The relevance of HERstory
A word from the curator
Museums are not just for tourists and history buffs. Historical and cultural centres can be invaluable guides for navigating the socio-cultural milieu of today, bringing broader perspectives to bear on the issues we face as individuals, within the church, and in society.
The Metzger Collection, a biblical-historical museum located at Columbia Bible College, Abbotsford, B.C., vigilantly pursues this vision. Its current feature exhibit, “A Selection in HERstory: Important Women in Christian History You’ve Probably Never Heard of (But Should),” is not merely an exercise in historical interest for the historically interested. It rises out of a desire to seek justice and the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom both within the discipline of history and in our contemporary context.
As manager of the Metzger Collection and instructor of history at Columbia, I see all too well that History tends to focus on men to the exclusion and marginalization of women’s voices in the past. Part of the vision behind this exhibit is to push back against this trend in favour of greater equity.
Why does this matter?
A telling of the story of history almost exclusively with men – typically powerful white men – as both the authors and the subject matter results in a narrow and skewed view of history.
If we knowingly or unknowingly allow such history to shape our values and viewpoints today, we not only buy into a narrow outlook ourselves, but participate in and compound the marginalization of women both in the past and today.
The HERstory exhibit has particular relevance in the social climate of #MeToo and #ChurchToo. These movements all the more help us see the injustice of failing to pay attention to alternative voices.
Beyond the act of paying attention to women in history, the HERstory exhibit participates in the advancement of Christ’s Kingdom through the witness of the women’s voices themselves. Their exemplary stories display hearts aflame for God, lived out in powerful ways despite the challenges and obstacles they would have faced.
I have been inspired by the witness of women like Perpetua and Felicity, third-century North African martyrs. Master and slave (respectively), they challenged the social inequalities of the day by standing arm-in-arm as equals in Christ while awaiting their death by wild animals and gladiators.
As a Mennonite, I am strikingly challenged by the pacifist witness of 20th-century Catholic Dorothy Day. Rather than sit on her hands when confronted by the plight of the homeless and unemployed people around her, she welcomed them as Christ, opened her doors, established Houses of Hospitality, and even went to prison for her peaceful protests on behalf of others.
My hope for this exhibit is to help open our eyes to see the untold HERstories (as well as other narratives from the margins) that lie under the surface, both in history and in our midst.
Such histories expand our horizons of the ways that Christ is at work. The individual stories can inspire and empower us to similarly rise above the challenges and obstacles we face today. They call us as ambassadors of Christ to witness to and impact the world around us in peaceful but persistent ways.