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Practice Discomfort: Centering Women's Pain In The Church

On May 17, 2017

One of my recent tweets was liked 618 times and retweeted 145 times.

I don’t mention this because the tweet itself was so significant, but only to call attention to the widespread interest in the hashtag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear. Arise recently ran a whole series on this hashtag and many other pieces have appeared since then. Below are just a couple.

"55 Things Only Christian Women Hear"
"Christian Women On Twitter Unload About Misogyny In The Church"

Now that a little time has passed, I want to reflect on some of the negative and/or unhelpful responses I observed:

1. Incredulous disbelief that these conversations actually happened
2. Annoyance that women created the hashtag to “bash Christianity”
3. Nitpicking over terminology, theology, and/or beliefs about women’s roles. The point of this conversation was not (a) whether or not women can/should be pastors, (b) what the biblical definition of pastor is, or (c) whether or not women are ontologically more suited to nurturer roles.

I really don’t believe that Twitter (or Facebook) is the best venue for teaching in-depth theology or reporting specific, historical events with mind-blowing detail and accuracy. I spent the last nine of the last fifteen years in graduate/divinity school (and 11 years in full-time ministry) developing my theological worldview, and I’m always happy to have those kinds of conversations. They just don’t (and shouldn’t) happen in 140 characters or less.

Instead, the point of this tweet (and many others like it) is to call attention to the fact that many Christian women (note: I didn’t say all) hear phrases every day that minimize their value, delegitimize their calling, and/or emphasize their sexuality or vulnerability or beauty or [insert any socially acceptable expectation of women here] without acknowledging their education, experience, giftedness, and/or [insert any qualities deemed more socially acceptable of men here].

Still, #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear increased awareness of a reality that has often gone unnoticed and undiscussed.

When a #hashtag strikes a chord, it goes viral. Sometimes one snippet of that conversation incites such a negative emotional reaction that we fail to recognize the alternate perspectives from which they came. We wear our own glasses, so to speak, allowing some statements to flow right through—when they align with our existing worldview. Other statements bounce right off (we ignore them) or get stuck in our eye like a piece of gravel (they cause us pain and we want to get them out as quickly as possible).

If a conversation is causing you pain (or even annoyance), you might ask yourself “why?”

The reason #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear created such a stir is not because of the stories themselves, but because our society is not trained to hear stories well. We are so afraid of someone questioning our privilege, or challenging our long-held beliefs, or illuminating an alternate perspective that we push back against even the idea that these stories exist. Meanwhile, the stories themselves are silenced or minimized, and the women who need to tell them are discouraged and confused.

With all this in mind, I have a humble word of instruction for you, my readers.

To the men and women who question these sisters and their stories because they differ from your own experience: Listen to the stories. Love your sisters and give them space to share their hurts. Show respect for diverse experiences and perspectives. Validate the reality of women who are different from you—whose experiences you do not share—and remember how often Jesus welcomed those on the margins. Resist the urge to give advice, offer platitudes, or minimize the importance of what they share. Recognize the value and importance of uncomfortable conversations.

The fact that you feel safe, valued, and protected is not license to assume those who claim oppression, marginalization, and vulnerability are wrong. Instead, your position of privilege means you have a responsibility to make space for others at the table.

To the women who are telling their stories—pain and all: We hear you. Your story matters.

God is with you and for you and your story is valuable and needed in the church today. Find your voice. The church cannot flourish without your unique gift and perspective. Forgive those who silence you. Jesus spoke out against the religious elite of his day—but he forgave them too. Forge ahead and use your gifts, regardless of the naysayers or critics. God can open doors for you even if others try to keep them shut.

To the men who stand in solidarity with these women, the men who love, live with, and work alongside the women sharing these stories: Thank you for listening. Thank you for making space for our reality in your own lives. Thank you for being advocates for truth. Continue to be an example of ones who know when to speak out against injustice, and when to be silent and listen to others. Continue to call out those who would silence women or minimize their experiences.

One Twitter user shared the following encouragement:

So pray as you read these stories. Practice discomfort by centering women's pain. Welcome diverse perspectives. Recognize complicity (whether intentional or not). Respond appropriately. Seek the flourishing of all people as we live out the gospel together. 

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