#AllChristianWomen: Discussing Gender Roles in the Church

Lately, Twitter has been exploding with the hashtag #YesAllWomen, marking stories of gender discrimination, exploitation, and abuse. The purpose is to show how widespread these evils are, and hopefully to cause people to think about how they might be ignoring or contributing to the problem.

YesAllWomen

Okay, let’s get controversial, now: if there were a #AllChristianWomen hashtag, I think it would be really interesting to see what stories women of faith would tell and how the church would react. For example, here are a few of mine:

  • A popular Christian blog for teens I read in high school informed me that reapplying lipstick while in the presence of males will cause them to stumble because it brings undo attention to your lips. And ever after, I snuck into the bathroom any time I needed more Chapstick.
  • One of my co-workers prefers to work with charismatic pastors on books rather than traditional evangelical leaders because the charismatic pastors are more likely to respect her opinion and authority.
  • A friend once told me that it would be hard for me to find someone to marry because I my intelligence and spiritual maturity would be “intimidating.”

  • One time I went to a pool party of all Christians where I was the only girl not wearing a bikini…and suddenly I felt extremely guilty, like I needed to blurt out my entire theology of gender and swimwear.
  • My junior year of college, I was recorded on our quote board as saying, “What happens if I don’t have a quiet and gentle spirit? Mine is more like loud and feisty.”
Beauty

Pink. Cursive. Flowers. The definition of Biblical femininity?

I’ve sat through a few saccharine Proverbs 31 sermons and more than a few awkward silences after someone brings up the passages about gender roles in the New Testament. I’ve read some stiflingly legalistic approaches to modesty and some rants about how any mention of modesty contributes to rape culture. I’ve wondered if the list things I can’t do in the church is a way to die to self or a misinterpretation of Scripture.

I know that there are Christian women who are laughing at the mildness of my list, some who have faced woman-make-me-a-sandwich theology or pastors blaming their husband’s affair on their lack of attention to their appearance.

Listening to stories like this and the ones on Twitter can help us develop empathy. They can add to the discussion of how we treat women by raising awareness and making others think, in some cases, “Something isn’t quite right here.” So I think there’s value in this.

But I think there can be danger too.

Guys have informed me just how difficult it is to enter gender role discussions because they can’t tell stories like the ones I just described. And sometimes, women often make them feel that, as a result, they are not entitled to have an opinion; they are allowed to stay silent, nod, or make incoherent grunting noises. And that’s it.

I find conversations work best when everyone feels free to speak.

I find conversations work best when everyone feels free to speak.

Women, let’s not use our stories for that purpose. We shouldn’t make a bold declaration of, “This is what I’ve been through, so don’t you start talking about exegesis to me! You’ll never understand!” (And this is easy to do.)

Let’s tell our stories, but do it in a spirit of humility that recognizes that for every time we’ve been wronged or slighted or underestimated, we’ve done the same to someone else. Let’s state our theological views, but without misrepresenting the other side. Let’s defend our position from the Bible, but be willing to admit that, whichever side we fall on, this is a difficult subject and we could be wrong.

And men, let me just say, it’s hard for us too. It’s hard for me, as a woman, to ask, “What if women are called to sacrifice leadership roles for the good of the church, even though we are spiritually equally to men?” I have to give up something personally—it impacts how I serve in the church. I also take a risk—a lot of Christians could get angry at that statement. (You’re welcome to discuss that question with me, but know that it’s still in the hmm-this-might-be-a-thing stage.)

Listen to others’ stories. Don’t assume that they are irrelevant to the theological conclusions you make. No, we don’t want to decide that the Bible teaches something just because we feel a certain way. But assuming the Bible has no context in real life, that ethics are mysterious things floating separate from us, is another unhealthy extreme.

We talk a lot about how our hearts are corrupted; we want the wrong things. So the assumption is that we have to separate our emotions from our theology to get rid of that influence, that we should strive to be unbiased and objective

Except our minds have been corrupted too—dare I say it—just as much as our hearts.

It’s not a matter of relying on logic instead of emotion. It’s a matter of submitting both to God.

Opinion poll time! On a scale from 1-10 (1 being please-shoot-me-now and 10 being this-topic-comes-up-right-after-the-weather), how comfortable are you discussing gender roles in a group of both men and women?

 

7 comments

  1. 9 if I feel safe with the people (like if I think they won’t judge or think I’m a heretic even if they disagree with my view) but 1 if I don’t feel safe (if I think 100% of the people in the group hold an opposing view to mine, or I think they attach a ton of importance to this issue, or if they think my different view of the issue means other things like I don’t take the Bible literally). It doesn’t matter guys vs girls. It’s more a “how openminded are all these people to different opinions” kind of thing. So usually I just put out sarcastic remarks about things I disagree with than try and have meaningful dialogue because I’m too scared to have an actual conversation. True confessions. But it still relates to an empathy thing– I’ll talk if I think I’ll be listened to.

  2. 7 – if we’re talking about a community of faith context (and I assume we are).
    2 – if we are talking about a general convo with people of all walks of life, that’s a totally different mindset and approach with different presuppositions.

  3. Hi Amy! I’ve been reading your blog for a while, and always enjoy the way you ask honest questions about hard topics. I’ve also been following the trending #yesallwomen and thinking about these things. I have few answers, and the more I learn, the more I realize how complicated the issue of gender roles is, and how complicated it is to try to shift cultural perceptions.

    For me, I think stories like the ones coming out in #yesallwomen can help raise awareness; I read a blog post recently talking about the fact that so often misogyny happens only when other men are not around, or for other reasons men may honestly be unaware of the affect on women. So raising awareness is good. However, I agree with your statement that we need to share our stories with humility. The moment we start degrading men, especially if we broaden our reproach to all men, we become a part of the problem.

    To answer your question, my comfort talking about this topic, like most controversial topics, is dependent on who I’m talking with, and more specifically, their willingness to join in an honest discussion with humility if I am willing to do the same. As far as being willing to broach the subject, I do feel like there is a bit of a “militant feminist” stigma to bringing up the topic, so I guess I’d say I’m only a 3 or 4, though I’m much more willing to join in a discussion if the topic is raised. Thank you for being willing to be honest about hard questions; I think it’s discussions like this that are the only way to make progress.

  4. 10, but I generally try to restrain myself in mixed/unfamiliar company.

    I have a similar issue to that mentioned by psalms4211, although mine is less a risk of being labelled a militant feminist, and more a risk of being labelled an angry white man. It’s not that labels, in and of themselves, are problematic, but people tend to hang a label on you and use that as a reason to outright ignore you.

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