"auntie kathy, are you sure it's not wrong for you to be a pastor?"

well here’s a sincere email i received last week from my 14 year old niece.  i got permission from her to share it on this blog so don’t feel like i’m violating some private conversation.   i thought it was too important, telling, to just keep between her and i and if it helps challenge us a little, well, it’s worth it.   i know you will all honor and respect her for her question.  she goes to a conservative christian school:

hey auntie kathy. i was just wondering what your input is on 1 timothy 2:11-15.  we were discussing it in Bible class and i thought of you. i’m pretty sure you are a pastor, right?  are you doing the right thing? i’m confused on what is right…i just wanted to know what you think.  write back….luv ya!

i thought it was amazing that she is actually investigating the issue instead of taking what her bible teachers say part and parcel.  what i can tell from our ongoing conversations, though, it is it is very difficult and confusing.   she is definitely not sold on what i have shared back in response.  here’s what she said next:

i read [your email] and thought that you are right in some ways, but i’m still not sure.  i mean, man is made in the image of God (we all are in a sense), but woman is made in the image of man, when eve was created from adam.  it just makes sense to me that men are preachers and women are in the audience listening….i mean i understand women being missionaries but do you think that man and woman should be equal in that way by being preachers to a whole congregation??? i don’t know…love you.

oh it was so hard for me to see a sweet smart 14 year old being taught that a few isolated passages in scripture mean that women’s God-given role is subservient to men and we should silence our voice. but of course i can see why she’s confused.   it is confusing.   i am not in her bible class, so i have no idea how it’s all going down, but i have been around christian schools long enough to know how “this is what these passages definitely means” gets communicated.   so kids, or grownups listening to authorities teach the bible, get in our head that there is 100% certainty that that is exactly what that passage means and forget the bigger story.   we don’t tend to be taught “hey, there are lots of different beliefs about these couple of passages, lots of perspectives, what do you think?” 

i am glad my niece is at least wrestling with this, asking the question.  but i do believe so many cards are already stacked against her.  you see, over time in these kinds of conservative systems she’ll subtly be indoctrinated with the thought that women are supposed to do this or that and aren’t allowed to do this or that.  that “good christian women” are meant for certain things and certain things only.   this subtle misogny will have all kinds of effects that are unseen to the naked eye but shape more than we think. 

she and i will continue the conversation and i look forward to being another voice into her heart & head even if it doesn’t really make an impact now.  i just want her and my daughter and all the other little girls i know to be whatever they want to be.  

i am used to some people thinking i am “wrong” for being a pastor. that is really nothing new to me.  some were fine when i was the associate pastor or “underneath” the authority of a man, but now that i co-lead, and we mutually submit to each other, well, that’s a different story.  and let me clarify an important point like i always do…this is not about my soapbox for women pastors.  it is about my soapbox for women, period.   you see, i believe the subtle ways women are placed underneath men, in their “God-given roles” they will always be subtly or directly oppressed and undervalued.  their worth will always be less-than just because of their gender. i know many people say “come on, it’s not that big of a deal. we want women to do everything except have authority over a man” but i think they’re just fooling theirselves.  if power’s not that big of a deal to them, then why in the world won’t they give it up all the way? 

and once in a while i hear this from women, either subtly or directly:  “well i am not a pastor or a speaker so it’s not that big of a deal for me” but here are my questions in response: 

  • well, what if it’s a big deal for your sister, your daughter, your mother, your best friend?
  • and, just as important, how does your community support you in living out who you were created to be? 
  • how are they helping you get set free? 
  • do they care about your passions, your dreams, your talents, your voice if they have absolutely nothing to do with advancing the programs of this church or some christian ministry or a man?  
  • who is fanning your true gifts (not just the coveted good hospitality and happy disposition skills) and your real voice (not just audible words) and creativity into flame? 

you see, the “we don’t really value your voice” message goes far beyond just whether or not women preach or teach.   it’s the subtle ways women don’t have equal power, leadership, value, or voice, where entire generations of misogyny are built upon a few passages of scripture and the liberating message of Jesus gets lost.   i am well aware many women have no desire to be a loudmouth like me.  but i know they are strong and powerful in different ways and won’t get the chance to step into it “unless it directly benefits the system somehow and it will only be to a point that the men in power feel comfortable with.”  women will stay in churches year after year after year after year that subtly or even directly keeps them stuck, limited.

all this to say:  i believe it’s time for continued change in this area of christian culture.  we have to think about the young girls coming up, what do we want them to believe about themselves and their contribution to the kingdom in the deepest of ways.   i realize in many mainline denominations it’s a nonissue but for those of us with evangelical roots, it is far, far, far from a nonissue.  i believe for the sake of all 14 year old girls i hope we do much more than just settle for perpetuating the status quo.  i hope more and more men and women risk their jobs, their ministries, their hearts, to break down the damage that’s been done over the years to the voices of little girls, grown women. 

Jesus is a restorer, a rebuilder, a redeemer.  but i believe sometimes we need to actively participate in his redemption.  to me, i think it requires speaking out with more than just words against the subtle and direct ways we are silencing and devaluing 1/2 of the population.   please, God, redeem this mess we’ve made. 

ps: i told my niece and i’ll say it here, too, i love christians for biblical equality because they are smart about the bible & believe passionately in equality for all in the kingdom of God.  their stuff is always a great resource.  plus, if you want to read about a few of these specific passages in paul’s letters, check out tia lynn’s in-depth study on silent women in church.  (this link is to part 1 but there several posts)

 

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

61 Comments

  • Kathy, you and I are on the same wavelength today! This morning I posted on “10 Lies the Church tells Women.” It’s insane to me that these lies keep getting taught over and over again when there is now such wonderful biblical scholarship to teach people what the truth really is!

