A Christian voice.
A Christian woman's voice.
The Christian woman's powerful voice.
What thoughts come to your mind?
Did you flinch? Wince?
Maybe you heard an inner voice intone: "Women must be silent, quiet, demure, deferential... Don't rock the boat. Just don't. Better to say nothing."
Or maybe you heard, "Yes! It's about time! Rock on! Girl power!"
Or maybe you heard both. Either way, you're not alone.
I am a Christian woman, learning to lift my voice.
In too many church communities, women's voices are silenced, to one extent or another. Sure, they can chatter among themselves about mothering, cooking, housework, home schooling, and other feminine matters. But anything weightier than that is a man's turf. The men will talk it over, make decisions, take care of all the hard things.
But what if they don't care, or they botch it, or they abuse their position? Well, just hang tight and trust God until they get it right or get it at all. Speak up about it? No, a woman has no authority over a man, and speaking up is considered a challenge to his authority. A woman has no authority even over herself. A woman has no real choice, no real voice. She is just the passive recipient of whatever a man, or group of men, chooses for her. If she doesn't like it, tough luck, she's stuck! She can just pray about it. That's a reality for far too many Christian women in far too many churches and families. (This seems even ludicrous to type, like it's a scene out of A Handmaid's Tale. But it's not.)
But isn't that just the way God decreed it to be? Isn't that what the Bible says?
No. It isn't. No. It doesn't.
Plus, we can evaluate truth by fruit.
So let's look at the fruit of silencing women.
The Rotten Fruit of Silencing Women
Sexual Predation and Domestic Violence
There is a strong correlation between the culture of feminine silence and the prevalence of both sexual predation and domestic violence in religious communities.
Girls who grow up feeling like they are in second place, that they must defer to men's authority (and even boys' authority just because they are male) and must give them what they demand -- they are ripe for manipulative grooming for sexual abuse. Women who are taught that the husband/boyfriend is the boss no matter what, and that they need to submit no matter what -- they are silenced with an angry glare, threatened into subordination with Bible verses twisted out of context, blamed for being rebellious. Can you fault them for being so hesitant to resist aggression and violence?
That's just the start. What do they do then? Ask the abuser nicely to stop? Yeah, right. Ask for help at church? Often not much better. The victim is shamed not only by her abuser, but again by her spiritual leaders when she pleads for help.
To the rape victim: "How did you seduce him? What were you wearing? Don't you know that sex outside of marriage is a sin? You must forgive! And be quiet! Don't tarnish his reputation!"
To the domestic violence victim: "Go home, stay in the marriage, submit more, smile, be sweet, be sexy, try harder, pray, win him without a word. You must forgive! And above all, be quiet! Don't tarnish his reputation! Die to yourself. Die. It's OK. You'll be with Jesus."
Don't believe it's that bad? It is. Think I'm exaggerating? I'm not. I know this isn't even most churches, but still way too many. I frequently hear the stories of women being excommunicated from churches for divorcing an abusive husband. Take a look here for some examples compiled by my friend Natalie Hoffman: The Crazy Things Your Pastor or Bible Counselor Told You to Do In Your Abusive Relationship
A Culture of Disrespect
Even though so many churches claim that men and women are equal, setting up a hierarchy (whether in church or family or workplace) in which only one gender has the authority is a setup for disrespect. Does it sound like whining when I say that women need respect just as much as men do? I can hear the Internet trolls clicking away at their keyboards right now. So much unChristlike sexism in online "Christian" circles!
When womanhood is belittled from the pulpit and other religious venues in the name of God, even subtly, even in the guise of respect, how does that shape her image of God? Will she see the Lord of Glory as a sexist old man who doesn't value her much, and just made her to be an appendage to his real crown of creation, MAN? You may think I'm being sarcastic. I'm not. Not at all.
What does it do to a woman, made in the very image of God, to have her worth discounted by not only men, but by other women who want to keep her in her little feminine place? Why would other women do this? I'm sure there are many reasons. One reason might be that is this is the way they were taught. If they have to stay in their own places, they don't want another woman rocking the boat. Maybe they think if they associate with a "feminist" they will risk the wrath of God, because of guilt by association.
To many people, an evangelical egalitarian who believes in gender equality is the same thing as a raging leftist liberal feminist who wants to abort babies on every street corner. That is totally untrue.
