Publication of Paper by Barbara Beadles, RCWP
For Global Ministries University Course: DM640 Women of the Bible
Compare a woman of the Bible with a contemporary heroine. What are the similarities? What are the differences?
Stories have helped people throughout history understand the past. Good stories help us understand ourselves. Great stories do both and help point to the future as well.
In cultures where male dominance and male superiority (or notions of superiority) exist, women’s stories remain silent. However, through modern scholarship and research some stories of the past have been revealed. Hopefully, as the scholarship continues, many more stories will come to light. Women of the past may have been queens, prophets, government leaders, movers and shakers of culture, religion or even commerce. Their stories, once brought to our attention can serve as inspiration and guides for the women yet to be born.
This essay will focus on two women: Deborah and Rosa Parks. Deborah was a prophet and judge chosen by YHWEH to lead the Israelites. Rosa Parks was a twentieth century American woman and descendant of former slaves who was caught up in the injustice of the Jim Crow segregation of the South in the mid-1950’s. I briefly will examine their early lives. Then, establish some common threads in their missions and lives. Next I will recount their differences. Finally, I will suggest ways these two women can speak to people of the 21st century.
Deborah was a faith-filled woman whom YHWH called to be a judge to the people of Israel. A brief word about judges is necessary for us to understand Deborah’s powerful leadership role. After exile from Egypt, Israel went for periods of time not following the commands of YHWH. Each of those time periods is known as an apostasy. There were seven apostasies. Deborah was a judge during the third apostasy.1 Deborah was a married woman, and her husband Lappidoth, was her best supporter. 2 As judge, Deborah would hold court outside under a palm tree in the hill country called Ephraim.3
At this time, the Israelites were in exile in the land of Canaan. The Canaanites engaged in guerrilla warfare for twenty years, giving the Israelites no peace. Deborah devised a plan for going to war against King Jabin of Canaan and his cruel commander, Sisera. Debora called up ten thousand soldiers of Israel from the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulon.4 Israel’s leader in battle was a man named Barak. He had a reputation for bravery, but was not at all enthusiastic about following the orders of a woman. He promised he would obey only if she went to battle with him.5 Deborah accompanied him. The hand of YHWH sent an over-whelming storm to flood the 900 chariots of Canaan and the Israelites were victorious. Deborah had prophesied to Barak that he would not be the victor over his enemy Sisera because of his doubt in obeying YHWH. Sisera was killed by a woman named Jael rather than by the hand of Barak. She killed Sisera using a hammer and tent peg. Barak was robbed of the victory for his doubt. Deborah, like King David, was also a poet and song-writer. Her song and dance giving praise to YHWH, who delivered his people, was a way for the women of Israel to worship together. Because of Deborah’s bravery and faithfulness, Israel enjoyed forty years of peace.6
Rosa McCauley Parks was born on February 4, 1913 in Tuskegee, Alabama. Her mother, Leona Edwards (McCauley) was a teacher who had attended school at Payne University.7 Her father, James McCauley was a skilled carpenter and stonemason. He abandoned the family when Mrs. Parks was a young girl in search of work. Leona McCauley lived first with her in-laws and later moved back to the home of her parents.
Mrs. Parks learned early in life that “white” and “colored” were worlds apart. In her town of Pine Level, Alabama, a new school was built for the white children. The colored children attended “a one room shack with wooden shutters and no windows.”8 Her education was supplemented by reading. Her mother had taught Rosa to read well before she started school. Rosa was a voracious reader9
Mrs. Parks and her family were faithful members of their church, the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME), known as the “Freedom church.”10 She was baptized into that faith community at the age of two.11 Her strong faith guided her throughout her adult life. She learned from her mother and grandparents the importance of relying on God and standing up for what was right and just.12 The segregation of the South was a constant reminder that “right and just” were not for people of color.
As a young adult, Mrs. Parks became a member of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) and served as secretary of her local chapter. One of her most important tasks was to get people registered to vote. Poll taxes and intimidation were two successful methods used to keep black voters from exercising their right to vote guaranteed by the 15th Amendment to the Constitution. Mrs. Parks also worked with the youth group of the NAACP.
Montgomery, Alabama, where she lived with her husband, Raymond Parks, was a segregated city. The law was “separate but equal.”13 In reality that meant if you were white, things were fine; if you were not white, things were either poor quality or non-existent.
