Unladylike

This weekend two things happened: one great, one not so great. I got sick and spent a lot of time sniffling and trying to breathe. The not so great. But, the forced rest gave me time to dive into Pam Hogeweide‘s book Unladylike. This excellent book’s tag line is “Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church”. Pam gracefully and honestly tackles the real problems of misogyny, sexism, complementarianism, and all kinds of injustice – from polite to hostile – in the church. She weaves her story of dealing with oppression with theology and the voices of many women in different stages of desiring and experiencing equality. It is a beautiful, powerful read.

As I sat glued to the book and my tissue box, memories from my own story started surfacing. I found myself shouting, tearing up, and saying over and over again “this is so good”. I know what she’s writing about because I’ve experienced it. The injustice of inequality. It comes in many forms. Here are a few snapshots from my interactions with the Church.

Right after I experienced a frustrating transforming “call to ministry” (I’ll write more about that later), I had a conversation with an elder at a conservative church my dad was pastoring. He asked me what my plans were after college. When I told him “seminary,” he asked what I wanted to do. “I want to be a pastor”. After looking dumbfounded at me and stumbling over his words he said something to the effect of, “Well you know, being a pastor is a really tough job, and I don’t think women have the strength to handle it all”. He might have mentioned something about how women are more emotional, I don’t quite remember – I was pretty shocked and upset. This conversation has haunted me and been a thorn of bitterness in my view of the church.

If God was so determined that I was going to be a pastor, than I was determined to not shy away from telling people about it – even conservative men that think women can’t be pastors. That same summer as my conversation with that particular elder, I told many others about my newfound sense of calling. Most just said something polite (after all, who can argue with you when you say God called you), and many assumed I must be talking about youth or children’s ministry.

Far before I even dreamed of being a pastor, I knew there were things I couldn’t do in church because I’m not a boy. I wasn’t allowed to lead singing, help with communion, lead communal prayers, or even (hush) preach. One time I was giving a presentation to an adult Sunday school class (which is barely allowed, and only because I’m not “teaching”) and I prayed before I began. Apparently one man got very upset that I had led men in prayer. Thankfully, my mother caught his explosion and I didn’t find out until later – or I probably wouldn’t have said very loving things. Just because I prayed in front of men.

I can remember in high school trying to explain to a friend the differences between women and men, using some of the Christian gender/dating books I was reading. I tried to tell how they were equal, but with different roles. The man’s role was to protect. Women are special, fragile, and need careful handling. Now I look back and think “What a bunch of bullshit. How did I ever believe that crap?” Because that’s what I was taught in church.

I deeply desire equality in the church. Not equal but with different roles. Simply and fully equal. Read this book. It’s a big step in the direction of freedom from injustice.

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15 thoughts on “Unladylike

  1. At times I am surprised this conversation still exists; then I remember I held the position of th conservative elder up until 5 or 6 years ago. It horrifies me looking back and seeing the justifications I made in my fear there wasn’t enough Jesus to go around (and that I was pretty far down the lifeboat ranking board).

    1. Caedmon, I think we could all use the reminder that there’s “enough Jesus to go around”. Thanks!

      Blessings,
      Sarah

  2. I love it Klatt, you make me want to read the book, actually I might have to find some way to get my hands on a copy.

  3. Sarah, I’m so glad you have the spirit and perseverance to follow God’s calling. You are already changing three world. You’ve touched me!

  4. Sarah, You make me laugh! I too remember spouting “equal but different” ideals…and coming to realize how ineffective “equal…but” is. Thank God for the Holy Spirit, strong women, and women in leadership who mentored us. And thank God for patience to extend to these troublesome opinions.

    1. Patience indeed! The “equal…but” thing seemed to work for a while, but it never really was equality. In her book, Pam talks about how there is no such thing as “half way to equality” – you’re either there or your not. A lot of churches promote “half equality” by LETTING or ALLOWING women to hold certain lower positions of power. But in reality, the men still have the last say and hold most (if not all) of the cards. I’m hopeful that we can be a part of the wave that resists and changes the injustice going on in church.

