Missionary kid, seminary grad, quits going to church and saves her faith.
There is a picture I once had of a small chapel, much like the one above, except that the angle was different. In the foreground, there was a yellow caution sign that read, “Slow Church”. It seems to embody so much of my experience as a female in a predominantly white male oriented church culture. They are slow to see their own bias and the harm that comes from silencing the voices of women and minorities.
I was fed up with church. At least the kind of church I had attended since infancy. My faith, as currently expressed, no longer had meaning. I had been so immersed in the protestant white male teaching, it was like being the proverbial frog in boiling water. A slow imperceptible faith death.
Two events saved me, but not what you would call the usual way. One was a sermon from the church I left, the other from my son-in-law.
The sermon was part of a series on various Bible characters and how they were just common folk. It was fine as far as series go, until the white male pastor told the story of Mary. In this story, Mary felt shame at being pregnant and went to her father with her fiancé in tow. The pastor, enacting the scene, had Mary approach her dad in much the same way a ditsy, immature American teen would, trying to appease her angry dad and cover up her shame by ingratiating language, both in body and in words.
As the scene unfolded before the me, I became increasingly agitated. Was this the same Mary I had read about, studied and come to see as an amazing woman of faith, one whom God highly favored? Where had she gone? Who was this imposter? Then I became angry that one of the few Biblical examples of women that men will still (if they say anything) honor, was now being lowered in character and demeanor to this simpering teen, all in the name of making her the “same as the rest of us” so we could identify with her: a young teen, pregnant out of wedlock, and full of shame. As if that was the point of Mary’s amazing faith story.
Then I felt a deep deep sadness that such a beautiful female example of faith, endurance, suffering, redemption and love, was lost on the preacher. Here was an amazing woman, one whom I could look up to as an example, one within whom God literally took up residence to bring his Son to earth. This is contrary to the myriad of messages spoken, that women are to blame for bringing sin into the world, and therefore not to be trusted.
“Although women were told that they brought sin into the world, we get to claim that we also brought God into the world.” Hillary McBride, The Liturgist podcast
Now, in this sermon, she’s reduced to this rather irritating teen? It was mind blowing how myopic the pastor was, how blind to what he was saying about Mary in particular and women in general. How could I (or anyone for that matter) look up to her, see her as someone to aspire to?
As a woman, I felt incredibly oppressed, suffocated, and angry. Even hopeless. When would this type of teaching end? I had decades of this kind of subtle and not so subtle teaching: I grew up in a machismo society. My undergrad in Theology was taught by white males. I went to a year of Bible school in England where the professors were all white males. My seminary theology professors were white males. I attended churches run by white males. The teachings were incredibly biased and unbalanced to the white male point of view. And now this. In this year. At this time. It was depressing.
All those years when I had been under the tutelage of men who never looked to women as examples of faith, who did not listen to and sometimes actively silenced women’s voices. Their teachings were filled with examples of women whose authority was suspect, only allowed into leadership as a concession by God, because the “men did not step up”. Judges. Missionaries, Prophets. Preachers. Teachers. I guess the men felt threatened. I call it toxic masculinity. And I bought into it, hook, line and sinker.
The second event that saved me was not really an event per se, but a series of small events over a relatively short period of time that changed everything. My son-in-law introduced me to new ways of thinking about my faith. And yes, my son-in-law is a white male. But not the toxic kind. He shared podcasts, books, and his own writings on his journey of faith. It was a lifeline in the midst of encroaching depression and despair. I began listening to new voices, new ways of thinking about God and Scripture. Ways in which the message for women and about women in the Bible were beautiful, redemptive, empowering, and honoring to women’s spiritual contributions and leadership.
The Sunday I quit going to church I had a headache, one of many on Sundays. I entered a church I had attended for years but knew no one (because connecting was incredibly difficult), was bombarded by concert style flashing lights, loud music and a sermon that made beautiful Mary into a simpering teen. I left the church in tears, wondering why I went.
That was the day I quit. And the same day my faith was saved.