Guest Post by Julie Meyer Taylor
I spent the first twenty or so years of my life in an intensive study of the Bible. I attended Christian school where I memorized Bible verses every week, sang hymns every day, and read the Bible as part of our language arts curriculum. My parents read Bible passages at dinner and Bible stories at bedtime. I attended vacation Bible school every year and Sunday school every week. I was a quiet, introverted child who listened intently. I took everything in, and considered what I was learning. I am thankful for this experience and education.
But along with the good, there were things which distressed me. There was a hole-filled paddle hanging in every teacher’s room and each teacher made her own rules about which actions merited swats. The daily threat of being paddled made me a nervous wreck. I also resented the “skirts only” dress code and the anxiety that my skirt might fly up in a gust of wind or be a few inches too short and send me home in humiliation. But the most troubling aspect of my fundamentalist education was that boys were clearly and unapologetically the preferred gender. I was taught complementarian theology—that males were created to be leaders, and females to be willing followers. Men were the principals and assistant principals; men were the pastors and the elders. God said it, everyone believed it, and that was the end of the discussion. But I sat in my desk distraught and puzzled: “Why does God like boys better than me?”
The church I attended on Sundays was also fundamentalist and patriarchal. I remember standing silently next to my parents in the church parking lot while they listened to their friend cry. The ministry she loved had just been shut down because the church elders had determined she was teaching men. It made no sense to me. I was sad, angry, and humiliated for her. From Sunday through Friday, kindergarten to twelfth grade, my life was saturated with patriarchal teachings. They confused and devastated my God-loving heart. One day after school, when I was about 8, I came home
and told my mom I wanted to be a boy. I didn’t really want to be a boy, I just wanted to be valued as the boys were valued. I was a gymnast and a naturally strong girl. I could do push-ups, sit-ups, and pull-ups. I could run faster than most of the boys. But unlike the boys, my physical strengths were ignored and rarely validated. I began to believe my teachers could not see past my girl body. I began to realize my teachers were fallible and had blind spots. In hindsight, I realize this was a great gift, because it taught me to question other things they taught me. About the same time, I found a book about Jesse Owens, a black athlete who was victorious in the 1936 Berlin Olympics. I loved his story so much, I read the book about one hundred times. I borrowed my dad’s cassette recorder, spoke into the tiny microphone, and recorded myself reading the book. I listened to my tape every night before bed. Jesse Owens had proved prejudice, hate, and blindness to be foolish and wrong. He won four gold medals right under the nose of Hitler. I was so proud of him. I wanted to be him. I wanted to disprove limiting expectations, just like he had. I wanted his story engraved in my soul. My patriarchal education continued into high school. One day in theology class a missionary visited and told us only men could fly planes and preach on the mission field. I was so insulted and disgusted, I went home in a sorrowful rage. My teacher assigned a reflection paper, so I wrote a snarky paragraph about “What I Learned,” and stapled Alvera Mickelsen’s essay, “Does the Order of Creation, Redemption, and Climax Demand Female Supremacy?” to the back page. As part of our morning devotions, we were taught Bill Gothard's 10 rules for
As part of our morning devotions, we were taught Bill Gothard’s 10 rules for marriage. One of the rules was that wives should never make more money than their husbands. I remember sitting at my desk, literally shaking with fury. My typically shy hand flew into the air and with a trembling voice I
demanded, “Where are these rules in the Bible? This should not be called a Bible study”. My teacher stopped the lesson.
There were many days after school I went home completely distraught. My parents wanted me to have a
Christian education, but thankfully they did not agree with everything I was learning. My dad knew about the existence of egalitarian literature and gave me several books. I soon learned that many theologians believed the Bible did support women as pastors and elders. I learned that theologians believed that husbands and wives were both called to submit to each other, with Christ as the only head of the home. This information confirmed what my heart was telling me. Gretchen Gaebelein Hull, Alvera Mickelsen, and Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen became my heroes. Knowing there were valid and inclusive ways to understand painful Bible passages about women, I was even more stunned to discover that in almost every Christian setting, most people still chose to believe that women should silence themselves for the sake of men, the gospel, and the Church. It stung me.
My freshman year of college, I attended Calvin College in Grand Rapids, Michigan. I took theology classes and was amazed to hear egalitarian teachings taught out loud. It was like breathing fresh air for the first time. After college, I attended Fuller Theological Seminary and received my Master’s degree in marriage and family therapy. It was life-giving and validating to learn from egalitarian theologians, marriage therapists, and psychologists. But after graduate school, I moved back to my hometown where most of the churches still believe in male headship in the home and church. This was, and is, depressing to me. Despite knowing egalitarian explanations for the various Biblical clobber passages, I still found myself angry at God for allowing them to exist in the Bible and for allowing them to silence women. My relationship with God began to fade. I felt like God must not care about the oppression of women in the church because nothing ever seemed to change. Eventually, I stopped reading the Bible. For ten years, I hardly read a page. It was too painful. I felt betrayed by God.
However, in the past few years, due to online egalitarian bloggers and scholars, online resources, online
community groups, I have learned that Biblical translations were tampered with and manipulated to keep women banned from church leadership. This information was the final piece in a puzzle which never made sense to me. It was the missing piece which has now fully convinced me that God is on the side of justice, freedom, and equality. This knowledge has made my love for God swell. It has given me the courage to read the Bible again, and the conviction to speak out more boldly.
Every day and every night I ask God to use me however He needs me. I ask Him to empty me of my bitterness and fill me with his love. I ask Him to work through me, and help me use my talents to speak out against the sexism and spiritual abuse which are disguised by words such as headship, complementarianism, and gender roles. Since college, I have found myself in the offices of six different pastors. Confronting people verbally is not my strength, but I have been unable to sit still and be silent about this issue. I have begged each pastor to consider a more loving, inclusive way to do church. Unfortunately, I have witnessed many different versions of the “I’m sorry, but not really” facial expression. One of the most painful things in my life has been to witness otherwise kind, thoughtful Christian men be unwilling to re-examine this issue, even when they know it hurts women.
Equality in the church has been the passion of my life. I believe women and men should be able to use the talents God has given them, without gender restrictions. I believe both men and women have been called and have the talents and discernment to be pastors, elders, and leaders of all kinds. I believe husbands and wives should mutually submit to each other and to Jesus. Being an egalitarian has been a process of learning, mourning, speaking out, being rejected, and stepping out of my comfort zone.
As a child, I knew at an intuitive level that complementarian theology was hurtful to me and insulting to women. I knew it painted a warped picture of God. But I didn’t have the words to fight it. It has taken a lifetime to gain the knowledge, the confidence, and the words to speak up. And I am still learning.
For as long as I am I able, I plan to speak out against patriarchy and sexism. I plan to keep speaking up for God’s beloved daughters.