* While I’ve written my share of posts expressing support for egalitarianism, justice, and women’s leadership in society (particularly in the Church), I’m no champion of gender equality. In fact, I make my share of goof-ups but what I’ve come to realize is that like everyone, I have my blind spots. One of my blind spots deals with gender or to be more blunt, I don’t always understand or see things from the lens of a woman for the obvious reason that I’m a dude (and thank God that I’m a man and not a woman!)
Several important remedies to our blind spots are to acknowledge them and to put ourselves in situations where we can learn. Additionally, we need courage to engage the conversation and grace to help sustain the conversation into transformation. And so with that in mind, today’s guest post, Gender and the Art of Alternate Endings, is from Dr. Michelle Garred – an independent researcher and consultant in international peacebuilding. She also worships at Quest Church and c0-leads one of our community groups. She asks some compelling questions:
Why does this distorted social setting appear to pit me in competition against my husband and best friend? Why can’t someone meet a couple and assume that these two inter-dependent individuals both have something to offer? Why should I be forced to wield my trump cards as instruments of power, making conversation into a contact sport? Most importantly, what about the many women who don’t have trump cards, but who do have boundless gifts to be shared with the Church? Who sees those women? And who hears them?
Take a read and let me know what you think.
I love those children’s books that have alternate endings for the reader to choose from. What a sweet freedom to decide how a story will end!
My husband and I recently attended a denominational leadership conference, which prompted me consider my own alternate endings…
“So, what do you do for a living in Seattle?” The man looks intently at my husband Brent across the lunch table, and the two become engrossed in a discussion of green building design. I sit and listen, enjoying the conversation, and anticipating that at some point the same question will be directed toward me. But that never happens. Our new acquaintance, who holds a lot of stature at this conference, does not appear to connect the topic of making a living with me as an individual. I don’t know why – the ‘gender vibes’ feel palpable, but I try not to jump to that conclusion. Eventually the conversation moves on. It moves on to the previous night’s sermon, which given by a female pastor who, our new acquaintance proclaims, “preached a sermon as good as any man’s.” Oof. The ‘gender vibes’ grow stronger. I become so angry that I cannot speak. I am more than capable of a strong retort, but I can’t figure out how to make it constructive. The best I can do in this moment is to follow the questionable old maxim: ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’
The next day’s lunch queue is very long, so Brent and the man ahead of us strike up a conversation. Where-are-you-from, and what-do-you-do for a living, etc. After three or four minutes, the man eventually looks toward me…because he wants to know: “Do you have any children?” I find his assumption annoying, so I tell him that our kids are biologically Brent’s, temporarily confusing his expectations. He recovers and continues talking to Brent about all things parental. Eventually, I sigh out loud – this is partly involuntary frustration, and partly a less-than-skillful attempt to re-enter the conversation. Brent hears me, really hears me and offers: “We’ve been busy because Michelle just finished her PhD.” Eyebrows rise, and the inevitable question comes: “PhD in what?” I tell him briefly about my career in faith-based international development and peacebuilding. Kosovo, Mindanao, Sri Lanka, etc.; I have a lot of stories. Now everything is different. This man wants to hear all about my work, and when his wife joins him, it is my accomplishments that he reports. Now it seems that he has stopped listening to Brent – which is not at all what I intended.
At dinnertime, it happens again. Another “what-do-you-do” question directed towards Brent, but not to me. Bizarrely, this time it comes from a woman, a single woman in ministry. Determined not to remain silent, I make a reference to my work. The woman responds: “Oh, do you work outside the home?” This time it is my eyebrows that rise. But I swallow my incredulity, and I share my work with her. She suddenly begins to burst with enthusiasm, and we talk about peacebuilding for the rest of the meal. It turns out to be a truly lovely conversation, except for the fact that…
I learned a few things that day. I learned that even within this wonderful group of Christians, which has been making ‘space’ for female clergy since the 1970s, there are many people who do not appear to have much space for female professionals. Especially when those female professionals show up very happily married, with their husband at their side. I’m sure this is not news to other married women who experience the same bias every day. But I’m a 40-year-old newlywed. So I didn’t know. Yes, I have seen much oppression of women around the world, and I have often felt the sting of how ‘single girls’ get treated in the Church. But when it comes to the gut-level of experience of women who are married, I really didn’t know.
