader in the church at Cenchreae, but Paul himself had also benefited from her generous rule.

Find out more about The Career Women of the Bible.

A Daughter of Eve

From Kimberly Roth at Jesus Manifesto:

I am a daughter of Eve.

I am a daughter of the woman who plucked fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, because it seemed good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom (and was also kind enough to share with her husband).

I am a daughter of the curse.

I am a son of God.

Through faith, I have been clothed with Christ Jesus and am neither male nor female but Christ, Abraham’s seed, living in me through the Spirit.

I am a son of the promise.


Why is it that women in vocational ministry seems to be Christianity’s final frontier?

Ok, God, we can accept those Gentile believers, and we can even give up our slaves… but you can not be serious about that female thing?! Surely you’re not going to let Eve off the hook that easily. Did Jesus put you up to this? Do you have any idea how long it took us to live down that whole Deborah thing (and don’t even get me started on her friend Jael…)?

There seems to be a lot of fear surrounding what would happen if women were released to run amok in ministry, at least down here in the Bible belt. Children would be abandoned, meals would go unprepared, men would be disrespected in their own homes and left to pick up their own dirty underwear. Chaos would ensue. Theology would be twisted beyond recognition. Salvation as we know it would cease. Sunday school is one thing, but the entire Body of Christ… that’s just too much to consider.

I grew up with this attitude. It took God a long time to convice me that yes God could call me into leadership positions, and that it was okay that I DID NOT want to be a traditional wife, and do not want to have children. God used women like Deborah and Jael who were not typical wives, and the Bible does not even mention if they have children. God also used women like Mary Magdalene and Lydia–single women who were not linked to men, other than Jesus. God also used Priscilla and Aquilla who worked side by side making tents and pastoring churches. It’s been a long, and at times hard, road. I know I need to write about it. I have said that I would. I guess I need to start writing. I always put off telling my story. I guess I don’t think it’s that important. But may be it is important. May be I need to tell my story, so I can tell other women’s stories. I know that is far past time for Eve and her daughters to be redeemed.

How do you feel about telling your story?

Updated Book Review: Saving Women from the Church

I have upadated my book review after comments Susan left. Please make sure you read her comment. There’s somef good stuff there. Thank you Susan for stopping by!

Today is the release date of Susan McLeod-Harrison’s first book Saving Women from the Church: How Jesus Mends a Divide (Barclay Press, 2008). Upfront I have to say I’m not sure I can review this book objectively. Susan’s story is very close to my own. Reading this book, I wished it had been published about eight years earlier. That is when I was going through my own struggle on whether or not to remain in the Church. And I do mean Church with a big C. I wasn’t thinking of only leaving my denomination, I was thinking of leaving the Church period. I was in seminary and on the ordination track. I did not see a place for myself in Christian ministry. I was single; I was evangelical; and I was called to preach and pastor. I was also asked in various churches if I was going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife. I had come to the point where I wanted to leave. I wanted to walk away. I just did not see a future for myself in the Church.

Saving Women from the Church addresses several of the myths that woman hear in church. Some of the chapter titles are: “If you’ve felt alienated and judged in the church,” “If you believe women are inferior to men,” “If as a single woman, your gifts have been rejected or overlooked,” and “If you’ve been encouraged to deify motherhood.” In the Introduction, she starts with my favorite starting point on women in the church: creation. Both men and women are created in the image of God, and therefore, image God with their gifts and talents God has given them. In each chapter she starts with a fictional account of a woman who is experiencing and living one of the myths. She follows it with a imaginative portrayal of how Jesus treated women in a similar position in the New Testament. She follows the biblical story by explaining what Jesus was doing and with questions for discussion. Each chapter ends with a meditation meant for healing. Saving Women does a great job of translating theology into practical, everyday examples in language normal people use. The history and sociological work she does for each passage, explaining the culture of the people, at the time is also well done.

I think this book would make an excellent woman’s study or small group study. It addresses most of the myths women in the evangelical church have grown up with and still deal with. It would be a great conversation starter, and it is a valuable addition to other books on this subject. The language and tone of the book make it much more accessible and understandable to the typical lay person than most books in this genre. In the conclusion, Susan recommends women in abusive churches leave and gives a list of churches that are egalitarian and open to women in ministry. Saving Women does a good job of acknowledging and describing the myths, and encourages women to get out of these environments. The Recommended Reading at the end of the book also has books that would help in this regard.

