28 Oct 2011

The Author

I am an essayist, poet and photographer. I try to be a voice against injustice, as I perceive it. I am forgiven & grateful. I am an alcoholic, sober since July 2008 by the grace of God. I am a mother of four. I write about my own faith & (dis)belief, for voiceless people, against injustice and abuse of power, and sometimes politics. And threaded through my experiences is the fact that I am a mother and a woman. I am always mindful of Abraham Lincoln's words: “It is better to remain silent and be thought a fool, than to speak out and remove all doubt.”

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The Voice Of The Feminine
female_voice

Feminism to me is the crazy belief that women and men are both created in God’s image and that each of us deserves a life of freedom and opportunity inside or outside the Church.

It began like any other day by logging on to the internet, as I gratefully sipped my coffee and slowly woke up.

Scouring various sources, I saw a new book on women was out titled The Resignation of Eve: What If Adam’s Rib Is No Longer Willing to Be the Church’s Backbone? (I have to admit that is a clever title.)  It has women’s stories of their experiences in the Church written by a man?  Giving it very little further thought, I wrote this comment on Facebook:

“While I find it highly ironic that it requires a man to tell these women’s stories to in order for them to be heard, and though I have not obviously read this book since it is not yet out, still there must be something important here if he does as he alleges and has listened to women talk about their experience in the Church.   It seems sketchy to me though …”

I copied a few friends and that began the banter, then a lively discussion about women and access, why women don’t trust their own voices, why it takes a man for women’s stories to be “heard”, how men (may) self-promote more than women, and why the only thing women are invited to write and speak on are soft topics, and we even discussed our theological grounding for our perspectives.  It was much more civil than many internet discussions, as several of my friends across the globe, and locally, began to discuss!

But I have to go back, even further.

This story really began a few weeks ago as I sat perched on the edge of my chair, once again at the computer.  I was trying to gather my thoughts.  Sighing deeply and knowing that being on the computer was the last thing I needed.  I needed time alone.

And the lack of it was weighing heavily on my spirit.  I knew that what I really needed was to turn it all off, especially the technological barrage, and find – time – to – think.  And not time while doing last night’s dishes, or throwing another load in, or while picking up the endless socks, books and dog toys.  Not time driving my son to the doctor or waiting.  Time spent on the responsibilities of home life can be a meditation, but not what I needed.

I needed noiseless, exclusive solitary time with Yahweh. 

How often do we really find this kind of time? I cannot underscore how important solitary thinking time is for me spiritually and creatively.  It helps me be less impulsive.  It centers me.  It makes the anxiety, anger, and disappointments of life fade away, lacking the importance I might have given them.  My priorities sift and sort and I am more circumspect.  In that place, I find my quavering voice.

Here’s what I had been thinking about.  When it all first occurred I definitely tried to ignore it.  I kept thinking how obsessive I was being.  I kept telling myself I was being ridiculous, absurd, unreasonable, and even disagreeable.  Doubting my own inner voice is a frequent problem that I have.  I had tried to ignore the nagging voice inside me until finally I accepted that this was not going away!

I’ve been thinking about the lack of presence and example of women in the Church.  That Sunday at my church in particular, women were simply spectators, the audience, the bystanders, the recipients and beneficiaries. 

And the more I thought I could not remember the last time one of the teaching pastors suggested a book they were reading written by a woman.  Women are never quoted in my church.  Female theologians or scholars are never referenced or even mentioned, probably because the pastors don’t read them.  I can’t remember the last time, if ever, a pastor in my church has suggested or referred to or quoted a female theologian, religious author, or historian.  Am I the only one that notices these things?

The entire thing makes me very sad.  And so tired.  I am tired of the male dominated culture on the platform, as authors, as experts, as theologians, as speakers at conferences and in the Church at large. Considering women are half the church (some would say more) I do not buy the argument that there aren’t capable women to select from, though I’ve been told that very thing.  “The women haven’t risen up who have the gift of teaching.”

Risen up?   To be honest, one would think in a service-by-gifts based church there must not be any qualified gifted female teachers.   I attend an EFCA church of 5,000. You do the math.