I also learned that I have a ‘trump card.’ Or two. Despite being female and married, people with PhDs who choose to spend time in war zones do tend to get taken seriously. So I found my power in this particular situation, and I learned how to use it to create alternate conversational endings. Perhaps that should leave me feeling more comfortable, but it doesn’t. It leaves me instead with a lot of questions. Why does this distorted social setting appear to pit me in competition against my husband and best friend? Why can’t someone meet a couple and assume that these two inter-dependent individuals both have something to offer? Why should I be forced to wield my trump cards as instruments of power, making conversation into a contact sport? Most importantly, what about the many women who don’t have trump cards, but who do have boundless gifts to be shared with the Church? Who sees those women? And who hears them?
Finally, I learned on that day that I carry a lot of anger. After that first lunchtime encounter, my anger was promoted to rage. During that same week, I found myself reading the book My First White Friend. I thought this book was about race relations – and so too thought its author, Patricia Raybon. But God somehow used Patricia’s reflections as an African-American, and a target of racism, to simultaneously heal and challenge my own response to sexism. Patricia realized at mid-life that the anger she carried – which was a very appropriate response to injustice – was nonetheless poisoning her own life with hate. So she set out, with God’s help, to transcend her anger and create her own alternate ending.
Patricia is farther along in that journey than I am. So I take comfort when she says that one must first stand up, give voice to anger, and refuse to live into the lie of prejudice. I note that Patricia has done just that throughout her long career as a journalist. I myself have done it in a fresh way today, by writing this story. I also take note when Patricia says that at some point one must choose to transcend the anger, and begin to take on an attitude of forgiveness and love. This is not some cheap forgiveness for sins of the distant past. This is a way of waging war against the insidious, unresolved racism and sexism that continue to mar our everyday lives. This is continuing to speak truth to power, and daring to add love. Speaking the truth in love. Patricia, thank you for articulating the outrages that people of color face every day, and thank you for pointing the way to the cross. I will try. I will follow the Lord of Alternate Endings, and I will try.
Michelle Garred is an independent researcher and consultant in international peacebuilding. She and her husband Brent Thompson worship at Quest Church in Seattle. For more on Michelle’s work in faith-based humanitarian aid, community development and peacebuilding, see: www.michellegarred.net.
50 Replies to “gender, church, and the art of alternate endings”
“continuing to speak truth to power, and daring to add love.”
this is fantastic and much appreciated. as a feminist, a christian, and a stay-at-home-mom without any up-to-date trump cards, i thank you for kick-staring this assumption-busting conversation.
Thank you Dr. Garred! This was definitely eye-opening for me. My wife is also a professional, and you can be sure we’ll have the conversation of whether she also feels this way and what we can do about it, together.
I’m pretty much echoing Daniel Azuma’s comments. Thanks for sharing, this was really eye-opening for me.
Michelle: I know you’re in Sarajevo,
Yugoslaviaright now for the work and consulting you do with peacebuilding. Umm, it’s important work so I don’t want to draw you away from it but if you have some time here and there, feel free to respond to some of the comments. Be safe and see you soon.
oh to be able to do the work that we do and be who we are without being faced with the reality of having to make extra effort to create space for ourselves. I find it draining, especially as a single woman in ministry leadership to always have to be the one advocating for myself and other women.
And though I love the Bible and teach it, on some level it too makes things difficult in the church for women, due to the reality that it is highly patriarchal. And even now as I listen to individuals within a denomination that affirms women in all levels of leadership, I constantly hear the cry of many female leaders who are seeking positions in local churches being told that “our church just isn’t ready for a female pastor.” It always raises a question for me regarding, what steps are being taken in the direction of moving towards “readiness.” From 1970 to 2011 – and maybe it’s the East Coast hurry in me that cries out for more progress than what I see….
I encountered Patricia Raybon’s book in a seminary class and was amazed by her journey. I must admit that I have quite a ways to go – some days are easier than others, but an enormous amount of progress has been made in my process to create “an alternative ending.” If it were just racism or just sexism, perhaps it would be a little easier, but enduring the two combined, in the words of Marvin Gaye, “makes me wanna holler, throw up both my hands.”
