When Teaching Your Daughters about Gender Equality is No Longer Enough (Guest Post by Benjamin L. Corey)

ben

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.

Why?

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.

__________________________________________________

Benjamin L. Corey is an author, speaker, and blogger. He is a two-time graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary (Theology & Missiology), is a doctoral candidate at Fuller Seminary, and is a member of the Phi Alpha Chi Honors Society. His first book, Undiluted: Rediscovering the Radical Message of Jesus, is available wherever books are sold. Benjamin is also the co-host of That God Show with Matthew Paul Turner and a syndicated author with MennoNerds. He lives in Auburn, Maine. You can also follow him on Facebook and Twitter.
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20 Comments

  • Awesome story, Ben. I love that you have walked this through to the degree you have, and would no longer even both attending a church that doesn’t have this issue sorted. And I’m not surprised the other church didn’t make it through… it’s a good read and very encouraging. I’m reposting to Kyria.

  • Ben, I follow you on FB and read your blog. You’ve nourished my soul with language of equality and confidence. I have an MA in apologetics and am currently finishing my MDiv; I left a church a year ago because of faulty theology and the lack of desire for women in church leadership, and my family and I are currently attending a church with a different denomination which sees women as equally gifted for senior leadership. But still… I can feel my impatience growing as I continue to fight for simple validation. I currently volunteer as a pastor under my very encouraging senior pastor, but I still meet so much resistance all around me. On the Sundays when my 8 yr old daughter sees me deliver communion, or when she sees me with a microphone ready to deliver God’s word, my heart bursts from excitement — but the impatience of wanting to fully work in my calling is palpable.

    I would love to meet you and your family of women for coffee sometime — I live about an hour and a half from you. Not a stalker! Just a co-laborer and student of the truth. 🙂 And I bet we have some typical New England notes to compare!

    • I also thought of what my response might be. I”m afraid I would have laughed. And then, on realizing that the question was serious, I would have asked what the question could possibly mean. The question already assumed the answer, so I think I would have been happy to put them all on the spot to explain themselves. At least…in my mind that’s how it would go.

      I can also imagine pretty much doing what you did. It’s hard to get your wind back after a gut punch.

  • Bravo for you! My brother’s stepdaughter and her husband did the same thing. They had been Catholic; Katie, who had been brought up unchurched had even been baptized and confirmed so that she could worship as one with her husband, and their children had been baptized. But at the age of 13, their daughter expressed the conviction that she wanted to be a priest, and she was *very* serious about it. When they realized just how serious she was, and talked it over thoroughly, they felt they needed to make a change and find a church where there were female clergy and women were treated as equals in the church. They became Episcopalians and their daughter was very happy worshiping in that church. I’m happy to see others taking this seriously.

  • The leadership issue aside, to consider “never returning” to the local church to be a viable option shows a glaring lack of understanding of New Testament Christianity. God never intended for Christians to practice our faith in separation or isolation from other believers, no matter the perceived personal injustice experienced. To do so would go against His clear instructions and intent.

    • Well, it is clear that they didn’t stay away. I can totally understand the emotion involved in declaring “never again” even when you know better. Given how it’s working out, I don’t think the author needs a finger wagged at him.

  • This is so interesting to me. At the age of 52, with two teen daughters, I am serving in my first (and God willing only) call to pastor in a small New England city. It is an American Baptist congregation. In the interview process, I was asked about my position vis a vis women in ministry. An answer in the negative would have been an automatic disqualifier for this group. I have a hard time understanding how to square this complementarian headship thing with the broad freedoms clearly granted to all people by the gospel of Christ. The passages in Timothy and Corinthians are handled pretty easily through historical analysis. But, I wasn’t asked to explain my theology — just my position. Well, of course…here I am.

    Since then, I have had several occasions to affirm from the pulpit the role of all women in the ministry of the church. Looking back, I realize that I don’t often teach on issues like these that I consider rather secondary to the actual proclamation of the Good News of Jesus. But on these particular occasions, I spoke with a very strong tone — making it very clear that this is how it is.

    I have some very close friends and colleagues who come from a very different place on this. I find their positions and practice requires a good deal of contortionist bending to create some semblance of consistency.

    NIce piece. Makes me think I’m going to actively search for women to supply the pulpit during my upcoming vacations.

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