I would guess that many people, but especially women, will not put themselves forward (i.e. rise up) because of self-doubt, true humility or a combination of motivations.

I think it is very likely that there are gifted, wise articulate women who are not yet comfortable with their own voice, but have natural instincts for leadership or teaching that could be taught, mentored, helped to find their voice.  Who knows?

Will we ever know if they are not given the opportunity? And what a loss not to hear from them!  

I believe it harms us to rarely hear the spiritual voices of women and for me personally, it hampers my faith and my journey with Christ.  Thank God that we have the example of Jesus who took risks for women, ministered with, received from and listened to women.  He was our example of reconciliation and grace in the lives of women.  If only the church modeled their behavior toward women after Jesus. Sadly the Church is ignoring the stories of women in the Bible, and of women historically and in the Church worldwide today.  Women have been actively participating in the work of the church since its inception.  Women are missionaries, teaching in seminaries, running nonprofits and leading in higher education.  Women are writing and want to write on more than “soft or women’s issues.”  But in the Church women are still finding their voice.

I have to confess that I do not want my feminist radar (that’s what my daughter calls it) to always go off in church.  It is distracting, sometimes painful and it is utterly exhausting.  It steals some of the joy out of my spiritual life, like recently when we attended a one man show at church.  The actor introduced us to eight characters (both in the Bible and fictional) who had met Jesus.  It was powerful.  Curt Cloninger is supremely talented.  Sadly, in the entire two and a half hour show, women were invisible – utterly missing – other than being mentioned as briefly as whores and spinsters.  I tried hard, I really did.  I used all kind of energy that night trying to forget that I was the invisible woman and simply experience the show.  And it worked — almost.

Yes, I tire of voicing what I believe.  And I have considered asking God to take it away – this feminist awareness – to either shut it up or get me out – but for now I stay.  And I continue to work to find my voice and listen, getting those times alone so that I can have something solid to say with a circumspect and healthy heart.  I hold on tight to Jesus in those moments when I want to quit the Church.  And I consider that as long as I can think out loud on my blog and places like Provoketive and as long as I have a few people in my life that I can express my pain and rancor to, I’ll survive, for now.

Photo Credit: Llima Orosa

28 Comments
26 Comments
  1. Melody

    Thank you of course for mentioning my new soon to be released book- The Resignation of Eve but thank you mostly for caring and speaking up. My book grew out of the same observations you make- If women run the church ( meaning the church would not “work or operate” without them (check the stats) then Why Do Men Lead It? That question led to more questions

    1. Why do women put up with this?

    2. Why do pastors accept treating women with less respect, honor and humanity than the founder of our movement did?

    • Jim, I would love to review the book on Provoketive when it comes out. Or have one of my writers review it. Are you interested?

      • Jonathon

        I would be honored – Maybe my co conspirator Pam Hogeweide would like to handle that for you

    • Hi JIm: Thanks for your comment. I don’t believe we want to “run the church” (necessarily) although perhaps that is what is feared. We want the opportunity to use our God given talents and gifts for the Kingdom. What holds us back is the ongoing teaching about a few verses in the NT that have been singled out to be of utmost importance. Why do we put up with it? Bible thumping men constantly throwing in our faces what we should and shouldn’t be doing. And we haven’t studied scripture for ourselves, so we lack confidence to throw it back at them. Why do pastor’s accept it? Well, I believe after nearly five years of asking in various ways that my church doesn’t change (Elder & teaching roles) “yet” because it would be too controversial. I have had elders, pastors, and other church leaders tell me they don’t believe in what they are perpetuating, but I must be patient. The bigger fish to fry metaphor works in this case. And I don’t want to be the course of controversy, so I hunker down for a while and leave people alone about it. But I would be interested in hearing from pastors why they accept it and asking other women why they think women perpetuate it.

      • I read Jim’s “If women run the church” to be a statement of fact more than a statement of women’s desires. Most (male) pastors and leaders acknowledge that women ARE the backbone of the church. The Sunday School teachers and potluck cookers and secretaries and schedulers…oh, and the attenders. And the kid-bringers. And the husband-bringers.

        We are the church. But not the teaching leadership in most evangelical churches.

