The Ain't I a Woman blog examines the many ways Christian culture lets women know exactly who they should be. We deconstruct those messages that we find troubling--and, in the process, construct a different message: one that allows Christian women to be all that God intended.

Finishing a Book, and a Summer, Too

My summer as a faculty member at George Fox University has gone something like this:

  • In early May, we commemorated the end of another school year with graduation, at which several faculty peers and I enjoyed taking selfies marking the transition to summer. We were happy: four months without grading essays! graduation
  • A few days later, give or take, my own children were off for the summer, and I began fretting about how I was going to keep them busy while also working on our book project.

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  • And then it was July. Emails started arriving about faculty meetings and some kind of “retreat” that really was no retreat, just meetings that last a little longer than normal, with better snacks than usual.
  • After two or three more days, it will be August 15, and we will be back on contract, preparing like mad women for the start of classes, another batch of first-year students, and a return to grading essays, along with the renewed resolve to do better! and grade faster! and avoid naps under the desk!

sadness Oh, and while our summer was flashing by at warp speed, Kendra and I were working on a book, the August 1 deadline for our manuscript looming large over our shoulder. I thought especially about that deadline whenever I loaded up another episode of “Orange is the New Black” for viewing. (“Shouldn’t you be writing?” I might ask myself. “Just a little bit more of the show, please,” I would beg. Usually the self-lacking-delayed-gratification won out.)

When we were awarded a book contract in early February, August 1 seemed so far away, and also, not very far away at all. After our initial celebratory phone calls, we got to work, developing a plan of action that would help us finish on deadline. Thank goodness we have similar work habits, avoid procrastination, and prefer getting projects completed with time to spare. This made our collaboration easier on both of us, I’m sure. And easier on me, definitely, because Kendra is a grace-filled woman, kind and encouraging.

We’ve been writing ever since February, then: that is, when we haven’t been teaching classes, leading trips to Ireland and hosting German exchange students (in Kendra’s case) or trying to keep preteens busy (in mine). We’ve gone through moments of despair, when we were sure no one would read or understand what we were saying. Minutes later, we would feel absolutely positive that our book would win the Pulitzer Prize, for sure. Or at least, find a few interested readers. Luckily, we didn’t journey through the cycle of despair and hopefulness at the same speed, and usually one of us could talk the other out of a deep funk, one of a thousand reasons having a writing partner can be a good, good thing.

And then, after reading through our entire manuscript far too many times, we were done. Before our deadline, in fact. We celebrated in our own ways, 2000 miles apart from each other, but grateful for an amazing partnership that has kept us connected and together. (My celebration included watching the last episode of season one’s “Orange is the New Black” with a friend and enjoyed all the junk food she bought for the occasion.)

In my job as a writing teacher, I often hear students compare how long their finished essays are, as if length alone might be a marker for a work’s goodness, or for a writer’s efforts. Yet I felt a little bit of pride (but only a little: I’m Mennonite, after all) when we sent our publisher a manuscript 370 pages long. Those 370 pages represent a lot of thinking, a lot of work, and a lot of missed episodes of reality television. They also represent a rich experience of working with a really smart collaborator, for which I’m grateful. Screen Shot 2014-07-28 at 9.51.24 PM Hopefully, now we can get back to blogging more regularly. And also, you know, getting ready for our fall classes, which seem now to be only a few hours away.

Singing my Faith

I’ve been humming a tune all day. From the moment I woke up this morning to each time I stopped my writing to water the plants or to play with Pippi, my mind has quickly returned to the events of last weekend and automatically my humming ensued.

Having just returned from a weekend in St. Louis, Missouri, with the Evangelical and Ecumenical Women’s Caucus—Christian Feminism Today, my spirit is full. I mean, really full. There are no words to convey the feeling of deep kinship with others who are also on this journey of what it means to be a feminist and a Christian. To join with them in worship and study is a blessing; one that sustains me throughout long desert moments.

During the three-day conference celebrating our 40 years of justice work, we heard from numerous speakers who inspired and challenged us. From Sharon Groves of the Human Rights Campaign (HRC) to Mary Hunt of the Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics, and Ritual (WATER) to Susan Campbell author of Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl, we were invited to consider the experiences of others and how we can more fully participate in the work of gender justice.

