Growing up, my sisters and I spent many long days at my grandparents’ house. We would bang out “important” letters on the old Underwood typewriter. We would play dress up with clothes Gram had, making up little plays to entertain the adults. We would swim in the pool in the summer, jump in piles of leaves in the fall, play “cars” in the spring (a game where each person picked a color car and we’d see who saw ten of their color first), make snow angels in the winter.
One of my favorite things we did was to hide under the steps to the basement with an old tape recorder and leave messages for each other. My sisters usually left shorter messages, but mine would be epic. Long and usually filled with a lot of religious speak. Because when I was a little girl, I really wanted to be a pastor when I grew up. I loved Jesus, I loved preaching, it made sense.
I don’t remember who told me I couldn’t be a pastor. Maybe a parent? Maybe my own pastor? Maybe I just gleaned it from the culture around me? I went to a denomination where women weren’t (and are still not) allowed to be ordained. Our particular church didn’t allow female members of the congregation to vote on issues put before the church. Women couldn’t lead mixed adult Bible studies. A man who cooked at the camp I went to every summer was chided by a visiting pastor for doing “women’s work.” So maybe no one had to tell me I couldn’t be in authority over men. Maybe it was just how things were and I figured it out.
When you don’t see women in positions of authority, you can start to think that women don’t deserve positions of authority.
By the time I reached young adulthood, I had fully embraced that world-view. Women shouldn’t be ordained. My first vows included the word “obey.” I don’t know if I was ever a model submissive wife, but I could spout the party line with conviction enough to make up for any misgivings I might have had.
The truth is, I had a lot of misgivings. I never could understand why our church thought the Bible was literal about women being silent, but didn’t require women to have long hair or wear head coverings. It struck me as odd, considering both were New Testament commands, authored by the same man. It didn’t seem very consistent. Why did some rules about women apply, but not others?
This tension between what I said I believed and what I actually believed gnawed at me. Gnawed at me until it had bored a hole in my soul where it could sit comfortably, where the cognitive dissonance was tolerable. Until one day when I said that it was stupid, that of course women were called to be pastors, that of course wives were equal to their husbands in every way, that of course we should burn down the patriarchy.
But in the midst of that personal spiritual revolution, I stayed in churches that taught the inferiority of women. Oh, they would never frame it that way. There would be talk of the value of everyone, and specific roles that men and women played. Talk about protection and covering. But it all boiled down to the same thing. Anatomy trumped equality. And so that little hole inside of me continued to exist, because even if I believed something different than what my church taught, I was still immersed in that theology. I was the one defying the rules. I was the one who was wrong, or rebellious, or heretical, or whatever. And since I was a woman in defiance of men, it still managed to ping that place in me that had half believed in male superiority and it left me with just a twinge of doubt. Just a dash of unease.
I am no longer in a church or denomination that teaches a gendered hierarchy. But my church still has two male pastors. Most of the people in front of the congregation on a given Sunday are men.
Please hear me. I love and appreciate these men. They have played a critical role in my ability to attend church at all. They are unabashed voices for justice for the oppressed of all kinds. They bring words of grace and mercy and compassion and truth and back them up with their actions. I am proud to be a part of this church.
But that little space for tension still exists. Despite the possibility for a female pastor in my denomination, my practical experience is still that of a male perspective, of male leadership.
Attending Why Christian forced me to face some of the discomfort to which I have grown accustomed. One after another, ordained women of all stripes – queer, straight, black, brown, indigenous, cis, trans – all gave sermons. All spoke words of truth and justice and equality. They showed, without equivocation, that women are called and ordained, not only by churches, but by God, to be bearers of the Good News.
And it was hard.
Not because I believed it was wrong, but because it forced me to believe it was right. The truth that combated the lies I had been told as a little girl, and that I later spewed from my own mouth, was directly in front of me. It forced me to repent of my unbelief in a God who truly calls ALL to serve in exactly the capacity to which they are equipped. It brought me face to face with the truth that women are not merely theoretically “allowed” to lead, but that they are doing the work, regardless of anyone’s permission-giving. It forced me to face head on that cognitive dissonance and really start to expel it in a meaningful way.
I’m still processing a lot of it. I’m thinking about that little girl with the tape recorder and wondering who she might be today if she hadn’t been told that women didn’t mean as much to God as men did.
I guess to find out, this 43 year old woman needs to work on believing it.