March 8th is International Women’s Day–happy IWD! The first official International Woman’s Day was celebrated in 1911, started by suffragettes. The United Nations began celebrating International Women’s Day in the International Women’s Year of 1975. Today (over a hundred years later) over 100 countries celebrate the day. The theme for this year’s IWD is #PressforProgress.
Today, I look back on why I personally am so focused on pressing forward for progress.
I didn’t grow up in the evangelical church. And numerous female friends have told me that this was probably a good thing since I wasn’t taught by the church how to be female. I know that sounds weird “being taught how to be female” by a church mindset. But in all honesty, I’ve watched my two best friends struggle with how to live as “Godly” females.
One of my friends believed all she had to do was keep her floors clean and the dinner on the table for her husband–and he would take care of everything else. According to my friend, this belief turned out to be false and unhelpful to her. As it turned out, she had dreams in her heart (that had little to do with the everyday activities of cleaning a house and making dinner) and those dreams also needed to be nurtured and pursued; plus, her husband needed help in the “paying the mortgage department.” My other friend was deeply scarred by the unbiblical teaching that women should obey their husbands–she married somebody she thought was a pastor and ended up living in hell. Today, I walk with her on her journey towards healing.
But these longtime friends of mine really weren’t the reason I went off the deep end, so to speak.
As many of you know, my grandmother was a political activist for women’s rights–a feminist. So, I’ve grown up around the issue of women’s rights and around the word feminist. I am comfortable with the word. I am proud of the word. I also understand that the word is divisive, confusing at times, and comes with a certain amount of baggage… such as anger. But feminism is still a fine word. As a woman, every time I vote I can thank both God and a feminist.
But today, I find the principles of feminism–empowering women, enabling their voices, acknowledging their leadership over their own lives and over the future of our world–to be more important than ever especially in the church.
Feminism is More Important Today than ever–Especially in the Church
When I joined a church in my mid 20s, I noticed there was an unspoken regulation in regards to women. From the way many people angrily referred to feminists as “those feminists” to the way women were quietly excluded from certain tasks (leading groups or preaching) and loudly encouraged to take part in other tasks (babysitting and making food), it became apparent to me that the message I was being given was God Himself was partial to men leading and happy to see women serving in home-based tasks. But for the most part, I must admit, I was a silent observer. Mindfully taking notes of the strange situation of … well, Eve and her daughters. Church seemed to be merely a stage play (where we all acted our role), a larger version of the 1950s show of Father Knows Best.
Eventually, I came to the sad realization that women were freer working outside the church than inside. And on that winter day, when I grabbed the door handle of my large community church to walk into the warmth of its heated foyer, meeting colleagues and friends, I think a part of me actually died. I remember thinking, “When you enter this building, you will be limited in all you pursue.”
Well, things eventually changed. I quit church hoping to become alive to pursue and thrive in whatever God wanted me to do. I then went into a time of solitude and prayer–not really by choice but by the leading of the Spirit.
Then one morning, I was awoken by the Spirit who said to me, “Get up and read the story of Noah.” And really, it was this story that ignited passion and understanding in me (watch the video below).
Through the story of Noah, I came to realize the church was in bondage. Serious bondage. The story of Noah taught me that patriarchy is not God’s will for the world. And from that time onward, the Spirit has led me to an understanding that She wants Her image bearers free… that both men and women are meant to be free from the bondage and false security of patriarchy.
I have learned that the greatest spiritual battle Christians are up against these days is the dismantleling of the idea of “pure male leadership.” Men were never meant to lead alone. Men and women were always meant to lead together. When we elevate one image of God over and beyond the other–expecting the (male) image to stand on its own–we are disrespecting, insulting, and belittling God. When we are partial to a certain aspect of God, we only restrict ourselves. And Satan loves it. Satan hopes we will continue to elevate, pursue, and be partial to the male image of God–forgetting that the female image of God even exists.
The more the two images of God–male and female–are elevated and honored together, pursued and loved as fully capable persons anointed to both represent and do the works of God, the more Satan’s grasp on the church diminishes.
But as long as the church sees and values only the male image as representing our all-powerful God then, sadly, we are playing right into the hands of Satan.