There was much more: students who shared their research and energy, yoga, workshops on LGBTQ relationships and Bible studies.

And, there was singing. One of the most important aspects of bringing together feminism and Christian faith has to do with our hearts. While we may think creatively and deeply about the Bible, theology, history, and a host of other necessary aspects of our lives, it is also important to be able to worship in spirit and truth. For those who have come to understand the problem of exclusive language—the kind practiced in almost all of our churches—the presence of a worshipping community is what must be left behind.

Feminist Christians often find going to church the most painful and problematic part of our journeys and it isn’t without a tremendous amount of regret that many of us simply stop attending church. It is not that we no longer value the relationships of people or the importance of a worshipping community. It is, rather, that participating in worship that excludes us becomes more detrimental to our faith than dropping out.

The loss of singing our faith is powerfully overcome each time EEWC-CFT meets. Thanks to the gifted hymnody of Rev. Dr. Jann Aldredge-Clanton, we are restored and nourished by inclusive lyrics that lift up the female images of God.

As someone with fond childhood memories of singing hymns, I am grateful beyond measure for the work of Jann Aldredge-Clanton and am already looking forward to our next Gathering.

Now, back to humming the refrain:

Where She Dwells (Where She Dwells), There is love (There is Love).

Where She Dwells, Where She Dwells, There is love. (to the tune of “It is Well with my Soul”)

Leadership Journal Publishes Sexual Predator’s Confessions

In case you haven’t heard, Christianity Today’s Leadership Journal recently published “From Youth Minister to Felon,” an article that has caused a considerable kerfuffle in the Evangelical world. Written by a former youth pastor who is now serving a prison sentence for statutory rape, the article according to Leadership Journal editors was to educate the church on the prevalent problem of sexual misconduct. That they misjudged how this article may or may not be received speaks volumes about how little they understand the depth of the problem.

To their credit, Editor Marshall Shelley and President and CEO Harold B. Smith offered an apology for publishing the article and it was removed from their website. Since then the Leadership Journal has published another post this time written by a woman who was sexually abused as a young girl. Her voice brings to light the ongoing consequences of abuse hopefully enabling predators and church members responsible for the care of children and youth to understand the gravity of the sexual predator problem.

One of the criticisms of the Leadership Journal  in light of this incident is its lack of women on staff. Many have suggested that if women were part of their editorial team, the possibility of publishing such an offensive article by a sexual predator would be greatly reduced because women bring another voice into the conversation, one that has been affected by oppressive structures, many of them within the church. In many cases, it is difficult for people in power to understand the extensiveness of that power, especially when it is abused and used as a tool against another person.

For this reason, I am glad for the conversation that is now occurring on many websites as a response to the Leadership Journal’s irresponsible initial post. Such a recognition of the power imbalance created by all organizations when only one voice—that of the privileged male—is in the decision-making role is an important step forward to changing the reality of misogyny that lies so fundamentally at the root of many Christian organizations and churches.

But I don’t think real change can occur by adding a female voice here or a woman there. Cultures and viewpoints need to shift and that will not happen as long as those in power read their Bibles as endorsements of that power.

When the Leadership editors admitted to their failure to distinguish between implied consent and disproportionate power, I was reminded of what I was taught about the biblical story of Bathsheba and King David.

As a child and throughout my experiences in youth groups, I was always taught that David and Bathsheba had an affair, one that most likely occurred because Bathsheba enticed David by bathing where she could be seen. She invited his subsequent actions. The application for us, we were instructed, was that women should be very careful about what they wear; always cautious that their clothing indicates how they want to be treated. It was clear: women needed to avoid being another Bathsheba. David, on the other hand, was a man after God’s own heart; he only acted on impulse because Bathsheba made him do it. So, the males in our youth group were told to avoid looking at women, but in the end, the implied message was that they, like David, were essentially helpless because, well, they were men.

But if we had been invited to think deeply and contextually about the sexual act between Bathsheba and David, we would have had seen it not as an affair but as a rape. The power between these two individuals was disproportionate. David was king; Bathsheba a mere subject. To refuse the king anything he wanted was simply not very likely. In fact, Samuel had warned the Israelites generations earlier that if they had a king, the king would abuse his power; he would take what he wanted because he could. Bathsheba had no other legitimate choice.

