Observations about women’s roles

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?


15 thoughts on “Observations about women’s roles

  1. Miriam Iwashige

    What do I have to add? Not much. I’ve been trying for the past month to write about this, and have little but a pile of discarded first drafts (and some Facebook comments) to show for it. I’ve been astounded though at the bits and pieces of others’ experiences and insights that have showered down on me from unexpected places. Through that I’m gaining incremental clarity about truth, especially as my own experience relates to it. It’s helping me see where I’ve been ill-served in the past and where I’ve been given gifts that I’ve hardly noticed. This statement also reflects a growing awareness for me: “But we will never get it perfectly right, and we have to make peace with that.” I think for me that probably means saying something eventually, even if I already know that whatever I think or say won’t be perfect.

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    1. Miriam, that’s what finally convinced me to write something. I want to have things more figured out before I start writing but then I miss connecting with others who are also trying to learn what God wants. If we can offer thoughts and insights to each other, even in an unpolished form, we may just be the bit of encouragement that someone needs. I would enjoy reading what you have to say!

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  2. Lois Reed

    Thanks for taking time to write your thoughts to share with others. Well done, we do need each other! God realized it was not good for Adam to be alone so he made Eve! It’s our task to live this out in ways to bless each other!

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  3. Violet

    Thanks for sharing!
    “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.”
    I totally agree, and didn’t realize until recently how much I had believed this lie for most of my life. We have much we can learn!

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    1. Sometimes I think the older I get, the less I know. But I remind myself often that the Gospel is simple. The Gospel was never meant to be as complicated as we’ve made it today. By learning from other people and other denominations and other times in history, I gain insight into what the basics of the Gospel really are.

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  4. Sandra Miller

    Insightful article.

    Years ago I read Alvin J. Schmidt’s book, “Under the Influence, how Christianity Influenced Civilization.” I suggest you read this book, if you can find it. I will not say any more since the subtitle is very descriptive of its contents. God bless.

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  5. Suzi

    “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” Well said. I am the woman who would rather speak out bluntly to your face. I am still learning to kindly offer honest insight. I tend to boldly give my opnion. I struggle to respect the “quiet”behind the scene manipulators.
    And, the older I get, the longer I am married the more I treasure the man I’m married to. He values my opinion, he asks for my insight. He never leaves me feeling as if I have no voice or my role is of lesser value. He never leaves me wondering how a meeting went that I couldn’t attend. He shares with me details and issues then we always discuss how we feel about it. Do we always agree? No. There are times we let things lay to think about and talk over again later. There are times I realize I have an opinion but he is the spiritual leader of our home and I can trust his decision on the matter.
    …and that is why I struggle to understand why women want a voice. Why they demand to have a say, to vote. Why they degrade each other and manipulate. Yet I see the issue bluntly over and over as I listen to these women, as they talk about their marriages and speak in frustration about their role. No one sees their value. They never get to speak in loving tones how they feel to their husbands or fathers. Alot of Men make decisions without ever hearing the valuable insight of the woman around them. They never hear their concerns tenderly laced with gentleness and grace. I personally believe that if men and women talked and listened to each other more, women would feel more valued, then they would be slower to judge each other, lash out and demand a voice.
    Just my small humble bit of “what I can add”. We are not perfect and we are no better or less than history. But history can teach us so much!

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    1. “If men and women talked and listened to each other more, women would feel more valued, then they would be slower to judge each other, lash out and demand a voice.” Yes! This is so true. I dislike when women are reactionary and yet I know that often stems from a place of deep pain and history of not being heard. If we can all learn to offer grace to each other as we listen, I believe God can do so much good.

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  6. Sarah Beiler

    I agree heartily with all 3 of your observations. Point #2 is has been a huge source of frustration for me. Most of my life I have been in a culture where men are the undisputed leaders. If they care for the women around them, it seems to be an okay way to live, although less then ideal. But sometimes I have seen the men making all the decisions, even decisions that affect the women’s lives much more then the men’s, with no opportunity for the women to be heard. That is a setup for women to be badly mistreated.

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    1. Sarah, I often think of the instruction given in the Scriptures to judge a thing by its fruit. If a belief is producing bad fruit, we need to reevaluate the belief. Too often we try to just fix the fruit.

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