Have you ever noticed how difficult it is—impossible, really—to have genuine conversations in church? For whatever reasons, and I’m sure there are a myriad of them, good Christian people who love Jesus seem to have a hard time communicating with each other. The net result is, I think, churches full of people who actually have no idea about those who sit next to them on any given Sunday.
I am one of the worst offenders on this point, both in terms of being hesitant to seek out others in conversation and in terms of opening up to those around me. If I am honest about these reasons—and I’m trying to be despite the fact that throwing this information out to the virtual world scares the sh*t out of me—there are two primary ones that I know keep me huddled to myself each Sunday.
Despite wishing it were otherwise, I am increasingly finding my soul is fed more by long walks in the sunshine or picking up a good book and relishing the way in which I can get caught up in a compelling story. The almost-magnetic pull of Sunday worship that I used to feel simply is much less strong today, the perfect Sunday instead beginning with an hour of yoga to get me fully awake and energized. A quick trip through the shower and then, with a rumbling stomach waiting to be fed, going through the line (twice) at my favorite Indian buffet. Afterwards, I am content to walk or read or watch a couple hours of the Food Network. When I squeeze church into the mix, well, it all feels rushed as I dash into church, hoping to avoid the beginning meet and greet and dash out in the same way, hoping to make it home before half of the day has vanished. The net result: I’m anything but ready to start another week after such a hectic Sunday.
But there is another reason I’m loathe to offer much of myself to a church community: I’ve learned over the years and in many different ways, that women’s voices are not welcomed in church. Oh, churches want women to teach Sunday school (to children) and lead the choir, and certainly to give the children’s sermon in places where such a thing still exists, but largely, churches do not want women to say what they really think.
A recent book by Jim Henderson, The Resignation of Eve: What if Adam’s Rib is No Longer Willing to be the Church’s Backbone?, speaks to this reality as well (here is a link to a review of the book posted on Christianity Today’s website). In it Jim interviews many women, mostly from Evangelical circles, about their experiences in churches. He specifically wants to know if they are heard in their communities. The answer is a resounding “no.”
Several years ago, Patricia O’Connell Killen conducted similar research about Roman Catholic women who also felt their voices didn’t matter. As a result of her interviews, she used an image that has stayed with me for its clarity and perceptiveness. Women, she said, tell her in their churches, they often feel like they are standing right next to a vibrant and inviting stream, yet they are dying of thirst.
In thinking about women and their relationships to faith communities, I was intrigued to read the comments section following a review of Henderson’s book by Sharon Hodde Miller. What struck me was the way various people responded to the book and to Miller’s estimation of it, a pattern, I think, not too different from how churches engage (or don’t) women’s critiques.
I was especially interested in a couple of items. One of Miller’s Christianity Today colleagues always posts what he, surely, intends as affirmative statements. He comments early in the conversation, drawing attention to how women’s experiences must be pretty similar to men’s. Really? I think he is woefully unaware, then, of what women actually experience and what they think about it.
It was also instructive to see not only the huge response this blog post generated, suggesting Henderson’s topic is hitting a nerve and one that needs to be examined, but also how a few men emerged from the woodwork to silence women who were truly voicing their concerns—ones, that most likely, they had wanted to share but were just now seeing an opportunity.
Much like Henderson, Melanie and I have been gratified to know that our blog is in some small way providing a voice to the harmful and destructive images women have been led—falsely led—to believe. If you have felt silenced by the church, we would love to hear from you.