But I’m not naïve. When I suggest this to my students, they reject this possibility without a second thought subscribing instead to the narrative that Bathsheba tempted David by bathing on the rooftop. Never mind the insight of historians who tells us that in that period, kings went to battle with their men. For David to be home gazing at rooftops rather than with his men is battle means that he was the one out of place. He should not have been there; should not have abused his power.

Nevertheless, to suggest that David raped Bathsheba is, well, pretty much blasphemy. But without such critical examination—of our sacred documents and our faith communities—we will fail to change the structural systems that undergird such sin.

It seems to me the Leadership Journal simply offers the latest in a long line of oppression as a result of limited perspectives. Maybe this is our invitation to listen more intently to the oppressed people in our Bibles (Bathsheba, Tamar, Vashti, and Esther, and a host of others). Perhaps we can begin to realize that God’s dream includes liberation for all people and this doesn’t happen when only half of the human family is given a voice.

The Long and Short of Summer: My End-of-School-Year Angst

School's out, and we're all happy. For now.

School’s out, and we’re all happy. For now.

This morning, my boys put Kool and the Gang’s “Celebration” on continuous loop while they got ready for school: their last (half) day of sixth grade. I tried joining in on the party, pulling out a few dance moves I’d recently learned at Zumba. Apparently, my dancing “ruined it” for at least one son, though he kept the music on.

I must admit, too, that I didn’t really feel like celebrating good times because holy crap, my boys are out of school for 2.5 months, and I don’t know what to do with them.

Confessing I’m a little fretful about summer vacation is difficult. I know plenty of other parents are delighted to have their kids home for a few months, back in their care, no schedules, no early morning wake-ups, no nothing.

Admitting my own trepidation about taking care of my own kids for several months also plays easily into stereotypes about feminists: you know, about women who really hate men and children, who are selfish slaves to their careers, who want to rule the world.

These stereotypes are bogus, of course, for me and a zillion other feminists for whom being a mom is their most cherished role, whether they work outside or inside the home. I also don’t really want to rule the world. I’d just like to more successfully manage the chaos my boys can potentially cause over the next 2.5 months.

So I’ve been trying to develop a game plan, something I’ve done every summer since my boys were young. Back then, summers seemed easier, probably because there were numerous Vacation Bible Schools I could send them to, giving them the opportunity to learn about Jesus for weeks on end. And afternoon naps also consumed a good chunk of time, as did earlier bedtimes. They’re too old for VBS now, and don’t need naps—even if I still do. These days, I also go to bed long before they do.

Several weeks ago, I went to Portland for a presentation on things to do with kids for the summer. I mostly attended to hear my awesome friend Beth Woolsey speak, and because the accompanying lunch was good (and cheap!). The mothers who presented, though, filled me with anxiety: they were organizing week-long summer camps in their own homes, with craft projects, activities, field trips, educational lessons. God knows, they probably also made camp t-shirts and nametags. I thought I saw Beth roll her eyes, which made me a little less anxious; maybe mothers in Portland have a different M.O. than those in Newberg.

And then, my friend Heidi posted a link to a blog about how to give your kids a 70s summer. I hesitated opening it, because I didn’t want to read a judgmental screed about lazy kids today, with too much screen time and how back in the day . . .  But the writer actually did have summers similar to mine, watching hours of Gilligan’s Island reruns, eating whole bags of Doritos (sometimes dipped in sugar), and hanging around the neighborhood for hours on end, doing nothing much.

My 70s summers also including going to the outdoor pool for 5-6 unsupervised hours every day, starting when I was eight, and consuming god knows how much Laffy Taffy and Chico Sticks. I imagine letting my boys do something similar today might warrant a house call from protective services, or at least few condemnatory looks from other moms.

So I wonder: did my mom feel the same sense of panic about the blazing hot summers stretching long into the Kansas horizon? Did she fret on the last day of school, steeling herself for those inevitable words—I’m bored—that would come hours after the last bell?

