Shut Up for Once and Listen! Please.

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Yesterday I read with disbelief as a flood of women replied on Tony Jones’ blog, when he asked the question “Where are the Women?”  Hundreds flooded his blog expressing how frustrated they were with not being listened to by him, by men, in the Church, in the blogosphere.

They also said they didn’t have time for blogs where they aren’t listened to carefully and respected for their ideas.  What I couldn’t believe was that he got his feelings hurt and ended up petulant, going away to lick his wounds.

I believe Tony Jones meant to ask “why aren’t women commenting on my blog?”  Which is actually quite nice of him to notice that women are silent there.  And fascinating, really, that women don’t comment though it is clear that they are reading.  Especially since women are talking to each other within the community of other blogs, like CT’s blog for women, her.meneutics and Rachel Held Evans blog and other places.

What Tony Evans got when he asked, was vitriol and anger and I heard pain from women’s experiences in the Church, but mostly I think the underlying response was would you “shut up for once and listen. Please?”  

These women are frustrated.

I don’t know your church experience, but I’m guessing if it is conservative, or evangelical, or Bible based, women don’t have much of a voice.   They may do lots of work in the church, and may even have subtle and quiet influence, but most women don’t have influence the teaching or theological grounding of the church, because women aren’t being trained theologically, encouraged into those studies, or leadership, or speaking or teaching.

Then a fellow Redbud, Jenny Rae Armstrong wrote a great article Women, Theology and the Evangelical Gender Ghetto. She  commented about how James W. McCarty III expressed concern over the lack of female voices in the theological blogosphere in Stop, Collaborate and Listen. He said:  “Listen to women. And listen in a way in which you can learn from them. Seriously… And don’t argue with them right away… Listen deeply. Meditate upon those things that don’t resonate with your experience and give them a charitable interpretation. Think about the questions that women ask which you never think to ask. Take those questions seriously and recognize your need to learn from women to answer them.”

It reminded me of something I wrote this last year:

When our Traditions and Tired Beliefs are Calcified into Orthodoxy (Brief Thoughts On Women).  

And this:  What is lost when the Church echoes with the sound of women’s silence?

And it reminded me that the work is incomplete. As Jenny said, books could be written on this topic.

The evangelical Church with a big C (not all churches) is still stuck in petty bickering and  totally useless, entrenched ideas about what women can and cannot do. (That much is clear from the response to Rachel Held Evans new book A Year Of Biblical Womanhood.)  

As one thoughtful blogger Joy asked, where are the optimistic feminists?  She said won’t you dare to hope?  

Food for thought.

Do you listen to the women in your life, truly listen, slowly, deeply, open-handed and humbly asking what their experiences and feelings have been being a woman in the church? Do you think about the things that don’t resonate with your experience? Think about the questions that women ask which you never think to ask. Do you take those questions seriously and recognize your need to learn from women in order to answer them.

When was the last time you felt heard at church? Are you a optimistic feminist?  Are you angry.  If you’re angry I’d challenge you to consider the ways, if any that you can be a voice for change.

What did Jesus say about what women can or cannot do?  What does the Bible show  women can do, as Scot McKnight asks so well in The Blue Parakeet.  Read that book it will change the way you read the Bible!!

 Tony Jones was disconcerted by the responses of women.  This disconcerts me because what I heard was women wanting to be heard.  That is all.  That is a beginning.  That idea gives me hope.  Shut up for once, and listen.

{On Staying in My Wonderful, yet Complementarian Church}

I’m pleased and immensely honored to have an essay included in the upcoming book, Finding Church, a Civitas Press community project.

This particular essay was difficult to write as it addresses the choice to stay at our wonderful and yet Complementarian church. Suffice it to say that I sweated blood, shed tears and lost sleep writing this one.

The estimated publishing date November 2012. I will let you know how to order it as we get closer.

When our Traditions and Tired Beliefs are Calcified into Orthodoxy (Brief Thoughts On Women)

 

Yesterday as I was sitting across from one of the people I respect most in the world when my life changed forever. 

You see I have had many long years of being in pain about being a woman in the church, though I am on a path of healing. Yes, this story does have a happy-ish ending.

Okay happy isn’t quite right but I feel hopeful in the knowledge that we have not seen the end of Our Story.

Being a woman in the evangelical Church can be painful.  Being a natural questioner is too.  

More than a decade ago, I began to question the roles of women in the evangelical church and this has brought me a lot of personal pain.  The process of learning what was True – scriptural, cultural, and relevant for us today, was slow and difficult because no one really wanted to talk to me about it or help all that much, as I questioned my pastor, and the elders, and pursued it with others.

Little did I know that in some cases it was because others didn’t really know what they thought.

This is a part of what makes this issue so slippery.  I pushed, sought clarification, and ask for perspectives and read a lot of books! The process of the last ten years has been uncomfortable, isolating and even at times agonizing.

I learned recently that I have even scored a “reputation.”

Not as I would hope of being a thinking, theological person – because I have asked the biblical basis for these things and sought truth. That I would take as a backhanded compliment.

And not as I might wish for being a questioner –because I do have many questions and never saw that as liability as a person of faith.

Rather, I have been called the f-word, yeah that f-word – Feminist. And even more malevolent, an “Angry Feminist.”

Actually, the angry part is true. Once I am able to step back from my defensive, hurt posture, I’ll confess that I have been angry.  I have carried around inside me, close to my heart, an oozing, pussy, and infected spiritual sore and this has been  very bad for my soul.  I even picked incessantly at it.  I have been wounded, offended, bitter and angry and worst of all to me is this.

I have felt unheard.

