Monday, July 13, 2009

by KSS, part 1

I have so much to say. It’s so hard to know where to start much less where to go. So I’ll follow the questions posed. But first I have to deal with a word issue. I have such a hard time even typing things like “CoC” or “church of Christ” or “Church of Christ.” Have you ever had to lean over to your friend next to you in the pew, during a talk about “Big C and little c” and whisper, “Have you ever even heard of the church of Christ?” I have had to do that. His answer was, “No.” Afterwards, he asked me, “What was the deal about the big c and little c?” I said, “I don’t even want to explain it because I don’t want to even sound like I’m defending it.” Then he asked me a lot more questions like, “And what was the deal with instrumental music? And what was the deal with women?” I know the answers to all those questions, but I don’t even want to answer them. I might have some baggage. I feel like I lost my baggage at the airport a long time ago, and I’ve bought new clothes and toiletries since then. Now someone is showing up at my door saying my luggage has been found, but it’s mixed up with other passengers’ baggage, so would I please unpack it and sort it out. Good grief.

This is going to be offensive, please excuse me or stop reading this or whatever you need to do. I’m not apologetic anymore.

So I use “Church of Christ” because the way I see it, “church of Christ” is used as a way of insisting that it is not a denomination, and I cannot participate in that thinking. I do believe that the Church of Christ is a denomination. I have to say all of this, because I can’t begin a written conversation about the church where I come from without defending why I punctuate the way I do. I know I’m being unfair, because after having said all that, I’m not willing to talk about it any further.

1. What’s your first memory of realizing that being female meant something different in terms of opportunities or expectations?

If you’re a fish, when do you discover water? I grew up in the CoC. I knew the answers before I knew the questions. I don’t remember exactly when I began asking, but by the time I was in high school I had been asking a lot of questions for a long time and getting very polite, unsatisfying answers. All of my questions seemed to me to be best represented by this one question: “How come if I wrote a book everyone would read it and love it and say, ‘Wow! This stuff is great!’ but if I spoke those exact same words, the same people would say, ‘This is wrong.’?”

I started asking everyone everywhere this question. Mostly the answer I got was,
“That’s a good question.”

I wanted to say, “Are you kidding me?! That’s your answer?!”

Sometimes people said, “Well, probably a lot of people wouldn’t read your book.”

I knew that was true, too.

2. How did being female in CoC affect you as a teenager, in college, in your dating relationships?

I never really dated as a teenager. I think being female in CoC as a teenager was only one of many ways that I was “out of sorts” or “out of my element” or “not at home in my own life.” Probably typical for most teenagers. However in college, I think it did directly factor into my not dating. I was a Youth & Family Ministry major at ACU. In my class, there were only two or three female Y&FM majors. Every year while I was there, there were more and more new incoming female Y&FM majors, but I was rare during my time. One day, I was walking through the campus center with a close friend. He was like a brother to me. He was a psychology major. We were having a conversation about dating, and he casually said, “I don’t think I’d date a female Bible major. I think I’d be intimidated.” He said it so matter-of-fact-ly. I felt like there was no reason to be upset about it. I realized that my major was probably going to be a hindrance to dating, to say nothing of the chances of getting married. Another time I was walking with a male Y&FM major, and we were talking about how I felt discriminated against as a female. He said, “I never really thought about it before.” I said, “You wouldn’t—it doesn’t affect you.” Then he said, “Yeah, I guess you’re right.”

3. How has being female in CoC affected you as an adult? 4. How has being female affected your church life?

To me, being female and the issue of women’s role is part of a bigger conflict I have with the Church of Christ (which I’ll write about later if JTB wants it). At the last Church of Christ I went to regularly, I constantly found myself thinking, “I’m so glad I didn’t invite anyone to come with me today!” Then I would think, “Something is very wrong if I don’t want to invite people to come to church with me.” The sermons made me angry, and I constantly wanted to stand up and walk out. At the time, I had a demanding social work job, and I was constantly getting paged and having to leave church to talk to clients on the phone. Between the job and the church, I found myself on Sunday mornings thinking to myself, “Maybe I’ll just stay home today. I’ll go next week.” My job was with a CoC agency, and it required that I be CoC, so I didn’t feel free to visit other denominations. I was already at the most liberal, progressive CoC in town, so I knew it was pointless to visit other CoC congregations. Before I knew it, I hadn’t been to church in about a year. Then the friend from the “Big C little c” conversation invited me to visit his Methodist church. I decided that as long as I was forsaking the requirements of my job, I might as well do whatever I wanted. I wanted to go to church, I just didn’t want to be pissed the whole time I was there. It has been such a relief to find a home where things that are non-issues to me are non-issues in the church. I feel like now I can focus on the issues that are important to me. I’ve been on social justice and environmental task forces in my Methodist congregations. I’ve gotten to do what I’m good at, and no one thinks twice about it, except to tell me thanks. I’ve moved a couple of times since I started going to a Methodist church, and I’ve always found the same, serving, welcoming types of churches. I understand why people stay who feel like it is their calling in life to help change things, but for me, I feel like I had a different calling and it wasn’t possible to follow my calling in the CoC.

6. How has being female in CoC affected your interaction with children (yours and others’ children)?

When I moved from Texas to DC, I moved in with some friends who grew up CoC but who have been going to an Episcopal church after going to a Disciples of Christ church. They have the same views about women as I do. Now they’re getting ready to move out of state and thinking about where they will go to church. They expect to go to a Disciples of Christ or Episcopal church again, but there’s a local CoC church in their soon-to-be town, that they’ve heard great things about. They also now have a daughter. They asked me what I think about it. They’ve said that they don’t want to raise their daughter in the environment of the CoC because they don’t want her to be influenced by the ideas about women, so I felt comfortable answering their question honestly. I told them that I can only speak for myself and I don’t want to tell them what’s right for them, but I said that I wouldn’t go to a CoC regularly under any circumstances. I don’t have children of my own, but where I do have influence on the experience of children, I won’t promote the CoC. I say these things reluctantly. I am so grateful for so much, but it isn’t enough.


TKP said...

KSS, this is so beautiful. Thank you.

Carolyn said...

KSS: Thank you so much for your words. I am facing a similar dilemma right now, in that there is *no way* I could bring anyone who wasn't CofC to church with me. I go to a church with a great group of people, and a wonderful, non-traditional minister whose sermons are excellent (and thankfully never cringe-inducing), but I fear that the blatant sexism and exclusion of women from the service could likely turn any person off to church, or even to Christ, for good. I really believe that if this doesn't change, the CofC won't be around for another generation.

Oh, I also agree that CofC is a denomination. I think it's ridiculous to argue otherwise.

stan said...

Thank you for your story/perspective. I hope many more gender-inclusive church plantings will take place throughout the country as is happening in Abilene. There are a few established congregations sprinkled across the U.S. that are moving in that direction or are already there. Hopeful signs but slow to come about.

Indie Pereira said...

I remember feeling that I couldn't bring anyone to my church for fear of what folks in the church would say or do. So glad not to be in that place anymore.

Blake said...

Thank you for putting words to so many of my thoughts and feelings over the years.