MEET JENNIFER DEAN-HILL LICENSED INDIVIDUAL AND FAMILY THERAPIST
When my girlfriend Becky called me to say, “Deidre, you are going to need a family therapist at the conference who can speak about our need for both mother and father” I responded, “Well, sure that would be great but I don’t know any!” (I was fairly new to the city.) But after speaking with Becky I went to prayer, asking God to send me someone to help with the conference, someone with a heart like mine. That night, in a dream…I met Jennifer. Four months later, a neighbor phoned asking me if I would meet a woman that she felt God wanted me to meet. So, I met Jennifer again, across the street at my neighbor’s house. Needless to say, Jennifer and I hit it off immediately. Her joy is contagious, her insights are warming, and her experience is deeply personal. Jennifer is a licensed individual and family therapist with a Masters of Social Work, and has held a WA teacher and a school social worker certification. My meeting Jennifer was definitely one of those “God-moments.”
I am thrilled that Jennifer will be speaking about “Why we need both mother and father” at the MotherHeart Conference in May 2013. Below, is a bit about her story and how the femininity of the Holy Spirit has affected her life. In reading her post regarding cognitive dissonance, women and church life, I think back and I wonder, what did I feel as a woman in church? What was I taught regarding my gender? Of course, I may be a bit of an anomaly because I’ve known about the femininity of the Holy Spirit almost since I first became a Christian, so I’ve always been fairly secure in my image representing God –but being a woman in church…I did find that a bit confusing, as a lot of women do.
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Cognitive Dissonance, Women, God & the Church
by Jennifer Dean-Hill
When we believe one thing and experience something different, it is hard to experience the disharmony of this so we alter our beliefs, behavior, or perception of the experience so we can feel harmony. This is the basic concept of the cognitive dissonance theory. The common example used in this is a person smoking, who knows smoking is bad for their health and could lead to a fatality, so they tell themselves something different so they can continue the behavior in peace.
One of the things I experience is how the church is often creating cognitive dissonance for women when it comes to how God is represented. As women, we know we come from God, but we are often not taught where the femininity is in God, or more importantly, where the female identity is in the Trinity. When I was a high school leader in a church youth group, a girl, Ericka, in the youth group bravely called out this disharmony for me when she asked, “I don’t know how to worship a God who is all male and I don’t believe He values women like He does men since He is all male, and all I see is male pastors”. Fifteen years later, her words still haunt me as I had no good answer, and as youth often do, she awakened that disharmony in me once again. How do women reconcile this disharmony of worshiping a God who says we are made in His image and likeness but have been introduced to a fully male God, with no femininity to His nature or no feminine representation in the Trinity? I think back to my church days, and ask myself, how did I worship an all male God and still believe He loved me deeply as a female and was made in His image? I was told God is neither male nor female but a spirit, and we refer to God the Father, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit as all male because that is what the English language does. Like “mankind” referring to all humans, men and women alike.
As I matured, I began to seek out the very female references to God in the Bible that compare Him to: a mother nursing her child, a mother hen gathering her chicks under her wing, a jilted lover….and I found comfort in seeing a male God have female characteristics. If I could see a little femaleness in God, then I could create some harmony between the belief I came from an all male God and yet was a valuable female.
A male God with female characteristics helped reconcile my beliefs and experiences within the church. When I felt overwhelmed by the maleness of God and all authority figures in church were male, I began to clamor for female representatives in the church leadership. I criticized the church for exalting only men to pastoral roles while taking the giftedness of women but keeping them demoted in the church leadership. As a therapist, I have spent much of my career helping women recover from the belittling and emotionally abusive encounters they have experienced in church. Little did I know, what I was really longing for the female representatives in God, the Trinity.
So when the concept was introduced to me as the Holy Spirit being female, it made my heart leap for joy as it finally created harmony to this life long cognitive dissonance I have experienced within the church and with God. How can I be of much significance if there is no female leadership in church or in the God-head? How can all of creation be birthed with no femaleness to God? How can I matter as much as men in church, if there is no femaleness to God? How can I matter as a woman to God when I can’t even relate to Him or see myself in Him as a woman? How are men and women supposed to have oneness in marriage when God is all male and I see no oneness between male and female with Him? Seeing the Holy Spirit in the God-head brings peace to my life, harmony to my spirit, and has only deepened my love and worship for a God I can relate to. I see the Trinity as a beautiful picture of the First Family: Father, Mother-Holy Spirit, and the Son-Jesus. This fits my paradigm of life as I’ve come to know it. Humans live in families, women birth life and come from God, men and women marry and live in oneness, so femaleness must be in the God-head for me to have harmony in the God I serve, worship, and love.
I only wish I had this truth when I was growing up as a young child and serving in church ministry as a woman. If so, my value as a woman ministering in the church would have been higher, as well as my confidence to lead and teach others. It was hard to feel valuable if all three parts of my God was male and male leadership was so exalted and nurtured. Sadly, I found more respect and value as a mother, and professional woman outside of the church as I still do to this day, and I am still struck by the stark contrast I experience ministering to people outside of the church as a professional woman then when I minister to people within the church. And I wish I had this truth to give to Erika, who came to me in her vulnerability and despair of questioning how could an all male God love, care, and value her. Unable to handle the disharmony one minute more, she left in the middle of youth group that night, and I had nothing of peace to resolve the disharmony she was experiencing as I watched her walk away. Fearlessly, she voiced the struggle of so many women who have learned to quiet their disharmony by: altering their perception of their church experience, altering their perception of God, or just detaching from themselves when they go to church or worship God. They numb out and detach emotionally and become very busy serving so they can cover the insignificance and disharmony they feel as women serving an all male God in an all male church leadership. Often they believe themselves to be second class citizens within the church and agree to be treated that way since they do not see themselves in the Trinity. This is a tragedy that I have spent my life healing from and helping others heal from.
My healing also comes with my fourteen year old daughter, who I get to introduce to a God she can relate to and worship. I can help her maneuver through the mixed messages of women in church by helping her become firmly acquainted to a male and female God, working together in beautiful harmony, modeling to us the unity of male and female, distinctly different yet uniquely one. I can teach her what my spirit longed for but never had the answers for. And as she grows, she can keep teaching me about a God too big to put in a box, and big enough to solve any disharmony we experience with Him or His/Her church. May we get to know God, not for who we’ve been taught He is but for who He/She truly is. May we experience God and fearlessly wrestle through any disharmony or cognitive dissonance we feel with our God and church. May there be fellowship and unity among the believers as we wrestle through our disharmony. And may we stop creating disharmony with one another over trying to understand a God who will always be too big for our finite minds, but small enough to live in our hearts.
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