A Secondary Issue?
In a dream, I pounded with bloodied fists on a shiny black monolith of granite. I begged to get inside; my anguished reflection on the surface was the only response. This scene is as clear as a vision and I remember it like yesterday. I could not make this up.
I came to consciousness in a panic; I realized this was the church. My efforts to gain access, recognition, and acceptance were met with silence.
How did I get into this dream? I reminisce back several decades—no spring chicken speaking here—to my childhood in the 1950s rural Midwest. In a little wooden church surrounded by cornfields, the ritual of communion service clarified the status of all individuals. Common cup Lord’s Supper was considered more biblical. First, the oldest men hobbled to the front of the church. After they all sipped from the one cup—alcohol killed the germs—they were replaced with the young men, including the most recent confirmands. When they sat down, then the older women were served, and then finally the young women. Our immune systems were the strongest!
Any sermon text that referred to young women was turned into a warning. Acts 21 became a sermon about how difficult it was for Phillip to maintain his daughters in a virgin state. Matthew 25 earned the remark, “Notice that these women were virgins” as the preacher stared at us. I heard a sermon on the raising of the daughter of Jairus. I was furious that the men in the story were the total topic of interest, and nothing was mentioned about the girl raised from the dead. That was the beginning of a book I wrote many years later, Bold Girls of the Bible. Remembering my childhood, I noted it would be so empowering for girls to see themselves in the Bible.
No women were ever visible in front of the church. I was allowed to play the organ, and I played it loud and fast! Confirmation class warranted the frequent reminder the women always had to have a “head.” First, it was our father, then our husband. If widowed, our head was our oldest son. If all else failed, I am sure there was a solution. No “headless” women were allowed! . I felt utter indignation about this teaching. I could certainly read the King James version, but I knew this is not what God meant. I just knew it. I never bought the package.
The boys got “the talk” but not the girls. “The talk” was encouragement to consider a call to ministry. Girls received no calls. If we thought we did, it was not from the Spirit. There were no options for girls at a seminary— well maybe for students’ wives. I left the week after high school graduation for a large state university and majored in something else. I also did not expect any wisdom from above.
The struggle became intense. It is often repeated: the women’s issues are secondary, not really of primary importance—certainly not a matter of salvation. Reconsider! I became deeply depressed. I raged against God for many sleepless nights. If the God I loved created me so defective, and then despised me for it, I did not need this God. One summer day I seriously considered driving off the interstate into a barrier. Only the thought that my kids would be left waiting for me to pick them up kept me from doing it.
My healing journey began in a large secular bookstore on the shelf labeled “Feminist Theology.” This was forbidden territory! I furtively read Groothuis, Kroeger, Grenz, Michelson, Bilezikian, Sayers, and other names from the mid-nineties. These well-worn books remain in an honored space on my shelf. I bless the day a new acquaintance, a visitor in yet another patriarchal church, whispered to me the name of a group in Minneapolis. I was not alone! This was before the www.com world, so I actually had to call the CBE office and ask for a catalog.
One Sunday I finally mustered the courage to break all ties with my past. I played the final amen of the doxology, slammed the piano lid down, and exited after hearing a sermon on I Cor. 14. My family and I joined the “liberal, main-line church a few blocks away.” I tell them about my past life, and they ask what century I am talking about.
What has happened to the foreboding black monolith? Well, it reflects my backside now. I have turned around and ran far away. But, lasting repercussions remain. I long for the opportunities, mentoring, and role-models that men routinely take for granted. I fight self-doubt and struggle for enough self-confidence to face new challenges. I triple edit myself before saying anything, then miss the opportunity.
At a mature age, I completed a seminary degree in Biblical Studies to thoroughly understand the issues and more effectively face the opposition. I grieve for the half of the population that is rendered so much less than what they are created to be. I will spend the rest of my life helping women recover from the oppression of this false teaching.
Do not agree that “women’s issues” in the church are a secondary matter. To women it is truly a matter of life, spirit, and soul.