Then afterward I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
your old men shall dream dreams,
and your young men shall see visions.
Even on the male and female slaves,
in those days, I will pour out my spirit.
If you don’t read the Bible closely, you might come to the conclusion that being a prophet was an exclusively male privilege. You would be wrong — there are a number of female prophets mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, including Deborah, Miriam, and Abigail, just to name a few.
However, there is no doubt that the large majority of prophets featured in the Bible were male. All of the prophetic books are ascribed to men.
But in Joel’s book, we find this illuminating passage in which God promises a time in which God will pour the Spirit onto all people, regardless of age, gender, and class. This “pouring out,” or anointing, is the primary characteristic of the prophet in the Scriptures; it is the verifying sign that one is truly chosen by God to speak God’s word.
And Joel says that this gift will not be confined to men only. “Your daughters shall prophesy,” he says, in a context in which daughters were likely discouraged from doing that very thing.
Years later, the apostle Peter quotes this passage on the Day of Pentecost, after the Spirit is dramatically poured out onto 120 believers who are gathered in an upper room. He states that Joel’s prophecy has been fulfilled right then and there; that sons and daughters alike have been given the authority to be prophets.
What a shame that this message of female empowerment has been muted over the centuries since that day in Jerusalem. The long history of the Christian church reveals systematic discrimination against female leadership.
In our own United Methodist tradition, women were not granted ordination until 1956. Yes, 1956!!
Even today, clergywomen in our denomination face significant struggles to reach equality with their male counterparts. For example, very few women are lead pastors of our largest churches. As of only two years ago, there were only two women serving as senior pastors of the Top 100 United Methodist Churches (by attendance) in America. One of those was Rev. Karen Oliveto, who became a bishop last year.
Additionally, of the 177 United Methodist churches that have over 1,000 people on an average Sunday morning, only four had female senior pastors, a number which I believe is still accurate.
There’s also a stained-glass ceiling effect upon salaries. According to a recent study, female UMC pastors still earn 13% less than their male counterparts, on average.
And yet, two thousand years ago, our earliest church leaders proclaimed with great fanfare that our sons and daughters would prophesy, that they would speak God’s Word with power and authority.
On International Women’s Day, let’s celebrate those who do, and those who haven’t been set free to do so yet.
Prayer: God, thank you for the gift of your Spirit, which has been poured out on us equally. May our sisters rise in your power. May our mothers be beacons of gospel hope. Amen.
Justice Challenge: If you are a United Methodist, visit the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry website and explore the history of clergywomen. Consider making a donation toward scholarships for women going into ministry.
If you are not United Methodist, consider taking the following three steps in solidarity with A Day Without Women:
1 Women take the day off, from paid and unpaid labor
2 Avoid shopping for one day (with exceptions for small, women- and minority-owned businesses)
3 Wear RED in solidarity with A Day Without A Woman