A letter written by Pastor George to his three daughters and then extended to the women of Second Presbyterian Church
Dear Anna, Abbey, and Caroline,
I am writing this letter because in my Job Description for Daddy it reads, “He is fiercely protective of his daughters.” [Pause to roll your eyes]. I’m also writing as your pastor (Abbey, I know Joel is now your primary pastor but I’m at least his assistant). Each of you has expressed a heightened level of concern for personal safety because of an increase in violent crime where you live in Memphis, Birmingham, and Knoxville.
I know you are exhausted from the heightened level of vigilance you have lived with recently. My heart breaks as you express weariness of feeling unsafe in places that once felt secure, having to be more careful about running, asking someone to walk with you to your car at night, or clutching your purse in public. You’re right. It’s not fair your freedom of movement is limited as a woman. I can never empathize with you because as a white male, I seldom must think about my freedoms being limited by race or gender. While my encouragements are limited by my experience, I trust you will at least receive them because you know I love you. I just have two points I pray will galvanize your courage.
First, God Loves You Especially as a Woman.
As God’s daughter, you are even more precious to your Heavenly Father than to me. Throughout redemptive history, our Father has demonstrated a prejudice for women as he has for children and the poor. Though Eve was deceived by the Evil One, she was promised the Seed that would crush his head. Though Sarah laughed at the Lord’s promise, the Lord made her the mother of the covenant line.
The Lord found the desperate Hagar and her dying son Ishmael with his mercy. God honored the midwives Shiphrah and Puah, vindicated Tamar, answered Hannah, enfolded Ruth, bought back Gomer, saw Elizabeth, chose Mary, noticed the widow of Nain, felt the bleeding woman, befriended Mary and Martha, saved Lydia, forgave the adulteress, memorialized she who anointed him, married the Church, ignores the prayers of disrespectful husbands, provides for widows, and ends history with a wedding banquet.
As you know, one of my favorite authors is Dorothy Sayers. In her tongue-in-cheek titled book Are Women Human? she explains why Jesus’ female disciples followed him so enthusiastically:
Perhaps it is no wonder that the women were first at the Cradle and last at the Cross. They had never known a man like this Man - there never has been such another. A prophet and teacher who never nagged at them, never flattered or coaxed or patronised; who never made arch jokes about them, never treated them either as "The women, God help us!" or "The ladies, God bless them!"; who rebuked without querulousness and praised without condescension; who took their questions and arguments seriously; who never mapped out their sphere for them, never urged them to be feminine or jeered at them for being female; who had no axe to grind and no uneasy male dignity to defend; who took them as he found them and was completely unself-conscious.
There is no act, no sermon, no parable in the whole Gospel that borrows its pungency from female perversity; nobody could possibly guess from the words and deeds of Jesus that there was anything “funny” about woman’s nature.
God loves you as a woman and the Father especially cares for you as his daughters. Second, I want you to remember God empowers women’s resistance of evil.
You have always loved the Bible stories about women who beat up on bad guys. When Barak was too chicken to take on the king of Canaan, God raised up the prophet Deborah to lead Israel into battle. As Deborah’s forces had Sisera on the run, he fled to the tent of a housewife named Jael. After she gave him some warm milk (and maybe cookies and a blanky), she promptly drove a tent peg through his skull. All three of you have always taken too much delight in that story for my comfort!
Rahab bravely undermined her wicked government by providing cover for the spies of Israel. Despite her husband Nabal, the lovely and intelligent Abigail managed to spare the lives of her employees from David’s wrath by affirming her husband was a fool and validating David’s kingship. Upon hearing her plain-spoken report on how close he came to death, the foolish coward died of a heart attack.
Esther was no air-headed beauty queen. When she heard of Haman’s wicked scheme to exterminate the Jews, she risked her life and used her royal platform to ask the King for a royal banquet. When Haman showed up, Esther revealed his planned holocaust, and her husband ordered him impaled on a pole of his own making.
Though she was a poor teenager, Mary took on the evil power structure of her day in the Magnificat: “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble” (Luke 1:51-52).
These women’s examples are inspiring but Mary’s prayer in these verses show us the truth that enabled their courage – they were empowered by the Lord’s presence. Striving to live courageously without God can be just as exhausting as constant fear. These women demonstrated the attitude of the psalmist who wrote Psalm 121:
I lift up my eyes to the hills.
From where does my help come?
My help comes from the LORD,
who made heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot be moved;
he who keeps you will not slumber. Behold, he who keeps Israel
will neither slumber nor sleep.
The LORD is your keeper;
the LORD is your shade on your right hand.
The sun shall not strike you by day, nor the moon by night.
The LORD will keep you from all evil; he will keep your life.
