The F-word and church

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.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. We'll never have Bible-verse memorizing babies together.

Sorry, Mom and Dad. We’ll never have Bible-memorizing babies together.

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.

5 thoughts on “The F-word and church

  1. KristenSue

    Congratulations onyour bravery and the acceptance towards this first step.
    I’m Catholic and the church allows women to serve in all roles excepting those of Deacon, Priest and up. i’m fine with that, because it’s all I know and it feels comfortable. However, I look forward to seeing how The Church (and myself) will change during my lifetime.

  2. Alan Gower

    Thank you for writing this. As you know, I’m a minister in a Church of Christ and this very thing has been brought up numerous times in my own tradition. Perhaps what I appreciate most about your post is your maturity in studying the Scriptures and seeing both sides to this. There is a tension between not fulfilling what seems right to you and not putting a stumbling block in front of someone. Welcome to ministry!

    I’m not sure if I can add any more to your own personal study on, as the Church of Christ puts it, “women’s roles,” but I’ll just say that it’s hard to imagine the first-century church without women. In Acts 16, we see Paul traveling to Philippi and meeting Lydia, who then began the first church there. In Romans 16, in Paul’s greetings, 1/3 of the people mentioned are women, with all of them being described as hard-working women. One of them was even an apostle. Where this conversation gets tricky is 1 Timothy 2:11-15. Is that a rule for all churches across all times or was it a localized issue to address a specific problem within the church in Ephesus? Both sides make valid points.

    The bottom line is that at some point, the church needs to grow. It’s my experience that most men are not wanting to step up to lead/serve, leaving a hole that needs to be filled. If men won’t do it, then that leaves women! So be brave, step up, and ask! I’m glad it worked out in your church and you were able to serve in that capacity. In my own context, some young ladies are growing more and more frustrated because they can’t do anything like that and the boys don’t want to do it.

    Anyways, thanks for posting this! I hope you and Jack are doing well!

  3. Melissa

    Welcome to the can of worms. 🙂 I opened it myself a few years ago when some things started bugging me. It started with one question: Where EXACTLY in the Bible is the verse that says such-and-such about women? I challenged my husband to find it. He couldn’t. It started a long and often tense dialogue between us. I stated repeatedly that my intention was not to undermine or disrespect anyone. It was just that certain things were not adding up to me any more. Was I, who as stated in Scripture was knit together in my mother’s womb by the hand of God and created in His image, less of a person than a man just because I’m a female? Did God really intend for me to be nothing but a housekeeper and a baby machine and to never use the talents he gave me outside of that? What about being a single woman? Was a single woman supposed to just wait around until she had the “covering” of a man to do anything? Why wasn’t God’s covering enough? Why can’t a woman be a pastor or a leader? If that’s what God has called her to and she’s the most qualified person for the job, why isn’t she allowed to simply for being a woman? It was an uncomfortable conversation to have. People don’t like change. Especially the change of long and deeply held beliefs. But when we can’t remember why we believe what we believe any more, maybe it’s time to take a long, hard, uncomfortable look at it. Maybe the church at large has a huge untapped reservoir of talent and callings that has been overlooked for far too long. Maybe they have a veritable army in their own ranks who are just waiting, not even knowing they’re waiting, for the word: Go. Lead. Serve. Be all that God created you to be. And for the men to say “And we’ll back you up when others say you can’t because you’re a woman, because we’re your brothers in Christ and that’s what family does for each other.”

    A couple of books that helped me (and us) on my journey:
    Let Her Lead by Brady Boyd:
    Powerful and Free by Danny Silk:

  4. Debbie Anderson

    Good for you! I am feeling so full of pride right now. I was raised strict Catholic. My great uncle was a priest (God rest his soul), and three great aunts were nuns, all on my Mom’s side. I have 12 years of private schooling under my belt, and all my sacraments.

    After a rough 12month period with my own internal spiritual battle in 1999/2000. We had a house fire, and our church telling me “Sorry, that’s not what we do here, we can’t help you” right after we had just donated clothing in a drive, and gave money every week. That day, they asked when our son would be returning to school…a day after the fire! We lost everything, except the clothes on our backs.

    To add insult to injury, my then fiancé and I were beginning classes for marriage. (I was already the shame of my family, having a child out of wedlock.) Because my husband had been married before (not in a church, and many years before we met), they needed him to gather all the paperwork from another state for this marriage and divorce. The archdiocese had to “decide if I could marry him”. My husband, bless his heart, was busy taking notes when I stood up; I had had enough at this point, and took my stand. I said “Let’s go.” My husband looks at me, then at the priest, and asks “Are we done?” The priest said we weren’t and looked confused. I said “I mean no disrespect to you or the church, but neither you nor another human being can decide if I can marry this man. That is between God, him and I. Honey, please gather your things, I would like to go.” We left.

    We went to the Lutheran church where my dad’s sister was married, which is the denomination my dad’s family is. They counseled us weekly before our wedding for 3 months, and they allowed me to have some of my Catholic prayers and practices as a part of the ceremony. My husband is a non-practicing Mormon who attends church with me, and gives me credit for opening his eyes to God, Christ, and the Bible. When I asked him why he thinks our marriage has lasted longer than his previous (we are still in love after 15+ yrs), he says it’s because we were married in a church. *cries*

    To whomever may be reading, don’t misunderstand, I don’t think the Lutheran church is better, nor do I hate the Catholic church. Hate is a strong word, but like you…I had to make my stand. Perhaps a bit more drastic than passing the plate, but it shook me enough to see that the “PEOPLE” preaching and teaching God’s word are just that….people. They are no different than any of us, other than the education that they have, and how they choose to use it. Currently, we do not consider ourselves any denomination. We attend non-denominational church, and pray that God will help guide us…his lost sheep. Our son is now grown, a strong believer in God, Christ, and the Bible; He has never done drugs, drank alcohol, nor gotten into legal trouble. He works hard, attends college, and has a place of his own. We are extremely proud, and think that while we may have strayed from our church, we must have done something right. Atlas we hope we have in God’s eyes.

  5. txgrandma

    Hi Mandy.

    What a great post!

    First of all, we need to remember that God chose to bring our Lord and Savior into the world through a woman. Without her yes, we would not have the hope of salvation. As Scripture says, “All generations will call me Blessed” and as Catholics, we are still doing that.

    I have been a Catholic for my whole life (nearly 60 years) and it’s just in the past 15 years that I’ve come to appreciate what that truly means and how blessed I am to be Catholic at this point in time. I also live in north TX (FW) and Catholics are in the minority by a long shot but there are many more now in our area than when we first arrived in 1999. I must say that it’s through my Baptist friends in TX that I really came to learn about my Church. Their questions made me find the answers that I was shocked to realize I didn’t know. There has been very little catechesis or just plain wrong catechesis in my life time and it is the reason why so many have left the Church. They didn’t have any idea what they were leaving. Sadly, this included many of my family members.

    One of the biggest lies of our culture is that we need to change the Church to allow women to do more. As women, we need to live our vocations in the best way we can humanly do. If it’s hard, then it’s probably what God wants us to be doing..

    My suggestion to you would be to tune into 910 AM radio, (Guadalupe Radio, an affiliate of EWTN, which also has a global TV network) and you will find all the answers you need to your questions. God has a very special purpose for women in the Church and in life outside the walls and it’s in Catholic teaching that you will be able to live out the fullness of what God intended for your life, long before He created you.

    All of God’s blessings to you and your wonderful husband.


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