I haven’t really attended church in the past year as a sort of cleansing on my part and to try to figure out what it really is I want for my life. But for the 8 years prior, I was pretty serious about it and highly involved in various churches. I had been in youth group during those pivotal teen years where you are trying to plan the future unfolding before you, but can’t even picture what your life will look like in 6 months. So as a good Christian girl hoping to please those around her and secure a nice, shiny MRS. Degree, I headed off to a private Christian college to study the Bible. After getting my “ring by Spring” miracle, I was married the summer after my freshman year to a man hoping to become a youth pastor. We spent years volunteering at various churches working with their youth and having a blast doing so. We couldn’t believe that one day, we’d be so lucky for him to take on a career in this field and we’d get to spend our lives shaping the young minds that would end up shaping the future of our church.
I would say I’ve gotten the inside scoop on what it’s like to be a young woman in this controversial, evolving Christian culture. I’ve read the books, I’ve followed all of the popular women’s Bible studies, I’ve listened to the trending sermons, I’ve gone to the women’s retreats. I’ve even shared a dorm room in a school where guys were not allowed within 20 feet of our building for purity’s sake. It’s been a very unique experience as I’ve sort of transitioned out of this little world and entered reality. Where gossip is just gossip, not “asking for prayer requests” and where your voting ballot doesn’t determine your eternal destiny. Even still, I catch myself speaking “Christianese” every once in awhile and remembering my old life and the things I used to believe and do, particularly as a woman. If I look back over my past and what eventually brought me to start attending church, I’m very grateful that I found a different path than the destructive, short one I was on. But I’m also sure that it was my youthful, idealistic approach to the world and the fear of what was out there that led me to compromise what I’d always believed in and planned for. To walk away from the scholarship and bright future I had planned for in attending a nursing program in Idaho, even having gone so far as to cram in advanced math and science classes my senior year in an effort to plump up my application while everyone else was slacking off. My Dad had no idea what I meant when I said I wanted to change courses and go after a Biblical Studies major in a non accredited school 3000 miles away because I felt “God had told me to”. Or to listen when after getting my first piercing, my pastor yelled at me, accusing me of disrespecting him and his church and not listening to my husband, who was apparently supposed to be able to stop me from making such reckless decisions. Or to just move on and and shrug it off as a mishap when I got an angry letter from a fellow volunteer in the youth group I was helping with, accusing me of abandoning the children when my husband and I had decided to step down to focus on our marriage more. Or to even succumb to the meetings and talks our pastor and members of our church wanted to have when I was leaving my husband, always having to hear that I was going against God’s plan for my life by choosing divorce.
I walk away from my time in the church without bitterness or hatred. Mostly, I’m just appalled at things I see from the outside and shocked that I once lived within the confines that any given pastor had outlined for me. Everyone that’s met me in the past year tells me they really can’t believe that I was once someone who could or would conform to such restraints. And when I really think about it myself, it was quite odd for me to do and believe certain things. So in my year of reflecting on what my beliefs are about the church, my past in it and what my future will be regarding it, I’ve recalled a few specific things that I came to believe about the roles of women in church. In an effort to shed light and to get other’s opinions, I’m going to share a few of the lies I’ve believed as a Christian woman. And I’d love to hear your thoughts, too!
A woman’s role is to submit. This one could also be called “If things get screwed up, it’s because the woman tried to control the situation”. No joke, I’ve had pastor’s cite Eve eating the apple in the garden of Eden and passing it along to Adam as empirical evidence that women screw things up when they take the lead. The denomination I belonged to wouldn’t allow women in pastoral positions. I even once heard a man say he wouldn’t vote for Hilary Clinton because he felt a woman wasn’t capable of leading a nation. What it usually ends up coming down to, though, is in everyday life when a woman is told to submit to her husband. We were taught that he had the authority and that God would speak to him to show guidance and direction for the family. To go against his decisions was to essentially say you weren’t trusting how God was showing him to lead us. We were taught that the husband was to be the head of the household, and as such, his career became the primary. Basically in all things, unless you were facing something illegal or your husband was asking you to go against the Bible, you were to take a backseat and learn trust and patience in following your husband.