As I move towards the completion of a second Masters level degree, I wonder if all of the educational hoops I have jumped through will make any difference at all. Don’t get me wrong, I study because I love to learn and grow, but on some level for others it’s a “hoop.” I hope that I don’t sound bitter, I am not. But I realize that speaking up – truth in love, as you encourage is such a long, hard journey.
Thanks so much for your post and honesty.
Thanks for your “post” too, Darlene. Thank you for sharing a bit of yourself here.
Hi everyone, and warm greetings from Sarajevo in Bosnia and Herzegovina!
I really appreciate your responses. I was a little nervous about making this story public, but I think it needs to be told.
Suzannah, it sounds like you’ve got it all going on, with or without up-to-date trump cards. : )
And Darlene, you don’t sound bitter, you just sound real. Please keep on keeping on, cause we need your leadership…
Thanks for stopping by, Michelle, and letting me share your post here.
Be safe and see you back in Seattle soon.
Echoing Pastor Eugene, I also am making constant mistakes in gender equality issues. I can be so oblivious at times. It is a constant growing process and communication is so important. I’m truly blessed to be married to such an amazing woman and thank God daily for this. Being married to Dr. Garred also challenging in the sense that my lens of observation is made larger and I have to be focusing a little different to see clearly, or at least clearly enough to not walk into things that will hurt others or myself.
OK, I can’t believe my own husband just called me “Dr!” LOL. That is very kind, even though he knows I’m really not the “doctor” type. : )
Brent, you are a more amazing partner than I ever imagined possible. I love learning with you about all aspects of life and faith, gender complications included. And you have been so supportive of my sharing this highly personal story – it shows once again that we are truly ‘on the same page.’ Thank you for your support!
Brent, I hope you don’t consider that those of us who used Michelle’s given name, rather than her academic title, “Dr.”, were diminishing her credentials or accomplishments. Sometimes, I’d agree, that is the case. I recall being called “just a girl” when working in bank management in the south, for instance. I also grew up Quaker and calling one another, “friend”, is the highest honor they offer. (That doesn’t necessarily prevent the knee jerk temptation to assert my experiential, academic or professional credentials when I sense condescension to the female partner, too, but then the Holy Spirit gives me that nudge, you know? 🙂 ) Since I’m married to a European, I’ve noted that condescension crosses multiple languages & cultural settings. ha!
No worries, Mr. Thompson (I mean Brent), doesn’t usually call me ‘Dr.’ He was just being kind because we have an audience. And I’m not used to anyone calling me ‘Dr,’ so I find it sort of amusing…
Thank you for writing so simply and eloquently, with a gentleness that isn’t angry. I found myself resonating loudly! And I have to say that once you lose the credentials of “important work” and you are a “wife” then you seem to have even less stature and credibility, which is partially the culture of “work” being valued over all else. But it is also sexism rearing its ugly head.
I know I am very angry and I know that I need to get beyond it to forgiveness somehow. I too resonate when non-whites talk about their experiences with racism, because they echo my own as a woman in the church.
All this to say – amen! Preach it! You are saying something really important and hopefully, PhD or not, others will listen!
It seems like as you continue your journey of creating your own alternate ending out of your anger, you might want to consider how your anger can become a lens through which you read people and situations and, thus, find sexism in places where it isn’t. I am an egalitarian and believe that sexism is real and pervasive, but as I read recounting of these situations, I found myself not empathizing with you, but feeling like you were making a lot of assumptions and judging people unfairly.
How you’re able to make assumptions and judgement of someone’s first hand story as assumptions and judgments seem off the mark to me…
I know it may seem like Michelle’s examples weren’t all that offensive. I don’t know about her, but for me, the problem was not the offensiveness of each individual incident but rather that similar things happened in almost every interaction. It is the pattern that makes it so frustrating.
I think you have a good point, because when the dynamics are subtle, and when you are angry, it can be difficult to accurately ‘read’ an interaction. I’m very human, and I’m sure my own perceptions play a role. However the fact that this pattern repeated itself 3 times within 2 days (actually there was also a 4th instance that I chose to leave out)…and the fact that this story resonates with so many other women who read it…tells me that there is a very real issue here that is worth talking about. I’m glad we’re all talking about it now.
