It started as a practical offer.
One of the guys who usually helps pass the plate with Jack and two other guys at church wasn’t there on Sunday. There are four aisles. There need to be four people.
“I’ll do it,” I said casually, hoping I wouldn’t hear what I was about to from the men I was standing with, but knowing I probably would.
“Wait,” our friend said, “is that allowed?”
It’s a question I have been afraid to ask about a lot of things inside my church’s four walls. I grew up in traditional baptist churches, where men lead, men teach, men deacon, and men decide.
What am I allowed to do here?
I have been on a journey over the last few years, one that has lead me to really study the Bible and what it says about issues that bothered me. To challenge the ideas that I grew up with and always accepted as truth because I had been told how certain scripture should be interpreted.
I have been learning what it means to be an adult Christian. One who decides to love Jesus because of who He is and not because my parents told me we do.
It started when I didn’t marry Ben Sisney.
Ben was the best-friend-boy I grew up with that my parents imagined me marrying. At least, they imagined me marrying a Ben Sisney. Someone who had also spent his childhood running around in a baptist church like I did. As I became a teenager, that’s exactly what I imagined too. He would know the Bible backwards and forwards, would probably be able to quote scripture, and would be able to make intelligent, witty jokes that referenced obscure Bible stories at (alcohol-free) dinner parties.
The problem is, I didn’t fall in love with a Ben Sisney. I am confident that I was never meant to.
Instead, I fell in love with a boy who grew up in a Catholic church instead of a Baptist one. He hadn’t memorized scripture and his knowledge of basic Bible stories was fuzzy. He couldn’t open his Bible to just the right verse because they just didn’t have to do that in his church. His upbringing was different but the result was the same: he loved the same God I love.
So who cares? Well, I did at first. I spent a while trying to reconcile the fact that the person I had pictured being THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF MY HOUSEHOLD would have to catch up to me in the “look how fast I can look up a Bible verse” department. And OMG(osh, obviously) did that mean that he couldn’t be THE SPIRITUAL LEADER OF MY HOUSEHOLD after all?
Turns out, Jack has led in a way I could have never planned or expected. He has shown me that serving and loving our God means more than being able to pray pretty or quote the entire Romans Road sequence on cue. He has shown me what kindness and humility mean. He has supported me and pushed me in ways that have grown me. And he has challenged me to lead when it time for me to lead.
If that isn’t a spiritual head of a household, I don’t know what is.
I think if I had kept my caps-lock version of that principle in my head, if I had married a Ben Sisney, there’s a good chance I wouldn’t be the person I am today. That husband might have allowed me to only follow instead of pushing me to become a leader in the right areas.*
*Dear THE Ben Sisney, I apologize for the bad rap you’re getting as my metaphorical good Christian husband. I’m confident that you’re a lovely, non-misogynistic husband to Marci.
And so, fast-forwarding through these years of becoming an adult Christian, of deciding what I would keep or reject from my accept-everything-I’m-told churchy upbringing, I have found myself in the often-confusing role of Christian feminist.
There are those reading this who will find that word dirty. I actually have a hard time stating this publicly because I am acutely aware of all the ways feminism gets misinterpreted. Also, I feel it’s more impactful to live out what you believe than to place a label on it.
I have had other Christians (men) warn me against making Christian feminists my role models, against accepting any of their ideas. I have had friends (and probably my mother) worry about my spiritual security when I mention that I’m not comfortable with ways certain scripture (especially scripture about women) has been interpreted. I have been surprised by blatant sexism in my career. I have noticed the disparity in women who lead vs. men who lead in this world.
I have been not allowed to do things in this life for the sole reason that I’m female. Things I would have been great at. And I can’t stop wondering whether my church will stop me from doing things for that reason too.
I have perpetually not fit into the typical church lady mold that seems to exist, even though some of my friends do fit into that mold and seem to be comfortable with it (and use that mold to be amazing servants of Christ).
I love the way Sarah Bessey puts it:
Women have more to offer the church than mad decorating skills or craft nights. I look around: I see women who can offer strategic leadership, wisdom, counsel, and teaching. Their whole lives are an offering, and sometimes, the best way to properly celebrate that offering is with a dozen cupcakes and a fashion show, and that’s okay, too.
Recently Jack and I have talked a lot about this. I can’t stop wondering if women aren’t leaders in our own church because it’s not allowed, or because we aren’t stepping up. Maybe the women are doing craft nights and teaching kids’ Sunday school and doing Bible studies about emotions because that’s what they want to do. But what if women are only doing craft nights and teaching kids’ Sunday school and doing Bible studies about emotions because we think we aren’t allowed to do anything else? If I’m being honest, that’s why I’m doing all of those things (except craft night because I can definitely rock a hot glue gun).
What if we are allowed to lead and just aren’t doing it?
I told him I feel like it’s important for me to be a part of changing that. To be that woman who volunteers for things that only men do when there’s a need for it. To see what they say when I do. And God bless him, he cheered me on.
(He always cheers me on.)
Honestly, I’m terrified about the follow-through here. What if I find out that this church I love, full of people I adore, this place where we finally feel at home, comes back and says I can’t, only because I’m a woman?
(This is how I know when God is telling me to do something, by the way. I never, ever want to do it.)
So I have been studying and praying about this for a while. I feel like this is both a “if anyone knows the good they ought to do and doesn’t do it, it is sin for them” thing and a “make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister” thing.
I don’t want to challenge the status quo for the sake of causing trouble, but I don’t want to not challenge the status quo because it’s scary.
So I offered to pass the plate at church. And yeah, it annoyed me that it was even a debate, that anybody even questioned it. It reminded me of how far I feel the church needs to go. Because to be quite frank, unless these men are passing the offering plate with a part that God gave only men, there is no reason I or any other women can’t stand in the aisle and wait for an offering plate to get to the end of a row.
It was time to step up. It was time to know the good I ought to do and do it.
And you know what? It was allowed after all.