Wineskins Archive

December 3, 2013

A Culture of Duality (Feb 2013)

Filed under: — @ 3:30 pm and

By Deana Nall

As a young girl, I don’t know when I realized that church had different expectations of me than I encountered at home and school.

At home, I had the blessing of being raised by parents who didn’t think my gender should make a difference in what I wanted to do or the kind of person I wanted to be. My toy box contained an eclectic mix of Barbies, Matchbox cars, and play food for my toy kitchen. My two most cherished possessions were my dollhouse and my Star Wars Death Star Space Station. When I dreamed of being an astronaut or a zoo veterinarian, my parents shared my excitement of what my future could hold. At school, neither gender was elevated above the other. I learned the same things as the boys in my class.

The only place I was told that girls or women couldn’t do something was at church.

I must have learned to accept this culture of duality early on, because I don’t remember struggling with it. Outside of church, girls could do anything. But at church, girls could only do some things. It made sense to me. I guess because it had to. But as I grew and began questioning, my understanding gave way to confusion over what was becoming clear to me: Whether or not anyone means for this to happen, the culture in some churches makes women feel undervalued and disrespected.

As adults, we have the freedom to choose church bodies that regard all members as one in Christ. But even in churches that have evolved in this area, we women can still have those moments. Those moments in which we’re going along, trying to be Jesus to other people, encountering all the struggles that can plague the Christian walk, when suddenly… Wham! We’re hit with one of those messages that may have not been intended to make us feel disrespected because of our gender, but it had that effect regardless.

Based on what women have shared with me about this, I’ve identified a few recurring situations that can make women feel slighted in church settings.

When women’s church activities lack depth. Of course it’s fine to have a recipe exchange or craft night. But when that’s all a church offers to women, they are going to feel that the church does not take them seriously.

When men tell women how to react and respond to things that those men have never had to react and respond to. When a woman expresses frustration over not being allowed to lead in a church context, a man should not tell her how to feel about that. And no one should bring up 1 Timothy 2 unless they are prepared to address all the cultural issues that chapter raises.

When someone has a problem with something a woman has said or done and addresses her husband about it instead of her. Matthew 18:15 is clear about how conflict with people of either gender should be handled, but a mentality still exists that exceptions should be made for women. Once, a group of elders were unhappy over something I had written in the local newspaper, so they talked to my husband about it in a meeting while I sat at home, ignorant of the fact that the elders were upset with me. The explanation I was given later was that the elders thought my husband could explain to me what the problem was better than the elders could. Maybe, if I had been a minor and my husband had been my father. But in my mid-30s, and after having worked as a professional writer for years, I only felt disrespected. Women want to be treated as the adults and professionals they are.

When people talk about how progressive their church is because it “allows” women to do this or that. This only communicates that the church does not uphold men and women as one in Christ.

When people assume women are meant for certain church roles because they’re women. If there’s a female church member who is a high school teacher and has won Teacher of the Year and is known for her expertise when it comes to teaching young people, and instead of having her in front of the youth group, the church’s leaders have only asked her to make muffins for the ladies’ brunch—shame on them. Both the church and the woman are missing out on what could be a tremendous blessing. It is a sad fact that churches are sometimes the last places to recognize women’s true callings and spiritual gifts.

When people assume that because women are questioning the traditional view churches have toward them, that they are power-hungry feminazis. In the workplace, when someone is going after a promotion or raise, or they just want to be taken more seriously, they’re not trying to take over the entire company. And women don’t want to take over God’s kingdom.

Paul called all the members of the church at Corinth to “…strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace” (2 Corinthians 13:11). Let’s create environments in our churches in which women can feel just as valued they do outside the church doors.

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