      Blessings,
      Sarah

  5. Thanks for this review Sarah. So glad Unladylike resonated with you….though I have said it more than once that I wish this was not a book I felt compelled to write. I hope that in my daughter’s lifetime (if not my own!) that we the body of Christ collectively will look back with embarrassment over the devalueing of women in the name of God and the Scriptures. We used to do this to our black brothers and sisters in the 19th century, but then we came round and now the church no longer debates about whether or not slavery is condoned by the Bible. We are aghast that our spiritual ancestors could ever use scripture to promote and defend slavery. I pray that the same will be for women some day.

    Thanks again Sarah. See you tomorrow!!!

    1. Pam, it was so good to meet you this weekend! I appreciate your passion and persistence. I too hope that we (as the body of Christ) can stop promoting and allowing inequality and injustice against women, and that it will happen soon.

      Blessings,
      Sarah

  6. I disagree that men and women are fully equal. I absolutely believe that we are “equal, but different”. If not, we wouldn’t need each other. I’m so glad that I have strengths to match my husband’s weaknesses, and that his strenghts fill in where I am weak. We balance each other. I have a role in our home. He has a role in our home. They are not the same role. If we were exactly the same, how would we ever work in harmony? This is not to say that I think his role is more important than mine. They are equally important, but necessarily different.

    1. Nicole, thank you for your response. I agree with you that as human beings we have differences, and it is a beautiful thing to complement and balance each others’ strengths and weaknesses. Where I differ from you is that I don’t think those differences are based on gender. I don’t think certain strengths or weaknesses are innate in either sex. We are strong and we are weak because we are human. How that looks depends on the person, not on whether they are male or female. Thoughts?

      Blessings,
      Sarah

      1. Sarah, I do think that gender plays a part. If it didn’t, why did God make us male and female? Why wouldn’t we be asexual?

        There are many different stereotypes and cliches about men and women – and they exist for a reason. I believe women tend to be more emotional and men tend to be more logical. Women are usually better nurturers. Men are usually physically stronger and enjoy activity over long conversations.

        Of course, there are exceptions, but finding tendencies is natural. Why would it be wrong to note that these exist? It doesn’t have to create a box for either gender to live in. I think it helps us understand one another better. And it is what our brains do naturally – we categorize people based on sex, race, culture, socio-economic status, religious affiliation… And I don’t think this is wrong. If we use that information to treat someone poorly, we are falling into sin. If we hold a person in that initial category and don’t change it based on what we learn about them over time, then we are doing them a disservice.

        Being aware of differences isn’t wrong. What we do with that information can be wrong.

        We are all human. But God designed women much differently than he designed men. Each gender reflects different aspects of the character of God. Neither is “better” or “more important”. But we are different. Again, why would God create us male and female if not for a specific purpose? In my experience with God and with Scripture, I have not seen that God does anything arbitrarily, or just for the sake of procreation.

        I know that I am better at decorating than my husband. I’m also a better cook and better at nurturing. He can do these things, too, but they stress him out. A lot. He is better at handling “business” phone calls, paying the bills on time, processing to solve a problem and not just processing for the sake of processing. I can do each of these things, but each is very stressful for me. And, yes, I know that there are many couples/people who are the opposite in terms of gender, but in my experience these tendencies hold true for each gender in most cases.

        Is it so wrong that God would create the genders to complement one another? Wasn’t that the point of God creating Eve to complete Adam?

        Anyway, these are my thoughts. 🙂

      2. Sarah, I love how you say, “we are strong and we are weak because we are human.” My husband and I don’t fit the traditional gender roles in many ways – my husband is better at cooking and while I can cook, it stresses me out. I agree, Sarah, we are different but apart from the obvious physical stuff, those differences are not determined based on our sex. Culture creates gender roles and they often serve to divide rather than unite, and while it would be nice if noting the stereotypical differences was actually helpful, my experience is just the opposite – I am judged and sometimes even condemned when I do not fit the stereotypical female gender role prescribed by many church cultures. For years I tried to press my husband into the strong male leader role when that is not how God created him. It is true that God created us male and female, but our differences are much more variable and dependent on the human condition than the social constructs of gender roles that keep us from fully expressing the image of God in gender relationships. I am hoping for a more generous view of gender differences that fosters community not conformity and allows for equality and unity as Jesus prayed, “that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you.”

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