During my teenage years, my family often went across the mountain from where we lived to a place called Penn Valley Christian Retreat. Penn Valley hosted lots of seminars with topics ranging from finances to missions to Christians in healthcare.
Being an inquisitive bunch, my siblings and I would take in seminars just because we liked learning about the world and meeting interesting people. If we were lucky, we would even bring a carful of friends back over the mountain to spend the night with us.
Two incidents from seminars at Penn Valley keep returning to my memory.
After listening to a message about justification and sanctification one evening, I approached the speaker when the lobby had nearly emptied its load of people. I don’t remember exactly what I asked him, but it was about a theological point he had made that I wanted him to clarify.
He listened ever so politely, then nodded his head kindly and acknowledged my troubled feelings.
I wanted him to explain to me what I didn’t understand about his theology. But the more I tried to sensibly and clearly ask him what he meant, the more this gentleman nodded and acknowledged my feelings.
Gah! I was furiously disappointed. I wasn’t asking him for sympathy! I was asking an intelligent question!
I gave up and went home feeling cheated.
Later, I wondered, did I seem emotional and needy? Was I threatening because I asked a theological question? Why did such an honorable gentleman respond to me emotionally rather than intellectually?
Some months later, I was at Penn Valley for another seminar. I was waiting in the lobby to go home when I noticed a teacher I knew somewhat from my connections at Faith Builders.
I slipped over to where he was sitting on the couch and said hi. Then my curiosity got the best of me, and I asked him a question about passage I had read in the Bible.
His face lit up. “That is a good question!” he said enthusiastically. I grinned and sat down on the floor and for the next hour we had an animated discussion. I brought up an idea I had read in one of John Dominic Crossan’s books. (Why I was reading Crossan as a teenager, I have no idea, but the teacher never recoiled in horror or fell off the couch in shock.) He took everything in stride and engaged without judgment.
Soon several other people joined us, and we all talked until this teacher had to leave for his next deadline. He got up, and the whole group of us walked him out to his car, talking a mile a minute the whole time.
I went home, my mind and heart practically glowing.
Why did the second encounter feel so different to me than the first? They were both good Christian men. The fact that the leader in the first scenario tried to validate my feelings is worth at least something, considering that many people don’t even try that hard. I remember many other instances of church leaders not listening to me at all when I tried to ask them about things.
But women are not merely creatures of feeling. To treat them as such is degrading. Women have insight from God that the world needs. They have insight that the church needs–and the church needs to hear it directly from them, not relayed by a man.
All these years later, I have been unable to forget these two incidents. I felt belittled when I asked a question and the first man responded by validating my feelings. I felt honored when the second man listened and answered my question.
Thus I have concluded that it is not enough for a man to acknowledge a woman’s feelings. A man must also acknowledge a woman’s mind.
What do you think? It is it more important for you to have your feelings respected or your thoughts respected? Or both?