The acceptance of being sinful comes easy to a woman. When I was unfaithful to a partner and messed up lives, it was easy to assume total responsibility and attempt suicide. The ensuing guilt at having survived has diminished over time, but a bagful of other incidents, some in which I was responsible for, some of which I wasn’t, have added their own savour to my inner landscape.
I was ripe fodder
for becoming a Christian. I could well understand the nature of sin that
dwelt within me, and the need for atonement. The sweet relief in the notion
that Jesus Christ paid the atonement so I don’t have to is still
real to me now.
What would it be called, if a believer wanted to do things that were good in and of themselves, but in an unacceptable way? What happened to Saul when he wanted to sacrifice to the glory of God, instead of obeying Him to the letter? These desires to speak, teach and lead were sinful, I began to see. As a woman it made no odds that I was gifted in these areas. Perhaps it was a test – God had given me an ability, but wanted me to squash it as an aid to sanctification.
I embraced the subordination
whole-heartedly – recalling one book that told me that I, as a woman,
had a natural debt to repay to a man for offering that fruit of disobedience
to him in the first place. Daily I beat myself down internally – submerging
my gifts and telling myself I was ‘serving’ by being a doormat. Men speak
in church, women make the tea.
And though lipservice is given to the important role of women in making the tea, we all know that preaching the word is the most important thing, because that’s what the men say. Women have no voice – and part of learning to submit is to accept that. Teach the other women to submit, teach the children. I don’t say this to denigrate womens unique specialities – that of mothering and being a listening sister. I say this because in practical realities, these specialities are denigrated by all and sundry to the point of irrelevance.
Even in churches where women are treated with special deference because of their feminine traits, it’s acknowledged that these traits have no place in the assembly. Some women, in response to the patent inequalities, battle and strive to be doing the men things in the men ways. They become bullying and competitive.
I don’t find that to be the answer. We aren’t exactly the same as men, and neither should we want to be. But hierarchy among humans is as far away from Christian ideals as it is possible to get.
Women must be given a voice – not a patronizing, condescending ‘womens meeting’ in which the men ‘allow women to speak in their proper sphere’. Nor a church that looks exactly the same as a traditional one, with women simply apeing the male hierarchy, and ‘getting to the top’, by having the ‘prestige’ of being a preacher or pastor.
We must begin to forge church that is both masculine and feminine, where men can lead in male ways, and women can lead in female ways. Where we understand the notion of ‘headship’ to belong to Christ alone. Where women know their own sinfulness doesn’t reside in their abilities to teach and enable growth in other believers, and where they rightly reject the guilt imposed upon them about these giftings.
I don’t have a clue what this looks like. I’m not even sure I will be privileged to be part of it, embedded, as I am, so deeply in patriarchy. But maybe my voice can help. I sometimes feel it’s all I have.