The first time I heard some one equate the cross with child abuse was in Berkeley at the GTU class I wrote about earlier. It was a woman who stated that unchristian notion. So as I write on biblical women and contemporary Christian women I also want to look at some ways that Christ’s redemptive death on the cross intersects with the faith of women.
And going beyond that, but looking still at the cross of Christ, I want to explore the objection that some men have to women being in ministry because supposedly, according to the men, they can’t represent Christ since they are women.
As you will hopefully see, these thoughts will all merge together. I should add that I am going to reach back to early church history and forward to the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century.
Last year, during the celebration in the PCUSA of the ordaining of women as Deacons, Elders and Pastors, the Women’s Ministry Area as well as Presbyterian Women included the first Presbyterian woman to be ordained in their list of honored women. Louisa M. Woosley was ordained in 1889 by the Nolin Presbytery in the Cumberland Presbyterian Church. On the Women’s Area web site is an article about her, “From Preacher in the Field to Mother in the Church: Reverend Louisa M. Woosley.”
What the article does not stress at all is Woosley’s very definite orthodoxy. Surprisingly in her little book Shall Woman Preach? Or The Question Answered, she uses a woman to emphasize her understanding of the crucifixion.
That text of terror, as some have called it, is the story of Jephthah and his daughter who ran to meet him after his victory against the Ammonites. Jephthah had vowed to sacrifice the first thing that came from the door of his house if God gave him the victory. The first to greet him was his daughter.
Woosley believed this story to be somewhat like the one of Abraham attempting to sacrifice Isaac to God. (The difference of course is that it is God who called Abraham to obedience; Jephthah acted out of rashness.) But Isaac is a picture of Jesus who gives himself for the sins of humanity. And Woosley sees the daughter picturing the kind of obedience Jesus offered to the Father in his death. She writes:
"In the history of this heroic woman, who gave her life to vindicate her father’s words, we have vividly brought before our minds the promised redemption through Christ. God said that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent’s head. In the fulfillment of this promise, ‘we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death.’ ‘He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.’ The sword which was the instrument of her death, reminds us that they came out against Christ with swords and with staves. He, too, invited the fatal blow: it came; he passed out and now appears in the presence of the Father for us. We have a faithful high priest, one that is easily ‘touched with the feelings of our infirmities.’"(39)
But going back much earlier is the slave girl Blandina. Eusebius tells her story in his Ecclesiastical History. Her story occurs in Gaul, and it is during a time of great persecution. Others around Blandina, including her mistress, were afraid that because of weakness she would deny her faith in the midst of torture. But Blandina proved to be a faithful witness.
After much torture and time in prison she is led into the arena with three other Christians. Eusebius writes of Blandina:
"Blandina, however, was bound and suspended on a stake, and thus exposed as food to the assaults of wild beasts, and as she thus appeared to hang after the manner of the cross, by her earnest prayers she infused much alacrity into the contending martyrs. For as they saw her in the contest, with the external eyes, through their sister, they contemplated Him that was crucified for them, to persuade those that believe in him, that every one who suffers for Christ, will for ever enjoy communion with the living God. " (176)
Faith in the redeeming death of Jesus Christ on the cross is in deed an essential doctrine of the Church. And women are not allowed to stand idly by either denying or ignoring this glorious truth. Rather they are called, as are men, to live out what it means to be a witness for Jesus Christ.