My faith crisis began at a church membership class. After leaving the Baptist church in 2009, where women aren’t allowed to wear pants or stand in the pulpit, I never officially joined another congregation. I’ve always been pretty faithful when it comes to attending service and Bible study, but because of my general distrust of pastors and church folks, I’m just not about that membership life. [I've noticed similar anti-formal commitment themes in my non-existent love life, but that's a different blog post.]
This past January, however, for the first time in 5 years, I finally felt ready to commit. This particular church was different—the people were imperfect, the vibe was non-traditional and I felt that I fit right in. In many ways, it was far from what I wanted, but I knew it would grow me, which is what I needed.
I showed up on time for membership class, ready to make my new relationship official. But as soon as I read ahead in the church’s “philosophy of ministry” to the clause about women in the church, I knew we had a problem. Though they encouraged women to teach and lead in certain capacities, they believed the pastoral role was reserved strictly for men. The pastor went to great lengths to explain why women weren’t allowed to be pastors, but to me, it sounded a lot like “separate but equal” doctrine. No matter how many Greek and Hebrew words he interpreted, I just couldn’t bring myself into agreement with it.
As a woman who’s impacted thousands of people through writing, leading Bible studies, and discipleship, I didn’t understand why I eventually couldn’t run a church. Am I not already doing that? I thought. Well, no, but I totally could in the future. Why are these people telling me that I can’t? Does the Bible really say that? Does God really think women are the weaker vessels? How can I serve a God who doesn’t regard me as man’s equal?
And just like that, I entered crisis mode. I scoured the Bible for every sexist story I could find and threatened to leave God if He didn’t explain them all. I stopped going to church, unable to sit through a sermon without questioning everything the pastor said—not because he was wrong, but because he was quoting the Bible and I didn’t know if I believed in it anymore. Since I had built my entire life around my faith, I felt that my world had fallen apart. If I didn’t believe in the Bible, then what did I believe in? Without God, I no longer had a purpose. Pair this with the inevitable quarter-life crisis that hits after college graduation and you have a very serious situation on your hands.
My “come [back] to Jesus” moment happened when after trying to return to some old sinful habits, I literally couldn’t. Despite my deliberate neglect of the Word and frustration with God, His convictions still weighed heavily on my heart and I knew it was time to start inching my way back towards Him.
Throughout my time of questioning and contemplation, as rough as it was, I gained a deeper understanding of God’s sovereignty and grace. I couldn’t even step to God before checking my pride and Black power fist at the door. Whenever I opened my Bible looking for misogyny and blatant racism, I found it. But whenever I dug into His Word looking for God’s form of justice and equality, I found that it compensated for the controversial passages.
But don’t get me wrong. Nothing about this journey has been easy or automatic. I still haven’t joined that particular church largely because of their clause on women. Does that mean I’m not a Christian or that I don’t believe in the Bible? No. It simply means that I’m working it out. And for the first time since I rededicated my life to Christ in 2010, I’m asking God the difficult questions: Why exactly are women called to submit to their husbands and what does that even mean? Why are there no female authors in the Bible? Why was Eve’s curse so much more intense than Adam’s? And why, Lord why, do women have periods? Etc.
I may never receive the answers I’m looking for, but if there’s anything I’ve learned over the last few months, it’s that God deeply loves women and justice! At a first glance, the stories of Hagar, Sodom & Gomorrah, and [enter seemingly problematic Bible story here] may not seem to reflect a fair and just God, but I’d argue otherwise. If I shared all that God has revealed to me regarding His heart towards women, this post would never end, but please know that God is willing and able to meet you where you are. He knows your thoughts anyway, so you might as well vocalize them. Tell Him what you’re struggling to accept and why. Ask Him to help you understand. If He can do it for me, an extremely critical and distrusting social activist, He can do it for you.
It is no secret that, as Christians, we must believe before we see and trust before we understand. When it comes to our personal philosophies and values, this rule still applies. Believe it or not, feminism and Christianity are not mutually exclusive. As believers, however, we must be willing to submit our subjective truths to His absolute.
As for me, I’ve decided that Jesus is worth the paradigm shift.
Note: This post was inspired by Samantha Eyler’s moving article, Why I Had to Lose My Religion Before I Could Support Gender Equality. After reading it, I felt compelled to share my own story. Let the dialogue continue!