        Some of my women friends whom you know (Paula, Kara, among others) have left evangelicalism for mainline churches, women’s empowerment being one though not the sole reason. Some, like my friend Rachel, have left “ministry” for “the world” because they hit a much bigger glass ceiling in the church–Rachel had had more Bible credits than anyone else on staff except perhaps the senior pastor–at one time–but could never be “Children’s Pastor” or even “Associate Pastor” and felt like she was hitting her head against that ubiquitous glass ceiling. Now she uses her many gifts in a secular school classroom (and they are lucky to have her). Some go to the mission field, where by dint of the scarcity of any sort of leadership, women are often allowed lives of scope they aren’t in the American evangelical church. (That was my plan until I nearly lost my faith, found enough of it to keep clinging to Jesus, and married a US-rooted man.)

        Our church is finally mentoring women into a teaching role–but sadly, our senior pastor has been thwarted in this desire (so he says, and I believe him) by many older WOMEN in the church who have been taught (what he and I consider) bad theology about women in ministry. We did have Roberta Hestenes speak at our church, and I did, sadly, notice some people walk out. Including some women.

        Ah, well, kids to put to bed, other things to think about, but mostly I wanted to say “thanks” to you for writing this and for “Provoketive” for publishing it. I can’t wait to read more.

        • Realized my words about the mission field could sound very ethno-centric. There is hopefully local, indigenous leadership, but at least when I was on the mission field short term, missionary women were doing the important work of translating the scriptures, etc. It’s been 20 years, though, so what do I really know. All I know is that young Meg thought the mission field was the place to be if I wanted to use my gifts.

          Sometimes my keyboard gets ahead of my brain and heart.

        • Thanks Meg! It is no doubt true that (some) of the older generations experience a great deal of discomfort with the new world they find themselves in. Navigating that is a challenge. There is a book that helped a bunch of older folk I know Call Me Blessed: The Emerging Christian Woman by Faith Martin that might be one to suggest to your pastor. It is very gentle and biblical. It helped my own parents and others of their ilk at one time.

          Thanks for your thoughts. I appreciate you a lot.

        • Meg

          You accurately understood my meaning. Thanks.

          I love Roberta Hestenes. I heard her in the 80s at Fuller

          Your note: “We did have Roberta Hestenes speak at our church, and I did, sadly, notice some people walk out. Including some women.” makes me wonder how Christians learned to be so rude and fearful of hearing a new idea

  2. Nicely said, Melody. I hope that does not provoke a stereotype of a nice woman writing nice things. What I mean is that your comments are balanced and heartfelt. While I never asked God to relieve me of my feminist radar, I wouldn’t be surprised if others have! I don’t even really consider myself feminist, but for the glaring inconsistencies, which you have articulated so well. Thank you.

    • Marlene: I have found over the years that my “angry voice” doesn’t get heard, plus it’s a poor example as Jesus didn’t get angry all that often right? It’s a discipline though.

      I think Christians are afraid of the f-word but it is simply misunderstanding a concept that has a continuum of thought and conviction. We’re not all “radical.” But I call myself a feminist because I believe it is a simple idea — we, yes men and women alike, are the same and deserve the same opportunities, influence, compensation, et al, .

      Thanks for your thoughts.

      • I’m a year behind in this conversation started in 2011, but I found many of the posts so compelling I couldn’t resist joining even with the risk of being too late to be relevant.

        It’s curious to me, Melody, you support the feminine voice yet exhort Marlene not to use her “angry voice” because when you use yours it usually isn’t heard. You support this strategy evoking the example of Jesus who rarely got angry. This baffles me. While I agree angry voices seem to shut down many conversations, especially when used by women within a patriarchal system, I might imagine Jesus communicating on this topic with an intensity offensive to polite society. I’m wondering how often we, including myself, collude with the oppressors of the feminine voice by using voices devoid of anger? We prefer women in the Christian culture to remain silent, even when we use our words. Dressing our anger with politically correct restraint may give us an audience, but is there a time when we need to use our angry voices because it is the right thing to do? Just because we have earned an audience by our discipline to soften our anger in our speech, have we lost our voice for the sake of being heard?