    Thanks for continuing to speak the truth on this issue with boldness!

    Reply
  • Kathy, thanks for this! Some days I feel like it is not possible to find a church where I can be what God created me to be. But your post gives me hope. 🙂 Things are changing… slowly. I’m often amazed that the strongest and loudest voices against women are from women.

    Blessings,
    Heidi

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  • Kathy,

    I actually relate to this post in two ways.

    1. My wife, who has co-pastored with me for years, has regularly fielded challenges and taken hits from people (men, particularly) who have come across our path and do not like that she is a pastoral leader. This is very ironic since she is actually both a more gifted leader and a better shepherd than I am.

    2. I don’t pretend that this even comes close to what women go through…but I have felt the sting from people who think I should not be a pastor because I have never been to seminary. I got my theological education by paying attention in church and studying for myself, and could go toe to toe in a theological discussion with most seminary professors; but because I haven’t jumped through the right hoops, there are certain mindsets that still will not accept me. (The biggest difference of course, is that I could go to seminary easier than a woman could change her gender. But it is still about exclusion due to traditional mindsets that have nothing to do with the heart of Scripture.)

    Thanks for this post.

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  • Hehe I was going to point to the same thing Helen did (well I got it from her)…it’s funny, but then again, so true.

    I’m glad your niece is talking about it with you, rather than simply passing judgment. It’s good that she’s asking questions.

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  • Kathy,

    I’ll pray for you… that you come to a proper understanding of submission and God’s word.

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  • tracy – i agree, it is so insane. i haven’t had a chance to comment yet on your blog but i did glance at that list and it is so sad to me, how strong and powerful some of of the lies are…this is why we need to continue to at least say it out loud. if even one person makes a shift toward freedom, it is worth all the clamor.

    heidi – i do think some things are starting to really change, and that gives me hope, too.

    helen – so funny!

    jeff – thanks for sharing…i think it is beautiful that you and your wife are co-pastoring and that you clearly recognize her giftedness. the irony is so funny. these assumptions about pastors that get made, that a title equals must equal something when it doesn’t really. and on the seminary thing, then you know what it is like, this weird “automatic strike” against you even though it has absolutely nothing to do with being able to do or not do the “job” (and why in the world has seminary been elevated to such an elite place anyway?) i look forward to hearing more of your journey!

    erin – i am so glad she’s asking the question, too. i am so proud of her for that, it says a lot!

    wes – yeah, i suppose we will probably always disagree on this issue and tend to pray in opposite directions, but that’s okay.

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  • Wes wrote,

    “I’ll pray for you… that you come to a proper understanding of submission and God’s word.”

    This is just a subtle way of saying,

    “I’ll pray that you see things my way, which of course is the right way, and you’ll come around some day.”

    What lunacy! I’m sure you’re a nice guy, Wes, but please don’t pray for me. How about engaging in dialogue and listening to the thoughts and opinions of others instead. How about admitting that there are things that perhaps need some rethinking on your part. I don’t know you, Wes, and perhaps I am being a bit harsh (it’s early, and I haven’t had coffee yet), so forgive me if I’m out of line. But I’ve heard these types of comments too often, and they generally come from those who have their minds made up and are unwilling to consider an alternative.

    Sorry to unload here, Kathy. Delete this if you see fit. I do however want to congratulate you on your enduring spirit and your willingness to engage and think and prod. When our ultimate concern, as Tillich once wrote, becomes more about creeds and rules and concrete “beliefs” than about the wideness of God and faith, then we are engaging in a life of faith that is lacking and falsely beneficial.

    Brian

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  • I was hoping that Wes was a friend joking with you, but apparently not.

    Kathy, I really appreciate your voice. Even on issues like this, it carries the evident fruit of the spirit.

    Have you had an opportunity to visit with this niece’s parent about the issue?

    Thanks for sharing this family conversation.

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  • brian – oh no the only comments i will ever delete are ones that are blatantly offensive, and while i disagree completely with wes, i am glad he posted his because it is so telling. the certainty. the absolute certainty. brian, i appreciate so much what you shared and for the passion and heart behind the words! putting myself out there like this of course makes me a target but i think sometimes we just have to take the hit for the greater good, to have the important conversations that we need to have. so thanks for watching my back a bit, it helps more than you know!

    grace – yeah, not a joke. not a joke at all. my family will be here visiting next week and it will make for some great conversation for sure!

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  • Wes, don’t you mean “I’ll pray for you… that you come to my understanding of submission and God’s word”?

    Until you get to heaven can you really be 100% certain that you’re right?

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  • so cool that your niece is dialogging with you about this.

    I love to quote Rose Swetman who says:

    The issue of women in leadership is not an issue of theology, but an issue of justice.

    Several years ago a new high school graduate asked for prayer from our ministry team. I knew this girl and was thrilled that she wanted prayer. As we waited quietly for the Holy Spirit to show us what to pray it became clear that she is called to spiritual leadership. The problem was that she did not have the conviction in her beliefs that she could be a leader. This created a hidden conflict for her which we did not know about. We just prayed for her to know God’s calling and to respond to it in the right time and place. She cried and cried as the hidden tension of her heart was gently addressed by Spirit led prayer, what some would call prophetic prayer.

