I just finished having dinner with two young women whose work is to eradicate gender injustice around the globe. They work on issues that impact women, such poverty, education, health, sexual exploitation and gender-based violence. One woman commented, “We women of faith are partially responsible for the lack of progress made for women in these areas.”
That struck me.
“What do you mean by that?”
She shared how her organization works with both conservative and liberal Christian women. She’s found issues, important issues no question, but issues such as choice that often cause so much division between these two groups that neither are willing to talk, listen, or find common ground in any other arenas, including those listed above. It’s their disdain for each other’s beliefs about a particular issue that keeps them from uniting to fight together against other issues that negatively impact women.
The truth is, we women have more in common than not. And that common ground – our female experience, but even more so, our Jesus – should motivate us to unite on behalf of our sisters around the world.
I had a flash back to my past 20 years of church life. I too have seen the lines drawn.
Married vs. single. Married with kids vs. married without kids. Working mom vs. stay at home mom.
Battle lines are drawn. Entrenchment happens.
Suddenly I blurted out, “Not only are women divided, but the Church is partially to blame for it.”
When the Church teaches a limited view of womanhood and labels it “true womanhood,” it then creates division within the ranks.
Motherhood is the ideal role for woman. Man is the breadwinner – and leader.
Teachings such as these box women in, and dare I say it, fail to capture all that the Scriptures teach about being a Christ follower. In my ten years of teaching women’s bibles studies, I never taught on Biblical womanhood. When asked why, I replied, “Because I don’t think the Bible teaches us how to be a woman or a man. It teaches us to be ‘like Christ.’” Nowhere does it say, “be like woman” or “be like man.” In fact, that idea is silly if you think about it. How can a woman do anything without being – a woman? She takes her womanness with her everywhere she goes, in everything she thinks, in all she does. She is a woman. She can’t not be a woman. So it’s silly to spend so much time trying to teach her how to be what she already is. However, the Bible says much about “becoming more and more like Christ.” So I spent those precious hours of instruction helping women (including myself) learn how to know Christ, love Christ, and live more like him. I figured if I even remotely succeeded at that, it was a BIG WIN.
The Church’s teachings on Biblical womanhood cause divisiveness among women. When one ideal is toted it causes women to feel inadequate, insecure and ultimately, competitive. “If she’s what it means to be a biblical woman, and I’m not like her, then what does that say about who I am?” It’s one of the reasons women are leaving the Church. Many women, especially those who don’t fit the “ideal” are leaving because they can’t find their female story there. Just ask young professionals or single women.
If you don’t believe the tension exists, listen to these two examples. We rebranded our women’s ministry to state “WE: A Movement of Women.” After we rolled it out, I was approached and asked, “Don’t you value motherhood anymore?” I thought that was an odd deduction to make. Yes, of course we valued motherhood (after all, I was one, too!) I told her just that and then asked if she thought the Church communicated the same acceptance and full utilization of women like Condoleezza Rice as we did mothers? In agreement, she said, “No. There isn’t a place for a woman like that.”
“Yes,” I said. “That’s what we are trying to make room for: to value motherhood, AND to embrace other roles, such as those of women like Condoleezza Rice.”
Last month at one of our Salons, we asked women to share their God-given dreams for humanity. Most women belted dreams like the eradication of sex trafficking and creating new innovated education for children. One woman sheepishly spoke up: “My dream is to be a good mother. It’s really all I’ve ever wanted to be – a good mother.” I hated that she felt sheepish. She shouldn’t, not any more than a woman like Condoleeza Rice should. We need to embrace both – all aspects of the female experience.
We’ve boxed women in. (And men too!)
We need an improved view of women in the Scriptures. A better, broader, biblical view. Only then will we be able to break open these boxes we’ve constructed around women and men, and together, get after these injustices that are killing our sisters around the globe.
As Irwin McManus, one of my favorite preachers, stated, “When you understand what Jesus means when He says you must follow him, you finally realize this is not a cattle call. He is not calling you to the same life everyone else will live. He’s not even calling you to the same path every follower of Christ will walk. Your life is unique before God, and your path is yours and yours alone. Where God will choose to lead you and how God chooses to use your life cannot be predicted by how God has worked in the lives of others before you,”(Barbarian Way, p. 36-37).