Those summer days are 30 years behind us now. Thirty years: two-thirds of my life ago, if I’m doing the math right (and there are no guarantees on that). Sometimes I’m caught breathless by the thought of so much life already past, so quickly.

And perhaps that’s partly why I’m in no celebratory mood today. It seems like three days ago I was dropping my boys off for their first day of middle school. We were all scared about this transition, all trying to appear brave as I pulled up to the parking lot. Another school year vanished at warp speed, and soon they will be all grown up and gone, my entire summers—and the rest of my life—free to spend as I want, except for the few days my husband will make me go camping.

In my calmer moments, I’m intent on cherishing these last few summers I have with my kids—even when they are whacking each other with sticks, which still seems to be a favorite activity.

I plan to start my summer with them by going to the movies. That will take at least three hours: meaning I only have the rest of a very long—and very short—summer to spend with them.

An Update: Kendra and have not been blogging much lately, though we are both writing a lot, trying to finish a rough draft of our book manuscript, due to the publisher by August 1. We are happy to report that the rough draft is nearly completed (which probably warrants a bit more dancing to “Celebration”). We will also be one of the keynote speakers at the EEWC-Christian Feminism Today bi-annual Gathering in St. Louis on June 26-29. We’re looking forward to seeing each other, creating a revision game plan, and hanging out with a lot of our Christian feminist sisters. I’m also looking forward to some St. Louis heat and humidity.

 

 

 

If my exchange student gave your commencement address…

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Soon another academic year will draw to a close (except for all you George Fox students who have already fled Newberg for your summer adventures leaving the rest of us lagging behind for another full week!). Commencement ceremonies will punctuate the end of one season and the beginning of something new. There will be tears of joy, celebrations of accomplishments, and moments to reflect on the road that has been traveled as well as the one that lies ahead.

As much as attending two graduation ceremonies per year are thrilling occasions(ahem)—an opportunity to don colorful regalia and sit through an always inspiring and captivating commencement address followed by the organized chaos of calling each graduate’s name, watching them maneuver across a stage (many on very high heels) to receive a fake diploma and shake the president’s hand while some family members and friends hoot and holler over their graduate’s accomplishments—I’m mostly focused this time around on my personal horizon.

My year of mothering is about to come to an abrupt end as our German exchange student prepares to return to his home in Germany.

It hardly seems like it has been more than a couple of months since David joined us last August. Since then we have watched him learn to play American football and baseball; marveled at his musical abilities, enjoying several hours of listening to him practice his clarinet; witnessed his English language improvement; and most recently have shared in his anticipation over his upcoming prom (and also first date).

A full year it has been; one of great joy and new experiences. From the day I picked him up and he was hesitant to speak afraid he would say the wrong word to the evening he was awarded the most valuable defensive player on the Junior Varsity football team, David has been a wonderful addition to our family.

His unmitigated excitement the day we took him to see the Dallas Cowboys play the St. Louis Rams is something I’ll never forget. And his beaming smile while standing in the Paluxy Riverbed looking down at dinosaur tracks still reminds me of his potential for wonder and amazement. Food, too, is an experience David relished evident in his journal where each day he wrote not only what he did but what he ate. New kinds of fruit we found at a local Asian market gave us plenty of interesting options: dragon eyeballs, passion fruit, and lychee, became a few of our favorites. He even didn’t hesitate when I offered him an order of mountain oysters from a local diner in Dodge City, Kansas.

Truthfully there has been little mothering to do this year. Perhaps a rare gem, David did not need to be told to do his homework or pick-up his clothes, or stop watching too much television. He helped me cook our meals and clean the dishes. There were a few late nights when after falling asleep on the sofa I had to wrestle myself awake to stumble into the car and pick him up from a friends’ house. But these were miniscule sacrifices to make.

And, even though this year is primarily about David’s experiences, of providing an avenue to positively affect a young person’s life from another part of our shrinking world, I know he has changed me, too.

Because of him, I have been reminded of my gratefulness to my parents for the work they did to shape me. I am more cognizant of how easily I fall into old patterns of living and being when instead there are infinite possibilities to be explored if I will only be open to them. And his infectious laugh has taught me that while life can be serious and often needs to be taken seriously, there are appropriate limits. Really.

