Monday, February 11, 2013

A Place Where I Fit as a Woman in the Church

The future of the gospel includes a multiplicity of voices bearing witness to the kingdom of God... and these voices are most reflective of the good news when they remain who they are.

I was raised in a main line congregation. In my middle school years, my local congregation began to fight the battle to see women become elders, against the wishes of the national denomination. Campaigns, prayer meetings, slogans, angry voices, and a few candlelight vigils later, we had some female elders… called ‘adjunct elders.’ It was a hard-won victory, and as a teenager, I’m quite certain I missed most of the nuances and complex emotions involved on all fronts.

I was proud of my mother’s appointment as one of the first adjunct elders because I knew how important it was to her. But I was also a bit confused about the difference between men and women. According to my mom, the difference was that women did everything men did, but did it better, smarter, and more efficiently. I was always a bit too ‘girly’ for my mother’s liking… and the women I saw leading the church after this initial victory seemed to reflect a more aggressive and dominant type of woman than I was sure I wanted to be. No offense to them... they were used to having to fight to be heard.

In college, I lost my faith almost entirely. I flirted with gender roles I hadn’t been encouraged to play in my feminist home, got my heart broken and emerged more ‘angry-woman-hear-me-roar’ than I had been before.

As I was wooed back into the Church in my early 20s, it would make sense that I would end up in a feminist denomination… so you’ll be just as puzzled as I was to find that I wound up in a neo-reformed community (before neo-reformed was a label) that embraced traditional gender roles lovingly drawn by the likes of Douglas Wilson. Let me repeat that… lovingly drawn. I really did receive these understandings of men and women as love… because gender differences were finally celebrated in ways I had never heard them distinguished, let alone cherished.

But eventually, I realized the conundrum I was in. In hindsight, I think I had always known God was calling me to serve His Church. But, as a young woman, I hadn’t wanted to be the more aggressive women I had seen leading in my experience of main line churches and so I didn't see how I fit there. Later, I was told I couldn’t lead in the church because of my gender, and so how could I acknowledge a call to something that seemed unbiblical? Strong and incredibly gifted women were everywhere I looked in that community… but not in the pulpit, not as pastor.

And so, as grateful as I was (and continue to be for both of these faith communities and how they have shaped me), I wondered… where do I fit? What is God calling me to? I don’t believe women are superior. I don’t believe men are superior. I don’t believe men and women need to deny their gendered bodies or be androgynous. I still receive headship in my marriage as a good and loving thing. 

I ALSO believe men and women stand as equals before God, are equally gifted by the Holy Spirit, and are equally needed to proclaim the good news to all nations and faithfully participate in the mission of God’s kingdom.

In finding Life on the Vine, which joined Ecclesia Network, and now the Missio Alliance, I am finding where I fit. Yes, there are still a lot of white men in leadership… but they’re not content for it to stay that way. This is a place where women don’t have to become men in order to participate. This is a place where neither women nor men have superiority complexes. This is a place where women are invited, encouraged, supported, and celebrated as women. This is a place where gender in the Church and in the kingdom is being explored… authentically, honestly, humbly, prayerfully, faithfully.

Will you join us?

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  1. This is beautiful. The thing I get stuck on the most in disagreements with people is I always come back to "but what if God calls her?" and the response is often that it is not something God will call her to do. And so we go around and around.

    If you are interested, please feel free to add this post to my linkup here; I think it would fit in nicely:

    1. Kelly, thanks for reading. Your 'around and around' made me think of the picture of a merry-go-round. I was on that merry-go-round of called but not allowed for quite a while before, in a supportive community, I felt released to hop off and begin faithfully moving into that calling (somewhat dizzily from spinning so long). Being recently released from the round and round, I have great empathy for those still spinning on it... and hope that, through loving conversation, we eventually stop spinning on that question (when I'm sure we'll be going around and around on new ones).
      Thanks for the invite to the linkup. I'll check it out.

  2. Replies
    1. Thanks for reading, Sarah! I'm looking forward to reading the fruit of your labor in the book you're birthing this year.

  3. Cyd, this post made me cry, both out of joy (hope) and frustration. I believe that the men want to see more women involved but, honestly, I still feel like I have to push myself to "get to" join the conversation rather than actively being invited and pursued. Whether it is face to face conversations or dialogues on Facebook or blogs, the men tend to stick with the men and the women put something out there just hoping they will be truly engaged. Maybe it's just me, but I don't think so.

    So I'm wondering how we get the men to understand that when the pendulum has been swung so far to the male-dominated side for so long, it will not work to just stop the pendulum in the middle, women and men as equals in the Kingdom. I am NOT saying we need to go to a place of female domination, much like your experience in the mainline denomination. What I am asking is, how do we get men to realize they have to make extra, intentional efforts to engage women, perhaps in a way that feels disproportionate for a while, in order to overcome the long-standing silencing of women?

    Humbly and fearfully submitted,

    1. Ah yes... I hear your frustration. These are the kinds of questions we are asking and discerning on the Ecclesia board and these are the kinds of dialogues that I hope to see a lot of at the conference. I'm glad you'll be there to ask these kinds of questions!

    2. Dawne, I can totally relate! "I still feel like I have to push myself to 'get to' join the conversation rather than actively being invited and pursued." And then we have to wrestle with "If I have to try so hard to be heard, is God asking me to be silent? Maybe I'm overestimating the value of my own voice here."

      Cyd, thanks so much for posting this! It takes courage to live your life before others, and I hope you know that your journey instills courage in other women (as well as minorities because the journey is similar!).

      I'm so grateful to be on this journey with you both!!

  4. Cyd,
    This is beautifully written. Sadly, it's rare to hear a woman in church leadership without an axe to grind. I appreciate that you concede the grace and love within the complementarian camp. I wish you had given more theological basis for your shift, though. I think most of us women know intuitively that the truth lies somewhere in between the two extremes. But, there's very little theological reasoning that permits that. Outside of a sacramental understanding of gender, I haven't found much that rings true.

    1. Great to see your comment, Julie. Thanks for reading. I appreciate your concern for more theological reasoning... it's been a long and tangential journey for me and this post wasn't intended to share that journey as much as it was to encourage more folks to join in the coversation, especially at Mission Alliance. But your comment encourages me to consider writing a post about the theological journey... you'll be the first to know when I do!

  5. Joy,
    You said : "I ALSO believe men and women stand as equals before God, are equally gifted by the Holy Spirit, and are equally needed to proclaim the good news to all nations and faithfully participate in the mission of God’s kingdom."

    THIS. Yes and amen. Glad to have your voice added to the collective voice of women, standing firm on Christ and proclaiming His truths loudly.

    1. Thanks for your encouragement, Nicole.

  6. Thank you for posting this. Humble, confident, faithful service. I loved hearing these come through in what you wrote. I struggled with being called to ministry because I didn't want to fight a feminist battle. Gently serve and love - as me, a woman who wants to be obedient to my call. This was beautiful.