I was introduced to a ministry whose core beliefs seem to center on "The Tenets of Biblical Patriarchy." (This, in itself, is rather fascinating to me. I tend to think that a ministry should be based on the Gospel, and its message of hope and salvation. But whatever.) Biblical Patriarchy was a completely new term for me, but I am familiar with the lifestyle and system. And I was about to be exposed to the extreme version. I stayed awake for quite awhile last night, blowing my nose and reading the rants of a sect of Christianity who seem to associate salvation with wives submitting unquestioningly to their husbands, families homeschooling large numbers of children, and being extremely separated from the world. I read instructions this leader gave to husbands on how to "discipline" their wives for not having the dishes quickly washed after every meal - and how to bring in the elders of the church to administer addition "discipline" if she continued to slack. I read how college was only acceptable for sons, and how the daughters were to remain at home, under their father's authority until a suitable husband was found (via courting) and then she would transfer to the new husband's authority. (A new phenomenon known as the Stay At Home Daughter.) Never employed, never educated. And I read how the church elders trump all of THAT authority, and the entire family needs to submit to church elders. And how this is God's way, and any other way is sin.
I read. And my heart actually felt physically heavy.
And then I perused Mark Driscoll's new book on marriage.
Although he has always struck me as an obnoxious "bully for God" of sorts, I really did try to be open minded. But many aspects of the book made me feel physically sick. Vashti (of the Queen Esther story) was criticized for not submitting to her husband (apparently she should have just gone along with the whole 'parade naked around my drunk friends' idea.) His own wife is portrayed as "sinful" because she cut her hair. (Forget the fact that she had young children at home and needed a hairstyle convenient to working her ass off taking care of everyone.) But don't worry. She repented of this sin, and he "forgave" her.
I read. I read how the secret to a good marriage lies in a wife submitting to her husband. How the key to marital bliss is her continual and unquestioning servicing of his sexual needs, and how he is to be pitied if she doesn't eagerly do everything that he sees in porn. I read how women should never be in leadership, as they are weak and gullible. And I read that all of this is "God's way" for a marriage and family. And His plan and purpose for women.
I read. And I felt sick.
Were there good parts of the book? Yes. Are there nuggets of truth? Probably. But are the above things the key to a happy marriage? Maybe a marriage where only one side is happy.
I read. And I honestly thought, "If this Christianity, please count me out."
It unlocked and opened the trunk of church memories. Where wives who didn't submit were labeled "rebellious" and "Jezebel." Where an elder could abuse his children, cheat on his wife and still be a respected pillar of the church. Where men who committed adultery were "being guys - and guys are tempted you know, and maybe his wife just wasn't meeting his needs." And women who committed adultery were toxic whores who were excommunicated. It brought up memories of a system of fear. Afraid of God, afraid of authority, and most of all, afraid of hell. A system that communicated the underlying message of, women have decidedly less worth and value to God.
Then I remembered something that happened between God and I a few years back when I left my parent's church to attend another. It was definitely time for me to leave, and I tried to do it as graciously and quietly as possible. But those types of things rarely turn out as simple as you would like them to. I received a phone call from an out of state pastor that had been a long time family friend. He informed me that I was "in sin" for leaving. That when God calls a pastor, He calls the whole family and therefore I was flouting the "call of God." That I was leaving the "covering" and therefore opening myself up to a host of calamities, sickness, tragedy, etc., because God would no longer protect me. And that was the NICE part of the conversation.
I hung up afraid. Confused. Hopeless.
I said, "God, please help me."
And immediately a verse that I had memorized as a child came to mind. "Come unto me all ye who are weary and are heavy laden. Take My yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble of heart, and you will find rest for your soul." And I realized the fear tactics weren't from God. God was gentle. He was humble. He offered rest.
And in this journey I'm on of questioning what marriage looks like, what family should look like, what spiritual authority should look like, what gender roles should look like, and when I see people like the homeschool leader and Mark Driscoll, condemning and mocking everything that is different than them.......I keep coming back to that verse.
And I keep coming back to what Jesus is like. And when I read the Bible through independent eyes, I don't see Jesus angrily defending His gender and demanding that women know their place. I see Him loving women. I see Him eating with sinners. I see Him reaching out to the adulteress. I see a kind person. I see compassion.
And honestly He is my hero.
I don't have everything figured out, nor do I really know what a healthy and Godly marriage looks like. I'm beginning to think it looks different for every couple. But I do think that women matter to God just as much as men. I don't think God sees women as less, or gullible, or something He only created to satisfy the needs of a man. And I don't think a woman's worth lies in her relationship with her husband, boyfriend or father. I think those relationships can be awesome ~ and conducting ourselves in those relationships in a healthy, Godly way matters a great deal. But ultimately, the worth of a woman doesn't lie there. It lies in the love that she has for God, and that God has for her. And I'm beginning to think that no human being can ever take the place of that love. And that in order for ANY relationship to work well, I (and all girls) have to have the God part figured out first.
And to figure that part out, you have to think for yourself. Loving and being loved by God isn't something that an authority can force on you, shame you, or terrify you into. Its gentle. Its humble. It welcomes questions. It values uniqueness. It offers safety and rest.
And that is something I know. Its where I land when I fly off the handle, frustrated and hurt at all the wounding and pain that is done in the name of God. I know that God sees me, hears me, and loves me. And loves women. He knows grief and carries sorrows. And He is never ok with injustice. And I don't have to prove my worth in God to anyone, Christian or otherwise. Its enough to know it, and experience it. He loves the broken, the fallen, the man, the woman, the sinner.......He loves someone like me.