“So why are you in seminary?” A male colleague asked me.

He pronounced you similar to eeuw, as if an insect had crawled through a broken screen window into the house.

I debated how to respond to the annoying question that came up regularly at the evangelical seminary where I pursued a Master of Divinity. It made no sense—Isn’t the Bible crystal clear that Jesus is the Living Word? Before ascending to heaven, didn’t he instruct men and women to spread the Good News to the ends of the earth? Hadn’t the apostle Paul exhorted all Christians to live in Christ more than any other instruction? Doesn’t God’s written word—sola scriptura—point to everything we need to know for faith and practice?

For the life of me, it made zero sense why anyone would question an evangelical woman wanting tools for studying the Bible and knowing God deeply. Should women aspire to be in Christ less than men?

The question seemed absurd. I imagined what would happen if I joked with the guy, “Actually, I’m here because of the money, the sex, and the power. What about you?”

Knowing that he probably wouldn’t think that was as funny and ironic as I did, I offered my nerdy real reason: “I’m in seminary because I love God, and I want to teach and write about God’s word with integrity.”

I saved my joke for female colleagues who laughed hysterically (at the thought of gaining money, sex and power). Each of us had signed up for a steep climb when answering the call to ministry leadership. We knew we’d face difficulties finding jobs. For those of us who were single, we knew the rarity of meeting a husband who would celebrate a wife in ministry. We understood that evangelical churches tend to limit women to unpaid work revolving around hospitality and women’s and children’s programs. Institutional powers weren’t likely to offer an upward spiral to ministry paradise.

I joked so I wouldn’t lose face. theologically-blondeRather than complaining—at least in public—I did my best to lighten the situation. In private, however, I wrote reams of uncensored words in my journals. I sobbed with discouragement and launched more than a few complaints at heaven. “Dear God, really?!”

It felt like swimming against a strong current in the Atlantic. Aside from the intense academic workload, I felt responsibility to pave the way for other women. Ironically, I worked hard not to draw attention to myself as a woman. For a couple years, I avoided wearing lipstick. I twisted my long hair up tightly, wore dark clothes and covered my eyes with glasses (picture Legally Blonde but in a seminary). Conforming to standards largely set by male colleagues and professors, I ran as fast and far, and jumped as high, as I could. I hoped to fly beneath the proverbial radar, as a woman, and graduate with as few conflicts possible.

But I didn’t fit the mold. Some men befriended me; others sized me up from my blonde hair to my snow boots. I struggled not to throw objects when some informed me: “So you know, I’m dating someone/engaged/married.”

Navigating the awkwardness, I offered congratulations. Secretly, I wished a trap door would transport me to another universe where no man assumes a woman is fishing for a date, marriage, or an affair. Gathering my composure, I changed the subject: “Say, what did you think of the lecture on the post-Adamic covenants?”

It became harder to have a sense of humor. Once . . . Continue reading

Huffington Post first published this essay. It is Part 5 of Kelly Ladd Bishop‘s series “The Real Lives of Women in Ministry.” Read Part 1 here. Read Part 2 here. Read Part 3 here. Read Part 4 here.

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