I signed up for that willingly, happy to play the perfect pastor’s housewife and hoping that if I pretended long enough, I would finally pull it off for real. But I no longer believe that women are to serve as permanent cheerleaders. In fact, I believe we are more capable of leadership than most realize. Most of my idols are strong, successful women who’ve carved their own path. I remember my Dad pulling me aside one time after hearing my views on women not being in leadership… he told me that I was capable of big things and that I should never let anyone stop me from doing what I loved. Since then, I’ve stepped out of the dimly lit sanctuary into a new world where I can just be myself and not get lost in anyone else’s direction for my life. A world where I can now have a blossoming career, a functional and happy relationship, dreams for my own children one day, and a deep faith in God. Oh, and something called my own opinion.
You’ll probably meet your soulmate in high school. Just as there are women within the church who have quite loud opinions and aren’t the submitting type, there are couples I know that got married just out of high school or shortly thereafter that are still incredibly happy. I know there are exceptions to every rule. But the problem remains the same: sending kids off to camp for a week every summer, feeding them emotional sermons about their future twice a day, telling them to wait for marriage to have sex and having them sign a purity pledge, and telling them that their future spouse might even be in this very room, this very minute. Cue every girl in the place deciding who her future spouse is before she’s even finished her junior year.
Do we not see how unhealthy this is? Would we really rather teach our daughters to stay pure and escort them down the aisle before they can even drink legally than to teach them they are complete even without a man? That they have everything they need to build their life and that there’s no harm in waiting a few years? I’m obviously not under the illusion that a parent could stop a premature wedding.. my father certainly couldn’t. But is it really right to encourage it just for the sake of ensuring their virginity is intact on their wedding night? I know it was the dysfunction of my own family and my dreams of normalcy that led me down this path to the “perfect” life. I don’t regret being married young and I learned a lot from it… but I will say that I spent WAY too much time talking about my “future spouse” and carrying on the most perfect, Christian courtship so that I could join the ranks of lucky women who got to walk down the aisle and have their children before 25. But I would go back in a heartbeat and spend that time with my family, girlfriends, and building my career skills if I was able to. I really think we should start teaching our daughters that singleness is not the end of the world, especially when you are so young. That in fact, it is a gift that you get to spend so much life becoming who you are before you join yourself to another for life.
Modest is the hottest.. but if they are looking, it’s still your fault. I’m pretty sure I even had a t-shirt or something that said “modest is the hottest”. Every girl raised in youth group knows the saying. It’s basically a catchy phrase behind the philosophy that women are to cover themselves in an effort to not distract their Christian brothers. That the best way to display your assets is in fact to cover them, displaying your purity and dedication to respecting your future husband instead. That by showing too much of your figure, you are acting as a stumbling block to others. That what you do with your body is someone else’s business. That your body isn’t in fact your own.
I think it was Edith Head that said “Your dress should be tight enough to show you’re a woman, but loose enough to show you’re a lady.” This is more my philosophy these days. I believe that my body is my own and I don’t need to succumb to any pressure on how to dress it whether the pressure may come from an older lady in the church or a fashion magazine. In fact, I’d very much like to change the conversation to what are we teaching our guys. We teach our women to cover up, that their bodies are only stumbling blocks. We teach them that their bodies are for their husband or future husband alone. Meanwhile our guys run around fearing the thought that they might “take a second glance” at a woman and sin with their lustful thoughts. But even if they do, that woman should have been covering up anyways and a man can’t be blamed for noticing a nice looking woman. All this leads to is a lot of young, confused, suppressed Christians. Women feeling responsible for their men’s pleasure and trying their hardest to keep up a happy, shiny front. And men turning to other things in private, trying to suppress the lust they know they shouldn’t speak of even though they are deeply in the love with their significant other.
I am 24 years old. And this year, for the first time in my life, I feel like I’ve truly been able to celebrate and own who I am as a woman. I take my role as a daughter of God very seriously. But I also take my role as a woman very seriously and I no longer believe the lies I’ve been taught. My life is more than my spouse’s happiness, I can pursue a career and support my spouse as well, I can wait until I’m ready to have children and when I do, I can be a good mom and hold down a career. Or I can choose not to have children and still be as valuable as if I were to have them. I can show off my figure with class and sophistication and not accept that I am causing other’s to sin. I can make my own decisions about life and if I’m in a relationship, I don’t have to submit to whatever my man decides upon. We can discuss like grown ups and come to a mutual agreement. I can even spend my Sundays how I choose, not listening to someone tell me how to live my life, and still be connected to God and happy in life.
**I just want to quickly acknowledge that I know my experience was unique. By sharing my story, I’m definitely not telling anyone else’s. These are my experiences and what I’ve been told within a religious community. So, before anyone takes up arms in defense of their church, I hope you understand that I’m speaking about my own life, not yours and I hope you can enjoy my thoughts as such! :)