Imagine my surprise after becoming a Christian to learn that God does not consider women to be equal with men!
I grew up in a non-Christian home. My mother and father were divorced when I was a year old. Mom remarried when I was three years old, and subsequently had four more children by my alcoholic stepfather. I didn’t realize until much later in life that my mother was also an alcoholic. To briefly describe my world as a child, I would tell you that I was hurt deeply by rejection, emotional abuse and favoritism.
In stark contrast to my early world, becoming a Christian in my early 20s set me free! I will never forget the overwhelming joy when I learned that God loved me unconditionally, that I was his special child, and that he had a plan for my life. I had a hunger and thirst for the Word, and I dug in.
During the first years of my walk with Jesus, I joined a five-year, in-depth Bible study that required completion of homework and meeting in study groups. As I learned more and more, my friends began to tell me that I had a gift for memorizing Scripture. I knew the address of almost any passage, and I would use the Word to counsel and encourage anyone who asked. In our Bible study, I took great joy in discussing, learning and pointing out new truths the Holy Spirit had shown me. I came to the point that I desired to teach the Word of God, and I really believed this was his calling for me.
My husband, children and I became members of a church that was an offshoot of a very staunch traditional denomination. Soon I was bothered by a number of teachings. The first was the Calvinist view of predestination. Our pastor was sure that God chose Christians (in the strictest sense). I thought to myself, “Since I’m such a terrible sinner, why would he choose me and not my stepfather?” I became angry with God to think that he might be this unfair. As soon as I would have feelings of anger toward God, I would feel exceedingly guilty, confess, start again renewed, and go on ... until the next time something “unfair” was presented to me.
Soon I learned that women were only allowed in certain ministries or roles within the church, because Scripture, the Holy Word of God, did not permit it. The eldership board was to be all male. This was attributed to 1 Timothy 3:2: “For an elder must be a man whose life cannot be spoken against. He must be faithful to his wife...” (New Living Translation). Women were only permitted to teach children or other women, based on 1 Timothy 2:10: “I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man; she must be silent.” Our pastor believed a women’s Bible study must have the oversight of a man.
Some of us asked the pastor if we could start a women’s Bible study, and he assigned an elder to oversee it. The irony is that the elder was an unmarried man. Previously, the pastor had addressed this matter to the congregation. He reiterated the passage in 1 Timothy 3:11 — “husband of one wife” — but stated that this particular man prayed, felt led by the Holy Spirit and was desirous of being an elder. We all loved this man, felt the leading of the Holy Spirit to affirm him, and graciously accepted him as an elder, even though the letter of the law did not permit this.
There would be no such love or leading of the Holy Spirit, however, when it came to the role of females within the church. Shortly I found that women were to be submissive to men in general. Whenever the role of women in the church was mentioned, the word submission was reintroduced. In light of all the Scriptures on God’s justice and perfectly loving personality, I felt my pastor was committing blunders. However, my search of the Bible found absolutely no support for my theory of equality. I was temporarily comforted by Galatians 3:28: “There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female. For you are all Christians — you are one in Christ Jesus.” However, I could find little to bolster my argument, and it seemed I was slowly sinking into sadness, disappointment and anger.
A memory which still brings a smile to my face took place during a Sunday evening service when our pastor told us that women were to be silent in church according to I Corinthians 14:35. One of the dear 80-year-old ladies promptly stood up and said, “That was written during times when women weren’t even educated!” He had no retort, and it satisfied my soul! Unfortunately, that satisfaction would be short-lived.
I decided that my role limitations would not stop me from serving in whatever capacity I was allowed. I headed up junior church. Because the children sometimes acted up in Sunday school, we shared this information with the parents. One day the pastor announced from the pulpit that the junior church staff, being women, could not report information about the children to the fathers because we would be usurping our authority over men.
About a year earlier, the pastor asked his wife to step down as music minister solely because she was a woman. She had a beautiful voice and everyone enjoyed the music portion of our worship service. However, because she was asking the entire congregation — including the men — to turn to particular pages in our hymnals, he became convinced we were violating 1 Timothy 2:10. She was exercising authority over the men in the worship service by telling them to turn to a particular hymn!
We were in a downward spiral in our supportive, loving Christian relationships one to another. In fact, I would say that these interpretations of the Scriptures pitted the genders against one another. As I had already observed a bias towards men in secular society, I was disillusioned about this. To begin to believe that this was God’s design was really more than I could bear.
