Recently, I began reading through the Bible from Genesis, and I found myself getting angry. There in the text, beside Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, were women who seemed to always get the short end of the stick. There’s Sarah, who not once, but twice is practically sold as another man’s wife because her husband fears the men in power. There’s poor Hagar, who is made to bear a child for Sarah and Abraham and gets only abuse and disdain for her trouble. There’s Leah, Jacob’s consolation prize for the girl he really loves. And these are only some of the less troubling stories!
But the more I read, the more I noticed that though the people and systems in these women’s lives fail them, God never fails. He sends diseases on Pharoah and a prophetic dream to King Abimelek so that Sarah is returned safely to Abraham. He speaks to Hagar and provides for her and her son Ishmael, and in return she calls the Lord “the God who sees me.” And He makes Leah the mother of Reuben, Simeon, Levi, and Judah, so that Leah exclaims, “This time I will praise the Lord.”
Though the women of the Bible are caught up in oppressive patriarchal systems, God always intervenes, protects, and provides. He is faithful.
God’s faithfulness to women is the subject of The Faithful Project, a “collaboration of ministry partners that includes a book, album, and a tour of live events.” The book and the album meditates on the stories of the women in the Bible, from the famous ones like Eve and Mary to the lesser-knowns, like Jehosheba or the nameless “bent woman.” Featuring Christian music heavyweights like Amy Grant, Ginny Owens, and Sandra McCracken, and writers and teachers like Ann Voskamp, Sally Lloyd-Jones, and Lisa Harper, the book and album encourage women to identify with these women and to listen to their stories with “empathy and compassion,” as Amy Grant writes in her introduction to the book.
The resulting album, Faithful: Go and Speak, is joyous celebration of God’s faithfulness to all his people, men and women alike. Several of the songs on the album would sound just as appropriate for Sunday morning worship as they would at a women’s retreat. “This Time I Will Bring Praise,” inspired by Leah, is a fitting anthem for anyone who has ever felt rejected or unloved and who has found God to be “faithful, redeeming broken plans.” Its rousing chorus, led by Leslie Jordan of All Sons and Daughters, is a universal call to praise. Many songs on Faithful take that kind of general approach to the story-telling. Gendered pronouns and specific names and incidents are removed, emphasizing the universality of the themes.
Similarly, the story of Ruth becomes a story of unity across dividing lines in the anthemic “We Are One.” The specifics of Ruth’s story are mostly lost, except for a brief line about “travelers, misfits, and exiles,” but its call to unified worship is powerful and accessible to all worshippers. It specifically bridges gender divides with a chorus that proclaims, “Let us draw near to each other, we are one…we are all sisters and brothers telling stories of our father’s love.”
But Faithful is at its strongest when it embraces specific, gendered details. Rahab’s Lullaby manages to turn key elements of the prostitute Rahab’s story — the scarlet cord, and her home on the Jericho wall — into metaphors for anyone who finds themselves “hanging by a thread” and “pushed out to the furthest edge.” As the song progresses, it invites all listeners to seek “God above” and “God below” even in the darkest place. But though any listener can learn Rahab’s lesson of God’s love, it turns out that the song has a specific audience: Boaz, Rahab’s son, and in the song’s final verse Rahab’s famous scarlet cord is both umbilical cord and the line of redemption stretching through Rahab and Boaz all the way to Christ. It’s a stunning piece of deceptively simple songwriting.
Other specific stories include that of Esther, “the girl without a mother…who found favor with the king” and intervened on behalf of her people. Much of that song’s power comes from its identification of Esther with Jesus, who also came from obscurity to intervene on our behalf. By song’s end, every woman identifies both with Esther and Jesus, ready to take their role within the redemptive story.
This identification of specific women with Christ adds an extra layer of power to other already powerful stories. In “A Woman,” we meet Mary Magdalene, called a “heretic” and “dangerous,” and made to stay with “the women at a distance,” but who is compelled to speak about Jesus nevertheless. In the second verse, it is Jesus who is called “heretic” and “scandalous” for his association with the likes of Mary Magdalene. No matter the scandal of Jesus’ inclusion of women, the song proclaims that “He is not ashamed” to be seen with Mary, or with any woman, and the natural outcome is that women are empowered to speak boldly of what they have seen of the risen Lord.
The women’s movement of the 1960s had a catchphrase: “the personal is the political.” For the women of scripture, and for each woman today, the personal is the theological. Hearing the individual stories of God’s faithfulness to, in, and through women has powerful doctrinal implications. It’s difficult to justify keeping women from the pulpit after listening to “A Woman.”
Still, The Faithful Project makes no hard claims in favor of egalitarian or complementarian ideology. In a move that will be familiar to anyone who grew up in an evangelical, complementarian environment, Faithful uses the language of “story” and testimony to justify its calls for women to raise their voices. Men and women from any denominational background will find something to agree with and sing along to in this collection of songs. But the very act of casting these personal, female stories in such universal, gender-neutral terms makes a forceful case for greater inclusion of women in the church at large. After all, in the coming kingdom we will all have a seat at the table as “sisters and brothers at the feast of our Father’s love.”
Check out The Faithful Project here.