    I’ve always remembered that time because of how clear it was that she is a leader yet her own thinking, belief system, was the obstacle to fulfilling this.

    One of my closest friends felt called to pastoring, but she felt ashamed about this, as if she was a Jezebel for wanting to be a spiritual leader. It took the conviction of the Holy Spirit to reveal to her the misogyny of her own heart, of the lies that she had embraced her entire Christian journey. Once she made peace with that she began to walk with growing confidence in her gifting as a leader. She eventually developed into a very gifted youth leader and Christian minister. She is now serving full-time overseas in a capacity that utilizes all her giftings.

    Way too cool.

    I wonder if you’re niece is called to some degree of leadership since this has gotten her attention. Makes me wonder………!

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  • “you see, over time in these kinds of conservative systems she’ll subtly be indoctrinated with the thought that women are supposed to do this or that and aren’t allowed to do this or that. that “good christian women” are meant for certain things and certain things only. this subtle misogny will have all kinds of effects that are unseen to the naked eye but shape more than we think. ”

    That really spoke to me since we can’t expect that kind of stuff will be acceptable by those whome join from outside the community. “Welcome! We’re excited to have you join our community! Please sit down and don’t say anything because it’s not your place. You just sit. We get to make decisions on your behalf.” Because we’re the men. Now we’re all equal in Jesus’s eyes. We’re just more equal. That seems to spit in the face of the story (nay the Spirit) that lead them to join the community in the first place!

    You’re encouraged by the world around you to participate and even lead. But as soon as there’s a pew in the room it’s time for men to be men and women to sit and be quiet.

    Thank you so much for fighting the good fight.

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  • helen – thanks for your good question

    pam – i love rose’s take for sure. so good…the tension you share related to this young woman really resonates with me. the hesitation because of all the weird messages we were sent for so long. it is a really powerful story and so cool that you were a part of her journey!

    matt – thanks for stopping by. how’d you hear about this conversation? the “we get to make decisions on your behalf” is a powerful statement and so true. think about that for a moment, how many decisions get made day after day after day after day in churches with not just women represented but without people of color, lower socioeconomics, oh all kinds of things that automatically “disqualify” them from having power and being in any kind of true decision making processes for communities they are part of. i recently heard a story of an elder team making a decision about women in leadership but of course, not a woman to be found in the conversation. interesting, eh? well, actually i can think of a lot better words than interesting! again, thanks for your encouragement. we need more guys like you willing to speak out so thanks!

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  • Matt, what a wowser these two lines of yours are: “Now we’re all equal in Jesus’s eyes. We’re just more equal.” WOW! So true in so many situations….

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  • An interesting question is also why do evangelicals think being a preacher overseas is fine, and in a different category? Missionary is preaching the Good News. Is it fine to export a female preacher, but not okay to have them domestically? What message does that say to another culture? (perhaps a mixed, or insulting one)

    There are strange rule too, I’ve noticed. If you call a female leader something else, it’s fine, like “director” not “minister” or “pastor”, but it’s really the same thing. Teaching or speaking might be okay, but heaven forbid you seem to be shepherding a flock, or part of it. It’s a bit confusing to me, and grossly inconsistent in practice. . . talk about manipulating grey areas!

    As we forget ourselves, we can be found in God and Christ Jesus!

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  • Kathy,

    I wandered over here from the “sustainable church, sustainable kingdom” thread and I’m glad I did. This is a pertinent post for me as a pastor and the father of three daughters. As such, the line that killed me was:

    “i mean, man is made in the image of God (we all are in a sense), but woman is made in the image of man, when eve was created from adam.”

    That just crushes me.

    Interestingly, my oldest daughter (15) also attends a private, conservative Christian school. She’s a little too defiant to take all the fundy propaganda uncritically so I have a different problem. I’ve found that all the certainty around themes that she finds objectionable tends to bruise her overall image of scripture (and God). I get to try to help her see smart alternatives and keep her mind open to a God of possibilities.

    It’s cool that your niece finds you approachable enough to press you on this – and that she’s confident enough to articulate her doubts.

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  • my guess is that wes is a good man who believes he is 100% right, and just being helpful leading you to God’s position. i was wes, a few years ago. i could read a scripture or two and be convinced that i had the mind of God. i was certain if you didn’t speak in tongues, you were a christian who lacked the full power of God. that eternal security was a joke and you could lose your salvation. that if you drank you would go to hell. or women could not be in church without a head covering. etc. etc.
    somehow i had learned this from my pastors, who thought they had the true mind of God. all churches think they are infallible. the catholics have the pope. the Jehovah witnesses have their top prophet. etc. according to my bible, only God is infallible. that would make all the rest of us fallible.
    it wasn’t that many years ago that righteous men used a few obscure scriptures to keep the black man in slavery. the same is going on today with women. my bible says God is no respecter of persons. it seems curious, TO ME, that God would choose to exclude 50% of the population from using gifts that He had given them.
    wes, i will pray that you find the HEART of God.
    God bless you brother,
    mike

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  • Hi!
    My mom entered the ministry when I was nine. And as a child, these are conversations, with adults, that I remember: “oh, why did you move to town?” “my mom’s in the ministry” [pause] “oh, you mean your dad is a pastor?” [pause while the little girl looked at the condescending adult] “no, my mom’s a minister.” [pause] “oh – is that biblical?”