People often prefer to jump to stereotypes instead of truly listening to the viewpoints of others, and seeking to understand. And it's way too easy to dismiss the viewpoints of a woman. Case in point: My Husband Has Something to Say to Those Who Insult Women by Sheila and Keith Gregoire.
Cheating the Church
The Christian community loses out on some of the best and brightest ideas when women are too timid to speak up out of fear that they will threaten the fragile egos of the men around them. Or when they do try to share their opinions, they are quickly put back into their place and ignored.
So a capable missionary worries about how to present her ideas "in a gentle and quiet way" so her male colleagues won't be offended. There is nothing wrong with being gentle and quiet. But should a woman have to tiptoe around masculine feelings to communicate?
An experienced author speaks in a church on a Sunday morning (gasp!) - but she must be seated and a man must interview her so it doesn't seem like a sermon.
A female seminary professor is fired solely because of her gender, and a prominent minister writes about how women shouldn't even be seminary professors because that puts them in authority over men.
Many women don't even try to equip themselves for ministry because what's the point?
Women who seek to bring honest and necessary correction to churches or other Christian organizations are routinely and unfairly blamed and shamed for slander, gossip, bitterness, and usurping authority.
Woe be to them if they persist in talking, and even worse if they start a blog to report trends of spiritual abuse, especially if it is about gender. Witches! (And the other word that rhymes with that!)
There is so much more I could write about these bad fruits, but it would still only be a drop in a bucket compared to the foaming sea of misogynistic madness. I've read the stories over and over and over. It's depressing, revolting, infuriating. Let me know if you want an earful. Meanwhile, I will keep speaking out on these topics, as I have for so many years.
But for now I want to focus on the positive, the possibilities of what could be.
There is power in a Christian woman's voice!
Created to be an Ezer
You were created in the image of God, who declared you to be an ezer: a strong and suitable helper to fulfill his purposes. This word, often used to describe the Lord coming to our aid, means strength and not weakness, the partnership of an equal match and not subservience. You are not spiritually or emotionally fragile just because you are a woman. You are able because God is with you, and the Holy Spirit fills and empowers you. This truth is a firm foundation for finding your voice. What you think becomes what you speak.
Your Voice is a Blessing
God gave you your voice to proclaim goodness, gospel, truth, compassion, life, growth, healing, justice, peace - so you can use it to bless your own life, your family, your friends, the wider community, the world. Why should that threaten a man? You aren't his rival. Becoming excellent is not competing. If that's what he thinks, that's his problem!
Bold and Confident for a Change
You have every right to communicate boldly and confidently when you learn about something that isn't as it should be. You can be a mighty advocate, activist, reformer, and social justice warrior. You don't need a man "covering" you with his authority when you have the power of the Holy Spirit in you.
You Have a Choice and a Voice
God gives you agency, the right to discern and determine your own path (within ethical parameters, of course, just like men). This seems so obvious, but I can't even begin to describe the contrary messages that girls in patriarchal homes receive. You don't need to silently let others plan your life for you.
With God's guidance, you get to choose what you want to do about relationships, education, career trajectory, ministry - and then navigate through the realities of pursuing, reassessing, and accomplishing your goals. You get to choose when to speak and when to be silent (and there is a time for that, for both males and females).
You can say, "This is what I want to do. This is what I plan to do. This is what I'm preparing to do. This is what I'm doing." It's your God-given life, and you have the right to your God-given destiny. Speak it!
Speak It Into Action
Your powerful voice can bring about powerful action. In many ways, we often speak into existence what we want to see happen. This is not a mystical name-it-claim-it deal to bring down miracles with magical thinking. This is real, this is practical, this is every day.
Using our voices, we state our intentions, spark interest, gather a tribe (to either cheer us on or cooperatively work with us), collaborate around ideas and solutions, and then get the job done with continued communication, motivation, inspiration, and feedback. Your voice is needed all along the way.
Healing the Church
If you are a believer in Jesus, you are a vital part of Christ's body on earth, which is the church. That church is hurting badly right now because of faulty attitudes about women and the scandals which have resulted.
The church needs your powerful voice to help tend the wounds, speak life, strengthen the vulnerable, change the rhetoric, teach truth, bring correction where you see misconceptions, confront misogyny, advocate for the abused, light imaginations on fire, draw others into authentic worship (of the God who made both men and women in his image), rally volunteers (men and women) to serve in practical ways, and reconstruct spiritual communities with a healthy paradigm of gender equality.