I didn’t find her judgements unfair at all. I’ve experienced the same pattern she was describing, repeatedly. And as someone else pointed out, it’s the PATTERN which is offensive, which may be acted out by people who are not intending to be offensive, but are nonetheless part of the pattern. Ignorance of the pattern doesn’t make it okay to continue to act it out on others.
Eugene, thanks for sharing Michelle’s story.
Michelle, thanks for your honesty and telling your story in a way that helps us imagine alternative endings to our own stories. We need to keep talking about this topic. As Eugene notes, many men are clueless regarding some of these gender foibles. I echo your plea wondering why people can’t meet other couples and assume a healthy inter-dependence. My husband does the majority of the cooking in our home, which leads to some of those awkward social situations where gender roles are foist upon us in conversation. Perhaps we should have dinner sometime when you get back to the Seattle area. 😉
I’d love to have dinner! And my husband Brent is an amazing home chef. I, on the other hand, can barely flip a pancake. : )
I feel both love and dread reading this story.
As a single, educated, childless woman with a career and an advanced degree, I have so far been able to force people to evaluate me based on ME, since I gave them nothing else to fall back on. It is encouraging to hear the experience of another woman who has been in that space.
As an about-to-be-married woman, I am already dreading the conversational shift. In fact, it’s already happening. Instead of “what do you do?” or even the innocuous “Where do you live?” people are already starting to focus all of their attention on “So when are you planning to have kids?” as if I have nothing better to do than to procreate and pop out a couple, now that I’m married. I am a person, not just a womb, and I have a whole lot more to give the world than babies. My current response to that question is “never”, not because it’s truly my plan, but because it shuts people up and perhaps makes them aware of how rude the question can be.
People never ask my fiance when HE is planning to have kids…
I’m going to ask Jeremy that question. 😉
Seriously speaking, would you say that the question about kids should be completely hands-off. I would assume not. And my hope is that folks don’t see you or other women as “just a womb.” In that end, I’d want to be careful since it would be tragic to perpetuate the idea that women that do have kids have nothing better to do than to procreate and pop out a couple.
I don’t think it is always inappropriate to ask a person about his/her plans to have or not have children. It’s more about the subtleties.
For example, only asking women the question, and never asking men, is offensive. Also, it’s a personal question, NOT the kind of question which can be substituted in place of “so what do you think of this weather?”. It is appropriate in some conversations, but NOT smalltalk ones. When it is asked by a friend who knows me and has earned the right to inquire about my vaginal status, it is not offensive. But when it is asked by a stranger, because they can’t think of anything else I might possibly be interested in, it crosses the line.
I agree. I think the subtlety we need to be mindful about is “relationship.” Questions such as this comes w/ the privilege earned with trust and relationship.
I imagine that you all would prefer to keep this conversation within your own cultural realms, but I’ll offer this for what it is worth since the church (and the US) embrace more than our own culture… I was confronted with my own self-hatred of femaleness, of my own “buying in” to US culture’s devaluing of these things by a Japanese taxi driver who assumed that my fertility was his business as he drove me home from an appointment at a fertility clinic in 1992 in rural Japan. Growing up in the 60s, going to college and seminary in the early 80s I somehow internalized that androgyny (or at least denying my femaleness in any obvious way) was the road to power- and I worked very hard at it. It took me a really long time to reclaim my femaleness as a gift. I continue to wonder how we can embrace femaleness and maleness as being made in the image of God and also extend freedom to ourselves and others to live this out in our own unique ways.
Thanks for this comment.
I was especially compelled by your words: “confronted with my own self-hatred of femaleness, of my own ‘buying in’ to US culture’s devaluing of these things…”
Thank you for calling men and women to reclaim femaleness as a gift and I’m grateful that that journey can not be contained by “one box”.
“I continue to wonder how we can embrace femaleness and maleness as being made in the image of God and also extend freedom to ourselves and others to live this out in our own unique ways.”
Melissa, I don’t know if you understand what Andrea is saying here, but i had the very same reaction.
It’s not funny, not at all. But it’s glad to know I’m not the only one who has gone through this.
My current response to that question is “never”, not because it’s truly my plan, but because it shuts people up and perhaps makes them aware of how rude the question can be.