Mrs. Parks was a well-respected leader in the black community and her community work was her primary focus. Her employment as a seamstress in a large department store took second place.14
In 1954, a traveling Federal exhibition came to Montgomery. The train car, part of the Freedom Train, carried documents from Washington, DC. Included were the Emancipation Proclamation and a copy of the U.S. Constitution. Since this was a Federal project, segregation laws of the state could not be enforced. Mrs. Parks led a group of students into the exhibit using the same entrance as the white people. Moreover, the black students were in the exhibit at the same time as the white people.
Before Mrs. Parks’ arrest December 1, 1955 for not moving from the seat she had taken aboard a city bus, at least three other people had been arrested for the same offense. Their arrests had no affect on the larger community. Rosa Parks, a respected woman of her community, known for her good works and kindness, became the spark which ignited the beginning of what came to be known as the Civil Rights Movement.16 The bus driver first yelled for her and three other passengers to get out of their seats because a white man had boarded the bus and there was nowhere for him to sit. The other three moved, but Mrs. Parks stayed where she sat. The frustrated driver called the police. Mrs. Parks didn’t move or speak. The police carted her off the bus and to jail. She was in jail for two hours. 17
By the time she had been released from jail, the beginning of the Montgomery, Alabama Bus Boycott of 1955 was taking shape. The strike lasted 381 days. People walked or car-pooled to work every day. This caused a direct financial impact to the bus company. By December 20, 1956, anyone who boarded a city bus could sit anywhere they chose. Mrs. Parks had effected that change. A young charismatic minister named Martin Luther King had taken over leadership of the movement and the local NAACP. Mrs. Parks was no longer the focus of the press, but she continued her work in the Civil Rights Movement until her death on October 24, 2005.18 President Clinton presented Mrs. Parks with the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor before her death.19
There are several common threads revealed in the study of Deborah, judge of the Old Testament, and twentieth century Rosa Parks. Both are women, who have earned the respect of their communities. Each of them had a leadership role. They both inspired others by their actions and their actions led others to create social change.
After years of oppression, Deborah leads soldiers in a plan to overcome the enemies of the Israelites. Rosa Parks also suffers the oppression of unjust laws of segregation. Each woman relies on her unwavering faith in God. Deborah seeks justice for her people by acting as a judge who makes fair decisions. Rosa Parks seeks justice for her people by joining the NAACP, by educating young people and by registering people to vote.
While there are many similarities in their lives, there are significant elements of difference. Perhaps the most obvious is the time in which each woman lived. Several centuries have passed between the time Deborah sat under her palm tree and when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat on a city bus.
Deborah’s missions involved overcoming an enemy of Israel through warfare and bloodshed, and were unlike traditional roles for women. She exercised leadership, master-minded the battle strategy and lead soldiers into battle.20 Rosa Parks, on the other hand, overcame the injustice of racism and segregation by using non-violent methods. She used passive actions and education as weapons.
Not much of Deborah’s early life is known. Her story begins with her appointment as a judge in Israel. Her reign is during the third apostasy after Israel fled Egypt. Twentieth Century archaeologist William F. Albright proposes 1250-1200 BCE as the time of the Exodus event.21 Deborah would have been a judge sometime after that.
More is known of Rosa Parks’ early life. She was born in 1913, refused to give up her place on the city bus December 1, 1955, and died in 2005. Historian Douglas Brinkley states “no reliable documentation exists on the early years of Rosa Louise Parks.”22
And so, looking back over the lives of these two amazing women, we may ask, “What do their lives have to say to people of the 21st century?”
In some ways the same problems that existed in Deborah’s time exist today. Wars, political oppression of people and injustice are in evidence all over our globe. Religious fundamentalism inspires fanatics to genocide and the murder of innocent people in the name of religion. Countries trying to control the natural resources of others are at war. People and nations who have military might want power and control and take over those less powerful nations.
Racial relations in the United States still need improvement. The Ku Klux Klan of the 1950’s and 1960’s causing terror and death has gone underground. There is still evidence of inequality, particularly in poor cities, towns and rural America. Economics and lack of education continue to be ways of segregation.
The example of the lives of Deborah and Rosa Parks can still speak to women and men today. Their courage and bravery stand as witness. We are called to work for justice, to judge justly, to educate and to work for peace. Deborah and Rosa Parks gave witness to the building of the Kingdom of God. It is our turn, in this time and place to continue to bring the Kingdom to fulfillment.