    I now have studied ministry and have an MA in theological studies – and let me tell you, there are just as few women studying Luther or the sacraments in many seminaries as there are women studying ministry in others!

    Women, your brains are not liabilities! Neither are your ovaries. If a guy can’t take your intelligence or your call, he’s not going to make a good husband! Find a secure man.

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  • lisa – thanks for stopping by. i am so with you, it’s basically just fudging the rules to accomodate what works for each system. it’s such a joke, really, i have seen that up close and personal–it’s okay to teach/preach to “that group” of men/women but not “big church” like somehow it’s different. it’s all so crazy. thanks for commenting

    jason – hey glad you joined this conversation and i appreciate your thoughts over at the other one, too. yeah, the distortions about God get so big and it hurts sometimes seeing them in black and white. i am in the same boat as i have a 14 year old daughter who is finishing her 8th grade year at a christian school and sounds similar to your daughter. she really has struggled with the fundamentalist stuff, too, and it has been a little rough on her view of some things because she’s so tired of hearing the same ol’ same ol’ and so we continue to have a lot of conversations as a family and can laugh about some things but others i know affects her view of God, too. i am glad you guys are all talking through the craziness too because we can’t throw out all of the good with the bad but it is a tricky dance.

    mike – what i love about your story is the way that God shifted things in you over time, that you were open to change, and that we can move in new directions over the course of our spiritual journey as God stirs up things in our heart.

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  • elizabeth – thanks for stopping by, too, your comment came after i had already posted the previous response, but oh how my kids know the feeling. there are some really funny stories about it here and there. as we have been transitioning out of christian school (the boys are all in public school now and my daughter is wrapping up her last year of middle school there) you would be able to relate to the weird comments, looks, questions, responses, etc. they get. kudos to you on pursuing the same path as your mom. that is so beautiful!

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  • Great Points!

    I’d add two more..

    1) With regard to women who say. ”well i am not a pastor or a speaker so it’s not that big of a deal for me” ….I’d add this question: “What would you say to God if He clearly called you to the ministry tomorrow?” (That’s what He did to me… and it’s downright unsettling) 🙂

    2) With regard to the overall issue of women having “authority”. I turn things inside out by stating that I am and equal in God’s eyes and if He calls me to SERVE, then who am I to argue? Since Jesus himself made this point crystal clear, I have no problem with stressing that the role of pastor is a servant role more than anything else…

    That usually silences people quite nicely.

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  • Those questions in the middle of your post really resonate with me, Kathy, as those are the same questions I posed to a woman in my church a few weeks ago. We moved to a new church a year ago and I’m struggling more and more with the very conservative positions (and that rock solid certainty!) they adhere to.

    I met with a mature woman in this church whom I respect to ask how she handles the fact that women are in very few positions of leadership (none outside of children’s and music ministry!) and are not allowed to serve as deacons there. Her answer was that she doesn’t want to be a deacon and can do everything else she wants, so she has made peace with it. Ugh.

    Oh yes, and then when I said I didn’t know if I could stay in church with that position, even if I don’t aspirations to be a deacon, she accused me of listening to demons!

    I don’t know where else I would go, but I am finding it harder and harder to stay. Thank you for being a strong voice on this issue! I’m glad you are in your niece’s life.

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  • hey tracy, thanks for stopping by. good additions. it really is people trumping God for others. like “my God could have never told you that. there’s no way you could have heard that” talk about arrogant. i’d love to know what you are doing in ministry…

    mel – i could see and feel this moment so clearly and i am so sorry. it’s almost so predictable but that doesn’t make it any less painful. i am glad you asked the questions, they so needed to be asked, but it makes me crazy to think that was the response. comments like that cause so much damage. it makes me so sad. this is one of the hard things about our eyes and hearts opening to injustice is that we can’t just close them anymore. i hope you can find a safe and good spot over time. glad you stopped by and shared. thanks.

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  • Your niece wrote “i mean, man is made in the image of God (we all are in a sense), but woman is made in the image of man, when eve was created from adam.”

    It struck me how WRONG and heretical that is. The Word says Eve was made from Adam BUT they were both made in the image of God. The bomb thrower in me would say to your niece, “if they can’t see what is plainly written in the scripture, how can you trust them on anything else.” But that would probably cause more problems than it solves.

    As a Deacon and now an “advisor” (we don’t do Elders) in an Assembly of God church I’ve seen this issue kicked around a lot. I think people of good heart and faith will always disagree on this. Just like people diagree on how to be baptized, baptism in the Spirit, etc, etc. The key is to disagree in love and with a trust that each side loves God.

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  • Kathy, I can’t tell you how much good it did my heart to read your empathetic and compassionate response. I don’t have a safe place to talk about these things in the “real” world… a huge weight lifted from my shoulders just to hear you say that the system is screwed up and not me. Thank you thank you thank you!

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  • Hello,

    Since finding and reading this blog entry on Tuesday, I’ve been thinking about it a lot. Your entry spoke to my heart. Which is something since it’s been closed off to things God related for a couple of years. Simply because I was told that God did not want women in positions of authority.

    For me, it was like finding out that after being in a family your entire life only to find out that your father didn’t think you were quite as good as your brothers. I tried to respectfully question this with my pastor only to be told that that was just how it was – end of discussion type of thing.

