Rhonda Walton

Rhonda Walton

The Southern Baptist Church in Texas is where I came to know and love Jesus, and for this, I will be forever grateful. But over many years, I have come to understand that there were also many things in my well-churched upbringing that needed to be “unlearned.”

 

From the time I became a Christian at age 11, I was deeply serious about my faith and wanted desperately to be used by God, so I was attentive to what church leaders taught me. I remember hearing in Sunday school that the reason women should never be leaders in church or in the home was because women are spiritually weaker and more easily tempted to sin, as proven by Eve and the apple. Later in the same class, we were told that if we ever found ourselves alone with a boy, we needed to remember that physical things can get to the point where the boy will naturally be completely unable to stop himself, and it is the girl’s responsibility to make sure that both remain pure. I wondered why no one else seemed as confused as I was.

And I prayed for forgiveness for my rebellious nature.

 

Many times, I remember quietly sitting in a pew and attentively watching a deacon ordination. A homogenous group of solemn middle-aged men with graying hair and gray suits placed their hands on each other’s shoulders and seemed to congratulate each other on their chosen status. This was the inner circle of special people who really knew and loved my Jesus. It seemed a bit unfair and strangely hurtful. No matter how well I behaved, I would never become a middle-aged man in a gray suit.  

And I prayed for forgiveness for my rebellious nature.

 

I was a studious, deep thinking kid, so I read my Bible diligently.

What I understood about men leading and women submitting didn’t always seem to make sense with God’s redemptive plan or with the just and loving character of Jesus.

I wondered if I had been born with a “lower dose” of God’s image.

I asked specific questions and was told that God just designed things that way.

So, I prayed for forgiveness for my rebellious nature.

 

I grew up, married, went to college, finished medical school, had four sons, and found myself successfully practicing medicine in one world while struggling to live out that “submissive role thing” at home and at church.

And once again, I prayed those prayers for forgiveness.

 

Finally, a friend introduced me to an organization called Christians for Biblical Equality. Here I found an amazing clearinghouse of scholarly resources espousing a message that biblical leadership is based on giftedness rather than gender, that biblical marriage is based on mutual submission rather than hierarchy, and that women are as valuable and useful to God as men. And I found a deeper, more profound love of the Jesus (and Paul) whom I had known for so long.

 

But of course, when I shared my clearer understanding of scripture with my Christian brothers and sisters, many were… less than enthusiastic. And so began a long and sometimes painful journey of study, discussion, and debate, along with the precious realization that perhaps my nature, at least in God’s eyes, was not so terribly rebellious.

 

Even so, when a friend invited me to another “women’s Bible study,” my first thought was that I’d already heard more than enough teaching on how to be submissive. Yet there I was, drinking wine, listening to Jackie talk about ennobling women, and wanting to stand up on one of those tables and cheer.

 

There have been times along the way when I’ve been asked why this idea of ennobling women is such a passion for me. (After all, I was “called to be a doctor, not a preacher.”) But I have come to believe thatthis is a core gospel issue that affects every area of our lives, male or female.

 

I’ve practiced pediatrics for almost 30 years, the last 8 years in a charity clinic in Fair Park. So many times I’ve seen girls who, though “well-churched,” made incredibly destructive decisions because the church has, in my opinion, failed to model for them that their identity in Christ is sufficient and that their voice is valuable. Many of my pediatric patients have babies who are also my patients. Some are victims of rape and abuse and pornography. (No, it’s not “victimless.”) The downstream effects on adolescent boys of an internalized gender hierarchy are equally destructive.  The message of ennobling women has implications that reach far beyond the walls of a seminary classroom.  

 

So ultimately, the Marcella Project movement is not about a “secondary theological issue.” It’s about Jesus, and it’s about healing a hemiplegic church in a world that desperately needs a whole church. It’s about the fact that when someone grossly misrepresents someone you love, you mustn’t remain silent. And I love Jesus.