My passion for women’s equality is complex. It began with the five generations of family before me, and the patriarchal beliefs in organized religion that caused them pain and shaped who I am today. Because of my family history, I was exposed to the doctrine that a woman’s ultimate calling was to be a wife and mother, and that it was wrong for a woman to have a career. I realized the error of the latter belief when I graduated from high school, but still believed that life began when you got married. Nine years later, after constantly failing to find a career and struggling with singleness, I asked God to either make me content to be single or give me a husband.
God not only gave me contentment to be single, he showed me the truth about women’s equality. What unspeakable joy! Women’s equality gives me the respect, acceptance, voice, and role that I crave in the body of Christ as a single, childless, autistic woman. It gives me freedom to be the person God created me to be. It is practical and logical for my life as a single, autistic, childless woman. Above all, it reflects the God I know-the loving God who expects people to use the gifts he gives them, to follow him and not man, to be humble, and to love others.
Both the Baptist church and their Southern community respected my grandfather as a leader, a man who even served as an officer in more than one community service group. Perhaps because there were Bibles in every room of the pious household including the bathroom, the church and the community were willing to overlook their knowledge of the domestic abuse that also took place in the home.
How sad it was after my grandfather’s death to find his love letters to my grandmother – letters full of apologies for the violence along with professions of love. He would also say that Baylor, a good Christian school, ruined my mother for placing thoughts in her head that should never have been there. It was his way of saying that she’d broken away from his headship. (She really just broke away from his control and his liberty to abuse her.)
When my grandfather entered the late stages of Alzheimer’s disease which aggravated his violence, my mother and grandmother feared even more abuse from him. My grandmother, ill and in her eighties, and my father who was battling terminal illness could no longer intervene, especially to protect my mother. But when our family finally arranged to place my grandfather in a facility that could safely care for him, as the priest of his home, he refused to go.
Though my grandfather was clearly very sick, the church told us that under headship, we had a duty to respect and submit to his confused wishes, knowing of the violent consequences that the family would suffer. When a State agency finally intervened, the church actually threatened the State. I’m still angry that they were more concerned about my grandfather’s patriarchal privilege than they ever were with the suffering that my mother and grandmother endured for so long — behind closed doors in that house full of Bibles.
The truth is that Baylor didn’t “ruin” my mother but helped her mature into a well respected church leader herself. She met my father, and they married in that old, patriarchal church. My parents enjoyed a life of mutuality, and my mother respected my father for it, never suffering fear. My father loved my mother, was proud of her, and was never threatened by her enduring strength. They marched together with Martin Luther King, Jr and endured reviling by their fellow whites for doing so. They spoke out about the hypocrisy of the church on the matter of Southern racism and were attacked for it. And my parents chose to protect me from the damage that they watched Patriarchy create in their own lives and culture.
Though my mother has developed Alzheimer’s herself, ironically, I believe that it has kindly freed her from the carried burdens of the abuse she once suffered, much like my grandfather’s death also freed my grandmother.
In my childhood and early adult years I attended evangelical churches that restricted the role of women. Yet, this was not a problem for me as it was all I had ever known. Then I began attending a church that gave women more freedom to serve, and I was given new opportunities. I must emphasize that I was not looking for these opportunities, and was in fact hesitant about them! However, I soon discovered I had gifts and passions that I didn’t realize were in me. Among other things, I led adult (mixed sex) Bible study groups and was a church board member that helped guide the direction of the church.
These responsibilities helped me grow spiritually, and one reason I decided to enroll in seminary was to become better equipped for service. Due to unfortunate circumstances, not long after I enrolled in seminary we left this church. My journey since then has been a frustrating one. I didn’t realize what a highly unusual evangelical church this had been. It was egalitarian (not complementarian) – although I did not even know those words at the time!
As we began to look for a new church home, the difference between this church and most other evangelical churches (at least in my area) became glaring. At one church, we were asked to lead a small group and when it became known that I would take the primary leadership role, we were forbidden from leading a group – unless my husband took the primary leadership role and I served as hostess/secretary. My husband is a great Christian guy, but leading and teaching are not his gifts and he did not desire to lead a group. There is nothing wrong with being a hostess/secretary, but those were not my gifts either. Even being participants in a small group was restricting – women were discouraged from praying out loud, and I was told that if I wanted to say anything that was “teaching” I should take all the women into another room and say it only to them.
Suddenly, an issue that had never been “an issue” for me became one! I found myself intently studying the Scriptures to clarify what they said about the role of women. I discovered the evangelical groups of CBE and CBMW – and that each stood on opposite sides of this issue. While genuine believers can come to different conclusions, my prayerful study led me to a position that men and women alike should be able to serve in the church based on their gifts and not restricted by their gender.
After experiencing freedom, it has been frustrating to be restricted by my gender. I actually don’t desire a position of leadership such as pastor. All I would like is a few more options, instead of being forced into a box where I do not belong. I’m thankful that one evangelical church gave me a chance and through it I discovered latent gifts. Yet, what about other women with latent gifts who have never been encouraged or given the opportunity to try? This is a sad loss for the church.
Recently, we decided to broaden our search for a church home and try some mainline churches rather than distinctly evangelical ones. It looks like we will be settling into a mainline denomination that is fully egalitarian. Yet, I am an evangelical at heart and this was a difficult decision.”