Second Class on Sunday Mornings: Growing Up Female in the Church

Inside of a large, traditional catholic church with pews and cross visible.
Inside of a large, traditional catholic church with pews and cross visible.

Women in the US couldn't vote until 1920.

Women weren't recognized as "persons" in Canada until 1929.

Women were considered to be "unsexed" when they received a high level education.

Women who wanted the vote were mocked and told it must be because they couldn't find a man to love them.

Women weren't allowed to run in the Boston Marathon until 1972 because it was believed their bodies would be damaged. There was no women's marathon event in the Olympics until 1980.

From the beginning of human existence, women have been told that their female bodies preclude them from being able to perform certain activities, and that their femininity will be compromised if they participate in others. And one by one, women have dismantled these lies and proven them foolish, restrictive, insulting, and wrong.

In the United States, one of the last places where our delicate feminine nature is so fiercely "protected" is the church. Many churches still declare that women are naturally unsuited for many leadership positions. We have women CEOs, women on the Supreme Court of the United States, female pastors, female public speakers, female authors, female Bible translators, female online ministers, female philosophers, and female theologians. But many churches still tell women that "God" does not want them as leaders, pastors and/or elders. The contrast between the outside world and much of the church is embarrassing.

I love Dorothy L. Sayers. She wrote,

As we cannot afford to squander our natural resources of minerals, food and beauty, so we cannot afford to discard any human resources of brains, skills and initiative, even though it is women who possess them.

Yet so many churches are willing to do just that.

I think about women in the church every day. Every day! Not because I want to be a pastor, or an elder, or a deacon. But because I am stunned by the insulting way many mainstream churches treat women. And I am shocked that it is so widely accepted.

I grew up in the church and in Christian schools, and I live in the conservative state of Arizona where it is quite common for churches to be almost exclusively male-led. I have observed many things over the years. As a child I witnessed a distressed woman in a church parking lot who had just been told her ministry was being shut down because she was ministering to -- and thereby offending -- men. As a teenager I sat through Bible studies where I was taught that women need to make less money than their husbands if they wanted to please God and keep their marriages. In college I was an unintentional eavesdropper, and heard a male youth leader berate a female youth leader for not submitting to him in public. As an adult I have had conversations with exuberant, expressive female friends who have been told by church leaders that they are "too bold." When I log on to Twitter I see Christian men and women cruelly mocking female pastors. Over the course of my lifetime, I have watched talented, beloved women with gravitas and charisma be deprived of titles and positions of church authority simply because of their gender. All of this leaves me flabbergasted and questioning.

How can this be from God?

My conclusion is that it is not.

Jesus commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves... EVEN when our neighbors are women. God commands us to watch out for those who are weaker, not to gloat over and demand respect from them. Regardless of gender, we should value and respect others in the same way we want to be valued and respected. I cannot believe God enjoys watching as women are shamed, and told their talents are not needed in the church. I am convinced God's vision for the church is much, much bigger than the church's shallow gender-role limitations.

I have been taught that -- whether women like it or not -- male "servant-leadership" and "headship" is for our own good. It's a beneficial patriarchy! Like a protective, patronizing pat from above: "Don't worry your feminine little heads. We've (men) got this." But I will tell you that in my experience, it has been anything but harmless. Many women, just like many men, have the intellectual and spiritual talents to participate in the preaching, teaching and decision-making in the church. And yet they are frequently sent away or ignored for consideration. Was Jesus including women when He told the parable of the talents? Or does He prefer that women bury their talents when they conflict with cultural expectations for femininity? Perhaps He meant to say that women should bury their gifts when male egos are threatened.

I don't think so.

Jesus had some harsh and damning words for the servants who buried their talents in the ground. What might He say to those who actively shame and discourage others from using their God-given gifts?

I love Jesus. I love going to church. I love worship songs. I love listening to and considering sermons. But I am exhausted. I am tired of scanning bulletins for female names and finding none. I am tired of trying to find a church that treats women as spiritual equals and also worships in a way I enjoy. I hate feeling like a second class human on Sunday mornings. I understand why people stay home.

Like some women in the Christian community, I grew up internalizing the side-effect message that I was a lesser human because I am female. After all, my voice was so toxic, God didn't want it in his church. I still fight remnants of this pain and shame.

I do not send my boys to Christian school because I do not want them to be taught that they are entitled to a superior position in their church or home. This is destructive. Instead, my husband and I will teach them that it is their responsibility, as part of the physically stronger sex, to make sure that the female perspective is not trampled or disparaged. Each partner should value and respect his or her spouse in the way they would want to be heard, valued and respected. Mutual submission and mutual respect is crucial for a solid relationship.

My hope is that it will eventually be mainstream for churches to utilize the talents and gifts of ALL of its members, regardless of gender. I hope for a church where men and women can follow their gifting without being scolded, mocked, or turned away. I pray that church will become a place where people respect each other as true spiritual equals, and humbly submit to each other in Christ Jesus. I pray that Jesus will heal the gender wounds that we have inflicted upon each other, generation after generation. And I pray that one day we will look back in shame at all the church doors that are currently slammed in female faces.

So I keep praying for peace, for women, for men, for pastors, and for the church.

This was originally published on my personal blog site.