Overall I am very pleased that this book is on the market. It starts with the premise that women are made in the image of God and called to build God’s kingdom. Then it deals chapter-by-chapter with the destructive myths that have prevailed in evangelical culture to keep women as second-class citizens and powerless in the pews. It is an excellent resource to begin busting these myths and helping women find their God-given ability to be equal partners in building God’s kingdom with their brothers.

Reviewing a Book

Last week I found out that my blog is getting noticed. I received a pre-publication copy of Susan McLeod-Harrison’s book Saving Women from the Church: How Jesus Amends a Divide from Barclay Press. This is Susan’s first book and will be released on Febuary 20. She looks at traditional myths about women such as women are inferior to men, women’s emotions disqualify them from ministry, and women cannot lead because they are to submit to men. I am very excited about this book. In a lot of ways Susan’s journey has mirrored my own (I’ll get more into that in my review).

This book also came at a very good time. I had just finished reading Carolyn Custis James’ Lost Women of the Bible: Finding Strength & Significance through Their Stories. I had been excited about this book too and that Carolyn showed how women were equal to and ministered beside men to build God’s Kingdom throughout the Bible. Her scholarship is excellent, and she is a great storyteller. Then I hit the last chapter. She made it very clear that she did not think this included leadership positions such as pastor. In a footnote, she says that Choe, Lydia, and Priscilla were “hostesses,” not leaders, of the churches that met in their homes. She also has two or three paragraphs about how women can be a support and help to their pastors. Pastors are always referred to as “he.” No talk of men supporting their female pastors or women coming alongside and helping their female pastors. I was so disaapointed. I need to write a review of it, but I just haven’t wanted to go back to it. It has been a long time since I was this disappointed in a book.

In the promotional material that came with Saving Women from the Church, they asked if I could read the book and put up a review on my blog, which I am now doing. I’m about halfway through the book. Susan’s publicist also wrote that if we wanted to do an interview to email her. I think I’m going to do that too. I’d love interview Susan and put that up on the site as well.

I finally made it

They say you haven’t made it in the blogosphere until someone slices and dices you. Well, ladies and gentlemen, I have been sliced and diced! And by another Nazarene no less. A Nazarene who does not believe that his denomination’s 103 year history of ordaining women is right. He took apart Does It Really Mean Helpmate? here.

I wish I could tell you that you would read a worthy critique of my work. But I can’t. There is a lot of proof-texting and a bunch of fuzzy logic. I chuckled my way through it. I equally chuckled my way through his analysis of Dr. Joseph Coleson’s Ezer Cenegdo: A Power Like Him Facing Him as Equal here, which is quite entertaining as well.

I wish it was a worthy slice and dice, but I was sliced and diced with Dr.Coleson who was my OT prof at seminary, and he has a doctorate in biblical semetic languages. I just have a little ole Master of Arts degree in Biblical Studeis. But I have been sliced and diced! Woot!

Related Series: Career Women of the Bible

Career Women of the Bible: Introduction

Editor’s note: This post was updated on 9/30/2010.

One of the largest Southern Baptist seminaries, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary (SBTS), in Louisville, Kentucky began a new core of programs for women in 2007, which included:

Seminary Wives Institute is an innovative program designed to prepare the wives of seminary students for their role in their husbands’ ministries.

Women’s Ministry Institute offers women the opportunity to improve their skills and ministry through a variety of classes geared toward women’s ministries in the local church.

Classes included housekeeping, budgeting, being your husband’s best friend, keeping an organized house, and sewing. There were Bible classes, but the descriptions sounded like the women taking these classes had never been to Sunday School. There were “leadership” classes, but the brochure and class descriptions made it clear that this was leadership for womens and children’s ministry. The counseling classes made it clear that women were to counsel only other women according to the Titus 2 model. In 2007, when this post was first written, my favorite class module was this one:

Redeeming the Time looks at setting goals and priorities but also tackles practical issues including day planners; handling paper, avoiding clutter; home management; housekeeping and kitchen organization. This course is aimed to challenge those who are already skilled in areas of organization as well as to motivate those who have room for vast improvement.

In their 2010 class schedule, I noticed SBTS no longer offers this module, and for good reason. Most seminary students are at least 22, and I was 28 when I started seminary. I have friends who started seminary in their 30s and 40s. I’m thinking most seminary wives, along with most seminary husbands, have an idea of how to use a day planner and set goals. In 2007 SBTS module also made it clear that a woman’s role is to keep house, period. There was a core of courses on homemaking (link no longer available). Classes include homemaking, sewing, taking care of children, and cooking. Basically SBST’s courses of study for women are degrees in home economics. The classes they now offer in their certificates for Seminary Wives and Women’s Ministry still make it clear that women that a women’s place is in the home and leading only women and children at church, but they have dropped the home economics classes in their 2010-11 offerings.

