I didn’t go to church today. I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed to go to a place in which I usually feel frustrated at best and oppressed at worst. As I write this, I feel the need to include a disclaimer: I feel lucky to live in a place where I can choose which church I attend and still be attending a Church of Christ. And I love the people at the church I attend. The church I attend is more inclusive of women in the worship service than many others in town.
And inclusion in the worship service is important to me. But we have (in my opinion) a long way to go. Aside from women’s role, however, the use of masculine pronouns and imagery for God (in the bulletin, in the songs we sing, in our readings, in our prayers, in our sermons) is exhausting and exclusionary, for me. To collapse the ontological reality of God (who/what God actually is) with one of the many metaphors for God (Father, King, etc) is idolatry. It hurts me to see the church missing out on the richness of who God is (masculine, feminine, and non-gendered) without even knowing that it’s happening.
I used to love church. I looked forward to Sunday mornings, Sunday nights (except once-a-month it was small group on Sunday afternoon instead), Wednesday nights, and Saturday nights (youth group). I took notes during the sermons, spoke up during class, and my parents had to all-but-drag me away from church when it was time to go. For a few years my indoor soccer team played on Sunday mornings and I was torn; I didn’t want to miss church! But my team needed me. Luckily, my church had two services, so I would either go to the early service and change into my soccer uniform before I left, or I would pack church clothes and shower gear and shower in the church annex after my games so that I could at least make it to second service, or if I were really lucky, Bible class! I used to love church.
Excursus 1: In retrospect, maybe part of the reason I was so drawn to soccer is because I was good at it and my skills were utilized there. In my youth group, the females were the most consistent members. When it came to “Youth Sunday” we did all of the planning, and yet, were forced to delegate everything we had planned to male execution. It was clear from an early age that I was born to be a leader, and since I couldn’t do that at church, maybe I played soccer instead? It feels good to be a vital part of a team, a leading force, a fully participating member.
I didn’t set out to cause trouble or to be a “feminist activist.” Even now, I don’t know if that’s how I would describe myself. Anyway, when I started asking these questions in high school, this was a frustration I had with Churches of Christ on par with instrumental music. It didn’t make sense, it was silly, but that’s just a part of who we were as a fellowship. As a Biblical Studies major in college, it was something about which I had strong opinions, but not something that bothered me in the weekly worship of the church. But the more I know, the more systemic and overwhelming it seems. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t notice some sort of patriarchal language or tendency in either the church or the classroom. In a few months I’ll be graduating again, this time with a Master of Divinity. But to what end?
Excursus 2: I am extremely blessed to be married to a man who is supportive, understanding, and “on-board” in this subject. Ironically enough, Jamey and I will have the same degrees. (Actually, his undergrad degree is in Poli-Sci, so I’ve got the one-up on him as far as longevity-in the field. If we’re being technical.) He wants to teach and does not actually like to preach. I think I would really rather work (preach?) in the church (although, I have no way of knowing since I haven’t been able to intern in a church) but will most likely end up teaching because that is a career that is (in a few places) open to me. I have often phrased it like this: “I don’t know if I want to teach because I want to teach, or because I am not allowed to preach.”
Sometimes, I wish that I could un-learn what I have learned, un-know what I have come to know, so that I could love church again. But I can’t. And I’m scared that I will never love church again. I’m scared that it will always be a struggle for me to get up and go, and most of the time I won’t bother. I’m scared that on the Sundays I do manage to go, I will always be frustrated with the oppression of women in role and language. I’m scared that I will have to find another denomination in order to be useful to the church.
And people ask: Why don’t you just leave? It would be a lie if I said that I haven’t thought about it. Jamey and I both have. But this (the Churches of Christ) is my family, it’s where I grew up, it’s a part of who I am. I don’t want to give up on it just because we don’t agree about everything. It’s like any relationship in conflict: If it matters to you, you should address the conflict and hope for resolution before you just give up. But this is a fine line to walk. A woman in an abusive relationship should not stay in that abuse just because “It doesn’t have to be this way; he might change.” At what point does conflict become abuse? I find myself asking, with the woman who contemplates leaving her abusive husband: Where would I go?
Beyond that, if everyone who is frustrated leaves, who is going to push for change? It may never happen in my lifetime, but I want to be a part of forming a church where my daughters can be fully included in the life of the church, instead of being relegated to secondary status.
I used to love church. But I didn’t go to church today. Maybe next week.