  3. Melody, you are not alone in your thoughts. I have been on a three year long journey delving into this very thing realizing that manmade doctrine has been oppressing women for centuries. It was such a life-changing revelation that I am in the process of writing a book addressing that very thing! God intends for women to serve and lead on a variety of capacities. What is encouraging to me is that more and more women are being stirred up to the same realization that half the body of Christ are oppressed by male leadership that is stuck in old mindsets. It is changing! Be encouraged as you are going to begin seeing women released to freely lead and serve. In fact, when revival hit Columbia, the male pastors publicly apologized and asked forgiveness to a stadium of women for years of oppression and bad doctrine.

    • Evelyn: I can’t wait to read your book. Who will you publish with?

      Our stories need to be told. May God bless you as you continue on the journey.

      • Melody,

        That I haven’t yet figured out yet. This is all so new to me. I have been slowly working on it and have almost finished two chapters. I am writing a third chapter that I now want to be the first chapter. I had never considered writing before but felt God wanted me to do this. I am virtually unknown missionary in Mexico. I was just recently beginning to investigate the possibilities and read about publisher’s requirements. It has been a fun project though and so desperately needed! I am amazed at this theme though. It is starting to pop up everywhere.

        Evelyn

  4. Melody, your comments resonate with me, too. There are many women asking the same questions and struggling with the same dilemmas. How do I remain in a community of Christ followers that doesn’t believe in my value before God? How will this community of Christ followers ever change if women like me leave? I spent years as a bi-vocational minister. During that time, I experienced more acceptance as a woman with a voice worth hearing from my secular colleagues than from my fellow Christ-followers. I had to ask myself shouldn’t the reverse be true? After a two-year hiatus from ministry, I’m just now putting my toe back in the water of church involvement, and that’s because I believe so strongly that the voice of the feminine must be part of our Christ-following communities.

    • Chrystal: I too took a break from any sort of involvement and experienced some healing and personal renewal. I came back with a sense that the time is now to speak out and try to be a voice for change. Figuring out the wisest way to do that is what I think about a lot. Sound too strident and you fulfill one stereotype. Counter that with timidity and very little is accomplished. I also want to be able to express myself well and make sure that my beliefs are scripturally based. I feel like I need to go to seminary sometimes and yet what seminary? And to what end?

      I am glad that you have returned. The church needs all of us.

  5. Great post and great conversation!

    I know Jim Henderson and am a huge fan of his work, especially his newest book, The Resignation of Eve. I have friends who are also skeptical of a man writing a book to tell women’s stories, but the thing I like to remind them is that Jim can write about whatever he wants. As an established author, he has a soapbox and can use it for pretty much any kind of worthy message, and there are dozens of book themes he could have developed. I like to think that this one is Spirit led for “such a time as this,” as like you, I am observing a growing consensus among women of faith (and men) that this Christianized sexism has got to stop.

    Jim asked the question, Why do women put up with this?

    To answer this is worthy of a separate post as it is multi-layered. I explore some of the reasons why women endure inequality in the church in my own forthcoming book, Unladylike : Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church. Some reasons include confusion and vagueness (as Melody has pointed out) about a theology of ourselves, and I think also a strong rationale that this is a side issue.

    Many of us are convinced that the issue of equality of women in the church is a distraction from the real mission of the church, so it’s best we don’t make a fuss and mind our manners.

    In my book I confront the tendency of women to trivialize ourselves, our voice and our worth. I am not a side issue. Neither are you.

    I am excited about the new books that came out this past year, such as Why I Changed my Mind about Women in Leadership from Zondervan and also Half the Church by Caroline Custis James (I like most of her book tho she refuses to publicly reveal her conscience about women equality in the church. A diplomatic gesture, I’m sure, but unfortunate in my opinion). Her book is still a great read and offers some great insights about the collaborative power of women and men together.

    And that is the point : collaboration. Not domination. Mutual collaboration in presenting the image of God and being the voice of God. Together.

    I’ll stop here before my comment morphs into a post all of it’s own.

    So glad you stirred this up, Melody. Keep stirring!!

    • Read Unladylike as soon as it comes out

      When my co conspirator Pam says “Many of us are convinced that the issue of equality of women in the church is a distraction from the real mission of the church, so it’s best we don’t make a fuss and mind our manners.”

