Before I introduce you to our HERetic of the Week, I want to announce the winners for our book giveaway from Monday’s post. In case you missed it, I blogged a review and interview about Rachel Held Evans’ new book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood: How a Liberated Woman Found Herself On the Roof, Covering Her Head and Calling Her Husband Master. Rachel’s publisher offered to gift three copies to three lucky readers. My blog readership came out in droves with an enthusiastic response to Rachel’s book and message!
Yay!! Please email me your mailing address. I’ll forward it to the publisher who will be the one to mail you your copy of A Year of Biblical Womanhood. (including international addresses, J. Stahl!)
I enjoyed having my first-ever giveaway on this blog that I intend to do this again. Stay tuned for future opportunities, and thanks again everyone who participated!
Ok, now for our HERetic of the Week
Blogger and author, Jo Hilder first got on my radar when I noticed her contributing posts for Burnside Writers Collective, an online magazine that I have also contributed to. Before long, we were following each other on Twitter and Facebook as well as Instagram. (Do you Instagram? Find us!)
Jo is dedicated to the equality of women and leaves no room for diplomatic maneuvering with the oppressive systems towards women in church and culture. I am inspired by her passion for justice for women. I am excited to introduce her to my readership. Here’s our email interview:
Tell us about your faith background. Were you raised in a Christian home?
Nobody in my immediate family is a Christian — in fact, my parents and brothers are atheists! My earliest memory is talking to God from my bedroom window at night, and in my heart believing He talked right back — I would have been maybe four. My theory is someone close to our family was praying for me.
At around this time, I started going to church on Sundays with my best friend and her family, but not being Catholic, I was never included in anything. It didn’t ring true to me God was that much of a snob. When I was invited to a bible study in high school, I heard about Jesus for the first time. At last, everything fit. I went along to the youth group at the Pentecostal/charismatic church the older girl who invited me to Bible study belonged to, and bam — I found my tribe. I eventually married a young guy from church and became a worship leader, ministering and leading worship teams in several churches. However, after several major life events including a mental illness diagnosis, cancer, and alcoholism, we observed an obvious disparity in the way the church handled those events, and some unanswered questions about what the church says and thinks about those outside the church structure, the marginalised, the sick and infirm, the mentally ill and even simply those born women. Our family decided to take a break from structured church meetings. We still meet with other Christians, but not in a church format, and we are seeking ways to work out and express our Christian faith in less corporate, more personal and more practical ways.
It was hopeless — me trying to cancel out all my creativity, intelligence, energy and passion through submissive behaviours…
How has the church affected and shaped your identity as a woman?
I came to the church as a teenage girl wounded and damaged, and they offered me healing and acceptance. However, I learned early the church only uses and values “good girls”, and as much as I wanted to be forgiven, I desperately wanted to be used and valued by my Father. I married young, wanting to prove my worth and erase my shameful sexual history. I fully understood it was both my “calling” and my responsibility as a Christian wife and woman to adhere to the cultural norms mapped out for me by my church, norms I was told were Biblical, and which would lead to peace and prosperity for my family. I understood if I tried to lead, either my family, or anyone else, chaos and destruction would result. I truly held in my heart the premise that my physical, spiritual, intellectual and behavioural submission and deference both to my husbands “leadership”, and to church leadership and what they taught about what the Bible “really” said, were essential for God’s will to be worked out in my home. I tried with all my heart to submit to everything and everyone, at one stage resorting to wearing modest, almost Amish style clothing and head coverings, and dropping out of all activities which were not church or family centred. I wanted in my heart to be a “good” Christian woman. My husband however never had the slightest motivation to be the kind of “leader” the church wanted him to be, and he thought my submissive head coverings were silly. It was hopeless — me trying to cancel out all my creativity, intelligence, energy and passion through “submissive behaviours”, trying to make it look like my quiet, peaceful and non-ambitous husband was the “true” leader of our family. In the end, I had to give it up, because it was absurd to try and and change ourselves into something we simply were not.
When did you begin to see that you were at odds with the patriarchal tinted messaging of the churches you have known?
“A wise woman builds her house,” said the church, and I learned early that wise women do not seek their own way by trying to be leaders or pastors. All my female peers, regardless of how brilliant they were, or how passionate and ambitious they had been to serve the Lord as teenagers, seemed to get some kind of spiritual lobotomy in their early twenties. All their energy seemed to gravitate to soothing their itchy ring fingers. Once married, babies soon followed, and from then on a Christian woman’s job seemed to entail meeting up for morning tea and craft, participating in the crèche roster, and taking hot meals around when someone was sick. I always seemed different — these things never satisfied me. I wanted to read hard books and write essays. I wanted to teach and learn. I had thousands of questions about the Bible and why we did things the way we did. I wanted to lead the congregation in worship, stand in front of five hundred people and take them through to the throne room in praise, and thank God, they let me do that. I thank God for Darlene Zchech (Worship pastor at Hillsong, in fact, Brian Houston was the first pastor I ever had, the church was at that time 30 people in a community hall) — if Darlene hadn’t come along and made it okay for women to lead worship passionately in church in this country, I’d never have found my place at all. I loved leading worship, but I also longed to learn how to really pastor people properly in their own lives, caring for them, not just singing at them on Sundays. However, I learned that pursuing or trying to create position, projects or programs, seeking advancement of any kind in the church or trying to teach or reach out to others was prideful and ambitious, unwomanly, sinful and I should instead wait on God to release me into ministry.
So I waited. And waited.
