i have been thinking a lot about the plight of the abused woman over the course of these past few months. i know so many women—in all shapes, sizes, religious experiences, socioeconomics, education, you-name-it—who have suffered abuse. not all of it is sexual or physical, although sadly there’s far too much of that going around. the thing that seems to rise to the surface over and over and over again, though, is emotional abuse. the pattern among women is more prevalent than any of us would like to think. smart, beautiful, strong-in-all-kinds-of-other-ways women who somehow have found themselves in relationships with men who control, berate, belittle, and slowly extinguish their hope, purpose, and passion. i am not saying there’s not any issues going on with the women; a big part of the healing process is for women to discover why they think that’s all they deserve, why they allow it, what paralyzes them, and gain the strength to make the shifts toward greater freedom and health. these shifts don’t always equal divorce; i have seen a few women do a 180 degree turn in terms of strength and courage and remain married, but i have also seen many other ones end up separated because their partners just weren’t willing to change and they knew if they stayed any longer their hearts would wither and die. they had the courage to trust God’s heart for them, to leave behind what was familiar (and sometimes safe and comfortable, in a twisted distorted way), to move toward something new.
i was not raised in the church; i was raised in a northern california culture that supported women’s freedoms and full equality in politics and work and life. but as i grew in my christian faith and adopted the ways of conservative christian culture, i ended up getting that spirit squeezed out of me for many years; and even though i’d be the little rebel who’d somehow stir the pot in some small way about the women’s issue, on the whole i would submit myself to systems that continually supported keeping women out of leadership, underneath men, in role after role after role where they would be used for what they had to offer but never, ever, given power or the kind of respect they had so clearly earned.
some of the feelings that perpetuate abusive relationships and keep women “in” unhealthy relationships are powerlessness, fear, and dependency. powerlessness. fear. dependency. when i recently read these words in a line up of abusive characteristics i was blind-sided by the how the church institution has also set up so many women to somehow feel powerless, afraid, and dependent. our heads rattle with irrational, powerless, dependent, scared thoughts like: “ the crumbs on the table are better than nothing at all”..“if i don’t tow the line, i’m going to mess up my chances to lead something in the future. something’s better than nothing.” …”there aren’t any other opportunities for me anywhere else so i guess i better just stay here and make the most of it.” “God must be using me here somehow, you know he really wants to teach us these kinds of lessons.”…”they must know what they’re doing, so i better just submit to their authority.” i am not saying there aren’t kernels of truth in any of these statements, but i am saying that i do not think that is God’s heart for his children.
i am tempted to generalize, but instead i will say that systems that don’t allow equal access for women probably have undercurrents of subtle emotional abuse that they themselves might not even be aware of. and the women (and other underrepresented groups who tend to be marginalized in some shape or form) who go there are so used to it that they don’t even think anything of it because it’s just the way it is. it feels normal. i was like that in a previous ministry job—i was just so happy to be invited to the table that it never occurred to me how truly disparate our pay was, how many side conversations were being had on the golf course where i was never invited, how subtly controlled i was, how much 100% of the power was held with a small group of men and my fate was completely in their hands. i had a good friend at the end of my time there who pointed out the emotionally abusive pattern to me, and my eyes began to open.
john 8:26 says “if the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” free indeed. freedom to me means freedom. when i call a woman out of an abusive relationship, reminding her of her worth, her value, her dignity, her purpose, i would not under any circumstance, consider calling her into another “relationship” with a system that will put her beneath them. it’s bad for her soul.
the church—the beautiful, wild bride of Christ–should be a reflection of Jesus. and i don’t care how many scripture passages people want to try to use against me in this moment, i don’t believe that Jesus’ heart would be to call a woman out of one oppressive relationship and right into another. period. end of story. i know there are people out there who say “but my church doesn’t believe in women in leadership but they are not oppressive” and i will just say strongly back that i disagree. part of oppression is restrictive access. cutting off women’s voices, power, leadership, value and voice is restrictive access. it is oppression. and it is not reflective of the kingdom value of freedom & equality.
and in the spirit of social justice that is sweeping through many church systems at the moment, i wish we’d open our eyes to the injustice right here, underneath everyone’s noses, week after week after week after week. i am always reminded of martin luther king’s powerful words—“injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”. i will not call a woman out of an oppressive relationship into another one; the problem i sometimes find is that i don’t have that many places in “the church” that she can actually go. that, my friends, is a travesty. the kingdom now. equality now. freedom now. i think that’s what Jesus was getting at. and i think lots more people would be drawn to Jesus if they didn’t have to get so tied up in the messed-up system that typically represents him.
no, i will not call a woman out of an oppressive relationship into another one. but i will call her into the glorious freedom that Christ brings, that she is valuable, beautiful, precious, worthy, free, strong, powerful and has no need—as a child of God—to enter into another relationship that won’t fully recognize it.