      She reminds me of what my favorite historian Barbara Tuchman said in A Distant Mirror

      ” in the scales of history inertia outweighs that of change”

  6. Wow. How timely to have found this! I am right there with you, Melody. I too have felt the stirring when I became a mama about 3 years ago. So many thoughts here to respond to.

    “I am tired of the male dominated culture on the platform, as authors, as experts, as theologians, as speakers at conferences and in the Church at large.”

    Me too. And often I wonder, could it be because our very foundation and practice of our faith removes the Feminine? With the Father God, the Son Jesus and the neutral-gender Holy Spirit woven into the very consciousness of every women who reads and breathes the Scriptures with no other Face and Presence of the Feminine, why are we surprised that women are disconnected from their voice and spiritual identity?

    “I believe it harms us to rarely hear the spiritual voices of women and for me personally, it hampers my faith and my journey with Christ.”

    I believe this too. And I passionately believe that not only do we harm ourselves, but we obscure the gift of the church to the world.

    OH Melody, I’m so so glad you started this discussion. I’m heading to your blog now to read more. PLease don’t tire of speaking out. We al need to speak out.

    A sister,
    Vina
    (http://anourishinghome.com)

  7. Melody,

    Jim Henderson is a friend, yet I had the same initial reaction to a man writing a book about women not having a voice, LOL. But I know Jim is the right person to write this particular book.

    Your posting hit me in the heart because I have so many feelings similar to yours. While my denomination (United Church of Christ) is not male-centric, many of my other “church”-related experiences have been. (I grew up Roman Catholic, for example.) My particular pains are complicated by the heterosexism I experience even while my denomination is “open and affirming.”

    I am on the path toward ordination in my denomination and am currently working on a book about my adventures. I am happy to have discovered your blog.

    regards,
    doreen a mannion

    • doreen, i thank you for commenting and sharing a bit of your “adventures.” and would love to know of your book when it is published. be well, melody

  8. Melody,

    Don’t, please don’t, let anyone take your ‘feminist radar’ away!
    I am so thankful that this conversation is possible here at Provoketive… I wish I could say the same for the Emergents here in Germany, but we still have a long way to go (just went through their website the other day, and there is one podcast from one woman…every book, podcast, article, link are to, about, from and for men!). I ‘Amen’ you on so many things in this post, sister, and rather than get on a soap box here, I think I should let it inspire a post of my own. I’m hoping to come at this theme from the more general question of ‘authority’ in my dissertation… a subject I’ve been wanting to tackle for a number of years now. I’ll have to read Jim Henderson’s book.
    thank you. lee

  9. After reading the comments, I recognize I am definitely experiencing something far different that a good-size sample of other women who attend church. I admit, I do not go every Sunday, but it is the most awesome experience every time I go, and I walk through those doors with the objective to get into a peacful space in my mind, body and soul, and simply thank God, and reflect on the past and how far He has led/loved me–through some of the most hell-on-earth experiences. And I’m so fully satisfied with just that. After reading what it’s *really* like behind-the-scene, I’m shocked. I’m glad I’ve never noticed a lack of female voice. When I go, I am so distracted by the peace/release I feel inside, and how humble I can become in that space, I have truly never noticed that women do not have a voice. I’m not sure if that is a good thing, or not, but that’s the reality of my experience.

    You are an excellent writer, by the way. I appreciate your transparency.

    • Raelene: Thank you for talking about your experience in the church and for how you are growing spiritually – which is important and crucial.

      There are many, varied experiences for women to be sure and they are not all bad. Mine, while being at time limiting and frustrating is not “bad” either but there are many ways in which women are limited from fully utilizing their gifts and talents in strict denominations where women cannot teach, or lead or spiritually guide. The Church is coming along.

      You and others that read this review might be interested in reading a few other books. Rachel Held Evans is coming out with a book A year of Biblical Womanhood (and has a popular blog) and another good one which I haven’t finished is Unladylike by Pam Hodgeweed who also has a blog. Of course the best organization to help you grow in your biblical understanding of these issues is Christians for Biblical Equality where you will find a plethora of incredible resources.

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