No one has asked me to make a graduation speech, and probably never will. But, if I were the one tasked with saying something meaningful to a bunch of eager graduates excited to throw their caps in the air, I’d encourage them to take a page out of David’s journal:

  • Seek out new experiences, making the most of every opportunity to get because you probably won’t get them again.
  • Laugh a lot as you relish the amazing gift of life.
  • Create relationships, knowing that friendships are stronger than walls or borders.

In other words, don’t just let life happen to you; go out and live it.

Why Church Ladies Need to Stop Scaring the Men-Folk

Turns out, going to church can be an awfully scary place for a man.

So says an article on the Charisma Magazine site called “How Women Can Make Church a Safe Place for Men.”

This idea was only a little puzzling to me, that women were making men feel inherently unsafe in church. I say only a little, because I know the man I’ve been married to since 1997 feels a bit unsafe at our church, at least during the meet and greet time we generally have at the beginning of every service.

Indeed, he’s so frightened by the idea of having to shake hands with people he might not know that we’ve been consistently late for church about seventeen years now, and our tardiness has become a running joke between us—and probably with most everyone else who sees us arrive five minutes late every. single. week.

(I must admit that the joke about sliding in after handshakes are over is really wearing thin, because I’m sure people are blaming me, my well-styled hair, and my finely made-up face for our inability to get to church on time.)

So I get it: my husband, at least, doesn’t feel entirely safe during the minute of socializing that opens the service, nor for the much more protracted small talk that generally comes after the service is over. I get it, and try to make church safe for him by keeping my after-church conversations to a minimum.

Yet Charisma Magazine says I (as a member of the female race) actually have a much bigger role in making men safe at church. Apparently, I need to be careful about what I wear, else I will make very godly men lust after me, paying more attention to me than to whatever worship song’s being projected on the big screen.

The article starts with a heartwarming story about the writer, coming home from a business trip, to confront comfort a husband who had recently been at church. During the hand-shaking time, the husband had shaken hands with a visiting woman who, according to the writer, had “the perfect—well, let’s just say she qualified to be a fitting model for Victoria’s Secret. You figure out what was perfect!” (I dunno: teeth? Ear lobes? Why are we beating around the bush here?)

Apparently the writer’s husband, whom she calls Bob, was not the only one noticing the perfect you-know-whats, and though none of the men could remember the visiting woman’s face, they could remember exactly what she was wearing, and how what she was wearing made them feel all tingly unsafe.

Any guess where this article is going? Exactly the same place a million and one other articles venture when talking about women and modest dress: that it’s the woman’s responsibility to keep her brother from stumbling. That a woman is called to be modest in all things. That a man is wired differently than a woman, and is always going to be turned on because they are “especially weakened” by women’s beauty. And that a woman’s best, most secret treasure, her body, is something she must cherish and save for One Man, with whom she will have hot and passionate sex, but only on her wedding night, and maybe—if she’s held her secret treasure tightly closed—on every other night thereafter.

As I read the article, though, several other thoughts came to mind, namely:

  1. Would I ever want to visit a church where the membership talks later about my clothing choices and my boobs, even if I was wearing skin-tight leather outfit? Would I want to attend a church where nobody remembered my face or my name, but everyone chattered about what I had on?
  1. These articles on modesty are as problematic and sexist for men as they are for women. Can we really say that all men have a “special weakness for women’s beauty,” and that because they are so easily stimulated by visual images, they will be sexually aroused by an attractive woman visiting their church? Are all men really that weak, so that women are “hanging a noose around the neck of his spiritual life” when they show up to church sporting a little cleavage?
  1. Sigh. Once again, women are charged to be responsible for the spiritual well-being of those around them, and their every choice must be interrogated, else they cause others to stumble. This impulse to charge women with such responsibility is especially maddening, given how little agency many women have in terms of spiritual leadership in the church and home. After all, if women are so urgently needed to keep men safe from stumbling spiritually, why aren’t they allowed to play a more active role as leaders in their churches and homes?

If you read down into the comments, you realize of course who is really to blame for the lack of safety men feel in the church. It’s feminists, of course. (And Satan, too. And liberals. But they’re all one in the same, no?)  We’re all making church too scary for men, and need to stop all that sinning, so that men can enter church with their heads held high, not worrying that their eyes might stray downward.

