With the completion of each Bible study came another badge of honor, another pin of spiritual insight and understanding, sewn upon the sash of Christianity.
Study after study, devotional after devotional, women’s prayer mornings, women’s evening gatherings, ongoing luncheons and retreats, each dazzling with the charms of righteousness and biblical servitude, I awoke each morning and pledged allegiance to Christianity.
Women’s ministry culture grew out from infamous Wanda Elizabeth “Beth” Moore and her plethora of bible studies. Moore opened up a new platform for women to be heard and seen in a culture that was not about women being heard OR seen. In the late ’90s, Moore became the official mascot for women in the Christian church to have a voice and use it.
But women’s ministry was more than just a ladies bible study club, no, this was a sorority, a sisterhood of an oppressed gender that lived in complete denial that it was actually oppressed.
As one of the matriarchs in my church had explained to me, “Oppressed? Oh, no. Women need a covering – and men are called by God to be our covering!”
“Oh, right”, I responded, “But, I thought the Holy Spirit was our covering?”
I would soon find that challenging questions were prone to zero responses.
What genius, really, when it’s pieced together. Think about it. All a Patriarchy needed was for all the women to gather together (apart from men and apart from any important decisions being made), provide them a space to share their (ongoing) pain and (confidential) conflicts and (personal) prayers, hand them a comfortable budget for parties, retreats, an expanding library for bible studies, and viola! Ladies and gentlemen, I introduce to you the ultimate Christian girl-gang.
It’s no different than moms who manage their kids. We give them something to do, something to eat or drink, give them money to spend, all so they can be distracted and we can continue doing our important work, free from their meddling.
If you keep ’em happy, you’ll keep ’em quiet.
It works. And it has work for the church, too.
Today, women value leadership and development over control and manipulation.
Today, mothering focuses on teaching children how to think, not what to think.
Today, women are not interested in being managed as an inconvenience within the business of religion.
You see, what the Patriarchy did not plan for is what these sashes of bible studies actually produced within us over all these years. We developed the courage to speak out, the strength to leave abuse, the dignity to know our worth, and the persistence to uphold truth and justice.
THE DARK SIDE
This sash can empower the launching of a woman into her divine purpose, or it can be used as a weapon of positional power. This fine print within the rules of women’s ministry often develops women who are completely unprepared for leadership, causing them to buckle underneath the weight of responsibility and freeze with overwhelm and emotional fragility.
For far too long, Christian women have been conditioned for greatness, yet remain content with preparing coffee and passing coffers while pastors and elders disqualify and ignore the qualifications of women for leadership roles and accountability measures.
Women’s ministry was once a place where women found comradery in doing good within their communities. Today, it remains fixed as a social club, where Christian women recieve justification for discrimination, gain followers for assassinating the character of others, and practice using scripture in the most manipulatively advantageous ways.
An unspoken understanding hiding out within the shadows of Christian culture is this: women are being set up to sit down.
I mean really, Christian women have had it made for quite some time. We are safe and insulated. Some would say we had it “all”. The “Godly” man (with a porn addiction), Republican values (condoning and tolerating pussy-grabbing), couples devotions and marriage ministry (how to forgive abuse and remain submissive), sunday school for the kids (a McDonalds playland hosted by strangers children are expected to trust), and “worship” nights set as rock concert (with merchandise tables in the foyer…um…oh, hey, Jesus… what’s that you’re holding?)
Hey, in defense, my family bought into it, too. For a long time. For far, far, far too long a time.
There is a real world outside of Christian culture and people are being unfairly accused, improperly treated, while deceit runs rampant. Too many faith-filled families keep their circles closed, their outreach tethered, and their eyes in the sky.
There is a real world outside the church bunker that is crying out for big-hearted women to take action within their community. There is a real world outside the Bible bubble that needs women of integrity to become educated and hold positions of leadership throughout every trade and industry.
The need for values-driven women in leadership is immense.
My blood boils over the women I have met over the past 20 years within Christian culture, the women whose talent and passion for doing good slowly died within the silo of women’s ministry and the disapproval of pastors.
Carrie expressed a heart for abortion support, Miranda wanted to study law and defend children in court; Charlotte shared a vision for opening a home for foster kids, and Samantha felt a pull to expand the ways Sunday worship is offered. Not one of these women ever pursued these dreams. And every single one of them is either still stacking creamer packets every Sunday or helping decorate the church for events.
Directing a vocational school grew my heart to hear the dreams of women. To hear a woman’s heart and to have the honor of affirming the value of her vision was a breathtaking season. This was the work of developing people. Launching women into their destiny was the highlight of my career. But even a heart such as mine was no match for the choking grasp of control and the power to crush a human spirit than that wielded of a controlling and abusive Patriarchy.
WE OUT HERE
Everyone celebrates the woman who has found the courage to leave an abusive man, but very few Christians possess the compassion to honor the woman who leaves abusive practices within the church.
Out here is where I rediscovered my value. Out here is where God breathed new life into my dreams and aspirations. Out here is where my eyes were opened to unlimited opportunities to share my talents.
Out here is where I decided to keep living.
And out here is where you are needed, too.
Out here is where struggling families need the privileged to work on their behalf. Out here is where public schools could use good-hearted families representing hope and love. Out here is where faith gets exercised. Out here is where personal development can continue burgeoning.
THE OLD WAY
The Bible is a wonderful foundation for spirituality – a launching pad to continue growing up, out, and beyond the pages of. We can treasure it’s resource, thank Paul for his inspired words, thank God for speaking to Paul thousands of years ago, and continue going on our own way.
It has become more clear how the indoctrination I endured as a child had never really ended, it simply continued with Beth Moore, Joyce Meyers, Lisa Bevere, and every other Christian woman whom the patriarchy gave platform to. The elders and leadership within the local church even figured out how to quietly exercise control over women – let their wives do it.
As a child, biblical leadership was all about control, and today, as an adult woman, it still remains about control.
Recently, Beth Moore responded to the harmful, Patriarchal ways of Christian leadership, ““The old way is over.” she says, “The stakes are too high now.”
THE NEW WAY
Take your walk around the stage with your bible study sash, Queen, then get on with it and help the world around you.
In vocational education the role of Matriarch was essential. There had to be a woman held accountable for overseeing the affairs of “the house”. There had to be a woman who was aware and alert to every conflict, every accusation, every deception and every opportunity for harm. And she had damned well better be qualified to deal with it appropriately.
Only when a matriarch is turning a blind eye, ignoring challenges and hiding out in fear of conflict and confrontation can you be sure that dysfunction eats at the walls of her house and women in particular have been deeply harmed.
What the world does not need is another self-proclaimed Christian woman throwing her positional weight around. What the world needs is faith-filled, hope-infused, justice-fighting Queens who are willing to leave their castles and get to the gritty, dangerous work they know damn well they have been called to.