on becoming less divided.

“in an effort to not be a divisive woman, i became a divided woman”

pam hogeweide, at the unladylike: resisting the injustice of inequality in the church event at the refuge this past friday night.

* * * * *

in an effort to not be a divisive woman, i became a divided woman.

oh these words resonate.  so many of us (men and women) have struggled in the church with not wanting to be divisive.  there’s been a subtle and sometimes very direct message that any kind of conflict or dissonance equals being divisive and a challenge to unity.

really, it’s usually not about divisiveness; it’s about control. unhealthy systems will not tolerate any kind of pushback or challenge or questions.   healthy systems will.

i believe one of the most important parts of rebuilding after deconstructing is to become more integrated, less divided–in our faith, in our souls, in the way we interact with the world. learning to accept and work with conflict is part of that.

pushing parts of us down to stay part of the systems we are in is harmful.

hiding because our real selves, our real questions, will not be tolerated damages our soul.

splitting off and pretending will drain us of hope over time.

not everyone feels this way; plenty of men & women feel undivided in church. it’s working fine (this post is not for you!). there are a whole bunch of others who know what i’m talking about.   who feel that weird disconnect of desire & reality.  who have been settling for crumbs for a long time. who long to live out the ways of Jesus more freely but don’t see how the church they are in supports that.  who are called to lead but can’t.  who have a lot of questions & doubts but are afraid to voice them.

who feel divided.

i have been called divisive by people who think that those who publicly challenge the church are sinning.  any form of anger or discontent or challenge is perceived as negative.  in my good-girl-days, i used to try to smooth it over and make nice, but what i keep discovering over the years is that well-behaved women (and men) won’t change the church.

if we keep trying, out of fear, to not be perceived as divisive, over time we will become more & more divided.

our passions & gifts will continue to be squelched.  we will continue to give time & money to systems that don’t really care about us.   we will live with a subtle and sometimes overt shame that who we are is either too much or not enough.

we will never feel free.

because we will never be free.

we can’t be free in a place that tells us we are less than because of our gender.  we can’t be free in a place that won’t tolerate our questions or doubts or pain or struggles.  we can’t be free in a place that only loves us when we are towing the line and following the rules.  we can’t be free in an environment that won’t engage in healthy conflict.  we can’t be free when we are being controlled.

the thing that makes me happy right now is that many people i know are finding freedom and becoming less divided.  we’re breaking free.  we’re finding our way.  we’re loosening shame’s grip.  we’re stepping into who God made us to be.

it’s not an easy task when there’s a nagging voice in our heads that says “if i just did x or y maybe it will work…why can’t i let it go?….why can’t i just be content with what i have?…they’re fine why can’t i be?”

even though we are supposed to offer grace and accept that things will never be exactly the way we want them, when it comes to issues of oppression & unhealthy systems of power, we need to listen more to our gut.  we need to tune into our hearts and be more honest about what we are feeling.  we need to open our eyes to reality.  we need to ask God to show us the way to greater and greater freedom and give us courage to start walking toward becoming more whole, less divided.

i was struck by pam’s powerful words friday night & the subtle message that rumbles underneath so much of our hope–if we are afraid to be perceived as divisive, we will remain divided.

i was also reminded how Jesus was perceived.  um, pretty sure divisive was the word. any pushing on the status quo will be perceived as a threat.   he got killed for it.  i’m pretty sure we won’t get killed, but we may lose our churches & some relationships & reputations & a lot of things we once held dear.  but in the end i believe we will find life, real life–more abundantly.  as i become more & more integrated and less & less divided, i feel more alive than i’ve ever felt before.  i still have the nagging voice in my head sometimes, but it’s fading, losing it’s power over me.

that’s my hope for all of us, women & men alike.  that we’d become less divided, more whole.  less controlled, more free.  less confined, more empowered. less stuck, more hopeful.  less worried-about-what-others-think, more focused-on-what-God-is-stirring-up-in-us-in-deep-places-of-our-hearts.

God, help us let go of fear of being perceived as divisive and give us courage to move toward becoming less divided.

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar is dedicated to creating safe and brave spaces for transformation and healing in real life, online, and outside. She co-pastors at The Refuge, a hub for healing community, social action, and creative collaboration in North Denver, co-directs #communityheals, a non-profit organization dedicated to making spaces for transformation accessible for all, and is the author of Practicing: Changing Yourself to Change the World, Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.


  • “as i become more & more integrated and less & less divided, i feel more alive than i’ve ever felt before. ” Me too! Here’s to being less worried about what others think and more to being WHOLLY what God has called us to be! Thank you for this morsel of courage-inducing yumminess!