    This has led to a fairly total withdrawal from all things spiritual for me. I mean, why bother with any of it, if I’m never going to be good enough? I quietly left the church and never heard from them with regards to why. I’m angry with God on many levels about this. But if I were being totally honest I would admit that sometimes my soul aches for God. But then I remember the anger. I don’t know how to reconcile this.

    Reading your blog and reading the comments has brought some new insights. And I am thankful.

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  • dawson – thanks for stopping by! yeah, i thought the same thing, boy is that bad theology being taught but honestly so much can just get lost in translation especially for 8th graders. it is interesting though how her thoughts do reflect the issue that “see, women are just definitely inferior from the start” that gets to perpetuated. i so agree with you that this will always be an issue where christians disagree. and i completely respect that, really, that we can all see it differently but still be gracious in our hearts toward each other. i am learning the language of “well, we just really see this issue very differently and that’s okay.”

    mel – oh good. i hope this can feel like a safe spot to say some things out loud and not get in trouble for it! look forward to more conversations….\

    gina – i am so glad you stopped by and took the time to comment. how did you come across this? i am so sorry for that kind of response & then the followed non-care that you received, too. it is so hard to not have the whole church experience thing get all wrapped up with God, too. oh how i know that first-hand. anyway, the healing, the re-discovery, the transformation is a long journey but i do know this, you are not alone on the road…

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  • Such a necessary topic! Wow, your niece is in the same place where I grew up–very conservative, very fundamentalist.

    Last fall a young woman at the Emerging Church Gathering in Glorieta shared that she had grown up feeling very schizophrenic about being a woman. Her dad always told her, “You can be anything you want to be when you grow up!” and she believed it (as did I). But at the point that she realized she wanted to go in to ministry, her dad backtracked…not without love, but in confusion. When she challenged him, “Dad, you said I could be ANYTHING!” he didn’t have an answer, he just knew he believed she could have no place in the “assembly.”

    We are insane to keep women silent. We are insane in how we teach our daughters.

    I’m writing about this in my master’s thesis. I hope you will allow me to mine your blog for additional treasures!

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  • sarah, thanks for stopping by. it can make us pretty schizophrenic, that is for sure. so confusing & i think that is what is so powerful to me, hearing it from a 14 year old, how could we ever want our little girls to be silenced? i would love to hear more about your masters thesis, too!

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  • Hello again,

    Thanks for saying what you said. Reading some of the comments posted here has opened the door of my heart – if only a crack. 🙂 Oh, and I found this blog via Emerging Women. Who I found by chance.

    -gina-

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  • hey check out sonja’s post at ravine of light if you haven’t already (the link is 2 comments above) it’s really good…

    gina – glad you are here. hope you will feel freedom to share, vent, listen in…

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  • I’m writing on the struggle that women are continuing to have in the emerging church, even as we dream that this new manifestation of faith is going to be something different.

    My basic thesis revolves around public and religious architecture–how the architecture designed by men is hierarchical and tends to not only render women silent but invisible as well. As our emerging church conversation creates itself on the internet, I find much in internet architecture to critique with the same framework.

    Recently on the Ooze I was trying to engage a very young boy (maybe 20) who thought he was going to “teach” me something, but wasn’t willing to learn from me because I am a woman. By virtue of the hierarchical structure of the discussion forum, much of what I had to say got lost (of course, I don’t get in the “theological pissing contests” so I wasn’t writing 5-page treatises as he was).

    On the other end of the spectrum we have the Emerging Women’s blog which is shared by nearly 50 women (if my count is right). We are finding a way to use what is in reality a masculine design for our own purposes.

    I want to really explore what the internet would look like if women were actually involved in the architecture of communication structures (not just figureheads) and look at what we are doing in the emerging church that mirrors those ideas.

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  • sarah, wow, i’d really love to hear more how that will all evolve and what you are putting together. i think it’s a major issue, this idea that even in the emerging church there is so much of the same structure that prevent full freedom. i can’t wait to hear more so stay in touch for sure. i am really passionate about doing anything possible to expand horizons for the next generation of women (and other marginalized, lost voices) in the church.

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  • personally, I want women to be able to be whatever they are created to be. I also think God is using voices like yours and thoughts like these to challenge the status-quo.

    That being said, I personally think that in the long run these kinds of conversations don’t get at the root. I see people talk about women in leadership and it always has to do with who is speaking at a gathering and who is making organizational decisions. Those things are valid to look at, but I honestly think that if we were taking Jesus serious at His claim of what true power (John 19) or true leadership is (Mark 9:35), we wouldn’t be having such tedious conversation about this stuff (not referring to this specific conversation – I mean overall).

    For instance, most of the groups I know in mission in third-world countries don’t seem to get hung up on this stuff. I think that’s because they are operating much more in the true DNA of the Church. It seems to me that it’s only in our post-Christendom bureaucracy that the kind of myopic tedium we see on this issue could exist.

    I’m not saying that we should stop addressing it, but the best cure I have seen is when women lead something by starting it. There is way too much darkness in the world for there to be any complaints of lack of places to lead. I’m not even sure the modern role of pastor is Biblical, period, but I’ll roll with it as long as they stop trying to be the center of attention and they ALL give their power away – regardless of gender (not saying teaching or preaching is bad, but it’s useless outside of the church being engaged together in Kingdom-purposes the other 103 waking hours/wk).