Instead of blaming them feminists once again, though, we might want to call this ideology what it really is: modesty culture run amuck. It’s articles like this one, and the misguided advice it shills, that cause me to despair of evangelical Christianity. Or, you know, at least wear my yoga pants to church.

 

 

 

A (New) Theology of Yoga Pants

I am convinced that God created yoga pants.

Because really, there’s nothing better than coming home after a hard day at the office, or even an hour or two at church or some other taxing social function, and slipping into a soft, comfortable pair of yoga pants. When I get home, changing into yoga pants or pajamas is the first thing I do, because I can only be dressed up for so long. And by dressed up, I mean wearing anything other than yoga pants or pajamas.

So yes, I’m pretty sure yoga pants are part of God’s grand design, and had they been available for Eve in the garden, she surely would have chosen them over a fig leaf to hide her nakedness.

Turns out, though, yoga pants are getting a bad rap among some evangelicals these days, because apparently they drive men toward lustful thinking. Even more, yoga pants advertise you as “For Sale: Cheap.” At least according to a “Theology of Yoga Pants” now making the rounds in social networking.

Written on the site “The Dad Life,” this particular theology runs through the tired arguments about what women wear, the “different wiring” men have that makes them uncontrollable sex fiends, and the responsibility of women to guard the hearts of men who will look at their yoga-pants-covered butts and think immediately about sex.

Why yoga pants per se get the theological treatment in this essay isn’t entirely clear. The writer describes yoga pants (tight and black, because “black is slimming you know”), and admits that under a tunic or long shirt, yoga pants are great. But, if a woman reveals an “uncovered rear,” she is “pleading with every man in eye shot to check out [her] backside.”

He then explains “what women cannot understand,” which is that every man is looking at her butt when she wears yoga pants. Not just every man, but every Christian man. And older men, too. (“Think grandpa . . . eww” the article tells us.)

Yoga pants are thus to be worn only for one’s husband, in the privacy of one’s home, else you are inviting lustful thoughts, even from guys well past their prime. You don’t want that, do you? Single people, by the way, appear to be out of luck: you got no husband? No yoga pants for you.

Like every other apology for modesty culture, the Theology of Yoga Pants makes women into temptresses, their every act—even wearing comfortable pants—an occasion to cause others to sin. As problematic, this ideology makes men into sex-crazed beasts, always giving into their “basest desires,” as if they cannot help but lust when they see women wearing black exercise pants.

But this particular writer takes the modesty argument one step further, suggesting that older women who wear yoga pants are especially egregious in doing so. In his mind, women have only about 40 years of potential “stunning physical attraction.” (Making me wonder, of course, if my 40 years are yet to come.) A woman who has worn yoga pants, calling attention to her physical form, is setting herself up for failure, because our bodies will become pudgy, our skin will grow wrinkled, the butts we were inclined to show will someday sink to our calves. We’re screwed, essentially, and if we’ve had men only looking at our bodies, when we’re old, they will not be able to see the beautiful souls that might exist beneath muscles and sinew and black lycra.

To which I say what the heck? And, to be honest, a few things I can’t really utter on a public blog.

Because here’s the thing: I’ve been working out at a gym for almost a year now, and I’ve noticed that almost all of the women there wear those insidious black yoga pants or tights (which I imagine are the satanic counterparts to yoga pants). Many of the women at the gym are around my age, which means—I suppose—that our bodies are wearing out, our “perfect curves are beginning to sag,” our worth is fading, leaving us with presumably empty vessels no one will appreciate. According to the “yoga pants theology” writer, we should be hiding our bodies in shame, hoping that people will then be able to see the beautiful souls residing beneath.

This assertion is especially puzzling to me, because when I see these women working out, I don’t see sagging bodies or that which is “quickly fading away.” I see something else entirely: women celebrating the amazing bodies they’ve been given. I see people created in God’s very image, undeserving of any condemnation heaped on them for making the choice to be comfortable when they exercise.

Now, maybe I see women in yoga pants this way because, according to the writer, I am simply “wired differently” and because, as a woman, I “DO NOT THINK like a man” (emphasis his).

