Thursday, July 23, 2009

by Lara: Confessions of a Gender Justice Freak

Finally, a man I respect, Jimmy Carter, a man after God's own heart, says something (read article here) that jives with feelings I've had all my life. Feelings that I now believe are from God. I have felt these things in a very deep place all my life. I have never (and I say never VERY strongly) been able to shake the feeling/belief from deep within my soul that "church" has been getting this wrong all my life. I think that's why I was a "justice freak" kid (though that sounds a lot hipper than "bossy" did back then.) I just wanted things fair. I wanted rules followed. I had opinions...beliefs. And I wanted to be heard. Okay, I also wanted to be right, but more importantly I wanted THE right to my opinion and the right to share it with whomever I chose.

Let me share a piece of my childhood with you. When I was a teenager, the Church of Christ I attended had no formal youth group. We hung out with each other after church on Sunday nights and mostly went to watch R-rated movies and hang out in the parking lot afterwards. But there was an older, single guy who kind of gumped his way into being our mentor of sorts, and sometimes he even helped us make better decisions. I started thinking that if we only had a formal youth group and youth minister, perhaps we could be guided into more spiritual endeavors. (Yeah, I was that kid. But I still wanted to work within the "system" at that point in my life.)

So I thought, hey, why not see if anyone else feels like this? So I just started a little survey/petition to see if there was an actual need or interest in starting a youth group. Well, that's what I get for thinking. Soon enough an elder found out about it (not that I was hiding it from them) and took it out of circulation for me. So at 16 yrs old or so, I was summoned to the preacher's office after church (without my parents present or consulted) to find our three elders sitting there (them sitting, me standing) ready to set me right. I was first interrogated then told, in no uncertain terms, that the survey was over. I was to let them handle church matters. How dare I think I had the authority to do such a thing? And I'm pretty sure I remember (though I've been quite successful at suppressing painful memories) they laughed at me when I tried to defend my opinion and the petition. It was a scoff really. I know, scoffed? Surely not! But that's exactly how I felt--scoffed at. Like why did a teenager, much less a GIRL, think she had the right to express an opinion on a church/religious matter?!
I left that office feeling violated by those elders and mocked by God. For a girl with the aforementioned early-onset justice issues, this was...well, UNjust. I left feeling distraught, demoralized, angry, hurt and went home just wanting to die. I can't even remember talking to my parents about it.

That event left such deep wounds in me that the scars have never gone away. But I thank God for Mr. Carter's article because it's a salve to my soul. A salve to a hurt little girl's soul. Salve to a woman's soul who seldom gets to see someone like her in the front of her auditorium full of believers. Who never gets to hear a woman pray in her public worship assembly. Who rarely hears a girl's voice reading the Word of God. Who gets excluded BEFORE the Holy Spirit is is publicly invoked to guide people to come forward and lead a prayer or share a thought. Who's never asked to lead a prayer in Bible class, praise team practice, small group, etc. A woman who keeps being called a "man" and a "son of God" over and over and over until SHE wants to scream.

The reason why this article has been so healing for me is that it was written by a man. It's nothing that many women haven't been saying for years. But if change is ever going to happen in the Churches of Christ, it will need to be helped along by the current leadership. And we all know who that is. Because of that, I'm so thankful for a small handful of men who have dared to let me whisper these feelings over the last few years, because there are so many more who don't get it at all. Who think my thoughts are from Satan himself. Who don't realize that the NIV sounds less unnecessarily man-centered and therefore excludes me far too often. Who don't realize what decades of male omnipresence in worship assemblies has done subconsciously to the spiritual lives of many women. Who don't realize that hearing a woman pray is beautiful and needed. Who think that I'm just trying to usurp their authority by thinking it would be okay for my daughter to pass a communion tray. And the list goes on and on. But thank God for those few men who have allowed me the freedom to read a scripture or share a testimony from "behind the mic." They'll probably never realize how much that meant to me.

So I just wanted to share this in case there's another girl or woman out there who thinks she's second rate in God's eyes. (And don't give me the whole different but equal crap. It rings hollow, and you know it.) You, we, are not second rate. We shouldn't be treated as the "seen and not heards" of the church world. I don't care what some man wrote to one specific church like a billion and a half years ago. God loves us all the same and calls us all to the same calling. When I die I want Galatians 3:28 on my grave marker. (My girlfriends will see to it, won't you?)

So thank you, Mr. Carter, from the bottom of this woman's heart.


TKP said...

Lara-thank you so much for your words. They are moving and heartbreaking.

JTB said...

my take-home quote from this post:

"A woman who keeps being called a "man" and a "son of God" over and over and over until SHE wants to scream."


stan said...

Thank you Lara. I know you speak for many women who felt moved by God's Spirit to serve in various ways but were discouraged or worse, "scoffed at."

Robyn said...

You picked my take-home quote.
I weep with you because I know how close my story came to being your story

Lara said...

Who don't realize that the NIV sounds () unnecessarily man-centered and therefore excludes me far too often. (The word "less" in there was a typo.)

~Joseph the Worker said...

Nice to hear from another ex-CoCer. Peace be with you!

Lara said...

I haven't yet left the cofc. I'm wanting so badly to not have to. I finally have a group of men and women friends who understand and share my frustration. We're going to see what, if anything, can be done to bring some egalitarianism to our corner of the globe.