I had my first child, a daughter, in September of 2003. Shortly thereafter, my dear friend had her first, a son. One evening, I was babysitting her son, and he was asleep in my daughter's swing. I sat there that night, watching him swing back and forth, sleeping in that blissed out way babies do, and I started ruminating on what his future might be like. Knowing he would be raised in a strong Christian home, I remember thinking about all the wonderful, powerful things he might do as a man-- it was thrilling to think of all the great things he could accomplish for the Kingdom of God. In the same second that thought formed itself in my mind, I was struck cold by a second, sobering thought. In the 6 months I had been mothering my daughter, I had imagined a lot of things for her, but I had never considered that she might do “great work” for God. I allowed the distress of this realization to bother me for about five minutes, before I shoved it out of my consciousness by soothing myself with platitudes about all the “great work” women can do for the Kingdom – teach sunday school, bake casseroles, vist nursing homes, and clean the church building.
The uneasy feeling I first faced that evening of Maya's infancy surfaced now and again over the next five years, but I always rationalized it away – I know all the words about “separate but equal” when it comes to men and women in the Church of Christ.
And then, in August of 2009, a few things happened. I read through rude truth, I read a couple of Mike Cope’s blog posts on the subject, and then I read the statement Jimmy Carter released when he separated from the Southern Baptist church, and instead of hearing all of the proper responses in my head (too heavily influenced by evil feminism, doesn't take the bible seriously, etc), I began to hear the hum of truth. It was nearly like a switch.
Here is what I wrote to Jennifer a year ago this month:
It occurred to me that I had better make dang sure that I believed what I have grown up believing about women in the church…traditional gender roles in the church is not an issue I spent much time considering. My spiritual gifts are such that I have never felt constrained (mostly relieved) that I would never be expected to teach or pray or lead singing in an assembly.
But I have these 2 daughters, and they are beautiful and created in the image of God…and if that God did not intend for them to remain silent in church, if he has not determined that it is a bad idea for them to publicly share from their knowledge and wisdom about him…if this is not his design…then teaching them that He did, and it is…well it breaks my heart.
And so, for the first time in 28 years, I gave myself permission to consider that I might have it wrong.
And I did. I had it wrong. And even though I never consciously felt damaged or belittled by this tradition that I was raised in, I cannot describe the relief and the gratitude and freedom that has washed over me. It absolutely brings me to tears to think that I will not have to think of a way to explain to my children, whom I love more than life, why, even though they are all created in the image of God, who also loves them more than life, God only wants to hear one of their voices in Church.
As I grapple with this and unpack it a little bit more I expect to find the implications of growing up with the set of assumptions that I did has been damaging and stunting in more ways than I have considered. It is very strange to realize that one of the basic things I have always understood about myself and my place in the body of Christ was just plain wrong.
I was right. As I unravel all of my previous understanding of “Women in the Church” I am continually stunned to find how far reaching the effects have been. I have been moved to tears more times than once this past year, realizing for the first time that I am not less valuable (to the world, or to God) because I am a woman.
I cried just last week, when I really really let it sink in that not only is God not male (or female)--which I have always believed, in theory-- but God is not even *more* male than he is female. I cried reading Women in the Church: Reclaiming the Ideal when Carol Osburn explains Marrs’s proposal that “the actual “order of creation" (man first, woman last) intends not a move from superiority to inferiority, but through inclusio (man/woman) a move from incompleteness to completeness.”
I know all of the appropriate arguments used to oppress women in our Tradition. I know the scriptures, the “proper” interpretation, I know all of the “flawed” arguments of the “other side.” For the longest time, I was so afraid of being wrong, of being ungrateful for the role I had been given, of endangering my eternal soul, to even honestly examine scripture and consider the “other side.” Nearly 7 months after my email to Jennifer, it occurred to me that the things I had been taught about myself and women in general in Churches of Christ are are not compatible with the character of God revealed throughout scripture. It was this realization that has finally allowed me to step away from the “party line” about women in the church, timidly at first, and with more boldness as time goes on and some of the twisted places in my faith sort themselves out in the light of my new understanding.
My family finds ourselves in a strange place these days. I cannot raise my girls in a church environment that implicitly surrounds them with the lie that they are “less than” and that the list of spiritual gifts that God got to pick from when he assigned theirs is shorter than it would be if they were boys. But where to go? Churches of Christ, from birth until now is all that I know.