Life under Patriarchy: Death by a Thousand Cuts

Part of my journey towards healing is examining the wounds of my past. Wound-care is often messy and uncomfortable. Time to examine more cuts.

I love writing. I love teaching. I love studying the Bible. For years, I considered starting a blog, but because of my arrogance towards the mommy-blogger phenomenon, I never did. (I repent.) Then we left our church. Eventually, my husband and I realized we were leaving something much larger than our local church—we were leaving conservative white evangelism. (Categorizing the american church is tricky, but that’s the best phrase I currently have to describe my heritage.) I started writing trying to process it all. Very little of my writing has “positively” explored spiritual tensions the way I originally envisioned. I keep wondering when that day will come. Someday soon, I hope, but not yet. Recently, I read a series of poems by marla taviano, a woman on her own journey out of “white evangelical indoctrination” (jaded). I have found catharsis and understanding in her words. Allow me to share. (For my readers that may be offended by cursing, please forgive the language, but sometimes it is a needed way to express deep emotions.) These poems come from marla taviano’s book jaded, a follow-up to her book unbelieve.

scratch that

unbelieve (sort of) ended
with wings and freedom

a lilting, happy, hopeful
where do I go from here?

the plan was to move
on to a second book

working title: more

where I’d share my bigger,
lovelier, more expansive

thoughts about god and
spirituality and the world

but jaded wouldn’t leave
me the hell alone

turns out (a haiku)

I have a whole lot
more to get off my chest so
here we fucking go

even though…

I had largely untangled myself from
the lies and beliefs, they went

deep / my insides wouldn’t let my
outsides write that expansive book

yet / I still had work to do to help
us get free / I long for a beautiful

world beyond white evangelical
christianity but I feel a pull to get

people out / partly because I care
about them, mostly because I care

about people they’re harming / I
harmed people too and have wrongs

to right/write as I move into freedom
so here is my labor of anger and love

more is still to come

I long to move forward, but part of my journey towards healing is examining the wounds of my past. Wound-care is often messy and uncomfortable. In a previous post, I wrote,

Living in “complementarian” spaces was death by a thousand cuts. It can be hard to articulate, because each cut on its own sounds petty.

Time to examine more cuts. Many cuts feel petty—only men got to pass the offering plates!and many are too entangled with other women’s stories to fully share here. The stories I do share in this space have embedded more deeply in my memory than others. They are not chronological or limited to one church. Thank you for bearing witness.

Caring for Widows and Orphans

Every youth group I was part of until I was sixteen was run by volunteer women. Several of the volunteers were divorced women with children and tight finances who sacrificed large amounts of time to church service. When I was sixteen, our youth group had grown large enough that the male leaders decided it was time to officially hire someone for a paid position. They hired a young, single, twenty-two-year old man.

Peacock Parade

The women at our church organized a party to celebrate our church’s ten-year anniversary. The women arranged a slide show and asked the leaders to give a quick speech.  I remember sitting in the pews, everyone impatiently waiting, looking at their watches, babies crying, while man after man strutted across the stage to share how God had used him. Meanwhile their wives labored in the kitchen to provide all the food for which everyone had come.

Alone in a Dark Alley

As a young woman, I was part of a book study with several other women led by a male pastor I deeply respected. We always met in public places, but he still made sure to inform us he practiced the “Billy Graham” rule. In ways I didn’t know how to articulate at the time, a man telling me he didn’t feel safe alone with me simply because I was a woman made me feel uncomfortable. I grew hyper-aware of our surroundings because I felt like he viewed me as a threat. In hindsight, I don’t think I was the threat.

The Pastor was Seduced and had an Affair

Did you know it’s illegal in several states for a counselor or lawyer to have sex with a client? Extensive research has shown that the power dynamics in a counselor/counselee relationship confuse the ability for the counselee to give sexual consent. At one of my churches, rumors circulated for years that the pastor was seduced by a woman at our church (who he was counseling) and had an affair with her. The woman tried to commit suicide. The pastor moved to a megachurch with a salary increase. He wasn’t seduced. She was. He didn’t have an affair. He committed a crime.

Mansplain Explained

I’ll never forget an eye-glazing monologue I received from a younger seminary guy who had recently graduated from a Christian college. I heard he was trying to start a ministry at the public university where I had worked as a campus minister and occasionally still volunteered. I made the mistake of asking him about it to start a conversation. I received a looong lecture about how “hard the soil was” and how difficult it was to “break in” at a public university. I finally politely excused myself when there was a small pause in the lecture and walked away. I never did share my experience with him. I think that’s the moment I finally understood mansplain.

A Man Explains a “Gentle and Quiet Spirit”

When I was alone as a woman in a meeting with the all-male eldership of my church, I explained how difficult it was as a woman to discern how to have both a gentle and quiet spirit and also have a voice in the church. One of the male elders, the NT greek “expert”, interrupted me to soften the meaning of 1 Timothy 2:12. I was referencing 1 Peter 3:4. His interruption (mansplaining) and my confusion about his confusion began the whole meeting badly. Afterwards, as I contemplated his mistake, I realized he had no idea of the burden women carry from these verses. No woman who takes her bible seriously in the conservative church world would confuse these two passages with one another. I’ve been processing the realization that men in the church don’t sit with the call to a “gentle and quiet spirit” the way women do ever since that terrible meeting when I tried to use my voice in a room full of aggressive men.

Woman’s Bible Study

In high school, a friend gifted me Beth Moore’s A Woman’s Heart: God’s Dwelling Place. I memorized Bible verses during that study of the Old Testament tabernacle system that still minister to me today. I remember sitting on my couch as a young woman feeling the Holy Spirit’s presence as I studied my Bible with Beth Moore’s guidance, puzzling over what made it a “woman” study. I couldn’t fathom how Beth’s wisdom couldn’t also be beneficial to a man.

Only Half of God’s Imagers

Since that first Beth Moore study, I have participated and benefited from dozens of “Women’s Bible Studies” over the years. Women spend a lifetime under the Spirit-led teaching of women and men. In most patriarchal spaces, men only learn from half of God’s imagers. The repercussions are vast.

But Women Shouldn’t Even Teach Other Women

At my high school, the John MacArthur Study Bible was required curriculum. In a 2019 video that went viral, John MacArthur said, “There’s no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher” (even to other women), and arrogantly told Beth Moore to “go home.” The audience laughed.

Apparently, the original video has been scrubbed from the internet. Only audio clips are left.

Women have the Spiritual Gift of Administration

Remember those spiritual gift surveys that were popular a few decades back? My results were always inconsistent (but skewed towards gifts related to teaching and pastoring.) There was only one thing that stayed constant on every test I took. I tested poorly for the gift of Adminstration. Always. One of the few official things I was asked to do at a church I attended for almost a decade? Nursery Administrator.

Houses have the Gift of Hosting Male Leaders

…well, that’s not entirely true. My husband and I were also asked to host (not lead) “family” groups in our home. But since we were one of the few couples that had a home large enough to host large amounts of adults and children, I think my house was officially asked to do the hosting. I think it was the house because my husband and I “hosted” every week for years, but when we left our church, no one from our “family” group ever contacted us again, not even our leader. The leader’s wife did contact me a year later to ask for money for a house to host them in the Caribbean because they thought the Caribbean needed her husband’s leadership.

Practically More Qualified in Every Way

In college, I got involved with a Christian ministry at a public university my freshman year. My faith thrived. About a year after graduation, I was recruited to go on staff with this ministry. As a woman raised in patriarchal church culture, I had never considered becoming a minister even though I loved ministering to others. I was so unsure of myself that I volunteered for a whole semester for discernment before I committed. I even told my recruiter “no” before I actually prayed about it and felt like I clearly heard God tell me “yes.” The knowledge that a man actively pursued me for the position, my husband fully supported me, and I would be partnered with the current male minister, all factored into my decision. Unbeknownst to me, the male minister with whom I volunteered was leaving the ministry. Because I had taken so long to decide and even said “no” at one point, my supervisor had hired another candidate from out of state.  Ultimately, he hired both of us to become ministry partners at the university I had attended. Regarding the male hire, I was older in age, older in baptism, and older in experience – I was an alumna of the university and involved with campus ministry for six years, first as a student and then as a volunteer. My male partner had attended a private Christian college. He only got involved with college ministry his senior year and was immediately hired after graduation. I was more qualified than my colleague in every way, but I always felt pressure to submit to his leadership simply because he was male.

