#MeToo and #ChurchToo: Time to Empower Women with Equality

by - June 02, 2018

I've been venturing into the gray areas, a learning experience like none other. I'm examining things I used to accept without scrutiny.  I've learned a new ways to approach scripture. I'm beginning to give myself the beautiful gift of weight and space. And all the while, #MeToo happened, and then #ChurchToo, and I've been watching. This convergence of the shift inside me with the shift in society and the shift in the Church seems suspiciously not like a coincidence.

I haven't written about this aspect of my journey yet because it still feels like a work in progress. I am still searching the scriptures in this area of women's empowerment and equality. I still have much to study that will ultimately inform where I land on this issue, so this is not a definitive piece. One thing I know for sure though — my view on women and our roles is changing. And after the events of this week in the conservative evangelical church and some of the reading I've done, I want to process and document some of the shift in me here.

For starters, I can look back even further than my embracing gray confession of last fall and see fault lines becoming unstable. In about 2012 , when my daughters were in their early teens, I began thinking more earnestly about modesty, what that means for me, and what I wanted to teach my girls as they were on the cusp of womanhood. They were experimenting with make up and more mature clothing choices, learning to become themselves in the face of pressure to conform to middle school and high school norms. I wanted to give room for their curiosity and mistakes (a valid part of  healthy learning). I needed to trust the spiritual and soulful training Mike and I had invested in them to that point, let them figure it out for themselves rather than dictate to them what kind of woman they would grow up to be and what positions they would hold. I wanted them to own their own beliefs, approaches to style, and senses of self-worth and self-respect. Dignity and self-respect were things I desperately wanted to communicate. Shame was something I desperately wanted to avoid. I was beginning to feel some judgment from others for what I was allowing with my girls, but I kept my struggle with the judgment private at the time, not feeling I owed anyone else an explanation. I wanted to focus on teaching this tricky issue to my daughters and have all of us come out on the other side unharmed. So I ignored the opinions of others, and instead collected my thoughts and those of others in a folder to process the subject privately. I still have those notes and may revisit them while I'm embracing gray. (Some of my thoughts on the subject bled into this piece.)

Then, during the last presidential inauguration, I thought long and hard about that powder blue suit.

These were the beginnings of my questioning and rethinking how I feel about womanhood.

I wrote my gray post, then one on new (to me) approaches to the scripture, and then on being small.

As I've continued to explore, I have found others who have voiced similar ideas about women adopting an attitude and position of being small, like this piece for Fathom Magazine by Jasmine Holmes. I also found it here, in this article by a male elementary school teacher who has witnessed firsthand how his female counterparts diminish themselves and are expected to do so by colleagues. Chimanda Ngozi Adichi touches on smallness in her TED talk entitled "The Danger of a Single Story."

I see now that my "small" experience is not unique to me as a southern woman or a Christian woman. I am watching the #churchtoo movement spread to the Church with fascination, sadness, humility, introspection, and repentance.

There is still so much work to be done.

I have revisited the complementarian view I was taught in the early 1990s by the founders of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood at the time of its inception, and find it ill-fitting, confining, restrictive, and controlling. This view is lacking in grace, human dignity and freedom, all concepts Jesus came to give freely to all. It diminishes women, regardless that they would claim otherwise. It was my experience and they cannot refute that. It makes entirely too much of our differences as men and women.

This talk by Jen Wilkin helped me to see the biblical support of emphasizing our sameness rather than our differentness.  I listened three times in a row because it was water to my thirsty soul. It's what I want to teach the church ladies and our daughters. I want to empower them beyond traditional roles, just as Jesus did when he commended Mary for stepping out of the kitchen in favor of learning of him at his feet like a disciple, something only men were permitted to do at the time.

I've never studied the egalitarian view before. I am now. I know now that when I look at my own marriage, it functions much more in the vein of egalitarian regardless of the fact that we called ourselves complementarian. We make decisions together, we shoulder responsibilities together, and we acquiesce together to the best ideas, resources, hopes and dreams for our family regardless of where they originated: Mike or me, male or female. We are both completely invested in doing whatever it takes, no matter what it looks like to get the job done with as much excellence as we can muster. And if that means I take the car to the shop when Mike was in cancer treatment and if Mike does the cooking when I have a broken arm, then so be it. And if we prefer jobs that bend traditional gender roles, so what? Does it matter who takes the trash out or does the yard work or fixes the clogged sink drain?

Our differences are biological. That's what weaker vessel means: physical strength. That's it.

The Proverbs 31 woman  is not an actual person. It's a list of traits for Solomon to look for in a wife. One woman cannot possibly rise early and work late into the night. She cannot possibly be a business woman selling fine fabrics at the city square and tend to her children at the same time. Proverbs 31 is a list of valuable traits given to a man for consideration. Context is important. In this case it turns everything I've ever heard about that passage on its head.

There are still passages that make me queasy, Old and New Testament alike, but maybe they don't mean what they appear to mean on their surface through modern Western eyes. Maybe historical and cultural context has been lost or ignored. Maybe those passages validate and empower women rather than diminish and constrain them.  Here's a fine example explained by Wendy Alsup, author of "Is the Bible Good for Women?".

I no longer want to define myself in terms of the people I love. I'm more than a wife and a mother. I love those traditional roles and responsibilities and count them a privilege and joy. Instead I want to define myself by my humanity alone. I have a full body and brain complete with strengths, weaknesses, personality quirks, friendships, growing maturity, a sense of humor, and an introverted streak. I am a thinking, feeling, fully-engaged person. I want to be more than my gender. I want to be more than a sex appeal not to be encountered alone in any public place by a male (The Pence Rule), and I want to see men as more than a sex drive. If we see one another as brothers and sisters as the Bible teaches, we might find common ground beyond sexual attraction and be better for what we might find in those relationships. Surely we can rise above the basest forms of ourselves, and afford one another the honor and dignity each person and each gender deserves.

I am happy to see the validation of women and our rights as human beings not to be subject to abuse, discrimination, and limited educational and career options. I am happy it has begun, even if it started in the world with the #MeToo movement before it spread to the Church. Shame on us, the Church, for following instead of leading in this. I support the brave women who have come forward to lead the charge and the men and women who are listening, making changes, calling unaccountable, powerful male leaders to account, and laying the groundwork for a much healthier future for all of us moving forward.

My three children are millenials. I'm excited to see what ground their generaion will cover in terms of equity and empowerment in their lifetimes. I hope to continue sharing with my adult children all I am learning and all the ways I am refusing to be a product of the errors in my upbringing: Christian, Southern, American, and otherwise. I want to be a part of empowering them to see that women can indeed accomplish and contribute much given the freedom and empowerment in which to thrive. I want to model it for them.

Growth and paradigm change take effort and time. I will continue to seek the Lord, thankful for the promise I will find him, trusting the Holy Spirit to do his job as my teacher who lives within me. I trust this process and method of learning that God created.  It was God's provision for educating and relating to his children. I will embrace it and trust it to conform me to his image in due time.

Photo Credit: Becca Tapert on Unsplash

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  1. As always, you hit all of my feels! What a great piece and written so humbly! Much love to you and Pastor Mike.


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