    In my community, I have seen this issue tear relationships apart from both sides. That’s not God’s heart. I saw women, who were not being hindered from leading in any way they wanted, be told that they were delusional and they were in fact slaves of “the man.” I watched these beautiful, free women become enslaved by insecurity, hate, bitterness and – worst of all – inactivity. They just stopped leading and started complaining. After a few months they realized no one was trying to hold them down, but somebody was reading too many books based on other contexts. Unfortunately, the damage took years to repair. This taught me that issues like this need to be addressed with care and in subservience to daily seeking of the Kingdom. It’s in being in the trenches in the day-to-day that we stop caring so much about worldly power and start caring much more for the world around us. In that, I tend to see very few people, in the contexts I have been in, care what gender the person leading is.

    I hope I haven’t spoken beyond what I should and I genuinely hope I haven’t touched any wounds. I realize we all have a different set of experiences. I am grieved by how women have been treated in human history and today. As a kid, I watched my mom almost die from three broken ribs and a punctured lung because a man abused his strength over her. I long to see women be all they were created for – and men, too, for that matter! For far too long women have been too restricted. I just hope the freedom, as it comes, is used solely for the purpose of love and humbly serving (as it should be for men, too!) AND I hope that we don’t forget that just because the majority of the power-holders are men it doesn’t mean that the rest of the men shouldn’t be challenged to true Kingdom-servant-leadership. I don’t think that women-in-leadership spokespeople realize that challenge often gets pushed to the wayside in the myopia of the conversation (case-in-point my dad and the other near-majority of fathers who don’t take responsibility for their families and take off. I think these men need to understand why they are needed sometimes, besides for sperm or being another number). There is plenty to say about externalities from the other side of the conversation, as well.

    Thanks for reading all my reactions to this. I really appreciate it. Keeping being strong, women. And if anybody is interested, I wrote a post on what I feel is the narrowness of what we call church, even in emerging realms: http://www.jmayblog.com/2008/03/breakfast.html

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    • I appreciate this comment so much, perhaps specifically because it does come from a man. The marginalized group needs the voice of the non-marginalized group to speak up in these situations … so thank you.

      Such good points, that the restrictions are based on the “hierarchy setup” that should be absent in the first place.

      My own story is being in evangelical churches for 25 years. I didn’t feel oppressed, because I was “free” to minister to women, be a Bible teacher, mentor younger women, etc. I had underlying anxiety all those years, but didn’t know why.

      Then, I approached the leaders with a concern and was promptly called “arrogant and condescending for attempting to instruct them.” Their misogyny came to light. More shunning, gossip and slander followed. And it brought to light the system I had for some reason accepted.

      Kathy uses the word “misogyny,” and I am just now learning the full truth of that. I am learning that I actually was feeling “less than” all those years. I am seeing that something inside me “stayed in my place” in ways I didnt’ even recognize.

      I’m just now beginnning a journey to find out what my actual voice is, and what opportunities God actually has for me in His kingdom. I’d appreciate prayer. Old patterns are hard to break from the inside out.

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      • mar, thank you so much for sharing your heart & journey here. it is beautiful. and of course so hard to come to terms with some of the harsh realities of oppression & misogyny that are often subtle, sometimes more direct. i am so sorry that you have experienced the brunt of what happens when we stand up and call out the injustice. unhealthy systems have a reflex in that moment–turn against the threat in whatever way possible. peace and hope and healing to you from afar. you most definitely are not alone! love, kathy

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  • hey justin, thanks SO MUCH for what you shared here. i appreciate it so much. it is so needed. i agree with you on the idea of talking, talking, talking isn’t going to get us anywhere. we can go ad nauseum on context & scripture & blah blah blah but it’s in the actual doing it that something really shifts. and the whole conversation is so much more than “teaching/preaching” it is about freedom & value for women & marginalized voices in the kingdom of God. you have seen first hand how the devaluing of women plays out and i am so sorry for that pain & injustice, my hope is that we, men & women together, keep that reality in the forefront moving forward to infiltrate this world with Jesus’ heart–a sacrificing, power-diffusing, upside-down-from-the-world, it’s people who matter spirit. i also believe it is up to us as women (the ones who can) to move forward on listening to God and doing what God is asking us to do, period. to not allow bitterness & fear paralyze us. this is easier said than done, a lot easier to say when we’re not the ones having to do it, but i do believe it’s possible & necessary and that’s why we need to be good cheerleaders for each other–to call out dreams & hopes (men & women’s dreams and hopes) and support them becoming a reality…again, thanks justin!

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  • Amen, sister! I’m glad it resonated with you and thank you for emphasizing that we can overcome those injustices towards women by encouraging, cheering on, and inspiring through our own action. Well said! It’s interesting that the Kingdom solution to something like an abusive situation with a man as the abuser, isn’t to take the man’s misused power, give it to the woman and have her abuse him. The solution is for the man to stop lording/abusing his power and use it for kingdom good – specifically to build up and empower the woman with love. She then uses her power to do the same (obviously this isn’t THE solution or THE order, but it’s a cool example). Keep up the good work, Kathy! It’s encouraging!!!

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  • Hi Kathy,

    Just an update and an encouragement for you… in the three weeks since I posted the comment above, I’ve decided to find a new church home where real community (that includes women’s voices) is valued. But even more, I found the courage to let the pastor know what my REAL reason for moving on, instead of leaving quietly or blaming another issue. I’m grateful for you and my other “internet mentors” in this journey!

