Yet, as became move apparent through my week, there was another reason for my inability to participate. I needed bigger eyes on the subject. And a more humble heart.You see, I am very attentive to the outward signs of androcentric organization in the American Evangelical movement. My antennae are hyper-aware as I walk into a church or small group or para-church; I note that only men wear the tags marked, “Lead,” around their necks in the mega-church we have been frequenting of late. I see that their leadership consists of both sexes, but women don’t teach anyone other than themselves or children; they worship, they administer, they facilitate, they are not visible when Christ is preached. I hear the “man” read aloud when “humanity” might be equally appropriate. I shake my head when the women are encouraged to be particularly attentive to stories of women in the bible and to model themselves after the characters of men therein,; but the books of Ruth or Ester or the story of Sarah or a Samarian woman at Jacob’s well are not generalized to the men. There is no talk about the fact that the privilege of first resurrection annunciation was given to a woman, or that Timothy’s mother and grandmother taught him the faith well enough that he was able to be Paul’s apprentice. Every place I go, I keep a mental tally sheet of all the ways that it is obvious that the men are in charge, and the women are left out.
I build walls against this – I tuck into myself, recognizing the hurt that these practices cause,
the segregated, left-out-ness that is so very much
the female experience of church.
And yet, I have to recognize that while my experience cannot invalidate that of a community of fellow bloggers, I cannot allow the community’s experience to shape mine. I am a female graduate student enrolled in a Masters of Divinity program at a well-respected seminary. No one there has ever told me I could not do something simply because of my sex. My husband is very supportive of my career thus, and is the main encourager for my studies; in truth, had he not suggested it, I likely would not have even considered it. I attend a bible study that is hosted effortlessly by a wife and husband duo who teach, pray, and encourage those under them to do the same, regardless of gender. Theirs is the picture of equality and mutuality in Christ.
Yes, I have been told that for a woman to call herself a “pastor” or “elder” is a sin. Yes, I have been told that women have no authority to teach men. Yes, I have been told that to pursue theological education, as a woman, is an abject abandonment of my role as wife and mother and is thus a direct affront to God’s design. I have experienced all this and can thus understand and relate to my sisters and brothers who form this community crying aloud for the minimization of women to stop.
But I have to be aware. I sat in theology class last week, pondering the topic of women in the church. And I noted that of the eleven people seated on the front row, eight were men. As I compared this ratio to the exact opposite of the second row (eight women, three men), I was literally stopped mid-thought. For, as I was lamenting the apparent domination of males in this field, I had to be honest with myself:
I sat on the second row.
I, and no one else, chose my seat. I swallow my questions when gender roles and ontology and discussed. I stay silent when the same scriptures are used over and again to keep women out of full inclusion in the body of Christ. And I do so because I am afraid. Afraid that I won’t communicate my position well; that by my ill-formed or poorly articulated argument, the opposing side will be strengthened. And I will have set us back instead of helping to press forward.
So first, I must confess that I harbor a prejudice against my brethren. I assume that for the most part, they are willful mechanisms in the problem. I do not allow them a chance to speak for themselves. I pass judgment, without their input, the plank protruding from my own eye.
Thus, I resolve, with the help of the Holy Spirit, to see my brothers in Christ as benevolent men who desire to build up the entire kingdom of God for His glory. I will allow the actions and words of each individual believer to speak the truth of his/her heart.
Secondly, I confess my fear of failure. And that this fear is indicative of a lack of trust in God. My fear has its root in my performance or articulation and not in the work of the Spirit in the hearts of my fellow believers.
Therefore I will push outside of my safety bubble – I will speak up when I disagree with what is being taught. Not out of obstinate hardheartedness, but mindful of the unity that is to mark the body of Christ-followers; seeking to understand the scriptures more fully, and to honor Christ first and foremost in my interactions with my fellow children of God. And I will trust that the Spirit of God is responsible for changing the heart of any believer should he/she be so willing.
For the glory of God the Father, His Son, Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit.