I was born into a Christian home, and my mother and father both believed in no smoking, no drinking, no card playing, no movies, no TV and no dancing. In high school I was always pulled out of gym class during the square dance unit, and I had never seen a movie until I was in college. My father ruled the home and listened to many radio preachers, while my mother worked many hard hours on the farm and in the home.
When I was introduced to the Worldwide Church of God (WCG) (then known as the Radio Church of God) at age 20, it was exciting and exhilarating. I had accepted Christ as my Savior at age 12, but now studying the Bible was my passion. I didn’t realize then I was just moving from one form of legalism into another.
At that time, the WCG taught doctrines many churches did not. For example, even though when we were baptized we affirmed our acceptance of Christ as our personal Savior, the rigor of keeping the seventh-day Sabbath and other Old Testament laws overshadowed Jesus. The church stressed strict obedience to God. My husband and I learned lots of commands from Leviticus and Deuteronomy, which we incorporated into our lives, many with great hardship. We were instructed to study the Bible and pray at least half an hour a day. Practically every corporate prayer included the plea to God to lead us into his truth. I believe this is why God later moved in our denomination.
Women in the old WCG, as in many denominations, were to remain silent in church, ask their husbands at home and receive their identity from their husbands. I remember a Bible study in the early 1960s where men were raising their hands with Scripture questions for the pastor to answer. A single woman raised her hand, and the pastor acted as if she didn’t exist. He never called on her. Women were called Mrs. so and so. We never learned their first names.
Often my husband Paul and I would visit a joyful older couple. The man could no longer work as a professional gardener, so in order to make a living, his wife used her artistic talent to paint scenes on 5-gallon milk cans for the area’s tourist trade. One day when we visited them, they were sad and despondent. Our pastor had visited them a few days earlier and found the man making sandwiches for their lunch so his wife could use her time to paint. The pastor said he should not do that, because it was women’s work! Somehow my husband was able to explain that this idea was not biblical.
My husband grew up in a Christian home, too. However, his parents functioned as partners. Paul was taught to help his mother with her work as well as his father. For over 30 years Paul and I thought we were following WCG’s guidelines concerning women. However, looking back, Paul actually followed in the footsteps of his father. He included me in everything, including the finances. Anything I wanted to try, he built me up and encouraged me.
Women in the old WCG mostly stayed at home, unless they absolutely had to work in the workplace, because it was taught that working women often became bossy and domineering. Consequently, I had time for hobbies and volunteering. Noticing that our daughters were not receiving opportunities I thought they should have, I enrolled them in 4-H. Within a few months, I was asked to be the leader.
For about five years, I spent 20 hours per week volunteering in local, county and state levels of 4-H. My club received the county “Club of the Year Award” and the “Community Pride Award” five years straight out of 40 clubs. Each year I worked with 25 to 45 junior and senior high students, some of whom went on to receive national awards. Each student participated in a community service project, drama skit, fundraiser, fair exhibitions and at least one personal project. I organized the parents to help with speech contests, tours and exhibition set-ups or as mentors on individual projects like computers, horses, flower gardening or small engines. I received letters of recognition from the mayor and a Colgate Palmolive “Help Young America” national award.
One year I unexpectedly received the “Volunteer Certificate of Recognition” signed by our state governor, presented before an audience of about 300 people. When I got home, I wadded the certificate into a ball, threw it in the trashcan and started to sob, “I’m nothing but a hypocrite!” My husband walked over, pulled it out of the trash, flattened it and calmly said, “I don’t think you should do this.”
You see, at the same period of time, I had volunteered to teach the fifth grade Bible lessons in church. After a few months, word came from headquarters that women could only teach third grade and under. Men must teach the older children.
In December 1994 the WCG was rocked to its foundation. The denomination made wholesale changes that moved it from a fringe denomination to an orthodox, evangelical one. We discovered that the new covenant is not in the future, but now. We find our identity in Jesus Christ, not in legallistically keeping days or laws!
This denominational liberation affected all aspects of our personal lives as well as church life. Our church has now moved toward the model that recognizes everyone’s spiritual gifts. This includes women as well, since spiritual gifts are not determined according to gender. Dr. Ruth Tucker was one of the first people outside our denomination to observe how women were being liberated. In her article, “From the Fringe to the Fold—How the Worldwide Church of God discovered the plain truth of the gospel” in Christianity Today, July 15, 1996, Tucker states, “This unprecedented support for women’s involvement in ministry is motivated largely by the new perspective on mission and evangelism that necessitates full mobilization of the church.”
I began to see these changes for women in the late summer of 1995, when my husband and I were riding in a pastor friend’s car discussing our church’s overall changes. He said, “And I don’t think our church has been treating our women right either.” He added, “The risen Lord told Mary to go tell the men I am risen. He commissioned a woman first to preach the greatest sermon of all time!” I couldn’t believe my ears. I had read that passage so many times and never saw that! Then a few days later, a young man in our congregation stopped by our house without an invitation and brought the book, What Paul Really Said About Women. He asked if we would like to read this book, which was quite an eye opener.
Just a few weeks later, another family wanted to loan us the books, Women at the Crossroads and Beyond Sex Roles. Within a few weeks I saw an ad in Christianity Today about Christians for Biblical Equality (CBE). I went to the phone and called CBE right away. After we had received the information package, I wanted to visit CBE, which we did. While there, I bought several hundred dollars worth of books, which my husband and I devoured alongside our Bibles.
I mentioned what I was studying to the women in my church. They, too, wanted to know what the Bible says about women. I volunteered to facilitate an eight-week Bible study called “The Bible Status of Women.” After each study, I offered my notes on an e-mail listserv for the pastors’ and elders’ wives of my denomination. I received about 200 requests for the set from all around the world. This kept me very busy. About March 1998, I put the studies on a Web site, so anyone can download them, saving me much energy and time (www.geocities.com/biblepage). I have received messages telling me that my studies have been translated and used in India, South America and Europe and used in sermons across the United States and Canada. Since then I have taught and lectured about the Bible status of women at churches, conferences and retreats.
Today in the WCG most congregations encourage women to use their God-given gifts. Women may be worship leaders, communion servers, speakers or small group leaders. In our congregation, I am the only woman serving on our Pastor’s Advisory Council (voted by the congregation). It is enjoyable to be accepted on equal basis with the rest. My suggestions are no more or less accepted by the rest of the group.
For a long time Paul and I had a gut feeling that women should not be silenced. He always treated me with love and respect, and encouraged me to use the gifts God gave me. While we realize now that we related to one another with mutual submission, we weren’t able to experience genuine freedom then, because we were still somewhat bound by the hierarchical view. I’ve learned that complete liberation only comes from having the foundation of biblical truth. When we saw from the Bible that women are free to use their God-given gifts as God directs, then we received true freedom!