“I feel so loved at my church,” said an old friend who I bumped into recently, someone I knew years ago from a large church we had been a part of. Seeing one another after such a long time necessitated the question that is familiar to most Christ following folks: What church do you go to now?
“My church does a lot of good in the community and in missions. And I feel so cared for there. It’s a good place.” I knew what church she was talking about, a popular high profile faith community with a stellar reputation. I also knew a number of women who had left that church, feeling less than loved when they and their husbands challenged the church’s position and treatment of women. This church, for all the good causes it championed around the world, did not champion for its women in the realm of church hierarchy and leadership. Like many faith tribes, this church serves the marginalized and oppressed whilst at the same time oppressing the females of their own house. Women in their congregation are told in clear terms by their leadership: God calls you to submit to men. And women, for the most part, nod their heads, unaware of the complicit role they play in the polite oppression of their souls.
Christianized sexism is a complicated beast. The same churches that teach us how Jesus loves us, are the same churches that teach its women to submit to the authority that God so fit to uniquely endow upon men. Women are trained to be submissive. The same church that appeals to women to give to missions to help her oppressed sisters on the other side of the world is the same church that will teach it’s people that women are more prone to spiritual deception because of the sin of Eve. Polite oppression of women in the church has become normalized. There was a time, a long, long time, where I accepted the status of women in church with peaceful resignation.
Like the time my husband and I attended a membership orientation for a church we had become active in. Topics discussed included the history of the church and what they believed which was a standard, mainstream Christian creed. At the end of the long presentation the pastor asked if anyone had any questions. I searched my mind for something overlooked. I am always the woman who finds something to raise her hand about. Then, it hit me. There had been no mention about women.
“What is this church’s position about women and leadership?” I asked out of curiosity.
The pastor, a large burly man with a fatherly way about him, smiled and answered with a bit of preach in his voice. “We love women at this church. Some of my favorite preachers are women. At this church we let women preach and teach from our pulpit. We don’t hold women back around here.”
Then, with a sudden rush in his voice, the pastor slipped a “but” into the middle of his tribute towards women. “But you won’t see women as elders or pastors. That’s not taught in the Bible and we honor the Bible around here.”
I nodded my head in courteous agreement. I had hoped this church had no barriers to women, but I was willing to let it go. He had his “but” and I had mine. At least they let women preach here, I told myself. All of the other churches I had ever known had not allowed that much. Women typically were not allowed to preach or give announcements or even lead worship. I surmised that this church was at least a little freer.
The room full of people seemed fine that, too. No one challenged him or asked a clarifying question or got up and left. That included me. It was unthinkable for me to let something like this keep me from fellowshipping in a church. It did not even come up while my husband and I drove home and discussed our thoughts about the membership meeting.
I viewed the notion of Christian equality between men and women as a private affair, a belief that had plenty of room for a wide range of perspectives. I didn’t see it as an issue of injustice. Since I had no ambition to preach or be a pastor, I developed an attitude of compliance with the idea of women being restricted from certain roles in the church. I was resigned to acceptance as surely as I lived with the unending drizzle from the gray skies of my home in Portland.
The polite oppression of women is so entrenched in the culture of church that we barely ruffle when policies and doctrines are announced to the detriment of half the church. It ought not be this way.
Women are already born into cultures that oppress our personhood; then we are born again into a culture of church that reaffirms our second-class status. The body of Christ is meant to be a free society where positions of power are not created nor enforced by hierarchal views of male and female. It hurts women. It hurts men. We are to behave and live in the spirit of love and justice that Jesus demonstrated; how he elevated the status of the marginalized wherever he went, especially of women. The way churches treat women does not match how Jesus treated women.
I am hopeful, however, that rapid change is upon us in the Christian world. The winds of change seem to be gusting up as women around the globe are busting through the stained-glass ceilings. More importantly, my sisters of faith are contending with the inner stained-glass barriers that we succumb to within our souls. The Holy Spirit, though, is a Spirit of power and not of fear. Women are finding our way past the patriarchal gatekeepers who would scold us to remember our place. I cheer every time a woman retorts back, “I am, and it’s alongside my brothers. Not behind them or under them, or over them or away from them. But alongside them.”
The polite oppression of women in the church is being resisted by women and men. For this I am grateful, knowing that a freer road is being paved for future daughters and sons of faith.
Pam Hogeweide is a blogger and author of Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church. You can find more of Pam’s writings at her website, www.pamhogeweide.com