I can’t even count the number of times I have started and stopped writing about issues related to women. The subject of a woman’s role in the church and community is a minefield, and I don’t feel like getting blown to pieces with the criticism that is bound to come regardless of what I might say on the matter.
Even more than the inevitable criticism, the fact that I do not fully understand God’s plan for women keeps me from writing. I have puzzled long and hard over many passages of Scripture, read different interpretations of them, and observed relationships and how they work in real life. I have ideas, but I still don’t know as much as I wish I did.
At this point, though, I do have several observations to offer that might be helpful to others who are sorting these things out. This isn’t Scripture, so study it out for yourself to see if it is true!
1. Women wanting a voice in the church and community does not mean they hate their homes.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard that, not in so many words of course. But somehow people have the idea in their minds that if a woman wants to be heard and valued in the larger world, she is a manipulative and discontent woman who wants to run things and doesn’t like to be “stuck” at home. I don’t understand the connection.
I love to be at home. Yesterday I spent the day purring like a contented cat in my kitchen (as I described it to my husband). I cut up fresh, sweet-smelling apples and made a batch of applesauce and some apple pie filling. I whipped up mashed potatoes and gravy for lunch to warm the stomachs of my cold kids who spent the morning playing outside. I made a big pan of potpie for supper that was gobbled down by my hungry family. All day I was mixing and measuring and baking, feeling supremely happy and content while doing it.
But I am also a woman with thoughts and insights. As I mash potatoes or spoon applesauce into freezer boxes, I mull current issues and Scriptures I’ve been reading. I’ve always had an intense craving to know the way of Jesus and how life works.
I’ve been through pain and trouble, and learned things through them. And I want to be able to offer, in my own shy way, what I have learned and observed. I like to listen to God while listening to others, and if I feel the nudge, I like to share what I have heard.
I don’t want to be mockingly told to “go home,” but I do not think that women having a voice in the church community must come at the price of her loving her home. Not all women like to cook or do laundry or take care of kids. We are all different, but I’d venture to say most of us women love stirring in our own nest at home.
Having a voice in the church and community does not automatically guarantee being disrespectful and manipulative. Disrespect and manipulation can come quite easily from women who don’t ever leave their kitchens or say anything in church.
To me, a woman being able to honestly offer insight into situations is much less dangerous than a woman who gets what she wants in an underhanded way. My theory is that a woman who is heard and valued in the church and community is also woman who is truly happy in her home.
2. Something is terribly wrong with a treatment of women that leaves them unprotected.
The irony of this is that extreme patriarchy and extreme feminism seem to both yield unprotected women.
A woman who is shamed, disregarded, silenced, and unwelcomed in the church or home is alone and vulnerable to an excruciatingly painful extreme.
A woman who lords her position over everyone else, using manipulation and cruelty and political speak to get what she wants, is also unprotected.
Ask almost any woman around you if they’ve felt unprotected, and gut-wrenching stories start to surface. The moments when I had no one to defend me were among the most painful moments of my life. I have had some of the finest, sweetest women I know tell me they cannot think of even one time when someone in authority protected them. That is a tragedy that makes me want to weep. What are God’s people doing?
We must develop a belief in women that both enables and protects them. A woman who feels protected and valued will live and speak and bless from a place of peace and safety. A protected and respected woman equals an incredibly loyal woman.
3. Criticism and judgment about women’s roles doesn’t just come from men. It comes from women, too.
I’ve seen quite a bit of this lately and it surprises me. Many women instinctively understand each other and the unique challenges that women face. But many women are also very harsh and judgmental about others who don’t quite agree with them.
I’m not sure what the harshness stems from–I’m guessing at least part of the cause is women carrying a heavy load of unresolved pain. Years of oppression have turned many women bitter. I think part of it also comes from pledging allegiance to a religious or political system (whether “conservative” or “liberal”) and forcing themselves to subscribe to the system because the alternative seems unbearable. Boasting about being in prison may seem preferable to the pain of trying to get out of prison.
I admit I’ve felt reactionary and judgmental too many times. God has been steadily whittling that out by a succession of very humbling events in my life.
I don’t want to heap more shame on women. That is definitely not my heart’s desire. But I don’t see how we can make any real progress in collectively understanding what God wants for us women as long as we continue to throw barbs at each other. When we are so dead sure that we know everything and everyone who disagrees is wrong, we can’t learn and grow.
The fact is that we are but a very tiny slice of the historical church and we aren’t the favored ones who stumbled onto a perfect interpretation of the Bible.
We must stay humble and open to God and His Word, as well as others who care deeply about following Jesus. We must study our lessons and listen to history. But we will never get it perfectly right, and we have to make peace with that.
And those are the observations that keep slipping into my mind at odd hours.
What do you have to add?