This is why I am writing Career Women of the Bible. There is a disturbing trend in evangelicalism that takes the 1950s Leave It to Beaver family and elevates it to the biblical model of family. The “biblical” model of being a woman means staying at home, raising children, and taking care of the household. But does the Bible really say that?

This book began as my thesis in seminary. During my time at Nazarene Theological Seminary (NTS), I would be asked in churches if I was going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife. I wasn’t. I was called to be a pastor. This question asked in church foyers, potlucks, and Sunday School classes struck me as odd. It seemed odd because The Church of the Nazarene has been ordaining women for over 100 years. The first women in my denomination was ordained in 1903. In the 1930s 30% of Nazarene ordained elders were women. The largest Nazarene church, First Church of the Nazarene, in Little Rock, Arkansas was pastored by a woman in the 40s–Agnes Diffee. Little Rock First ran 3,000 then. Agnes also became the first female radio evangelist in the United States.

This question also made me a little angry. Why would anyone think I was pursuing a Masters degree to find a husband? With what it cost? And the time? It was insulting to me. It wasn’t until after I had graduated that I found out that in the 1970s NTS had a course for guess who? Yes–for pastors’ wives. In a denomination that had been ordaining women since the turn of the twentieth century, they had a pastor’s wives (not spouses) course.

“Are you going to seminary to be a pastor’s wife?” This question sparked my thesis: a Theology of Single Women in Ministry. I wanted to show that God called women in their own right to be prophets, judges, and leaders. Even women like Deborah and Huldah were not leaders because of their husbands. They were leaders because God called them and they obeyed. I have since thought more and more about women in the Bible–and not just the ones called to leadership positions. Even those who appear to be the typical mother and housewife on the surface belie these apparent roles. Women such as the matriarchs–Sarah, Rebekah, Rachel, and Leah–helped define the covenant with God and literally birthed God’s chosen people. The Proverbs 31 woman, who is usually prooftexted into the domestic diva of her day, did not just keep an orderly house and raise kids. She was also a business woman: she spun and wove cloth and sold it. She also had her own property, which she bought and sold. Taking a closer look at the women in the Bible shows there is much more complexity to who they were and their roles than what a cursory glance gives.

But one thing I do not want to do is gloss over or demean the women who have chosen to stay home and raise their children. I believe being a mother is a full-time job and then some. That is why I have made sure to include mothers in this book. In the Bible mothers make covenant decisions regarding their children. Women’s decisions regarding their children have led to mighty movements of God’s Spirit. Think of Rebekah making sure Jacob receives Isaac’s blessing as God had told her years before. Think of Hannah giving Samuel into God’s service, and the revival that came to Israel due to Samuel’s leadership. Women’s fingerprints, mothers’ fingerprints, are all over the purposes and plans of God for God’s chosen people: both Israel and the Church.

I think by taking a closer look at the women in the Bible, we will see that they wore as many hats as women do today: wives, mothers, students, prophets, judges, evangelists, pastors, and apostles. There were also business women: Lydia and the Proverbs 31 woman; harvesters like Ruth, and a queen who saved her people, Esther. Women in the Bible lived many different roles as women today.

I hope this book will help you see that God has not limited what women can do. In fact, the biblical witness is just the opposite: we see God calling women to build God’s kingdom in both the sacred and secular realms as well as the home.


Rev. Agnes Diffee (1889–1970) who pastored Little Rock First Church of the Nazarene in the 1940s.

Rev. Santos Elizondo (1867–1941) who preached and led 100s to Christ in El Paso and Juarez. She was in charge of Nazarene work in Juarez for 35 years.

Rev. Emma Irck (1888–1984) pastored the largest Nazarene church in Houston, Texas. She was also a renowned evangelist who traveled thousands of miles to hold revivals.

Pictures and descriptions are from the Weselyan Holiness Women Clergy website. For more information on these women and other women leaders influential in the holiness movement visit WHWC Picture Gallery.

(Hat tip to Feminary and Church Gal for bringing this up on both of their blogs, and a very big thank you for giving me the thing I needed to spark off the introduction for this book.)

Related Links:
Updated: Potential “Career Women of the Bible” Outline
Viewpoint of a Female Minister