Watch What You Say to My Daughter, Church | CBE International

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Watch What You Say to My Daughter, Church

On April 17, 2018

Did the pastor really just say that? Mouth hanging open and holding my infant daughter, I looked over at my husband.

“I know. Don’t freak out. I know,” my husband whispered.

The pastor’s sermon was good—until he made some demeaning comments about his wife’s years as a stay-at-home mom. He went on to explain that now she was “working hard,” because she has a job outside of the home.

I’ve heard many problematic remarks like these over the years. I usually just roll my eyes and carry on. But that morning, the pastor’s comments shattered something in my spirit.

I was broken-hearted for all of the times I’ve heard male pastors demean their wives from the pulpit.

I was angry for all of the times I’ve heard people say, “I don’t like women preachers, because [insert nonsense reason].”

I was weary from couples’ Bible studies that regurgitate the same old complementarian views.

I expected more of my church. And I especially expected more of my denomination—one of only a few in the US that have always affirmed women in ministry.

Why was I suddenly surrounded by such sexist nonsense?

Over the course of a few months, I realized this nonsense has always been there. But it has finally begun to truly bother me.

The Lord called me to become a preacher when I was sixteen. When I shared this call, I was met with overwhelming support. I was supported by our male lead pastor, who invited me to preach my fist sermon that year. I was supported by my own family as well as my church family. My great uncle—a retired minister—gave me advice and pastoral pointers.

I was blissfully unaware that women preachers were controversial. Even though I’d never had a female pastor, it never crossed my mind that someone could have an issue with a woman in church leadership.

I did not hear grumbling against women in ministry until I got to college. I went to a Nazarene university and studied pastoral ministries. The Nazarene denomination has long ordained women. However, I quickly learned that attending a Nazarene university or church doesn’t automatically make you an egalitarian.  

I got my first taste of blatant opposition to women in positions of authority during my junior year of college. My roommate, a fellow pastoral ministries student, and I were sitting on the steps of our campus apartment practicing good apologetics with a male classmate who was studying to be a youth pastor.

Our classmate vocally opposed female church leadership. I was completely baffled as to why he would remain in a denomination that affirmed women in ministry when he was so against it.

I asked him: “What if a girl in your youth group tells you she feels called to preach?”

He replied that women have certain ministry roles they can fill, according to their gender, and they need to stick to those roles.

Since that distressing conversation, I’ve had a handful of other standout encounters with church patriarchy. A few years ago, I worked with a young man who, knowing that I regularly preached, told me he had recently walked out of a service because a woman was preaching. I sat through a sermon on marriage in which the pastor told husbands that headship means being first to apologize after any argument with their wives (note: apologies are great, but they have nothing to do with “headship duties”).   

In my mid-twenties, I was part of an interdenominational ministry. Our team lead was going out of town, and it was his week to deliver the homily. He asked me to fill in. I developed and delivered a ten minute sermon on that week’s lectionary Scripture. When he returned, all of the other (male) leaders had a meeting to discuss my ten minute sermon. They told my team leader that I acted as if I had a chip on my shoulder. I said nothing about women in ministry, male/female roles, or anything even close to controversial.

Until recently, I viewed these experiences as isolated incidents. It took giving birth to two girls for me to really pay attention to the heavy-handedness of patriarchy in Christian circles. Now I realize they’re symptoms of a systemic issue in the church. In the three years since our oldest daughter was born, I’ve become increasingly uncomfortable with how women are treated and talked about in the church.

That’s mainly because what the church says about women no longer applies to just me. It now applies to my girls.

So when a male pastor makes fun of his wife from the pulpit, my daughters learn that it is okay for men to disparage women. When a church leader says that he doesn’t believe women should be in ministry, it sends a false message about what my girls can do with their spiritual gifts. When submission is framed as solely a female responsibility, my daughters learn that men do not need to practice this discipline. When church folks repeat (for the zillionth time) that women need love and men need respect, my daughters are deceived about every human being’s need for both.

My daughters are three and one, and I’m already preparing to debrief them when they hear these toxic, sexist things at our place of worship. This should not be. The world will already tell my precious girls that they are less than. There should be no room in the church for that same message.

I’ve heard the complementarian metaphors—only one captain to a ship and one CEO for the company. Complementarians say that men and women are “different but equal,” but their own metaphors betray them. The first mate is not equal to the captain. When you boil down this ideology, women are less than men.

Theology that disallows my daughters from leading and preaching limits them where Scripture, properly interpreted, does not. It makes me profoundly sad to think that someone could look at one of my children and think, “She could never be called to lead a congregation because she’s a girl.” I do not know what the Lord has in store for these girls. I do not know how or where God wants to use their gifts and talents. But, I do know God has set no limits on how or where they can work for the kingdom.  

That Sunday lunch was a tearful one. “Am I just overreacting?” I asked my husband.

“I don’t think so. What the pastor said stuck out like a sore thumb to me,” he replied.

I told my husband how much I appreciate that he “gets it.” Our children need to hear from both parents that men and women are called to work together for the Lord on equal footing. They need to see this lived out by mom and dad. But, they also need to hear it from the church. That’s why I’ve made the decision to no longer just roll my eyes when Christians make sexist or misleading comments about women. For my sake and the sake of my children, I have decided to take on those comments and present a better way.

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