    • thanks, brenda. yes, here’s to becoming less divided, more whole. freedom is lovely.

  • I also pray we teach our children to doubt, to be comfortable with “I don’t know.” … and to accept other perceptions of what cannot be known as equally valid, equally beautiful as their own.

    I pray we teach our children that different is not wrong.

    And to teach them that in seeking that diverse and even disparate beauty in their neighbors, they are seeking the beauty of God.


    (I have more hidden behind my name, as usual)

    • yes, i pray those same things. i love this “and to accept others perceptions of what cannot be known as equally valid, equally beautiful as their own…”

  • I left a spiritually manipulative situation, where I had signed a “covenant” that I would leave in a “spirit of unity” – I STILL get feelings of guilt & shame when I am asked to share about it, or when I feel compelled to share about it, be…cause I am “breaking unity.” What I have to continuously remind myself is that unity was broken long before I made the decision to leave that situation – it is the REASON I made the decision to leave that situation, the reason I felt a spiritual prompting to flee that situation. This article is healing for the conflict-averse introverts, for the Southern girls who are supposed to “stay sweet,” and for anyone who has experienced spiritual abuse.

    • thanks so much for sharing & reading, kimberly. i’m so glad i got to meet you at op’s last year. and now, hearing a little more of your story. when i think of you in that moment, signing that piece of paper, it makes my stomach hurt. on your behalf. thanks for your honesty here. it’s such an ugly thing to do to someone and so a part of many church cultures. dignity stripping in all kinds of ways. we’re allowed to leave freely. we’re allowed to choose to be part or not. we’re allowed to believe differently. signing contracts is not consistent with the kind of freedom i believe the kingdom of God is supposed to be about. spiritual abuse really pisses me off, the number it does on our head and how easy it is to be told God is on their side, and not on ours. here’s to continued freedom and healing…..lots of love from colorado.

    • Kimberly, good on you. Your situation reminded me of something I remember. That is, that in order to grow up we have to disobey. Yeah, we do get in trouble from the powers that be. Thinking back in our/my youth I remember the storm that came up when I did it. Whew! None-the-less, we still have to do it. Otherwise, we stay good retarded and never grow up. Ah, no thanks. And that’s a tragedy.

  • “the thing that makes me happy right now is that many people i know are finding freedom and becoming less divided. we’re breaking free. we’re finding our way. we’re loosening shame’s grip. we’re stepping into who God made us to be.”

    Can you share some examples of how you are seeing this truth come to life? I am curious. Maggie

    • thanks, maggie. here’s what i am seeing: women leaving their churches that don’t affirm them and finding ways to live out their passions in other ways–nonprofits, other churches-that-do, and in their work. men & women gathered together, telling their stories more freely and openly instead of hiding and finding that they’re not alone after all, that they’re not the only ones who feel shame; just talking about it releases so much of shame’s power. hearing all kinds of stories of people finding freedom from spiritually damaging church experiences, of waking up to the ways they had been oppressed & controlled and beginning to find their way outside of systems that limited them. so many women i know taking better care of their souls instead of working their butts off all of the time trying to keep the world spinning properly for others and dying on the inside. many men i know learning to be more honest, more connected to their hearts. people finding what they love to do and doing it instead of waiting around for someone to give them permission.

      what is very sad for me to say is that as i reflect on these different stories, i do see that most of this change doesn’t appear to be happening inside the confines of church-as-they-always-knew-it. but rather outside of the traditional. it seems to be happening in little pockets of love & freedom where people can be more honest, more empowered. it’s not to say there aren’t some stories of that, but when i think through the people i know in each of these categories, the stories i am seeing, it doesn’t seem to stem from there (it doesn’t mean some of them still aren’t going, etc.) but the catalyst was something different than the church system.

      • I have not been wounded as others have. But I think I have been stifled. The way I am working it out is to spend more time with God each day. It is hard. It is taking “so long”. But as I focus on him and less on the church, I am finding my way. He is opening my eyes, my heart, to new/real meanings in Scripture. I’d love to be able to fight this out along with other people, but I truly believe that my personal fight is what God wants me to do right now. Others can guide, but each relationship with God is a personal one. Our churches do a disservice when they don’t show us the way but only give christianese words. If I become a true disciple of Christ, it will only be because I have fought for it, just me and him. No preacher. No blogger. No friends. No spouse. Just Jesus and me – alone together. I hope that when I have gotten a good start on the struggle, that I can pass on what I have learned to others by walking alongside instead of just pointing from far away.