Female Submission

My partner and I ran the ministry into the ground. The campus fellowship that was such a blessing to me while I was a student no longer exists. Early in my tenure, the organization was accused of being too liberal by people in high places. My supervisors feared losing donors and bent over backwards to keep my male partner happy to prove their interdenominational (conservative) bona fides even though they were an egalitarian ministry. I disagreed with my colleague almost every ministry step of the way, but I mostly kept quiet and allowed him to lead. His ministry methods contrasted starkly with everything I had come to love about the Christian fellowship at my alma mater.  I eventually transferred to another university because working with him was so unbearable, but my heart stayed behind. The fellowship didn’t fully dissolve until a few years later, but it was already in a downward spiral when I left. My leaders mostly looked the other way. I am haunted by the students harmed by my submission. I did not know how to advocate for them or myself as a woman.

Male Leadership

My ministry partner graduated from Campus Minister to Overseas Missionary to Small Church Pastor to Church Planter, failing at each one before he was promoted to the next.

The Curious Case of Benjamin Button

Brad Pitt stars in an odd movie where he’s born in the body of an old man, but his body ages backwards. He dies in old age as a child—a curious case. Churches promote men to leadership regardless of age. Brad Pitt’s movie is an imperfect metaphor, but it’s a curious thing to grow older as a woman and be expected to submit to men who continually grow younger.

Woman Should be Grateful

The elders of our church decided they needed to be more inclusive of women. They decided women could compose questions for the weekly small group discussions. I was one of the women invited to the question committee. I thought the elders had previously written the questions but were forming a new group to delegate responsibilities. Turns out, laymen—young men in their twenties—had been part of the question committee for several months. The older, spiritually mature women of the church were now being promoted to join the ranks of these young men. Towards the end of that first meeting, the younger men enthusiastically welcomed the older women to the group. They were so proud of themselves.

Once I saw the misogyny in my own church and the larger tradition of conservative white evangelism in which I was raised, I couldn’t unsee it. It was everywhere. The church didn’t change, I did. Many before me saw it, but for years I refused to see. I always hope that the eyes of those I left behind will one day be opened too.

For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them.

Matthew 13:15

May we each have eyes to see, ears to hear, and hearts to understand.

How about you? How were you hurt by patriarchal theology? Please feel free to share in the comments section.

Title image is Sacrifice of Iphigenia, unknown artist

I often ask myself why I avoided wrestling with egalitarian theology for so long. I’ve concluded it’s a weird stew of several factors: a desire to be objective, a rejection of secular white feminism, a result of my circumstances, a propensity towards self-flagellation, and a fear of becoming a feminazi. I explore this more in
Different AND Equal: One Woman’s Journey from Complementarian to Egalitarian

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4 thoughts on “Life under Patriarchy: Death by a Thousand Cuts

  1. greatismyfaithlessness

    In my church, women weren’t allowed to vote on church matters at our quarterly meetings. They were supposed to rely on their husband’s vote. So widows, single women, and divorcees had no voice. Instead, we spent church meetings prepping food for the potluck that followed.
    The only thing we were ever allowed to vote on was the color of the new church carpet. And that was only because men didn’t want to be bothered with deciding such a trivial thing.
    I have so many, far worse stories. The misogyny is horrific.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. greatismyfaithlessness

        It’s so true. I did my MA thesis on the ways that women in fundamentalist communities use social media to support each other and push back against abuse. I wouldn’t have believed the stories I heard during my research if I hadn’t grown up in those same communities.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Melissa Weikel

    Reminds me of early in our marriage. I was a bank teller but wasn’t allowed to help count the offering after church. Instead I had to sit and wait for my husband to count it with a bunch of older men who, let’s just say, weren’t as qualified and took forever. When I asked about it I was told not to rock the boat and that it wasn’t worth making a fuss about. So many stories over the years…

    Liked by 1 person


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