I had also started a women’s Bible study in my home, and two significant events further impacted my disillusionment. First, one of the married women had a daughter who desired to take swimming lessons. Her husband had forbidden the daughter to do this, solely because he was afraid of water. I shared that I wouldn’t submit to him about this because I didn’t think we should submit to husbands in everything. What if he forbade me to attend church or asked me to do something immoral? Surely, the potential damage to their child’s psychological and physical development called for the mother to have better judgment. Even so, there was silence throughout the room. Weren’t the Scriptures clear? The man is the head of the woman. As I shared my point of view, I still remember feeling guilt.
This made me think about how as children, boys and girls are equal in the eyes of their parents. Each is limited only by the physical differences God bestowed on us. “Would God now ask me to believe, through the exhortations of Paul, that I am called as an adult woman to become as a child upon marrying?” Once married, I give up my right to reason, my freedom to use my unique God — given gifts, and must submit all of my innate leadership talents to my husband — just because I have the misfortune of being born a female?
The second incident took place when the ladies of the Bible study invited the fellows to join us for a Saturday picnic in the park. Since I had been sharing my feelings with my husband, he was sensitive to my hurt. Prior to eating, he asked me to lead the prayer to bless the food. One of the husbands, a fine traditionalist, spoke up and said, “She can’t pray when there are men here to lead the prayer.” This was the culminating “death blow” for me. From that point on, I began to believe that God was sending these incidents. Unfortunately, I could see no redeeming reason for this. The underlying feeling was that he was deliberately torturing me — blow-by-blow.
Hindsight reveals times when God tried to comfort me along the way. One such event is indelibly burned into my memory. I became tortured day and night because my anger had now graduated to resentment toward God. I thought either God really is biased toward men, or he has failed to give us clear Scriptures to counteract those written by Paul. I felt extremely guilty and saddened by the lack of his presence in my life, but I couldn’t bring myself to let go of this issue because I was afraid I might have to live with the effects of inequality the rest of my life. I was also afraid of living with this disappointment in God the rest of my life.
My anguish was similar to that which David must have felt after Bathsheba. He wrote about the crippling effects of his sin in Psalm 38: “My bones have no soundness because of my sin. My guilt has overwhelmed me.” One Saturday, I cried almost all night — praying and crying. The next morning, the pastor announced that he had been awakened in the middle of the night because someone in the congregation was terribly burdened. The answer God gave him was that this person just needed to forgive God. I was relieved and ashamed simultaneously. I cried with release and left for home, asking God to help me forgive him and to forgive myself. I felt a special love from God toward me.
The negative effects of my experiences haunted me on and off for several years. I became oppressed when reading the Bible. It seemed that I found places throughout the Word where things were unfairly biased toward men. I couldn’t even stand to hear the word submission. I vowed that I would never submit to God or anyone else again unless I learned that males were called to submit also. Underlying these thoughts and feelings was a basic insecurity stemming from my childhood. Why was I again faced with a parent who was rejecting me for service and who favored my “brothers” over me?
Eventually we left our congregation, but the hurtful incidents continued. We joined a small church that appeared to be more open-minded because the pastor’s wife led the music. We had dinner one night with the pastor and his wife. During the evening’s conversation, they disagreed on a point. He promptly looked at her and said, “Yep, but God made me the boss!” Instead of laughing or blowing it off, I added it to my archive of hurtful experiences.
Meanwhile, I told my husband in no uncertain terms that the days were over when he would be telling me what I could do. He would not be allowed to make any more sole family decisions. I was more than capable of contributing to the family decisions — so there! (I’m thankful to God that he is a patient man. He was very loving during most of this endurance race.)
I got to the point where I just decided I wasn’t going to follow a God who did not consider women to be equal with men. This catapulted into a downward spiritual spiral in which my whole family stopped attending church and living for God. Slowly, but surely, we returned to selfishness, which caused catastrophe in my family. My sons were affected because Jim and I didn’t walk with God during their adolescence. Because God is gracious, patient and merciful beyond comprehension, he allowed me much later to throw myself on his mercy seat.
When I began my journey back to Jesus, I found a book at the bookstore — I Suffer Not a Woman! I was so excited to find it, and I read it entirely. Through prayer and through Catherine Kroeger’s book, my healing process began. However oddly enough, about two years after finding and reading the book, I had a recurring attack (as I’m sure it was from Satan). This time, I guess I learned a little. I turned to God and thanked him for my healing. I told him I knew he would see me through. I opened the book again and began reading it as if the book itself would be my salvation. After crying, praying and reading, I closed the book and God directed my eyes to the back of the book at the bottom where CBE’s address and Web site was listed. I ran into my home office, fired up my computer and found CBE for the first time. You can be sure I’m a life partner of CBE. As far as I’m concerned, God used CBE to save my emotions, put me on a straight path with him and heal my family! Praise Jesus and thank you, CBE!