Bloggers like me look to things like site stats and comments as indexes of what nerves we are striking in the blogosphere. After hundreds of posts over the last five years I can tell you that there are three topics that consistently spike my blog’s traffic:
- cussing Christians
- the debate about eternal damnation and hell
- the so-called controversy of women teaching, leading and being in positions of power within the pulpit and pew of the contemporary American church
It is the third category that is most interesting to me, and also to my readers. Most of my readership are disenchanted Christians who are sorting out what’s really real to them in their faith and what’s dogmatic conditioning from religious rhetoric and traditionalism. The perspective of women in the church by their men, and particularly the perspective of women of themselves is still in the grip of an archaic, hierarchical mindset that keeps women quietly busy serving in the kitchen or the nursery. But not the pulpit or the lecterns where only men can teach the faithful. It is unfathomable to the people I know here in Portland who are not Christ followers when they learn of the gender inequity that is alive and well in the halls of Christendom. “Really?” they ask, “In this day and age?”
My last post about a recent Barna poll commissioned by my friend Jim Henderson has many coming out of the woodwork to tell their story. Jim is writing a book about attitudes in the church towards women. The poll he commissioned paints a picture that doesn’t match what many of us know as reality. My last post took a look at those stats.
A few other bloggers also took it up including Kathy Escobar and Sonja who goes by the blogger moniker, Calacirian. But it’s Jim’s site itself that has a TON of stories pouring through. Like this one from a commenter named Jessica who wrote:
I’m one of the women that’s already left the building. I grew up in a mixed denomination, but very evangelical church on the missionfield. I can remember specifically a sermon series preached on the requirements to be an elder and the emphasis that to be an elder you had to be male. I remember hushed, judgmental comments when the local state church received a new pastor: a female. More evidence that the state church was way too liberal to really be Christian.
My good friend Denie of Boise, Idaho told Jim some of her story leaving this comment at his site:
In most churches I have been involved with or member of I did not find that women have the same equality as the men. Women were thought of as helpers or help mates for the men. Positions of authority were only for men, women were to help with children, cleaning, planning of parties..etc and always under the direction of the men and only if given approval by the male leadership first.
Several years ago I walked away from the church (not God, but the church) this is were I found freedom, freedom to become who I was called to be. Outside of the church is were I could hear is His voice and His calling on my life, away from the institution that was telling me what a good Christian woman should be doing.
I now run a ministry to those on the streets and have been for almost three years now. A ministry run by a woman and volunteers that are mostly women. I have had several Pastors want to get involved, each telling me that I should let them take over that a man should be running it. That a man should have authority over it and that I should be a helper, that woman’s position was to be a servant to help with a ministry and not run it. In saying no, standing my ground and staying true to what God as called me to do, I have found myself reject from some churches, called some things I will not repeat here and have even had a Pastor tell the congregation that they were not allowed to participate in the outreach.
This is a small sampling of just two of dozens of stories and comments left at Jim’s site from women who are telling him and Barna, No, the stats of your data do not tell the real truth of what is really going on with women. (if you missed Jim’s post it is worth a read and study of the “findings” of that Barna poll of his. He is also asking readers if the stats match their experience. I encourage you to add your perspective to his site as this will help further his research as well as benefit the hundreds of readers who come through Jim’s site every week.
It is a hot topic. Which is really absurd if you think about it. Women and men are not meant to be ranked against one another. In the kingdom of God the only rank is that of King and there is only one King whom the rest of us serve. Jesus came to liberate; not inspire the Christianization of subjugating women within the spiritual community of churches. Power is not meant to be hoarded by men, nor women. But shared. Given away. Entrusted towards.
A few years ago I was sitting in a conservative church in Portland. Many seminary graduates were a part of this congregation. The leaders were all male and the women were just fine with that. For a time I attended a women’s bible study led by one of the pastor’s wives. She decided to facilitate on the topic of women. “What does the bible say about women?” she asked.
I sat through that study for weeks. I didn’t actually want to be there and felt tricked. I had a new friend who said she would go if I did. I showed up. She didn’t. By the third week of the study I felt as if the Holy Spirit was saying, “Be here and be humble.”
Each week women would share during the big circle discussion about their study that week. The facilitator gave us a handout each week with questions that required some bible study time. Her questions led to things like submission and women being the weaker sex. Each week I diligently studied, pulling out my books about women and leadership, pouring over commentaries and looking up verses and passages. I knew I was going upstream from just about every other woman at that study. I wouldn’t shy back, I determined, but I also knew I had to “go in low,” or, in other words, with humility and deference for her leadership of the study. I would not debate, I vowed.