    • I was a participant in the Walking Wounded class, and that was definitely a time of seeing this take place for many …

  • Kathy, Kathy, Kathy.

    It’s like you have your hand and your heart right on my very pulse… More and more I KNOW I was called into “the ministry” as a child… and I have answered that call in ways that have caused me to be divided. I’m turning 60 in September and I cannot remember when I did not “divide” myself to be a part of “the church”.

    I guess I’ll never leave, but because of people like you, I am becoming free to say what I think and what I believe in spite of the “danger” I feel in doing so.

    Who’d have thought I’d still be growing and becoming and pressing forward at my age? Not me… But one of the greatest things I’ve learned is that I’m “free to be wrong” about some things… 😉


    • linda, linda, linda. it warms my heart to hear you say “i am becoming free to say what i think and what i believe….” yeah! what i love is that it’s never too late to find freedom. sure, the earlier the better and that’s why we have to keep fighting for the younger generation. but 60’s a lot better than 70 or not at all and i’m so glad you are breaking free and finding hope. it’s hard to do and takes much courage. so glad to know you out here, it brings me hope!

  • Thanks Kathy for posting this! You say it so well and so strong.

    The divisive card is used against our “niceness.” This is why we need to become unladylike in even our own eyes. Breaking rank with the status quo of churched gender roles can be tense filled. But the price women (and men) pay for avoiding this tension is so high.

    And thank you again for having me out. Love your community!

    • yes, the price is way too high! thank you for reflecting God’s passionate heart for freedom in such a beautiful way. i am privileged to know you and call you friend and our community was blessed by you in all kinds of ways. look forward to your return!

  • Wow. just wow. This….
    “pushing parts of us down to stay part of the systems we are in is harmful.

    hiding because our real selves, our real questions, will not be tolerated damages our soul.

    splitting off and pretending will drain us of hope over time.”

    It was only in the last year or so that I realized (raised in the family and church that I was), I began hiding the real me when I was like 2 yrs old. The real me – the damaged, confused me – was not acceptable to family or church, so….split.

    I am still working on how to blend myself back together. After a lifetime of living two parallel lives, it is soooo easy to just unconsciously slip into that place around other people.

    • thanks, jeanette, for your honesty. the split is such a natural and unconscious one when the systems we are in can’t tolerate us. it becomes our reflex. God, may you help us learn a new reflex so we can be more integrated, more whole.

  • Thank you, Kathy, and by extension, Pam, for deepening this much-needed conversation. As a Catholic Christian who leads a life of quiet rebellion against those who hold white-knuckled on to power and the status quo, I long for an openness to true unity, not uniformity. And oh how much more are women and girls taught to be “nice” and passive and silent about this struggle for power!

    • thanks two to one, for sharing. i always appreciate hearing of this struggle in other systems in addition to the ones i am more familiar with. yes, the nice and passive and silent is so accepted, such the norm. here’s to continued change throughout the family of God. it’s time.

    • That’s why I call my book Unladylike….! We have to resist the cultural and religious conditioning of “make nice” in order to break rank, even internally within our own minds and hearts. If we can manage to do that, than resisting outwardly those messages of inequality becomes much easier.

  • yea, even the old patriot mantra, “united we stand, divided we fall” applies to our hearts. effectual, the walls will crumble, it is unsustainable.

    • yeah, it really is unsustainable; it’s why so many times the 40’s and 50’s are the years that it all starts to come unraveled for so many. if we could do a better job earlier on, we could sure prevent a lot of unnecessary heartache.

  • “we need to tune into our hearts and be more honest about what we are feeling. we need to open our eyes to reality. we need to ask God to show us the way to greater and greater freedom and give us courage to start walking toward becoming more whole, less divided.”

    Ooh, careful. Scripture tells us that our hearts are deceptive above all things. We must open the Word of God and discern our feelings with truth; filter all reality through scripture. This is His ultimate communication with us.

    Our freedom is in Christ. not of this world or it’s realities. This is how we integrate, love, show compassion and mercy. When Jesus entered the temple used as a marketplace, He overthrew the tables. When he ate with sinners, He said to go and sin no more. Love is not judging, yet nor is it engaging in the market or feasting with sinners for the sake of integration and tolerance. It’s being willing to take our own sin to Christ and then courageous enough to speak to those close to us in truth and love, with opportunity.

    “All men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the Word of the Lord stands forever.” (I Peter 1:24-25)

    • thanks for sharing your perspective, theresa. i believe that this specific teaching, and the way it can easily be used, has caused many faithful dedicated followers of Jesus to be the complete opposite of free.