LOL. I used to do that. I also once told a lady I prefer kittens to children. That worked too.
I feel it Michelle everyday, in and around me. Thanks for putting it so well. You exposed darkness with the intent to heal yourself and others, and build the world God dreams for all of us. Pray for us all…I struggled in the US with this till I came to Japan two decades ago, and then suddenly the scale of the dissonance between gospel and practice here (in regard to sexism) seemed to expand like a Richter scale magnitude, each number tenfold stronger. US church society in relation to sexism began to look pretty sweet. I still struggle with how to maintain hope and courage while not giving in to anger or resignation, but as God pours in love, I fall into anger less often. I also see how as I get older it feels riskier to talk with people…while attempting to build bridges and find common ground, differences in life experiences and personality can feel like an affront, even when it is unintended. Keep on waging peace!
Thank you, Eugene, for your introduction to Michelle so we can hear her story. Thank you, Michelle, for saying in a new way what has frequently whipped my waves, too. In some contexts, biting my tongue is the only option, but I consider it vital and absolutely imperative that women continue to have the courage to speak about their perspectives. It’s so cool when God brings things together. Eugene & another of my favorite bloggers both posted on the value of women and hearing women the same day I posted about some research I did about 3 strong & courageous women speaking vs risky and fraudulent financial practices before the huge meltdown, too. (Finance & economics was my 1st career prior to seminary – so now I get another angle of frustration!) Holy Spirit “coincidence”!
Yeah, this topic really raises my blood pressure. I was married at 21 and went through a lot of rage-filled years as a married, young professional Christian woman who did not intend to become a mother anytime soon. (Mhm. That is not an oxymoron, people).
It was far, far, far, far easier to “fit in” in any social setting other than church.
Yep. Why do we have to make it so hard in church?
And then I became the mother of 2 boys around age 30. In some ways, it’s easier now. I’m a 35 year old mom and a church volunteer leader. I think many of my church friends have a vague realization that I still work, doing something, some of the time (I’m full time). However, few people have an inkling that I am still very much a professional with a career. I’m now considering an MBA. I’m sure people will be shocked. So it’s a bit easier to relate because I do like to talk about my kids. But it’s still not right. I’m still in a pigeonhole – just a different one.
I’m a mom. I’m a wife. I’m a Christian. And I don’t just – sort of work – some of the time – somewhere. No. I’m a professional and who loves my job and feels called to it. I’m passionate about work, too. It’s not either / or. And there are only a couple people in my church life (out of the hundreds I know) who really get that.
Again, it’s way easier to be understood outside the church. Out in the world, there are tons of moms who are passionate about work and family both.
While it’s becoming “allowed” to be a working mom in the church, it’s still not really accepted and it is a LONG way from being celebrated. And yet – AND YET – most moms are working moms. You’d think we’d be happy to see them in church.
Thank you for this! I am a ordained pastor and have worked in churches for 15 years. I have dealt with the gender stereotypes for years but since I left ministry this year to raise my son after his birth, I have experiences just what this author does. Once people find out I stay at home right now, I am dismissed and marginalized in the conversation. Even some of my former parishioners and colleagues do this- unintentionally I’m sure! Living this experience has created a deeper awareness in me and when I am back in ministry (hopefully soon) I want to make sure I don’t do this to others. I want to value both members of a couple, regardless of what has been labeled “interesting” or “mundane” by others. Thank you!
This is a great conversation. I was a single career gal & did not marry till 40. I still find more individual acceptance in the business world than church world & struggle with how church world tends to make marriage & family an idol. We need to have more conversations on understanding the full counsel of God when it comes to race, socio-economics & gender. I thought Christ came to level patriarchal, pharisaical culture with love?… Any more Eugene-input on this?
Not really. I’m just really appreciating the conversation but I did appreciate these words from one of our earlier commenters:
“I continue to wonder how we can embrace femaleness and maleness as being made in the image of God and also extend freedom to ourselves and others to live this out in our own unique ways.”
