When Jackie asked me to write a post for her blog, I was a tad baffled on what to write. I love reading and talking about women’s issues and social justice, but sharing my own personal experience makes me a little nervous. I don’t have some great journey of faith or a strong theological stance on gender roles in the church, but what I do know is that I have always struggled to find a place within mainstream evangelicalism. Stating that aloud sounds weird, as I have largely grown up in church. Many of my childhood memories were surrounded by church activities. I went to a private Christian school through high school and for a brief time attended a religious based university. I can quote a hundred Bible verses and sing you a thousand ridiculous Sunday school songs like “Father Abraham”. I am a white, 32 year old female who currently lives in the suburbs of the DFW metroplex, with a husband (who has a divinity degree) my 3 year old son, and baby #2 due in October. Although most of these qualities would seem to be qualities of the perfect American Bible Belt Christian, I have struggled in finding a church where I could belong.
The reason for this stems from my experiences in church and the messages I heard there about being a woman. I grew up in a small Midwestern town and attended the local Baptist church from the time I was a toddler. As I grew up, the church became more fundamentalist and by the time I was in junior high, had some rigid views on gender. I remember being sent home by the youth minister because my shorts were too short for a youth activity. (They didn’t cover my knees entirely) I also remember that although the girls always outnumbered the boys in participation in youth group, only the boys were picked for leadership roles. The girls of course weren’t discouraged from church but most of the teaching I heard during this time, had nothing to do with a personal faith and more to do with cultural issues, such as modesty, abstaining from sex, and not listening to the evils of rock music. It seemed that the overall message given to young girls was to be a nice Christian girl, find a nice Christian boy to marry, have children, and end up teaching Sunday School (of course only to children). This kind of mentality really bothered me even at that age, and I began to resent Christianity and anyone associated with it.
I started researching feminism and telling people I would never marry because that seemed the perfect way to rebel. However, I still wasn’t happy. Deep inside, I knew that there was a different purpose for my life. As I went off to college at a Christian liberal arts college in another state, I had the opportunity for the first time to really consider what kind of faith I was following. I learned from professors who challenged what I believed and encouraged me to think deeply about how one’s faith should impact the greater culture. I got to experience an environment where both men and women were encouraged to live out their full potential and dream big about the careers that they were preparing to enter. I met passionate women who led bible studies and chapel services and shared their faith through both their actions and words. It was refreshing to see leaders in church from both genders, and who felt that faith only empowered them more.
As I moved on, attended another college and eventually met my husband, I didn’t think of my gender as limiting at all. I still stated I didn’t want to marry (I actually told my husband that early on in our dating relationship) but this time, it was because I didn’t want to be hindered in my career. I was planning to be a humanitarian worker on the other side of the world, caring for those in poverty. Well, as life happens, that plan didn’t actually come to pass. I did get my graduate degree in social work and begin to work with the homeless population in the US. And I became less resistant to marriage, mainly because I met my husband. He reminded me that I didn’t have to go to the other side of the world to prove a point, and I shouldn’t run from an identity I feared. You see, those early messages from church about being a woman made me fear that all I could be was just a wife and mom. I was actually worried about falling in love because I was afraid that would sidetrack all my plans and make me “stuck”. Thankfully, I found out that marriage can actually be an amazing relationship where you choose to spend your life with a person you admire and respect and who does the same in return. In fact, my husband believed more in my potential and strengths than I did myself (and still does). He’s an amazing cheerleader.