    • Growing up in the church, I found that the ‘don’t trust your feelings, trust the Scripture instead’ was often code for ‘don’t trust yourself, trust the pastor and do what he says.’ Whatever it meant, it is a very harmful thing to teach children not to trust their feelings or their intuition. It sets them up to be abused and taken advantage of. Their feelings are all pretty much all they have. They know when something scares them or feels wrong, but they don’t know why. To tell them not to trust those feelings can have devastating consequences. It’s a harmful teaching for adults too, but even more so for children, I think.

      God gave me my intuition, my emotions, my mind, the Bible and hIs spirit within me, a community of people who love me, a wider world full of new discoveries to make. All of these are gifts that can be used in harmony to grow into greater freedom and love and there is no need to fear any of them. Perfect love casts out fear.

      • Tamera, I am sorry for your experience in the church. I am sorry for so many negative experiences. But the reality is, the church is not perfect in our fallen world.

        I agree, we should pay attention to our feelings. ABSOLUTELY. Let’s not run off with this at an extreme measure. However, for example, when I feel worthless, depressed, intimidated, defeated,revengeful, etc, those feelings will likely dominate the decisions I make in my life and be destructive unless I am able to measure those feelings against the truth of scripture that tells me who I am in Christ and gives me guidance for all of life. This is what I mean by, the heart is deceptive (Jer 17:9). Without scripture, we cannot simply trust where our feelings go. The enemy prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour(1 Pet 5:8).

        We do pay attention to the feeling. always. Feelings are feelings, not right or wrong. But if we do not discern the root of those and if they are not lined up with truth of the Word of God, than we could possibly be in dangerous territory. When we take away the truth of God’s word simply because it has been sadly used as a way to control, we throw the baby out with the bathwater and give the enemy all sorts of territory in our lives.

        Oh, I truly sympathize here because I know so many are hurt and turned off by their experiences within a church. But so desperately saddened by the lack of full surrender to an unwavering,loving God as a result.

        • Tamara, your thoughts about trusting feelings, and the importance of that -starting with children and leading to the adult life- is so very true. Of course we bring the best of our understanding to that as well. We have the Holy Spirit, our rational mind, community, scripture. But learning to listen to the gut is part of having that intimate relationship with God, who put it there in the first place.
          Theresa, I’d say (for me) that full surrender to an unwaveringly loving God is made possible by my having found a better relationship with scripture. In the same way that you said that church is not perfect in our fallen world, our ability to read and understand the bible is not perfect in our fallen world- whether you believe it to be perfect or not. The Word of the Lord is not equivalent in it’s totality with the bible. That is a recent thought, an invention of the reformation. Jesus left us with the promise of the Holy Spirit to be with us. He said that he’d be with us, as we are with one another. He said a lot of great things that are worth studying over and over, but he didn’t say “on the stack of paper that will be created after I go, I will give perfect understanding of my perfect word”. HE didn’t say that, in the holy scriptures, WE are making that up. In short, my understanding of the WORD of God is that it is a lot larger than the words in the bible, sacred and useful as they are. It is the living truth of God. To deify the bible misses the mark in that our understanding of it will always be flawed and limited. To think otherwise lacks appropriate humility and reverence, and also is a gnostic kind of error of superstition, which I like to avoid, which distracts from the good life of the kingdom.

          • so much wisdom in here. thanks for sharing.

        • Theresa,
          Thank you for sharing further!

          While recognizing the wrongs that I’ve experienced in the church, I am far from turned off by the ways of Jesus and the people of God. I’m neck deep in the life of the kingdom , and loving this beautiful, wonderful place that God has led me to. But it only came after I laid down my fears. Fear of the slippery slope, fear of the unknown, fear of not making others happy, fear of my own feelings; I had to let all of that go. People (in the church or outside of it) definitely aren’t perfect but living with them, I learn so much about the love of God that the only way I can describe it is as a gift.

          You are absolutely right that we should discern the root of our feelings as this leads to better understanding of ourselves. Noticing and accepting the emotion is the first step. I agree with Sage H. on how we use scripture around this. The Bible is not the living Word of God within us. And it (the Bible) is confusing and messy and imperfect, just like we are, and hard to interpret.

          As my friend who co-founded the Bridge and works with those who’ve been marginalized said, “why is it we worry so much about the devil getting a foothold? Isn’t our God, who is so much greater, capable of getting a firmer foothold?”