Sitting there across from my beautiful, big-hearted and loving, Bible cherishing, Jesus following, Holy Spirit filled, Bible Church attending friend, she uttered the most unbelievable words.  And she repeated them when I seemed to just look at her bug-eyed, in shock.

“You are not alone.  You are not the only one wondering what’s true,” she whispered to me.

She asked me this simple question:

 “What did Jesus say about women?”

Well, nothing that I am aware of and I will double-check because she asked. But I am not aware of anything prescriptive that Jesus said about women.

Jesus saw women,

Jesus spoke to women,

Jesus healed women,

Jesus taught women,

Jesus was financially supported by women,

Jesus loved women,

Jesus listened to women?

Jesus was persuaded to change his mind by a woman.

All in a culture and time when women were unseen and unheard, unworthy, unquestioningly invisible.

So I ask you friends.  What did Jesus say about women? And what parts of Scripture bring you hope as you consider the place of women in the church today?

I’ve had a healing of that sore that I allowed to fester for more than a decade.  That incredible story is here.

And I have a renewed challenge by my friend, someone who I never thought would ask about the injustices toward women in the Church.  Because of her, I now dream of somehow bringing a riptide of change into the middle of this vast ocean of tradition and tired beliefs which have been calcified into orthodoxy.

These days, most days, I feel hope about the place of women in the Church. Other days it feels foolish and the lack of certainty is soul crushing.

On the days that I maintain my weak hold on Jesus, I do believe change will come.  And hearing the questions coming from this dear friend meant everything.

I am resolved to begin again to study and write on this topic — I gave it up for a good long while.  The angry feminist in me has become resolved and certain of Jesus and his love for me and all women.  Something shifted in my mind and heart , in my soul as I sat listening to my friend.

I am not alone.  I am not the only one asking.  I am not the only woman looking for answers.  We will find the Truth together.  We have not seen the end of Our Story.

Melody

Other things I have written on these subjects.
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The F-word is a Dirty Word in the Church

I have had something percolating for a while — thoughts on being a woman in the church.

  • It is good to be human. But is it good to be a woman in the church?  
  • And what about the f-word?  It’s hard to be a feminist in the Evangelical church. 
  • Do you ever wonder why people of faith don’t talk more about how Jesus treated women?   

 I keep picking at the edges of it, writing, and rewriting.  Here is just a few paragraphs…

It is difficult and painful to be on the faith journey as a Christian Feminist woman who grew up in the evangelical church.  At first, for me, as I broadened my perspective.  I was cautious, suspicious even.  Mostly I was fearful because of what I had been taught.  And I’ll admit it, even angry at some of the assumptions that people made about what the Bible teaches.  It seemed to me that these conclusions were drawn without being willing to actually study it.

As I felt an internal pull, a tugging of my heart toward the truth, I was afraid.  Whereas I had been especially affirmed and promoted at work, at church it was crystal clear that this was not to be expected.  Women were “supposed” to do the receiving and watch men do the vital ministry of teaching and leading the church.

But more than anything, I just wanted other people to talk to about what I heard God stirring inside me.  I could not find anyone to talk to about it.  So I began the lonely venture of studying the scriptures for myself.  I also read theologians, including feminist theologians, with heartfelt trepidation, fearing that I may end up leaving the evangelical church based on what I learned.

The f-word is a dirty word in the Church. 

I went back early this morning to a letter I wrote to my elders last year.   I put everything in those pages, there for them to take in.  My heart out there on the page.  I was told by the elders of my church, not now.  Just wait.  Be patient.  And I think I hear the Lord saying, Sh…………  Stop.  Wait.  Just wait…………..  And be quiet a while.  I have a sense that he wants to work on my heart, my lack of forgiveness, and anger, and so though I have pages and pages I’m waiting.   

In the meantime…

I read a beautiful post on Eugene Cho’s blog that I resonated with greatly.  Pastor Cho is also a great advocate for women.  The article by Dr. Michelle Garred, who is a researcher and consultant in international peace building, talks about experiences at a Christian event as a recently married and yet professional woman, and asks compellingly:

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?

I found myself telling the author …

“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 partly 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 people of colour 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!

I would encourage you to read it: Gender, church, and the art of alternate endings.

I also read and resonated loudly with this article by David Park another great advocate for justice, in the EFCA church.  He talks of  Six Postures of Ethnic Minority Culture towards Majority Culture.  And oddly enough, or not, I found that this has been similar to my response as a woman in the church.   But if you want to read it in its entirety it’s here.   These postures are:

Posture 1: Unaware.
Posture 2: Angry and Wounded.
Posture 3: Silent and Resigned.
Posture 4: Duty and Pleasing.
Posture 5: Unity as Assimilation.
Posture 6:  Equal and Empowered Partnership.

I have lived, am living these.  Park says: In the effort “to build bridges between minority and majority cultures, that there is the feeling that this whole race dialogue is “unfair” to the majority, but it’s really not. It’s hard on both sides to work towards having a relationship, especially a relationship that is part of our witness of a common savior. It takes work, and it is fair. So jump in and assume the right posture. We are in it for the long haul.”

Yes we are in it for the long haul as we work together to build up the Church, to see it as Jesus would and become the beautiful reconciled body of Christ with everyone serving our of their gifts and talents.

I hear God’s call to be a voice for certain voiceless populations, especially for women in the evangelical church.  I am constantly clarifying, are you sure Lord?  And at times I have been unproductive, and not very Godly, allowing myself to be anxious or angry, or even trying to please others rather than listen well.

Each of us must ask ourselves, male and female alike, are we living as an old person or a new creation?  In the flesh or in the Spirit?    And what are we being called to as we serve?

I’d love to know what you think on this or anything.  And in the meantime, as I actively wait to know what I am to do with my writing on women in the church, pray for me will you?

Melody