Eugene, I agree, that statement struck me as well. One of my favorite definitions of equality is from an Ohio State Alum on Women’s Equality day: “equality is about the freedom to choose options that best suit a person’s character, talents and interests; the freedom to choose a career or choose to raise a family or both, for example. It’s the freedom for both women and men to choose roles in their professional and personal lives that they are most comfortable in and qualified for without artificial societal restraints. Equality is also about compensation, accessibility, and respect based on a person’s qualifications and talents, not gender. It is about valuing characteristics that are considered “feminine” as highly as those considered “masculine” and realizing that we need both.” I wonder if the church is one of the sources of those “artificial societal restraints”? I’m hoping for the day when characteristics that are considered “masculine” are valued in women and those considered “feminine” are valued in men and not confined to just one sex.
Amen! Well said Elizabeth.
MIchelle: I am a woman and these sorts have things have been known to get me all riled up. But I have to wonder about the anger. In myself, I find that the emotional response follows from a desire (or a need) to be validated and understood. While this is not wrong, it does not, I have found, contribute to my freedom. Whether or not my work and contributions are appreciated and recognized has no bearing on whether or not my work and contributions are necessary and valuable. Period.
I feel that others (men or women) who are not on board with that are living a poorer life. They are the ones who are suffering more.
Now: when it comes to my role in helping to enrich people’s insights and experience of the varieties of gifts within the Church (and society), now THAT is an interesting question.
MIchelle, thank you so much for sharing your story! In my field, I’m usually the only “girl” in the room in most meetings. Only in recent years have I decided to embrace my gender and femininity as full parts of my identity as an engineer – dressing and acting as fully myself as opposed to imitating as “one of the boys” like I used to do.
In social settings, as a single woman, I am asked what I do. I have not yet experienced what it is like to have the “career” conversation be skewed to my boyfriend and not include me since we have not met too many complete strangers together yet.
Your story reminds me of my own reactions at a Christian conference a few years ago. The organization had heavily recruited me to attend because there aren’t many female aerospace engineers out there and they were only inviting professional men and women to this conference. There, I found myself in a gender-segregated session where the “mentors” were impressing on all of us professional women that once we marry, that we would need to use our intelligence in a new way – to “influence” our men and raise Godly children in our homes. I never knew I had such anger in me that quickly turned into rage. Before I knew it, I was asking the questions “What if God’s calling on my life has to do with my work? What is this – a re-education camp?” to the panel. After that session, the leadership team surrounded me and wouldn’t let me leave the room. They asked if I found the “right” man, if I would submit to him or I would rebel and try to lead. One of them told me not to set myself so high in my career so that a man would see that there is room above me for him. I was sick to my stomach.
The basic message that we women are limited in our roles if we are to be faithful…that is a serious punch to the gut by itself. That the punch would be delivered by other women is what made me sick. I am still affected…I can feel my emotions as I type. I guess I’m not that far in my journey, either.
(Side note: I hope to go on another unintentional hike with you and Brent some time so that I can hear more stories from your work.)
Golly, Terry, your story represents an awful & ugly side of the Christian women discussion. It resonated with some experiences I’ve had, and I’m really sorry to hear that women are still having such sickening experiences. (Exactly that – “sickening”.)
Please continue to seek and listen to God, always. However God leads you, you will bless and honor the Body of Christ. Don’t allow other women tell you how the Holy Spirit “should” be leading you. The Lord is your shepherd!
A pastor once asked me why some Christian women react so negatively to other women who have achieved more outside of the home. ISTM that women who’ve short-circuited the hard work of listening to God while choosing avenues according to opportunities and doors God opens may be the ones whose anxiety is most expressed in maintaining hierarchies – in work and the home. Any set of laws/formulas – including hierarchical systems – are designed to lessen tensions within human groupings. Living with dynamic tension requires staying in continual contact with God, which can/will be uncomfortable. May you press on in your relationship with God, and find supportive men and women who will walk alongside in your journey! We’re out here, too!
Ann, this is a good word – thanks for reminding us of living with dynamic tension. I found the “right” man a while ago, but he didn’t fit all the things on my list – I wanted to marry a pastor or missionary – definitely bought into the “man as spiritual leader” ideal. But, Gloria Steinem once said, “Some of us are becoming the men we wanted to marry.” That is true for me! We have experienced significant dynamic tension in our marriage and I wouldn’t have it any other way since it has fostered a deep intimacy with God that laws/formulas never achieve.
