I read the words over and over again but I couldn’t seem to grasp that he’d really posted it to my wall. An old college friend who’s last “in person” words to me were,
“I’m so proud of you!” (followed by a zealous bear hug in spite of my gigantic pregnant belly!)
You see, my book had recently been published and a speaking tour had followed. He had become a pastor. I was a wife and mother. But he was proud of my independent ministry accomplishments.
Four full years later there was no pride. Only shame.
We all have our things we post about constantly. Some love to share a picture of their latest favorite meal. Others enjoy the car selfie (which provides the best lighting! AMMIRIGHT??). Others love their diet plans or a finger and thumb grasping the essential oil that is currently saving their morning. Some people are political. Some are religious. Some request prayer for their child’s case of strep, or a cold or stomach bug. Whatev. I don’t mind. Post away. You do you. I know what’s important to you and I’m totally kew wit it. I promise.
If you know me at all, you already know that I often post about equality and women’s issues and empowerment. I realize that I might be annoying at times. I can be very direct. Forgive me. It’s truly amazing how black and white it can become when you’ve finally seen the light. I just get excited, ya know!
Some have been quite gracious though they disagree. Some have taken me aside to confront me in person. Some have become angry. Some have said I was dangerous. Many have said that negative experiences have damaged what God intended to be a beautiful hierarchy.
- Immediate and extended family.
- Old friends.
- New friends.
- Church people who know me.
- Church people who don’t.
(Everybody has an opinion. It’s fine. Really.)
I thought I’d heard it all, but I never expected to advocate for women and then be faced with the words,
“Little stay at home FB mommies are not oppressed.”
It stuck in my brain like a piece of chewed gum gets tangled in your hair. It hurt like hell, but it was also insignificant. I’ve taken the last few weeks to process, pick away, and try to figure out what bothered me so much.
First: as I support women, am I doing it in a way that paints me as a victim seeking restitution? If so, then I am definitely doing something wrong. Yes, I have had negative experiences in the name of complementarian theology, and perhaps that has painted a somewhat skewed picture of what complementarianism is supposed to be. You tell me.
- I.) Childhood experiences: Growing up in a complementarian household, I was taught that my highest calling was to be a wife and a mother and that my role was one of perpetual submission. I was taught that women are the keepers of the home and that decision making, money earning, and leadership were the jobs of the husband exclusively. I was also taught that women were intrinsically weak willed, overly sensitive, and needed the “covering” of a husband or pastor to teach them the Scriptures because they were easily swayed by Satan. Ministry minded, this caused me to have very little faith in myself to actively participate in Kingdom work. I was extremely insecure to ever do anything. As a creative person, it was maddening to me to wait around for a man to tell me what God wanted me to do! I was very desperate to get married (can we say, “co-dependent!”). I was obsessed with my pastor’s opinion of me (to the point of idol worship). I saw my own mind as too flawed to read and study the Bible independently and to brave a relationship with God that did not rely on the “truth” being filtered through the “wisdom” of a man’s viewpoint. This caused me to feel tortured when I would disagree with the men in my life; My father, my husband, my many pastors, etc. I was like a spiritual shell, waiting to be filled up with whatever the good and godly men wanted to pour into me. And even when they tried, I remained empty.
- II.) College experiences: I attended a very conservative, fundamental Bible College… You know them. They train the men to be pastors and the women to be their dutiful and devoted wives. I did not become a pastor’s wife, but I did, however, do a lot of dating, unfortunately. Many of my boyfriends seemed to feel that we were already “spiritually” married because they were so intent on the relationship leading to a wedding. There were no “fun” relationships. It was always very focused because the idea was that God was the one bringing us together. Any dysfunction should be overlooked and immediately forgiven. Of course, he already viewed himself as my “head” and leader. One particular relationship left me feeling completely trapped. I’ll never forget the night I tried to break up with him. In a desperate effort to convince me to continue on, he drove me into the middle of the woods and proceeded to cry, beg, and eventually choke and sexually assault me. I thought that I was going to die that night. A strict curfew saved me and as I stumbled back to my dorm room in shock, I knew that I couldn’t tell anyone what had happened. My mother. My pastor. My roommate. My identical twin sister…. My immediate thought was that I would not be believed, regardless of whether or not they actually would. It just wasn’t an option. I never told a soul until recently. To this day, I cannot explain why I didn’t tell anyone except to say that I automatically assumed that it was my own fault. Though I was finally free from dating this man, he proceeded to spend the next two years spreading rumors about me that were absolute bold faced lies, ruining my reputation and the remainder of my college experience. When I did finally tell the student body coordinator, she didn’t believe that he would do such a thing. Nothing was ever done.
