Since getting married and becoming a parent, there have been new tensions that I have experienced within the church. Of course, all moms experience the guilt of whether they are spending enough time with their families. However, as a working outside of the home mom in evangelical America, there are subtle messages that make “belonging” even more difficult. I remember hearing a sermon right after my son was born, where the pastor stated that he didn’t know how a mother could reconcile working outside the home with scripture. This astounded me as he was a young pastor of a church plant, and it sounded like he was talking from a 1950s perspective. When my husband approached the pastor about these comments, he stated he didn’t understand why any mother would “choose” to work. This frustrated me because although I do “choose” to work, I do so because I feel that my job has meaning beyond the sphere of my job description. I work with marginalized people, the homeless, abused children, and victims of sex trafficking, and my job allows me to help others in a way I could never do if I was at home. I also feel that it gives me perspective and keeps me from isolating from the world, which would be very easy if I surrounded my life with only “mom duties.” As a parent, I believed I would be able to connect better with other parents in our church, but that was hard because all the activities for moms were held during the weekday, when working moms couldn’t attend. Although I’m certain those activities were planned based on the number that can attend, it still excludes those with different situations.
Another factor that has compounded the tension I have felt within the church has been the rise of the doctrine of complementarianism in many churches. I noticed this a few years back, but the extremism that some take this to has been troubling. These churches take a strong, vocal, stance on the roles of men and women in the church, although the focus seems primarily on women. I have seen this through churches writing new doctrinal statements on whether a woman can teach a class or an online uproar about a female speaking at a conference. Many women’s retreats and conferences have in many ways almost “idolized” motherhood above all and forgotten about any other potential or purpose we might have. It saddens me because it not only it brings me back to the fundamentalism that I grew up in, but it also alienates the gospel from the majority of women in the world. If churches limit the roles in which women can serve and/or minister to only those that revolve around marriage and motherhood, then those that can’t or don’t ever attain those roles are never going to be included. It means that if I struggle with feeling accepted by the church because I choose to work outside the home, then how much more unwelcome does a single mom in poverty feel?
In closing, about 2 years ago, my husband and I started attending an Anglican church and it has been very healing for our faith. Not only do we love the connection to the universal church, but that in every service we are constantly reminded to think about those outside our walls. Through the liturgy, we specifically “pray for the poor, the persecuted, the sick, and all who suffer; for refugees, prisoners, and all who are in danger; that they may be relieved and protected. We pray for all who fear God and believe in you, that our divisions may cease, and that all may be as one as you and the Father are one, we pray to you, O Lord. (Book of Common Prayer)
The church should be a place for everyone and a place for us to use our God-given talents to spread the gospel and change the world for the better. As you read my story, I hope that you don’t hear that I have given up on the church, but instead realize that I’m just a woman seeking the best way to live out my faith through action.