The LORD will keep
your going out and your coming in from this time forth and forevermore.
God himself is the ultimate authority and protector of your life. He is your keeper.
Also remember the psalmist is singing this along with his sisters and brothers as they worship corporately. They are on their annual pilgrimage up the steep ascent to Jerusalem. They are walking and worshiping together. This journey was not for the faint of heart—the terrain was rugged, the route was tortuous, and bad guys hid among the crags in the hills.
However, their “faces were set like a flint toward Jerusalem” so they journeyed in tight company with each other refusing to allow natural or man-made threats to intimidate them away from getting to the Holy City where they would find the divine pattern for the city they were seeking to build where they lived.
Stay close to the people in your churches—literally. Be in the company of God’s people in Bible study, corporate worship, fellowship, and recreation. And when you’re together, try to talk more about Jesus and his promises than the anecdotes of dangerous encounters. Repeat with your sisters and brothers in community, “Through many dangers, toils and snares, we have already come. Tis grace hath brought us safe thus far, and grace will lead us home.”
I’ve often reminded you courage is not an emotion; it’s a choice. However, it’s not a choice based on some innate quality possessed by some and not by others. It’s a choice based on who God is and who he has promised to be to you. The devil’s tactic, then, is to keep you from lifting your eyes to God and to keep them on your circumstances alone.
Let me remind you of a story you’ve heard me tell. It’s the medieval legend of Cholera (a deadly acute illness) who was imagined to be a witch. One day she forced a man driving a wagon to give her a ride to his village. While he could not resist her supernatural power, he succeeded in his pleas such that she promised she would only kill ten villagers. In the end, however, everyone in the village died.
Incensed, the man found Cholera and screamed, “You promised you would only kill ten!”
“I kept my promise,” Cholera calmly replied, “the rest died from fear.”
The devil is a terrorist, and in situations like we face now in which young people with guns are provoking terror among tens of thousands, because of who God is and who he has promised to be to us, we must choose to be courageous and not allow a few to make the many of us their captives. You are fighters, so while being vigilant, prudent, and careful, do not allow cowards to make you cower. As Ukraine’s President Volodymyr Zelensky said recently, “When they attack us, they will see our faces, not our backs.”
I am so proud of the ways each of you has followed in the courageous footsteps of these great mothers of our faith. In Augusta, you embraced our urban mission and went to places your peers wouldn’t go. After hearing the even larger scale needs of Memphis, you agreed we were called here. In unique ways, each of you has remained committed to our family mission to restore cities with streets safe to dwell in. And you have maintained this burden for cities despite knowing what it has cost friends, family, and acquaintances. Let us together face this moment of terror gripping our city and our nation and beat it back.
Here are some practical suggestions for doing so (feel free to roll your eyes where you wish since I won’t be watching!):
The Bible says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it” (Psalm 127:1). All our actions will be useless against the principalities and powers of the air if the Lord is not empowering them. Never view prayer as a last resort but as one of God’s weapons that terrorizes the Evil One. Prayer liberates whole nations from demonic control, kills wicked rulers, and brings to nothing the schemes of bad people. Pray without ceasing for God’s Kingdom to come and his will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.
- Be Proactive
Get involved where you can in the community to bring the justice of the gospel to the root of needs. Stay active in your churches, join action groups, organize neighborhood-watch programs, get involved politically, work against poverty, invest in at-risk kids, invest in community development, and give to ministries bringing shalom to cities.
- Punch back
Defend yourself in every way you feel comfortable. If a man attacks you, remember the mantra—knees, nuts, nose! Take a self-defense course. Remember how your preschool Sunday School teacher in St. Louis utilized her self-defense training? She counterattacked the man hiding in her apartment and pinned him to the floor with his arm behind his back. In between his screams, she made him report himself to the 911 operator!
Practice with inert pepper spray so you’ll be ready to use the real thing. Carry your “Birdie” on your key chain. Stay alert and don’t be nice if you feel threatened. At times, you may have to swallow your pride and ask a man to pump your gas or walk you to your car when it’s dark (you don’t have to tell anybody!).
You know how protective I am and what a worrier I can be about your safety, so I trust you will not take my words as the insensitive platitudes of a man who cannot know what it feels like to be a woman. I’m only emboldening you to do what I have seen you to be capable of doing in imitation of the great women of history—don’t let bad men win. Don’t run or cower from them. In the name of Jesus, stare them down and defeat them with all the spiritual, intellectual, communal, political, physical, and tactical weapons at your disposal!
The men in your life: your dad, brother, husbands, boyfriend, elders, deacons, pastors, colleagues, and friends stand with you. We know you aren’t helpless without us; we just want you to know we will not be passive, and you will never be alone in this fight.