- III.) Church experiences: I love church and I always have. I go sick. I go alone if my family is sick. I love being involved in a group of people who love Jesus and want to serve Him together. I love leading initiatives and also supporting others in theirs. I’ve worked in children’s ministries, women’s ministries, youth, missions. You name it, I’ve done it all. For the most part, I’ve never had a pastor tell me that I could not move forward on a project. Usually, they point me right to the resources and let me have at it. (Actually, they usually seem pretty happy to have somebody doing something.) I had, however, noticed that women’s ministries are very centered on women learning to be better wives, mothers, servants, and helpers. There is very little emphasis on deep theology or leadership or stepping out in faith to accomplish ministry goals. I also noticed that Beth Moore DVD’s are most often used rather than female Bible teachers actually speaking to groups in house. It was almost like Beth Moore or Kay Arthur are actually leading the women’s ministries in our churches. Women were too timid to step up. Nor was there any interest in women wanting to learn how to teach. My conclusion: We’re taught to be solely dependent on male leadership (a viewpoint vastly different than ours). Often, “male led” ministries can be poisoned by pride as they focus on maintaining control of submissive congregations. This left me with the goal of learning to teach and taking on as many opportunities as I possibly could. I wrote my own curriculums. Sent e-mail, cards, and made phone calls to every woman I knew. I had energy to burn! I was so passionate about teaching women to teach others but many times, they were very uncomfortable with the very idea that they, a woman, should familiarize herself with this information without a male “head” to guide her. Still, I plugged away often leading 2 or 3 Bible studies at a time. Some might average a dozen women. Some might average 30. God loved keeping me on my toes and my pride in check!
- The Turning Point: It was several years ago that I wanted to start an inner city Bible study at a coffee shop. The pastor was emphatic that my Bible study would conflict with the already active “male” led ministries within the church. There was simply no room for women’s ministries. After much conversation (and pressure from me), he finally gave me the green light, but did it through gritted teeth. He refused to let me advertise using the church newsletter or bulletin. I was on my own to invite individuals who I thought might be interested. I was asked to “submit to his authority” on the matter because it was his job to “equip the saints.” God brought a handful of women to this study and I gained friends for a lifetime, but no one ever asked how the study was going. It was completely forgotten. I was never encouraged. Never affirmed. Never offered help. I realized that he did not see me as a valuable asset to his church, nor did he care what God was leading me to do within that fellowship. It made me feel absolutely insignificant and that the best I had to offer was worthless.
Do these experiences count as oppression? Am I currently oppressed?
Truthfully, I have no interest in identifying as a victim. These things are in the past and I do not feel as though they put me in the category with those who are truly oppressed on a day to day basis. Because that’s what I believe my old college friend was trying to say when he said I was not oppressed. There ARE so many that are victimized daily with no help in sight!
World wide, over 90% of the violence and abuse that occurs is towards females.
-Female genital mutilation.
-No voting rights.
So here’s the kicker… I had no idea of the true measure of the worldwide oppression against women until I experienced a teeny toenail clipping of it for myself. What I mean is that by psychoanalyzing the pain and marginalization that I have personally felt, I am able to more clearly understand, somehow, and to realize how devastating it is to millions of women every single day.
So what good does it do to speak about empowerment, freedom, and equality in the Facebook vortex of desserts and politics and oils and stomach bugs and miles run? Honestly, I dunno. I do it because you do it, too (about the things that you care about). I do it because maybe somebody is listening that needs to hear it. I do it because I care about the oppression of other people… especially those who I relate to most…
Christian women who don’t believe that they can and should do hard things for God.
Christian women who are suppressing their spiritual gifts.
Christian women who don’t believe that what God is teaching them could help a dear brother in his own personal walk.
Christian women who are stuffed into man made boxes that they were never meant to fit into.
Christian women who have no idea who they are or what God longs to do through them.
I can’t control how you perceive me, no matter how pure my motives are. Maybe you are totally right and what I say doesn’t actually matter
. But this I am absolutely certain of…
at least I saw the oppressed,
at least I tried.
And if you won’t even see me and what I have been through, what does that say about your care for them?