08 March 2006

International Women's Day

Update and Hat Tip to Rachelle - The Urban Abbesse, for gathering us all together and making this happen. Check this link to see all of the stories.

Apparently women theo-bloggers are uniting and writing about their experiences today. So I thought I'd join in (for a change) and tell my story of my experiences with "the church."

Warning ... this is not pretty. But it does end well.

Most of you who know me, know I was raised in an atheist home, but had grandparents who had strong faith roots. So I've always believed in God, but didn't know a whole lot about him. I taught myself the Lord's Prayer, but didn't quite know why it was important. I just thought it sounded cool.

As a young adult, I superficially investigated a lot of religions. Mormonism, native americans, ancient feminism/paganism among others. I finally landed for good in an evangelical church when I was about 28 or 29 and "gave my life" to Jesus and learned a lot. Taught Sunday School for a while and then got involved in youth ministry. My calling has always been to teach. I don't think I'm being arrogant when I say that I'm good at it. So I was teaching a lot in the youth ministry program and I was blessed to serve under a youth pastor who believes in equality. So I didn't pay much attention to what was going on around me in the larger church. I should have been.

There were things that happened that should have caught my attention and didn't. Like when I had to "share" the teaching of the Senior High Sunday School class with the youth pastor. He clearly didn't want to teach it. He wanted to let it go, because he had other things he wanted to spend his time on. I know now, that it was necessary to say that he was the teacher and I was the assistant. Or when graduated young men came back and wanted to sit in the class on days when I was teaching, they were politely told to leave. I thought it curious at the time. But I also believed in the separate roles for men and women, but we're all equal in the eyes of God crap.

Then at about the same time, the youth pastor left the church to begin a new para-church ministry and my husband suffered a debilitating back injury so I had to leave my ministry work for several years. During that time I began to look around the church with new eyes. My husband and I were leading a small home group and studying issues of community and I often took the lead, although he was still technically leading. But as I said, I have the gift of teaching, he has other gifts.

During this time the youth ministry program went in a direction that we were not comfortable with and were not welcome to participate in. So ... that was okay especially in light of his back injury. He began to recover and I began to be able to look around and see where I might fit back into ministry within the church again. At that time the elder in charge of Adult Christian Education put forth a plea for teachers for Adult Sunday School. They were in desperate need of teachers he said. Would someone, anyone, be willing to teach Adult Sunday School. Well ... that's right up my alley, thought I. So I sent him an e-mail letting him know that not only was I willing to teach, but here was the list of three books I thought might be appropriate for study and gave him links to where he could find out more about them.

His response: "Thank you very much for your interest, but at this time we do not have space for a women's only Sunday School class."

Now, what you need to know here, is that nowhere is it written in the constitution, or the by-laws or any other piece of church literature that women cannot teach men. In fact, tho I had heard whispers, this was the first time (in FOURTEEN years) I had heard the words spoken out loud. My feeling is that if you're going to have such a policy, you better at least have the balls to write it down and make it known to people as they join the church.

So I wrote back to him that I didn't necessarily think that these topics were meant for women only and that certainly men could benefit from them as well. They were books that I'd already taught in our small group, so I was familiar with them and was going to use them to help foster a sense of community in our church which was in line with what our church was doing at the time.

That was when he dropped the hammer about women not being able to teach men and suggested that we talk on the phone. Of course, long before this ever happened I had become curious about the subject and read something in the nature of 10 books on the subject, so I was and am quite well versed (if you'll pardon the pun) on all of the arguments for and against. He's a lawyer, so I expected that I was going to have to be able to argue hard with him. As it turned out, he didn't know his subject matter well and has just taken it on faith all these years. What's even funnier is that (knowing his family) his wife is clearly in charge. He tried very hard to explain the notion of separate but equal to me. I dispensed that with, "You can't possibly understand that, because you are not being forced to sit at the back of the bus." He was very offended by that statement. I had made it precisely to be provocative.

But that's my point ... when you get to pick your seat anywhere, the back of the bus doesn't look so bad. But when you're forced to sit back there everytime all the time, then it becomes onerous. And it's not justice, it's not freedom. And God calls down rivers of justice for ALL ... black and white, men AND women, slave AND free. When will we stop making distinctions? He does not draw the lines, we do. I go back to that vision that Peter had about the all the food that was now available to him, showing him who he was to take the gospel to ... everyone. In all places, in all times, all genders, all colors. That when God looks down or across or whereever, he just sees us all: His created children whom He loves. We are those who pick the fights.

I see God as man. I see God as woman. That we are all a reflection of Him. That He is not less in either gender. He or She says as much in Genesis. In the Psalms, He describes Himself as both an eagle and as a mother hen gathering her chicks. I think it takes both men and women leading any organization for it to be a healthy organization. I said as much to my mother the other day. We were speaking of how some feminists talk of how much better the world would be if women were in charge. But my mother and I agreed, that we would just swap out a different set of problems. We decided that a proper balance takes both. That men bring a set of strengths and weaknesses to the table, and women bring their counter-balance. If we were to allow both at the table in true equality, we would then be able to begin to bring about answers to the big problems our world faces. When we raise one, and desecrate the other we do great damage to both.

I live more generously now. In the midst of my hassels with that elder, God spoke to me and reminded me that that church was but one place to teach. That my calling and gifting came from Him. That He would put me in a place where I could use it for His glory ... and He did. I am so fortunate to be in a church where my gifts and talents are not only recognized but they are tended and nurtured. I am loved because I am one of God's children. I get to teach and I get do it in all the ways that I love. And it makes that painful memory worth it.


Blogger Nuno Barreto said...

That is such a great truth: It's God who calls us, and noone can stop it.

3/08/2006 11:44:00 AM  
Blogger kate said...

Perhaps it's because I'm a woman, but I just can't believe that mentality exists, though I've seen it second-hand, if you will. I should shut up now, so I don't start some sort of back-and-forth thing. I'm just amazed that some men think women are less capable of teaching. Why? We're not the same -- I will grant that men can pee better standing up, and some other, perhaps more important things, too (I do wish I could pee standing up. It would be a really useful skill when camping, or in public restrooms) -- but teaching just doesn't strike me as one of those important gender divisions.
How ironic, too, that for so long it was considered women's work when it comes to teaching children. But I guess men have nothing to learn from women? Or perhaps God doesn't speak to or through women? I just don't get it.

3/08/2006 12:25:00 PM  
Blogger juniper68 said...

thanks for sharing this story

3/08/2006 01:06:00 PM  
Blogger anj said...

Thank you for this, I share your vision.

3/08/2006 01:43:00 PM  
Blogger Jessica said...

Sounds so familiar...thank you for sharing your story.

3/08/2006 02:24:00 PM  
Blogger bobbie said...

thanks for adding your voice to this, my story is similar, although i knew i was not allowed from the very beginning.

i too have the ability to teach, and people actually learn - isn't that ironic that so many of the men in those churches get up and 'lead' but so very little learning is ever going on... sigh.

it's great to be in a place now where this is different.

3/13/2006 03:58:00 PM  

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