A New Heart, Beyond Stereotypical Womanhood



We first met, one January morning, during her office hours. Dr. Catherine Kroeger’s eyes sparkled when our discussion turned to women in the Bible. She spoke of them fondly as if they were close friends—Miriam, Deborah, Abigail and a host of others from the Old and New Testaments. She spoke warmly to me although she didn’t waste time getting down to business: “They provide us with role models of personal piety, courage, commitment, and ingenuity.” Snowflakes blew outside the wide windows behind her desk. I was struck by her passion for uncovering women’s daily lives, activities and personal experiences with Christ in the early church. I had no idea that Cathie—as she asked to be called—would influence my life perhaps more than anyone.

Eagerly, I signed up for her course “Women in the Early Church.” I’d always wondered about women who seemed to occupy the margins of the Bible. Was it possible to glean enough information to actually know them as role models? Did they really display traits of courage, commitment, and ingenuity when so many portraits I’d received in church resembled Betty Crocker overseeing a potluck[1]? I wanted to plumb depths beyond stereotypical womanhood; and Cathie pointed the way.

She challenged me, and other students, to learn a variety of disciplines for studying the Bible—ancient near eastern context, Greek and Roman classical evidence, original languages, hermeneutics, church history, biblical theology, and more. Cathie explained: “Plain readings of modern Bible translations—that are far removed from original contexts—tend to color our modern understandings.” This happens, for example, when 1 Timothy 2:8-15 is used to universally bar women from ministry, leadership, and teaching.

Patiently, she explained that Paul meant to address outrageous cultic practices creeping into the newly birthed church from the nearby Temple of Artemis. “In this context,” she added, “it is appropriate to silence loud, out of control, recently converted women who dominate men for selfish gain.” During one-on-one meetings, Cathie answered my numerous questions about other passages that endorse the ministry, leadership, and teaching of women including Lydia, Dorcas, Priscilla, Tryphena, Euodia, Synteche, and Junia. Gaining tools for studying Scripture rescued me from caricatures of femininity; and it alleviated a boredom that I’d long felt because I didn’t know any other ways of reading the Bible.

Slowly, I gained a passion for Scripture, seeing that humanity is called to know God’s truth and act upon it as we—male and female—embody Jesus in life together. Cathie often said, “We are the people of the Book. Not only do we believe that the Bible is our only infallible rule for faith and practice; we also believe that the Scriptures themselves are tremendously powerful in reaching human hearts and consciences.” Working as Cathie’s teaching assistant, I began seeing more of her heart for suffering people. She had particular concerns for Christ’s body to minister to those suffering domestic violence: “The Scriptures are our weapon to hostility and complacency that we so often experience about domestic abuse and violence in our communities.”  I yearned to act on God’s Word in ways that Cathie did.

For several years, I traveled to conferences with Cathie to promote Peace and Safety in the Christian Home, a non-profit organization that she had founded. Support ebbed and flowed as we spoke about the prevalence of domestic violence in Christian communities. Notably, Cathie treated everyone with winsomeness and respect. A couple once stopped to thank us, and she declared with twinkling eyes, “Oh, you are on the side of the angels!” When dealing with another less supportive soul, she listened, smiled and wished him well. Cathie once explained to me that it’s best to give others the benefit of the doubt: “Perhaps they are under the weather or having a bad day.”

The clarity of her reasoning expressed through the vehicle of kindness broke through many barriers. Her attitudes challenged me to speak the truth in love.

Cathie once told me that it’s best to face fears rather than avoid them.She told me a story about when she decided to pursue a Master’s degree in her fifties and a Ph.D. in her sixties in order to deal squarely with difficult passages such as 1 Timothy 2:8-15. Her leap of faith contributed to her book I Suffer Not A Woman (co-written with her husband). She went on to found Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). She made enormous contributions as an author, coeditor, and contributor to books, articles and academic papers. After knowing Cathie for five years, I realized she was among those whom Helen Kooiman Hosier honored in her book 100 Christian Women Who Changed the 20th Century.

When facing fears, I think of Cathie’s courage; more than that, I think of the One she loved so much and served so well.

Cathie never set out to be great. Rather, she looked for the waters the Spirit was stirring, and she dove in. Whether those waters involved teaching, writing books, speaking with dignitaries, opening her home to women and children, or folding newsletters, Cathie swam full force. And she encouraged countless others to swim with her. More than that, she urged them—she urged us—to swim with the One whose Presence we bear. She never gave up believing that the Father, Son, and Spirit promise to recreate our otherwise hopeless world. Knowing the waters are deep, she urged us to never give up. Collating newsletters, one time, I noticed a tiny note next to a recipient’s name and address: “Love from Cathie.” Beside that she had drawn a heart[2].

One afternoon, walking beside Cape Cod Bay, I saw something smooth and lovely washed onto the shore. I brushed away sand to discover a stone perfectly shaped like a heart. I collected a number of heart-shaped stones that spring. Occasionally, I gave them to abused women Cathie and I met. The rest now occupy a bowl in my study. I have wondered, at times, how much those stones tossed through the Atlantic before washing onto the shore. I see them and think of Cathie. More than that, I think of the One whose Heart she reflected so well. I think of God’s vision for human hearts to become transformed from stone to recreated flesh. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.” (Ez 36:26)

Cathie was supposed to visit me the week after she passed away. Her loss came suddenly, as if loose ends ought to have been tied up.  I’d wanted to hear about her latest book and discuss my next career steps. For a while I sat with those loose ends wondering, What next? I’ve not yet approached a new mentor, and I’m still sorting out the best ways of passing on what Cathie taught me. In many ways, the Stop the Silence Initiative has been my response. I’m grateful to this community for opening space for those stories. I’m also grateful for these discussions about mentoring. Might we as a community continue brainstorming how best to build each other up in Christ?


[1] I don’t mean to minimize the goodness of being domestic, only to question the limitations of that stereotype. I actually enjoy baking bread!

[2]Amy Rasmussen Buckley, “A Woman After God’s Own Heart, the Legacy of Catherine Clark Kroeger,” in Strengthening Families and Ending Abuse, Churches and Their Leaders Look to the Future, ed. Nancy Nason-Clark et al. (Eugene: Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2103), 13.

* Disclosure : Amazon Affiliate links included in this post.  If you click through to Amazonany purchase you make supports this site.