          So why the worry about learning to become more whole and less divided? God is good and loving. He will hold onto us even when we struggle and falter and don’t know our way. Why the fear about feelings? Even if, like small children, it’s all we have to go on, God will honor our struggle and cradle us in comforting arms.

          • so well said, tamara, so well said. beautiful. and i think we know that wise-amazing-friend in pdx, too 🙂

  • Post after post, you say the truth loud and clear, and it is grace to me …

    I had to stop doing “Sunday morning church” to see what I was in, and I am coming alive in completely new an unexpected ways that have nothing to do with “ministry” … In trying to stay quiet, in trying to stay “nice” I lost my soul.

    This is truth:

    “Jesus was perceived.  um, pretty sure divisive was the word. any pushing on the status quo will be perceived as a threat.   he got killed for it.  i’m pretty sure we won’t get killed, but we may lose our churches & some relationships & reputations & a lot of things we once held dear.  but in the end i believe we will find life, real life–more abundantly.  as i become more & more integrated and less & less divided, i feel more alive than i’ve ever felt before.  i still have the nagging voice in my head sometimes, but it’s fading, losing it’s power over me.”

    • “i am coming alive in completely new and unexpected ways….” love! this is a tough road my friend but i am so grateful to be on it with you from afar (ps: it’s been so nutty here we haven’t made a plan b but will try to email you next week and get something squared away).

  • “we will live with a subtle and sometimes overt shame that who we are is either too much or not enough.”

    Been there, done that, never ever going back!

  • “splitting off and pretending will drain us of hope over time.” Oh I have been thinking about this post & this particular statement a whole lot over the last copule of days. I think, er, know, that one of the bravest things that I have ever done is to begin to bridge the *expansive* divide in my life. In thinking about what a divided , or denial filled 20 years has looked like for me; it has been a lot of staying ahead of the pain and creating a whole new world devoid of reality.

    In actuality, it has looked like running circular marathons on broken limbs, not feeling the gravity of the pain, and succeeding in damaging numerous tendons along the way. Now, limping to rest stations of real beauty and amazing friends and hope and encouragement is more my speed now, and while it doesn’t *look* that great on the outside, the inside sure feels a lot less scared of being found out. Oh, and the healing balm is slowly sinking in, even if it has to be applied every half hour. 🙂

    • “circular marathons on broken limbs.” you have some serious poetry in here, my dear! becoming.one.person.is.good.

  • We have been a part of churches and non-church groups that use similar tactics – Try to get people tied into the group (forming social connections that they value works well), then expect them to blindly follow. Anyone who questions or refuses to blindly follow is labeled “divisive”.

    Many of these groups use this system to maintain the power, control, authority, prestige, and often the paychecks of those in charge.

    Refusing to blindly follow threatens all of those things. In the case of churches it sometimes also threatens those whose belief system is predicated on things working a certain prescribed way. If anyone challenges the system, by definition the system is in danger of disintegrating. Therefore, questioning, disagreement and challenge are proscribed, and labeled “divisive”.

    Yes, there are people who are divisive, but in our experience the term is most often used in an attempt to keep those who will not blindly follow in line.

    • thanks, sam. yep, it does seem like that is the only time i have ever heard the word, too. so interesting.

    • now that’s a compliment, being compared to emergency chocolate 🙂

  • Amazing timing. On the same day you posted this, I was told in a public setting by an elder that I was divisive for sharing with my closest community (my home group) my passion for advocating for women and for challenging the church’s public policy on women. I nearly succumbed to the fear – thank you for reminding me that the voice of change will always be perceived as divisive but that is not an excuse for holding back what God has stirred up in my heart.

    • whoa, that is wild timing. i am so glad you took time share here & i loved your most recent post, so much power and truth packed in there. it is risky business, when we take a stand, but my theory is that it’s what is required and that we must hold fast to our integrity. once the scales have fallen from our eyes, yikes, we see things we did not previously see and that requires us to say things we did not previously say. much courage and strength and peace as you navigate this. know i am with you from afar!

  • Kathy, This has been so true for me for so many years-but I just haven’t been able to leave my church because of the strong, loving relationships that I do have-plus my life-long history with it. Also, there aren’t really any churches nearby that would be really any different! So, I do pretty much what I want with sponsoring World Vision children where I feel that I’m really making a difference in the life of a village and go on the mission trips that allow the local church to evangelize to local people and we are just the “vehicle” to get people to come for a needed service. I’ve thought of spending Sunday morning in my own “church”-but I also feel a need to be around other believers. A difficult dilemma!!! Thanks for expressing it so well!


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