Oh my, Terri, thanks for sharing. I’ve had some similar experiences when seeking prayer – women who in praying for me subtly accuse me of causing all my marriage problems because I went to Seminary! I don’t get as enraged as I used to in those situations, nor do I doubt or question myself as much as I used to. I can’t imagine being surrounded as you were! It would probably make me sick to my stomach as well. I’m thankful to hear you have embraced your femininity in those settings where it is easy to try to adapt to the male culture in so many ways. Teaching at a seminary has similar challenges, and the “dress code” is one of them! I’m learning to dress not so much according to gender stereotypes, but according to my personal preferences.
My gut hurt as I read your post. I can almost feel the pain of trying to embrace being female in a hostile environment and then being double punched to find out that in many Christians’ minds being female means embracing and not challenging oppression. If we are made in the image of God, and part of the redeemed community, our call is to grow and live into the pre-Fall ideal of mutuality and beneficial self-giving love. The older I get, the more I see that not all self-giving love is ‘good.’ It is often a clever camouflage for fear…and as far as I read the Gospel, Jesus NEVER allowed fear of humans to control his actions though he always acted in harmony with the will of God and never seemed to shirk from self-giving when motivated by God’s love and not fear.
Terri, my heart hearts when I read your story.
It also strikes me that the whole scenario that you were confronted with really borders on the ridiculous. I mean, if people are asking “When you meet the right man, will you submit or rebel?” … I have to wonder why they view submission and rebellion as the only options. What about the option of mutual submission and joint partnership?
The submission vs rebellion debate clearly comes out of a particular school of biblical interpretation Maybe this is a good time to reference (for anyone who’s interested) that Christians for Biblical Equality is a wonderful source for a broader range of biblical interpretations from respected scholars:
I’ve found it very freeing just to know that there are a range of valid biblical interpretations out there, so I need not choose between ‘faithfulness’ and equality.
Yes, let’s go on another unintentional hike soon!
Thanks for responding, Michelle and everyone else. Michelle, you hit it right on the nose. I know objectively that the whole situation was quite ridiculous. In the heat of the moment, I was very traumatized. Upon much reflection and reading, I know that I subscribe more to a mutual submission theology. I have since distanced myself from most of the people from that conference.
I would like to hear more from men regarding this issue. Most of the commenters are women, understandably so. I also understand why some men may be hesitant to comment, but we need you, men, to weigh in on this. Otherwise it just looks and feels like a bunch of “feminists” wailing and throwing our hands up in protest, though in substance it is not. Michelle mentions this (by saying that she does not want to compete with her husband), but I think it’s so important to distinguish the fact that we (women) are not calling for female dominance over men or anything of that sort. I just don’t think that is the kind of feminism to which Christians should subscribe. We are calling for equality – in every sense of the word. I’ve been reading an excellent book on this topic that has been helpful for me in discussion – “Finally Feminist” by John Stackhouse, Jr. Thanks for this post, and appreciate the discussion on the comment threads.
*disclaimer* I’m a “feminist.”
I’d like to point out that one of the ways our patriarchal culture has skewed this discussion (and any discussion about women and their experiences) is by redefining the word “feminist” to mean a domineering, authoritarian woman who wants to rule all men. The word, and the philosophy (that women and men have equal worth and value), means nothing of the kind.
In reality, MOST “feminism” is the kind that we are experiencing in this discussion. The caricature of the “femi-nazi” is the false representation, put forth in order to discredit feminism as a whole. If the feminists are crazy, then we don’t have to listen to them, right?.
In rebellion against this, I have begun to declare myself a feminist, without the quotes. Feminism is not a dirty word.
I’ve experienced the same thing in different ways. I am a new attorney and my husband is a worship leader at our church. When we meet people for the first time, they ask him what he does. Depending on the person, they’ll move onto me and me what I do. Their responses never fail – “Really?” With eyebrows raised. Then they ignore my husband completely and talk to me about my work, which I’m sure half the time they don’t really want to know about anyway. I’d love for people to see us as a unit, as two people who God has called together, through our drastically different careers, to do His work. My husband is an amazing musician with the unique gift of bringing people into the presence of God through song and music. It’s unfortunate that we live by far too many social expectations to not notice the Kingdom moving through us, regardless of what our social statuses are. God chooses the willing, regardles of our age, gender, or ethnicity.