Each time I read Ephesians, I shuddered inwardly upon reading Chapter 5: “Wives submit to your husbands.” This passage was a neon light blinding me to the rest of the book. I felt the same shame when I read other passages with directives to women regarding silence, submission or authority. The worst was 1 Timothy 2, which implied that a woman could not be trusted with God’s word because of Eve’s deception. “Why, Father, did you make women this way?” I asked again and again.
Shame is a powerful force in an individual’s life, especially when it is attached to one’s identity as a human being. At its root, shame is the sense of being wrong rather than doing wrong. Many feel bad for disobeying Scripture or going against God’s heart, but it is an entirely different matter to feel defective at the core of one’s self. That is how I felt as a woman: defective by virtue of my gender. I cannot pinpoint just where this idea originated, but rather it was as if I absorbed it from my culture, family and various church environments. I struggled to embrace the idea of being forgiven, redeemed or truly loved and called by God.
My childhood was affected by spousal abuse, infidelity, control, legalism, anger, and most devastating, abandonment. The voices of women were discounted, second-guessed and challenged, but seldom valued. The needs of women were less important financially and emotionally. Educational aspirations were not affirmed, so I felt unintelligent and was unable to value even my own opinion. In my faith walk, I knew that salvation came by grace as a free gift from God, but felt as if after that it was all up to me.
Upon entering my 20s, I began to ask the question, “What is a woman of God?” In the women’s Bible study groups, I learned about being submissive, supporting my husband’s endeavors, caring for my home, being a good mother and coordinating my wardrobe. I learned that I needed to live under my husband’s authority in order to have his protection and covering. I also learned that if my husband and I were in disagreement, I was always to yield to his leadership. Having been the child of a divorced family, I wanted desperately to be faithful in my marriage and raise my children in a godly home.
These ideas had incredible implications in my personal life, and contrary to the claims of role-based marriage theology, I was not fulfilled, nor was my marriage functioning well. My husband is a wonderful person, but was also naively assuming that what we had been taught was sound truth. He was a great “servant leader” who desired to love me with his whole heart, so he felt completely responsible for my unhappiness. Such role-based theology was not effective in bringing the kind of oneness we both desired.
We were first exposed to another way of thinking when we purchased a tape series by David Johnson from Church of the Open Door. The set explained the difficult passages concerning women, clearing away the ambiguities and misunderstandings of Scripture. I learned that women and men were equally gifted and called by the Holy Spirit. I felt as if Christ was truly the deliverer of my sin and the one who paid my debt. For the first time I felt as if God’s grace truly applied to me as a woman.
I still struggled with some of the Bible passages though. Inside I waged a war between freedom and fear as I tried to reconcile the conflicting messages. I began to study the Bible for the answers.
- I studied the first three chapters of Genesis, discovering for the first time that there was no genuine order other than chronological. I looked up “helper” and “suitable” in the concordance, discovering that they did not have to mean subordinate unless one imposed that definition. God began to show me that leaders “helped.” I also saw that God asked both men and women to govern the earth. God did not create women to be subordinate to men but fully equal.
- At the fall, I saw that men and women were equally responsible for disobeying God’s voice. The consequences of their disobedience affected how people related with God and one another. The Ten Commandments were written to address these broken relationships. They weren’t simply a bunch of rules — they expressed God’s heart for honoring, caring relationships between human beings and himself.
- Returning to Ephesians, I learned in Chapter 1 how God purchased my redemption at the great cost of his Son and adopted me into his family as his child. How then could women still be subordinate to men? I was awakened to the fact that women were either redeemed or they weren’t. If the blood of Jesus Christ saved women, then lining up under some authority structure to become a godly woman was an addition to the gospel of grace, perverting it into a different gospel.
- In Ephesians 5:22 I learned that Paul was addressing the Roman household codes so the gospel might effectively penetrate the culture and eliminate the fear of subversion. Paul lifted the positions of women, children and slaves, granting them personhood. Because of the work of Christ, there are new possibilities for our human relationships born of our adoption into the family of God. No longer are barriers between Jews and Gentiles, slaves and free, or men and women important.
As God’s word opened up, I began to see his heart for relationships that are born of his Spirit and reflective of his love. 1 John says if we are born of God and know God, we will love one another. Being born into God’s family changes everything, healing the breach that happened so long ago in the garden.
Now I see a different vision for humanity: God’s vision for restored relationships. One day across this nation, men and women will serve God together, truly exhibiting the life-changing work of God. Our world will sit up, take notice and recognize the power of God displayed in transformed relationships. Then there will be no shame in being a woman.
This knowledge of the truth has been transforming my relationships with my husband, my family, my church and others. We are learning new ways to relate that are not based on submission to authority structures but in submission to one another. The honesty that comes from two-sided communication, problem solving, building consensus and prayer is slowly changing us. Old paradigms are being broken and old ways shaken.
Honestly, it has not been easy. Anger surfaces occasionally at the past repressive ways women have been treated; sometimes I feel defensive or have a harder time trusting. These are just bumps on the journey, and I am walking beyond them. Sometimes the shame returns and I must return to the knowledge of the truth. CBE has been an incredible resource affirming my studies and providing new insights supplementing the journey toward a life born of truth.
I am filled with wonder at my God and joy in the knowledge that he really does love me and I am included as a “son” in the family of God!