Or maybe, just maybe, I understand women in yoga pants differently because I happen to believe women are also created in God’s image, and because of this, we should celebrate our bodies in all their beautifully perfect imperfections—rather than covering them up because they might seem a temptation to every walking man on this earth.

But that’s just me.

I certainly believe God knows yoga pants are comfortable; but God also knows that bodies created in God’s image are holy and deserving of praise.

(As an aside, I do not believe God created those very expensive yoga pants made by a deplorable company whose shoddy products were in the news a lot last year. God has better fiscal sense than that.)

Cedarville University: Where Women teaching Men is Off-Limits

Like most teachers I know the beginning of any semester finds me filled with excitement and anxiety. I’m thrilled by the prospects of new opportunities for learning and discovery and I’m equally anxious that perhaps I have not planned well enough, or that I’ve chosen a textbook that will be all wrong, or that in my zest to try something new, I will have created the world’s worst assignment and all of my students will waste no time posting how terrible I am on Rate My Professor.com.

And while most of us experience these contrasting feelings, I imagine my level of anxiety might be higher than most because of the unique challenges I had when teaching introductory Bible courses for several years at a Christian university.

I still remember my first—and very painful—day in Introduction to the Bible although I’d be thrilled to forget it.

Fresh from an across-the-country move where I had taught Bible courses at two universities and in both cases had used not only standard introductory texts but also the widely-accepted New Revised Standard Version Bible, I was ill-prepared for the landmine that I stepped in that first day. Despite all of my diligent planning, I had failed to anticipate the level of animosity that would soon to be aimed at me for having violated the sacred place of the New International Version of the Bible in the evangelical world. I had obviously chosen the wrong text.

But that wasn’t the extent of my errors. The other was that I was a woman—a woman teaching the Bible—and that violated the evangelical ethos, too, although in a much more sinister way. Many students spent the entire semester trying to outsmart me by asking unrelated questions and since I was the new female professor in a department otherwise composed of men, I patiently answered each one, affirming my students’ supposed interests. Until finally one day a courageous young man came to my office to confess he, along with several others, had only been hoping to catch me off-guard, to make me feel uncomfortable and unwelcomed.

So, it is with a fair degree of empathy that I wonder what life must be like for the lone female professor in the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies at Cedarville University in Ohio. This Christian university has recently experienced brouhaha over gender roles and how those supposed ideals should be replicated at the university. The dust-up has apparently resulted in some faculty leaving (including at least one other woman from the Biblical and Theological Department) and restrictions that ensure no male students will be taught by the one remaining woman.

Even more than my empathy for a marginalize professor, though, I worry about the students and the messages they are learning from their university. They have seen first-hand how to discredit and dismiss women because of their gender. They have witnessed how to employ tools the majority enjoys to further reduce the minority among them. They have learned how to utilize religion to extend the prevalence of sexism. And, perhaps, worst of all, they no longer have the opportunity to be challenged by a different perspective.

Many will dismiss Cedarville and its shift to the right as simply the craziness of American fundamentalism, an illustration of just how bizarre some juxtapositions can seem: an institution of higher learning stipulating men can only learn about religion from other men, hardly a viable example of the kind of critical thinking most post-secondary institutions claim is paramount to a successful career in today’s global world.

On the other hand, Cedarville may not be so far removed from numerous evangelical universities where complementarian assumptions are not enforced per se, but where a culture of polite sexism continues to thrive beneath the surface. Women, like me, may be invited to join the ranks of religion professors and there may be female chaplains and even some women in administrative positions. Overall, however, many evangelical institutions have still failed to examine how their easy acceptance of patriarchy continues to foster the sin of sexism.

For these universities progressing to the next step of true equality will require diligent and genuine listening to the experiences and theologies of women. These, if truly fostered, will be difficult because they will involve taking seriously the extent to which the Bible is a problematic text.

Cedarville clearly isn’t positioning itself to do this but I have great hope for evangelical universities to move in a different direction. You see, the young man who admitted his error in trying to discourage me is now working for justice in a university (coincidentally, in Ohio) and I know he is a champion for women and for inclusive theology.

Change is coming!