I usually try to stay out of the main issues in the world. I don’t like band wagons. Too hectic. But this one just seemed too personal to let pass by without my two cents. So here you have it. I wrote this on June 1st, 2018. I finally have the courage to post it today…
Why I blog, and how that relates to the SBC now.
I began blogging last summer after a couple years worth of struggle to find where I had a place. It didn’t begin as a struggle for voice, but it quickly became evident that that was a primary contributing factor. I went to the eldership at my Evangelical Free Church in rural Minnesota with some concerns. There were issues they needed to address.
When I began to seek to plug in at our church, there was an opportunity to lead an outreach event for women. It had been planned previously, so all that needed to be done was to pick up the pieces and do it again. I have a lot of experience with event coordination so this was a way I could help. Doing what someone else had done before wasn’t how I liked to roll, but they had permissions to do it that way from the leadership so I went with it.
By the time I started to think something might be up I had led the women’s outreach event for two years. The first year had gone off swimmingly with a lot of women participating and seemingly excited about this being brought back after a year of not happening. The next year was a different story. I had sent out a survey to the women of the church to see where they were at in regard to this happening again. There was about 2% negative response and it had to do with there not being any alcohol available (really?), so it seemed like a good idea to try it again the next year.
The bottom fell out. It wasn’t something I felt like I had personal ownership of, so I didn’t try to force it by coersion or other tactics. If the women were uninterested than that was that. We did end up having a smaller dinner at a fabulous restraunt with the talk by the woman who had agreed to speak.
What it did peak in me was a wonderment at the dynamic of the membership of our church that this should happen in this way. Why would I get an overwhelmingly posative response, and then no real interest? What was going on with the women of our church? So I began to dig in.
What I found was a toxic small seed of distortion.
Gender Roles and Women in Church
As I began to look around at women in the church and why they might not be interested in being an active part of something like an outreach event I began to notice something strange. In every other church I had ever been a part of women were involved in very visible and instrumental ways.
- Running Childrens Ministries
- Organizing VBS Programs
- Teaching Sunday School
- Leading in Youth Ministry.
But in this church there was a fundamental difference. Most of the women in this church were only involved in ministries that their husband was involved in, and only in a secondary helping role. I should probably note that this was the first strongly complimentarian church that I had been a part of as well. There was the nursery coordinator that was a woman whose husband wasn’t directly involved in that ministry (yet he was a deacon) and a couple of single women who had plugged into ministries on their own. But they were the exceptions. In the overwhelming majority were women who were not involved in any ministry except their home.
The parallel to all of this is the start of my husband in a ministry role. He had been in school for the first few years of our membership and couldn’t swing a whole lot more church responsability than a reliable support role. This was part of the struggle I had to find a ministry niche, because I didn’t have someone to plug in with. I was so excited when he began the eldership training process because all the elders wives led discipleship groups and were the women’s leaders in all aspects of the church. What I found out here was that there wasn’t anything for me there either. The leaders of the women’s groups had no rigorous training or reading schedule as the men had. Their position wasn’t really a position at all, but a role of helpful facilitator. I was bowled over confused. The women who did everything at our church were really just in that role because there were married to the leader and had no other qualifications at all. Not only would I not be trained as a teacher or councelor, but they would set me up to meet with a woman to better understand my role as a woman in regard to her husband and her submission as a christian. I had no idea what to do with this.
My first assumption was that this was personal preference on the part of the women of the congregation. They simply did not want to do anything more than what they already had on their plates. As I began to ask around it became more and more evident that there was an overwhelming amount of women who just didn’t know where they cold fit, and were suffering for lack of good leadership and accountability. The issue that I had thought was my isolated dilema ended up being the theme of the consistantly attending women of our church. The only women who had active and necessary involvement in the ministries of the church were those whose husbands were the deacons and elders, the sunday school teachers and the other ministry leaders.
What had become the predominant goal of the church was to mobalize the men of the congregation to meaningful ministry. The women had somehow become a secondary entity. The quote of the day: “If you have spiritually healthy husbands you will have spiritually healthy wives.”
Real Purpose and the Role Eclipse
When I began to realize the overemphasis of male orientation and submission as applied to women I brought my concerns to the eldership. As I began to talk about the concerns I had for the strong male emphasis and fear of strong women in the church, I was quickly told I was building a straw man argument. When, in my shock, I had no response it was assumed that I just didn’t understand what a straw man means. The comment was made that it would take too long to explain to me. I was swiftly disregarded. They strongly assured me that the concerns that I had were groundless. That they did not (in fact) believe anything I was saying. They could not see the relationship between the emphasis of men in ministry and the fact that there were very few women in ministry in our church. They did not agree that the women (their wives) that were leading the small group ministries might have an incorrect view of the image of God born by women. They did not agree that women saw themselves as dangerously controling and lacking in submission, and much less the men. Mostly, I just didn’t make sense.
When the letter was written by the women of the SBC calling for the dismissal of Paige Patterson I held my breath. What would happen with this man who was so commited to the message of gender roles as related to the inerrancy of scripture? There was no way they could see this as severe enough to dismiss him. After all, this was a letter from a bunch of women. And you know, Eve was decieved.
An apology was recieved. The same kind of apology I have recieved from the men in my church when they have treated me badly as a woman. The “well, I’m sorry you got upset about this” kind. And then, once men wrote a similar letter, action was taken. I’m so glad to say that he is dismissed officially now, but I can’t say I am happy about how it was handled. And yet, I am hopeful.
Hope for positive change
Yesterday I came across a tweet from Thabiti Anybwile concerning gender roles and the distortion they can cause of the image of God when they are given preeminence. While I know he didn’t write this because of anything I have said, I still have a feeling of him writing it for me. Even if it was just for the sake of women like me. I am beginning to feel heard.
And so, you may ask, what does that have to do with why I blog? As of last July I had hit my last barrier. I needed to be free from the jargon of, “I don’t know how you can say you have gifts that aren’t being used in the church, when the definition of a spiritual gift is something used to edify the church.” I needed to be heard and appreciated as the child of God that He had created me to be. And not just in the shadow of my husbands accomplishments. God has given me a gift for understanding His word and a passion for sharing it with others.
Yet, I have so much fear. I am not yet strong enough to stand up for what I know is true in the face of so much hostility from those in power. That’s why I write here under a pseudonym, and will until I feel a measure of emotional safety from the body. Why I probably won’t post this for a while after I write it.
It probably sounds like I am just that woman lacking submission and desiring to be “contrary to” her husband (as the complementarianist translators of the ESV feel comfortable ephasising the woman’s curse in Gen 3:16.) Yet, I’m not. My husband has at no time considered me lacking in submission. I would say I still consider myself a complimentarianist, I defer to my husband for leadership. I do not think that that means that I am only called to what he is called to, or gifted in the ways he is gifted. I am made in the image of God, and made for more than just submission and “helping” the man.
Mostly, I am hoping that someday my daughter will be able to say that she is able to speak in the presence of a man in her church without feeling judgement. I am hoping that someday the skills of the women in our church will be valued to a degree that they would consider financially supporting the education of one. I am looking forward to a time when the things that the church claims to belive about the equality of men and women will actually look the way equality does. But, mostly, I hold on to the hope of heaven in all this. That someday I will stand before my creator in the place of His shining glory and never have to question whether I belong there or not.