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  • justin – yes, i am so passionate not about just shifting power so that then the same old systems exist but just with women at the top but actually diffusing it. that’s true equality.

    mel – okay that is so great that you used your voice and was honest (so many never give that feedback and so some systems have no idea that it was even an issue or conviction for someone). i look forward to hearing about how God moves through your new community…i am glad you listened to your heart & had the courage to walk toward something free-er!

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  • Kathy, girls and young women need strong female role models like you who are willing to take the heat for something that is not wrong. I looked all over the place for something like that as a young woman. I grew up in a very conservative church environment, and can’t believe that there was a time when I didn’t want to be taught by a woman. Looking back, I think it’s ‘cuz I wanted someone to look up to, and the women in my church were submissive.

    I remember telling a former youth pastor when I was in my early 20’s that I didn’t care whether it was right or wrong for a woman to be in a leadership position in the church. Most of the churches I’d observed were really led by the women anyhow, whether the men wanted to admit it or not. Sure…the pastor and music minister and youth pastor were all men. But who mainly attended? Who taught sunday school and taught vacation bible school? THE WOMEN. If it weren’t for all of those women bringing their families to church, the men wouldn’t have had anything to lead.

    Okay…I think I got a bit angry somewhere in there. LOL. But seriously. I am honored to be ministered to by a woman. Limiting a woman’s place in the church is just wrong on so many different levels.

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    • Lisa — Such a great point! In most hierarchical setups, the actual kingdom work day to day is indeed done by the women! The men are more “free” to do so but are happy to have the women carry the load while they do the “more important” work of having 3 guys represent them for public speaking. Wow. If you see an org chart used in a church, run …

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  • Kathy~

    This is a great post and thread. This subject needs to be addressed. I think most women are not into switching roles with men so much as just being allowed, and even (maybe?) encouraged, to fulfill their God-given role, too. There is a book called ‘Sign & Wonders’ by Maria Woodworh-Etter that is amazing in this area. God called her to an evangelistic ministry in the mid 1800s. It took her 25 or so years to answer that call because she was convinced that she would never be allowed and it was ‘wrong,’ even though she knew God had called her. In the end, though, she was a traveling evangelist around this country from about 1875 until about 1915.

    I posted an article on my blog that touches on this titled: “The Woman’s Place & Other Thoughts…”

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  • lisa, i think angry isn’t necessarily a bad thing on this issue when it propels us to go “this system is perpetuating injustice that just isn’t right!” i do agree with you that so many women are behind the scenes, making things happen, what is so sad to me is how devaluing it is when the power is never diffused or shared just because they are women. and yeah, we’ve all made shifts. i used to be in a totally different place on this issue when i was a new christian. you get kind of programmed to believe certan things based on the culture you live in, that is why we need more voices that ask questions & cause people to think. even now i look around at some systems and go “ladies, do you realize that there is not woman in any position of authority and power in this system that you love? not one, and there is never going to be because there’s no reason for there to be because everyone just accepts ‘that’s the way it is’.” ah, there i go again! thanks for commenting, lisa! glad you’re around these conversations!

    katherine – nice to have you part of these conversations, too. i just read your article, so good! i have heard of this book but haven’t read it, will have to check it out…the “i must be wrong” feeling gets so powerful sometimes for women trying to step out when you look around and all these thriving systems have no women to be found, that’s why listening to God, like really listening to God, is so important, and sometimes that will take a lot of straining because God/man’s voice sometimes gets a little mixed up when people are indoctrinated into certain church cultures….

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  • kathy — I was looking for some of your thoughts on women’s ‘roles’ or whatever… and found this entry — then I just read that blog link from tia lynn…. I only read that one post & comments and I’m so confused.

    I feel so lost sometimes in all this. I read one side and totally agree with what they are saying… but then I read somebody else from the ‘other side’ and totally ‘get’ what they are saying.

    I know that God hasn’t given me a spirit of fear…. but I am so fearful to disappoint Him. What if everything I thought was true – is not really? Or what if I think I am following the right path — only to find out it was the wide path and not narrow and I am just a totally rebellious, undisciplined watered down version of what God designed me to me.

    I’m so afraid to disappoint Him — but sometimes I just feel with all the different divisions over the Word – that I’m in a state of paralysis. That I just end up going nowhere because of all the divisions I’m afraid to choose. I have to believe that many ‘out there’ are in that same state and why we’re all just ‘stuck’ / ‘lukewarm’ …

    AHH I don’t even know what I’m looking for in telling you all this. Just had an awful situation with part of my church today and feel all icky and don’t know what is true/right. *sigh*
    gotta go….. maybe what I’m saying makes some sense?

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  • hey randi, thanks so much for sharing a bit of what you are wrestling with. it might be best to try to have a conversation live or through email because i don’t know how much you can share here about what you ran into today in terms of “an awful situation” and what you are wrestling with. i so agree with you, it is indeed so confusing, interpretations of scripture, etc. there are so many resources that will support a complementarian view & others that will support an egalitarian one. one of the things that i think is important to wrestle with is the idea of the deeper, bigger story of Jesus & the hope and freedom he brings. if he truly came to set the captives free, then why would he keep some in bondage? i know a good complementarian will just say “well, we have different roles, that’s all” but i think it’s much deeper than that. the subtle and direct subordination of women is a worldwide issue. so to me, the church of Jesus Christ, the light and hope of the world, should be the ones leading the charge for full equality and freedom for ALL, period. how could i ask an abused woman who has left an abusive relationship and is rebuilding, healing, discovering who she is as a person, to enter into a church system that will put her in the same one up-one down relationship she’s always been in? but unfortunately wars within the church have been fought and continue to be fought over what to me is the stupidest of issues. aren’t there bigger fish to fry? if Christ is preached, who cares? i think the deeper issue is one of control & power & that is why i always say “why are people so hell-bent on protecting something? what are they getting out of it?” i guess my questions to you are: how could you disappoint God in this area? what would that look like and what are you afraid of? what does your heart tell you, not what people have told you, not what scriptures you read, not what people online say? (i’m not saying that is the right answer, i’m just saying it’s something to listen to).