I kept that standard the entire time. I often spoke up, but only when called on. I did not interrupt other women even when they said things that were outrageous for me to hear. Like one woman who insisted that America is going down in flames because women are taking leadership away from men and men are letting it happen. She got on her soapbox and ranted about the state of the nation being boiled down to women and submission to authority of their men.
I am not exaggerating this story. And this is just the beginning.
Another woman, who had beautiful long hair down to her waist, revealed that she did not cut her hair out of belief that a verse in the New Testament indicated she must not. She also divulged that when she heard women pray out loud in mixed company of men and their husbands, she would quietly pray for them asking God “to help them be quiet so their husbands can pray instead.”
I brought up all kinds of things each week. “If God doesn’t want women to lead over men then what can we say about Deborah the Judge in the Old Testament or Priscilla whom Paul respected in the New Testament, or Miriam the Prophetess, sister of Moses who had spiritual leadership in Israel?” One woman guffawed when I finished my question. “Ha! What a cop out! People always use those verses to try and squirm their way out of submission!” I chose (to my credit) to ignore her.
This study had discussion every week and sometimes the discussion would become vulnerable as some women would drop their Sunday mask and reveal their true thoughts and feelings. “I just feel like a doormat sometimes,” said one young mother who began to cry as she let that admission escape from secrecy into the light of transparency, “I know I’m wrong, but sometimes I feel as if the church and God treat women like doormats.” Other women around the room nodded their heads in agreement and sympathy.
“Can I ask the group a question?” I said to the facilitator. “Sure Pam,” she smiled, “just keep it simple.”
“If there were two political candidates who were neck to neck on all the issues but one candidate was a woman, would that make a difference in how you would vote?”
Absolutely said about half the women in the study. Women are meant to be helpmates; men are meant to lead.
“We don’t really understand what biblical submission means,” said the study’s leader, “if we did we wouldn’t be so upset by it. We’d just be doing it.” She later told us that she was planning to request of her pastor husband to teach on submission to the whole church. Inwardly I groaned as a wave of anxiety curled up inside me. Are you serious? I thought.
There were several moments throughout the two-month study that I was allowed to say my piece. I’d quote Galatians 3:28 about there being no male or female as we are all one in Christ; I’d point out the examples of women in authority throughout scripture, and I wondered out loud in my most diplomatic tone if perhaps women really were made in the image of God just the same as men. What if we are meant to serve and lead along side one another? I asked. What if submission is meant to be mutual rather than singular? What if?
When the study was all over I gave the bible study leader a copy of Loren Cunningham’s book, Why Not Women? a great scholarly book that features some of the best biblical scholarship in laymen’s terms for the dismantling of the defense for keeping women in the back of the bus. I told her, “If you read it I’ll take you out to lunch and then we can talk about it. I’d love to hear your thoughts.”
She never called.
Over the next several months after the study finished several different women came up to me and privately told me that they appreciated my voice so much at the women’s bible study. “I’m too scared to stand up against the leader, but you did a great job!” said one woman. I was surprised. “I wasn’t trying to challenge her, ” I explained. “I just wanted to tell my point of view based on years of study and reflection. There is another way to see things.”
“I was so glad you were there,” said one woman whom I knew to be well-educated. She rarely spoke up at the study itself but in private conversation with me she made plain that she wholeheartedly rejected the idea of women being helpers and men leaders. It was clear to her as it was to me that biblically defended inequality is entrenched with traditionalism. But she never once said a word during the entire eight weeks.
If women do not speak up, who will then? There are some men who may champion for equity between the sexes in the Church, but if we wait we may be waiting for a long, long time. I am coming more to a place of activism that perceives that women remain subjugated in the modern evangelical and post-evangelical movement simply because we allow it to be. We are part of the problem. I am. You are, too, if you have ever kept quiet out of shame or fear or confusion.
I made a decision several years ago to never be quiet again. I will speak up when I see or hear inequity against my sisters or myself in the Church that I love and respect. She is too gorgeous of an expression of the life of Jesus to be muddied up with something like sexism. It is wrong. Wrong to tell women that they can’t pastor or teach or be elders or theologians simply because they are female. It is wrong and unjust.
I hope that the day will come when this issue will no longer be a controversy up for debate, that blog stats will not shift nor website indexes spike beause someone wrote about women being the teachers and leaders and voices they are meant to be along side their brothers. But that day is not today. Today my blog traffic will go up. Because women are too hot to handle when faith puts on a dress.