I watched my male counterparts, all of whom became Christians at the same time as me, all of whom had journeyed similarly to me, graduate through church into positions of leadership and influence, while I stayed capped and trapped in the music team. In time, those men left to start their own churches, supported by our leadership, whilst I stayed put. I didn’t dare say anything. Clearly, there was something wrong with me — I was still too prideful and ambitious. I watched as other women I respected waited their way into ministry positions, only to be stood down if they displayed challenging, strong behaviours, or if they showed initiative in any way. The ones who survived in ministry had husbands to stand beside them also in ministry, who could absorb and deflect any criticism. My own sweet husband had no desire for ministry. For many, many years, I simply accepted that despite my suspicions I was called to do a work by God, the church would always treat me with suspicion, distrust my motives, and use shame to control my desires and my passions.
Have you ever spoken up or addressed gender inequity in person or on your blog?
It’s only been in the last few years I’ve identified what went on for me for all those years, and I’ve written and published many essays and posts addressing specific issues I see. In fact, it wasn’t until we had stepped outside of the church structure and no longer had a stake in it emotionally, socially and financially we were even able to see the systemic and cultural inequity of the church, because whilst we were in it, while we knew it wasn’t right, we had always believed the problem was us — if only we could get our heart right, if only we could work out our submission/leadership issues.
On leaving the church as such, we were able to see objectively how the church practices and defends inequity across the board, inside and outside of itself, and also perpetuates a view that the imbalances are God’s will and His way. I think many folks who leave the organised church come to recognise with regret how easily they once accepted inequality and social injustice, and seek to change this. In fact, it was my having cancer and my husbands alcoholism — all whilst we were born-again, Bible believing, praying, worshipping, tithing Christians — which really showed us the practice of imbalanced mercy and judgement in the church, and gave us a greater compassion for those who are on the receiving end of it.
it wasn’t until we had stepped outside of the church structure and no longer had a stake in it emotionally, socially and financially we were even able to see the systemic and cultural inequity of the church
I think the root of the issue of women and equality in the church is not a theology issue, but an issue of justice. What about you? Has theology helped or hindered you towards a liberating view of yourself?
It’s absolutely an issue of justice, and not of theology. I have a Bible College qualification, and I’ve been reading the Bible since I was 13 (I’m now 44) and every time I’ve been asked to accept the concept of prejudice, injustice or inequality as expressed supposedly in the scripture, I’ve had to be helped to see it. I have found many people believe that because it’s accepted that scripture is God-breathed. People also believe it was not possible for the scribes nor the interpreters, nor the assemblers of the canon to impact it with their own human frailties, prejudices, cultural ideas and conditioning. Any book, any creative work, which comes through the hands of humans will be changed and affected by those humans, for good, and for bad. I have found contemporary Christian theology in practice pretty much tries to convince us the worst of the various limited human attributes of the scriptural scribes are somehow the Holy and unchangeable attributes of God. In this way, some were once able to be convinced slavery, racism and even the Holocaust were somehow God’s will. In the same way we have also believed oppression and suspicion of women, and other marginalised groups, are also Gods will. I believe the sexist and misogynist aspects of scripture are interesting for demonstrating the limited capacity of human beings for mercy and justice through history, rather than accurately depicting the heart of our eternal Creator.
What does church and the role of women look like to you in the future? Empowered or displaced?
I have no idea, and this excites rather than frustrates me. We’ve chosen to stand outside of the church and observe it while these massive changes occur in our society — attitudes towards homosexual persons, women, children, the mentally ill etc — rather than stand within and be swept along, or shouted down. We, and when I say we I mean my husband Ben and I, have been forced to re-examine our own beliefs and ideas, and this has changed the way we respond to and view people generally. As a woman, I’ve decided not to include myself in any structure or organisation which supports systemic and ongoing injustice towards certain groups based on gender or sexual orientation. Unfortunately, my church is one of them. I love the folks there, but I can’t support the way they treat women, amongst other groups, because I don’t see this as reflective of the heart of God, or the mission and purpose of Christ. I look at the work some are doing with excitement, such as with the amazing Kathy Escobar and The Refuge church. I believe the contemporary Christian church will continue to resist change, and those who desire it will be forced to walk away and begin again. I stand with these ones, desiring change, but wondering what it is we actually want this thing to look like. I’m still in my dreaming stage — stay posted!
How can readers find you?
At my desk, here in a suburban Newcastle surburb in New South Wales, Australia, usually blogging away! When I’m not here, I’m coaching cancer patients, driving my kids around, or working in a cool hippy dress shop.
I blog here www.johilder.com
I have two books -
Things Not To Say To Someone Who Has Cancer (a guidebook for people who love someone diagnosed with cancer)
God, You Can Take My Mental Illness, Just Not The Part Where You Speak To Me (a collection of essays and articles talking about family, marriage, culture, mental illness, cancer, alcoholism and faith — just the everyday stuff :))
Thanks Jo so much for taking time with us!
Want to hear more from Jo? Here are some links to some of her articles about women and inequity :
- Why Christians Are Not The Boss Of Marriage
- Jesus Lives In A Rehab — Who Knew?
- On How The Infidelity Of The Christian Man Is The Fault Of His Wife’s Ponderous Thighs. Or Crap To That Effect
- There’s Something About Esther – Why You’ll Want To Be Very Careful Demanding The Respect Of A Good, Christian Woman
- In Which I Am Accused Of Being Unladylike, And I Heartily Agree
What resonated with you in Jo’s story? Have you had similar experiences? What do you think about women leaving the church altogether over the issue of inequality?