You can speak the whole truth in love.
You can do all of these things.
You have a voice.
You have a powerful voice.
Use it well.
|Carolyn Custis James and Judy Douglass|
Carolyn shared the story of Ruth: the young, powerless, impoverished, Gentile, foreign, barren widow of a famine refugee, daughter-in-law of a despairing old woman. Instead of taking her cues from the patriarchal culture around her, where she had no voice, she found her identity in the Lord. With faith, loyalty, diligence, wisdom, strength, and courage she became a mighty woman of valor, a community role model, an esteemed wife and mother, the great-grandmother of King David, and ancestor of Jesus. Like Ruth, we need to bring all we have, do all we can, not hiding what God has given us to share. We need to be active participants, not passive spectators.
Read more of what Carolyn says about Ruth and women's voices here:
- Buckle up Buckaroos!
- Men say the darnedest things . . . especially about women
- The #MeToo Stories of the Bible We Tend to Ignore
- “And ain’t I a woman?”
- Voices from the Margins
- Why John Piper Needs Help from Female Seminary Professors
- Pushing for Lasting Change!
- The Silence Breakers: A Kairos Moment for the Church
- Abuse Thrives in a Culture of Shame and Silence
- No Little Women (Poem from CBE17)
- International Women's Day: What Do You Stand For?
- Women's Voices Rising
- The Puritans, The Quakers, and Little Old Me
- The Bad Boy and the Angel
- For All the Faithful Women (Strength in Hymn)
- Mutual by Design 2017 Christians for Biblical Equality Conference
- My Husband Has Something to Say to Those Who Insult Women by Sheila and Keith Gregoire
- Lori Anne Thompson: Survivor, Storyteller
- Wartburg Watch
- Spiritual Sounding Board by Julie Anne Smith
- Christians for Biblical Equality
- Flying Free Now by Natalie Hoffman - Linking Arms to STOP the Emotional and Spiritual Abuse of Women of Faith
- Give Her Wings by Megan Cox about domestic violence - Why A Woman Does Not Speak About Abuse While in an Abusive Marriage
- Here’s the Joy by Rebecca Davis - Making sense of the church world’s epidemic of abuse and She is "Undiminished"
- Patti Ricotta at Life Together International, working to end FGM in Africa
- Marg Mowczko,"exploring the Biblical theology of Christian egalitarianism”
- Helga and Bob Edwards at Awake Deborah
- Tim Fall (FB quote: “Patriarchy preachers say men and women are equal but different. The equal part is that they mean both men and women can get hurt. The different part is that when it happens to a man they do something about it and when it happens to a woman they don’t. This is because if a man hurts a woman the patriarchy preacher insists she has to make it right in order to show proper subordination to the man.”)
- TIME: Evangelical Women Just Joined #MeToo – And They’re Urging Churches To Address Abuse
- Washington Post: The Sin of Silence: The Epidemic of Denial about Sexual Abuse in the Evangelical Church
- Religion News: Female Evangelical Leaders Call on the Church to Speak Out on Violence Against Women
- Christianity Today: Women Speak Up in #SilenceIsNotSpiritual Campaign
- Christianity Today: My Larry Nassar Testimony Went Viral. But There's More to the Gospel than Forgiveness by Rachael Denhollander
- Woman hushed by Patterson comes forward, tells of 8 more by Seth Brown and Liz Tablazon at Biblical Recorder
- Surviving SWBTS- Life As A Female Employee and Student In A Pattersonian Culture at Speaking the Truth of Her Heart
- Professor Says Seminary Dismissed Her Over Gender about Dr. Sheri Klouda
- Paige Patterson, women’s voices and the gaping hole in education by Kyndall Rae Rothaus at Baptist News
- Statement by Kevin Ueckert, Chairman of the Board of Trustees on the disclosure that Paige Patterson had attempted to “break down” a rape victim so she wouldn’t speak out
- On the Church and Divorce: Thoughts About Paige Patterson and the SBC by Dena Johnson
- A letter to the Washington Post revealing abuse at an SBC seminary by Megan Cox on Rebecca Davis’s Here’s the Joy blog
- Patterson, Greear, Hemphill & Spiritual Authority – A Cautionary Word to New Leaders in the SBC – Guest Post by Wade Burleson at Wartburg Watch
That's enough. Oh, that's too much.
Speak up, my friends!