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  • Thanks Kathy! I am gonna email you. Thanks so so so so so much for your time. I feel a bit guilty for taking up your time — but I don’t really have anybody else willing to give me attention. Thank you!!! will write more soon! 🙂

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  • TRULY a great piece. i am a Christian feminist, and a woman considering ministry, so this is really interesting and insightful to me. i remember saying in high school “i think i want to be a youth minister,” and promptly being told that “women weren’t ministers.” i think that’s always hurt me, but i’m trying to turn hurt into passion into activism into love. it’s not easy, but i think it’s my best response. thanks so much for sharing! 🙂

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  • Hey, I just found your blog post, and I want you to know that I am a woman in seminary training to be a pastor…. and my parents sent me to a conservative Christian school. That subtle misogyny was very hurtful to me, and I’m still in therapy because pastors’ intolerant and condemning words still ring in my ears. But in my gut I knew it was wrong all along. I knew it and just didn’t know how to say it. After I encountered other ways to understand the Bible, I knew that my gut feeling was the Holy Spirit convicting me. God speaks, even when humans try to speak louder. I just wish everyone else knew how to listen.

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  • sorry i have been off line on the blog so am just now commenting!

    erin – thanks for stopping by & i am glad that somehow this piece encouraged you. i would love to hear what you are considering doing!

    carolyn – thanks for taking time to comment and i, too, would love to hear what you are considering doing. i do think “subtle misogyny” is so prevalent. sometimes we don’t even notice it and then, when our hearts become more aware of how much it has hurt, we have to seek healing and strengthening and listen very very very carefully to what God is saying to us…peace to you on your journey!

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  • Kathy,

    As a Latin American Male wih big “cojones” I’m 1005 with you on this…preach on sista….

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  • It’s good to go thru the topic,
    thank u for the encouragement
    john
    india

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  • Kathy,

    It surprises me that Christianity is still so phallocentric. I really don’t see the big deal, and it frustrates me.

    The church I’m currently attending recently had a health consultation done. One of the problems the consultors found was that the women were being severly undervalued. We have no female pastors, no female elders, and not ONCE has a woman ever preached on Sunday. I was so happy that someone FINALLY pointed it out. I have been to other churches with female pastors, and they are wonderful, capable leaders, just like their male counter-parts.

    But here’s my problem: the consultors told us that the women deserved an apology, and just kinda left it at there. They didn’t suggest that we put a woman on the elder’s board or anything. That seems like a good first step, but it wasn’t suggested. I’m worried that all I’m gonna get is an empty apology and no equal rights.

    I don’t want to be a pastor or a preacher or an elder. But it’s the PRINCIPLE of the matter, just like you said. Kathy, if you wouldn’t mind, could you pray for my church? I don’t know how much good it’ll do, but it’s all I’ve got now.

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    • paige, somehow i missed this comment and i am so sorry about that. not sure where things are at yet in your church but if you get this, i’d love to know.

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  • Well, guess I’m way late on this topic. I came around by way of googling “charting your spiritual journey.” I’m working on doing that myself.

    I read through all the comments above, just to make sure you hadn’t already addressed my questions, but I’ve yet to encounter it, perhaps somewhere else?

    The topic is interesting, and I was excited to read your thoughts. I was just a little disappointed, though, that in your defense you didn’t use any scriptural arguments. I’d love to read your case when argued from a Biblical perspective, referencing specific scripture, rather than the ‘bigger story of Jesus.’ When it comes to the decision of choosing to interpret the “bigger story” vs. specific scripture, I believe there’s much more of an opportunity to find oneself on a slippery slope with the former, where nearly any behavior could be justified in the name of freedom; left up to personal interpretation rather than understanding & investigating original text.

    I’ve never responded to a blog post before to express my disagreement, and that’s not even what I’m doing here … my personality doesn’t lend itself to that 😉 I am truly very interested. I am honestly completely open to being convinced of a scriptural argument. I don’t expect you to provide me with a detailed thesis, either, by the way. But perhaps some resources that pointed you in this direction?

    Thank you so much for your blog.
    Respectfully,
    Rebecca

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    • hi rebecca, thank you so much for taking time to comment and share your perspectives. i always really appreciate them. at the end of the post is the best link to wise and astute Christians who have done their homework on the topic of biblical equality–christians for biblical equality (www.cbeinternational.org). one of the reasons i don’t spend a lot of time outlining it all in my posts since it is duplication of effort and takes a lot more than one blog post to outline. if you haven’t already, check them out because they have excellent resources to consider accessing. it is also true, though, that all of scripture is up to interpretation and so i always hold to that and the reality that there will always be differing opinions on which way to see things. that is why the bigger picture is very important to me. i’d love to know how you found this post after all these years 🙂

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