I am a feminist. I have always believed women should be free to fulfill the call of God on their lives. As a Pentecostal I grew up in a conflicted environment concerning the roles of women. We were radically committed (1) to living by the teachings of the New Testament which offered multiple examples of women in ministry but also seemed in some texts to limit the roles of women and (2) to the anointing of the Holy Spirit which clearly rested equally on women and men. I seriously studied the Scriptures on this topic and concluded the Word and the Spirit agree, women were free to do whatever God called them to do.
When I married Cheryl I was fully committed to her being free to pursue God’s call on her life. I believed God’s call for her would fit in perfect harmony with His call on my life. Consequently, I gave Cheryl her first book on feminist theology. What I didn’t realize was that we would each have to discern God’s will as individuals and as a couple. I knew precisely God’s words when He called me to preach His Word. Cheryl’s call seemed less precise. I assumed her ministry would unfold in a manner that complemented mine. What I didn’t realize was that this assumption automatically gave primacy to my ministerial calling.
I don’t remember the exact time or events leading up to my epiphany. It was sometime in our first five years marriage. I was complaining to God that Cheryl’s ministry wasn’t fitting as well into my perceptions of my ministry as I had assumed it would. God spoke with precision, “Your first ministry is Cheryl’s ministry.” Those words transformed my theology of marriage and ministry. My call to preach, though clear and precise, did not take precedence over Cheryl’s ministry. I was not more important than she or anyone else. My covenant of marriage with Cheryl required that I assume her fulfillment, and therefore her call, was my first priority. Isn’t this the essence of marriage, finding our fulfillment in the wholeness and fulfillment of another?
I am thankful for Cheryl’s ministry. She has done things for God I could never accomplish. She is a leading representative of Pentecostalism in ecumenical circles around the world. She has preached and taught on every inhabited continent. She has published probably more articles in a greater variety of journals and books than anyone in the Church of God. She has served as distinguished lecturer at more seminaries than anyone else in the Church of God and probably all of Pentecostalism. She is one of the leading scholars of religion in our time and a prominent voice in social ethics. On top of all of that she is co-pastor of the New Covenant Church of God, the guiding force in our worship and congregational life.
I cannot tell you the number of times when people discover I am from Cleveland, Tennessee I have been asked, "Do you know Cheryl Bridges Johns?" I have a wisecrack that my holiness commitments want let me give to strangers. I’ll soften it here. "Yes, I know her. My wife let's me take her out to dinner ever now and then."
April 5, 2010