The meeting wasn’t supposed to involve any controversial moments, or so I thought. I had been waiting outside on the sidewalk for 20 minutes or so while the others in the church discussed my nomination as an elder of the church. My suspicion that something went wrong was confirmed when I got a text from one of my friends in the meeting—he had dismissed himself to the restroom and secretly sent me a message giving me a heads up.
“There’s a problem.” He said. “But when you come back in, try to answer as humbly and calmly as possible and I think everything will be fine.”
I wasn’t sure what could be the issue—it was a small church, and we all considered each other to be friends. Most of us were even all in a small group together, and knew each other quite well.
After they called me back in, I sat nervously in my chair wondering what kind of problem there could be among my group of friends, who were also my church family. There was a spokesperson for the group who turned to me and said, “Ben, we’ve discussed your nomination to become an elder, and there’s a few concerns.”
The voice inside my head that narrates my life (I think it’s actually Samuel L. Jackson), immediately felt defensive and put off.
“Concerns? I mean, we’ve all been friends for over a year. Why would a concern just be coming up now?”
I squirmed in my seat a little as I waited for him to go on. During the awkwardness of the moment Samuel L. Jackson kept reminding me to “be cool”.
Finally, the spokesperson spoke up: “The first issue is minor- it’s about your blog. Would you be willing to put a disclaimer on the blog that says your views don’t necessarily represent the church’s position on a matter?”
I breathed a sigh of relief—a disclaimer was no big deal.
“No problem.” I said, “in fact, I preemptively put a disclaimer on my blog already.”
I felt fine until he folded his hands, let out a sigh of his own, and then said, “the blog’s not a big deal, but we do have a far more serious concern that has been brought up.”
“Wwwhat’s that?” I nervously asked.
And then the question came… the question that immediately provoked my inner Samuel L. Jackson to set off a flurry of colorful questions of his own:
“Do you truly and honestly feel that you are the head over your wife?”
I couldn’t believe the question. Well, I could- my wife has two master degrees, is confident, competent, and a lot of people not used to strong women don’t quite know what to make of her. But these were friends of ours. I couldn’t believe that my own friends were objecting to me becoming an elder because they didn’t think I dominated over my wife.
I wanted to forsake my Anabaptist convictions and punch someone (was Samuel’s idea), but I didn’t know whom to slug since I had no idea which friend(s) had tried to block me from becoming an elder. Instead, I tried to offer a soft answer while secretly cussing in my mind.
As it all sunk in, I was actually crushed. In fact, things were never the same again, and within a few months, the church completely dissolved and all of the former friendships ended along with it.
We vowed in our hurt to never attend church again, but soon found ourselves spending a season serving in a church for asylum seekers from the Congo. When that season ended, we weren’t sure if we’d ever go back to church. We were spent.
However, a few weeks ago we realized that being de-churched wasn’t a long-term option for us, so we found a new church home—one that ironically, isn’t even my denomination or faith tradition.
I’ve learned my lesson on the dangers of going to a church that doesn’t affirm equality of women. Instead of dismissing it as a “disputable matter” in an attempt to keep a faux version of peace, I now know this isn’t a disputable matter at all—not for me. Not for my family.
As a husband to a wife, a father to teenaged girls (and who’s also co-raising my niece), I am unwilling to take the women in my life to a church that does not allow women in all areas of leadership. Instead, we specifically chose a church that had a female pastor—because it’s no longer enough for me to teach the kids I’m raising about gender equality in church—the only acceptable option for me is to have them experience it.
I want them to hear the Word of God spoken, preached and applied from a woman’s voice.
I want them to see the bread of the Lord broken by a woman’s hands, the cup of Christ extended by a woman’s arm, and hear the words “take this in remembrance of me” flowing from a woman’s lips.
I want them to see women leading from the pulpit, leading from the wings—I want them to see women leading everywhere they turn.
Teaching them about gender equality in church is no longer enough for me; I want them to experience it to such a degree that the suggestion a woman can’t lead in church is utterly laughable, because it will conflict with their own experience growing up.
I want it to sink in to such a depth that if they one day attend a church that has the audacity to ask their husbands if they are truly “heads over their wives”, they will immediately know it is time to leave that church, and find one that is safe for them to be whoever God has called and gifted them to be.
There are plenty of things in my new church I could critique, and no shortage of things I would change (I mean, there’s an American flag to the right of the pulpit, and everyone knows how I feel about that). But right now, that’s not what’s important for me.
All that matters to me is that the women in my life see, hear, and experience the absolute and unchangeable truth that God gifts women to lead in church too.