By Amanda Flowers Peterson
Sitting on our bed after another pointless beating, my sister looked me in the eyes and mouthed, “Go for us.” We cried for the rest of the night (holding each other). The next morning we got up early to prepare for the inevitable: I was leaving for college. We hugged one last time, and I promised that I would be back for her. As I drove away in my ‘99 cherry red Pontiac Grand AM, I blared music to drown out my sobbing. I pondered the truth that gave me the strength to leave home and risk everything: “…who knows whether you have come to the Kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14). My name is Amanda Flowers Peterson, and this is my story.
When I think of a good story, I think of the Bible, and I think of Abigail’s story who laid down her life to protect her husband despite his abusive nature (1 Sam. 25). Her story of courage and sacrifice makes me think of Jesus. Her story has always been something I could relate to. Unfortunately, I never heard Abigail’s story preached on a Sunday morning. I desperately could’ve used her story in my darker times. I could use her story today.
It wasn’t until I was a teenager that I noticed that the church rarely, if ever, told the stories of the women of faith in the Bible. As a child, I liked to pretend that I was David, Daniel, and Joshua because those were the stories I heard from my teachers. But as I grew older, I had a harder time identifying with men of faith presented and wondered where all the women of faith were. Discovering my identity as a woman of faith has admittedly been a lonely journey, because of that.
“I’ve been looking for you God. I looked in temple. I looked in church. And today, I looked for you when I wanted to confess. But you weren’t there. I didn’t feel you at all. Not the way I do when I talked to you at night. Why God? Why do I only feel you when I’m alone?” (Blume 1957)
As a child, I avidly read Judy Blume because she has a way of telling stories that quickly become your own. I started researching women in the Bible as I got older because I was looking for a story to make my own; I was searching for something like Judy Blume. At youth group, I would timidly squeak about my searching efforts, but it was often met with a smile then a quick return to “normal” routine. Eventually my youth leader’s wife led me to the book of Esther. She simply showed me where it was in the Bible and did not walk me through its story-line. Following that experience, I noted in my heart that the story of Esther was never preached about–or any other woman’s story for that matter. Even though I demonstrated an active interest in learning about women of faith, I was left to study Esther at home alone. I must have read that book at least 1000 times.
The social isolation I felt on the topic of strong women in the Bible continued for me into college. I personally had started my own Biblical women fan club, but sadly was the only member. I started praying for an anointing like some of my favorites: Deborah, Ruth, Jael, and others. Based on my church’s silence on the topic, it seemed they didn’t carry my same fondness. I still to this day wonder, why I have only heard about Mary and Martha around Christmas, as a sub-text. And why the nameless and “lack of faith” women were the only ones to receive honorable mention, from the pulpit?
One of my majors in college was Bible Theology and learning how to properly interpret the Bible was a requirement. I learned that interpretation matters. However, I couldn’t help but notice that my professors never did address the female books, arguably because they weren’t as theologically complex as Paul or Peter. But as a young female student, I was sent the message that the stories of biblical women were not important.
According to Uri Hasson, “Stories have the power to connect us.” If stories bring us together then perhaps not telling stories has the power to tear us apart. As a young student, I never heard the stories of the many courageous women in the Bible, and I felt isolated from the majority of males represented in my class of theologians, because of it.
I wish that I only experienced this muting as a woman but being a woman of color brings this issue to the forefront of every leadership opportunity I’ve taken in ministry. Where my heart is always plagued with the question: where are all the women of color in the Bible? Seriously, are there any non-white skinned women in the Bible–because I’ve NEVER seen or heard of anyone’s story represented from the pulpit. Only to learn that most, if not all, of the women listed in the bible would classify themselves as having color. Since God has always consistently called me to be a part of a predominately white church, my curiosity on this topic would constantly be confronted with agonizing responses like: Galatians 3:28 “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” As if that explanation covers why all of the sermons and/or biblical storytelling presented to me, tended to sound and look male and white. If I could suggest a better reply, I’d say that all the people of color are missing from my bible story-lines because the white men delivering it, don’t bear that image.
The Bible is the mirror image we are to look in daily to be reminded who we are and whose we are. It is crucial that our leaders look into this mirror and tell us ALL of what they see. Because these stories are the DNA and legacy the next generation of world Christians will be carrying. I desire the greater church to find their inheritance and identity in Christ more than I was ever given opportunity, as a young woman of color, throughout my biblical pursuit and training. In order to do that, I believe church leaders will need to see themselves as the appointed Storytellers they are. Telling the full story of Jesus that includes women who bore many colors.
Is it just me or has the church seemed confused for quite some time of its role? The role it is appointed and anointed by God to influentially impact society’s culture? I believe the church has forgotten their role as a societal influencer and/or Jesus storytellers, because the western church has chosen to appoint a limited image of Jesus, to the pulpit. Erasing most of Jesus’ stories image, that needs to be told. My personal experience is when I needed a story to make it through dark times, Hollywood’s interpretation of overcoming was more relatable than what I heard on Sunday morning, from my white, male Pastor.
I conclude that today’s church is lacking a “good” story. Good being used to represent the FULL picture of The Word. If we truly are image-bearers of Christ, then I would say the need for more women, and in addition minority women, as storytellers is imperative to properly represent the full image of Christ we are mirroring, found in Scripture. Bluntly, women of color should be granted the right to tell our own stories.
Whatever your stance is on this topic, do me the favor and privately take this quiz: name 3 strong, Faith-filled, women of color, in the Bible. Then try to think when you heard them spoken of in church. If you can’t, then your discovery should have you consider joining my efforts in changing this. Because “… who knows whether you have come to the Kingdom for such a time as this?”(Esther 4:14).
Amanda Flowers Peterson is an entrepreneur, and the Founder/CEO of Zion Crisis Navigational Services. With over ten years’ experience in advocacy and activism, she also spends time giving back to the community as a Brave Faces speaker/advocate, “Safe Families for Children” Executive Director, Shasta County Mental Health Drug and Alcohol Board Member and serving as a Connect Pastor for Bethel Church, specializing in supporting crisis solutions. Amanda grew up in adversity. An abusive home, racial bullying, and losing her best friend to suicide are only a few of the examples she uses to express what she’s had to overcome. She founded Zion Crisis Navigational Services to provide to the community the basic and tangible help that she did not have, but so desperately needed in the midst of her own crises. Amanda lives peaceably in Redding, CA with her husband Jason, and their two sons, Zephaniah and Zechariah. She graduated from Crown College and Northwestern College with degrees in Biblical Theological Studies and Psychology.