I was 14 years old when my church hired a new senior pastor. He was a bit of a young upstart who wanted to make some changes. One change was that women would no longer serve in leadership roles.
Some people left the church right then and there, but my family didn’t.
By then, I had already noticed that men and women were treated differently in church. In the Bible, men were clearly more important. Men were the heroes of almost every story, leading societies, and had the whole of humanity named after them (“mankind”). Even God was a man. These things went unquestioned and if they were, the answers were, “That’s just how it was back then,” and, “It wasn’t a big deal.” They seemed to be saying that society used to be somewhat sexist which was no longer the case, so there was no need to worry about it (“All while fulfilling your particular gender role, please.”).
So, sure. I didn’t go to one of those churches that explicitly taught men were the “head of the household,” but the pieces were there, ready to be put together by anyone paying attention.
When women were banned from church leadership, I believed deep down that the pastor was wrong but I didn’t know how to explain it. How do you explain to someone who is older, more powerful, and more educated than you, that they’re wrong? I knew that women could be fantastic teachers, leaders, and speakers but “It just feels true,” wasn’t a great argument.
Then, without even realizing it, my mom taught me where to start. She started a research folder on women in the church.
From a theological point of view, this was the first time I really learned what it meant to read the Bible within its context. That, God’s word or not, it was written by people to people in a specific time about specific issues. I learned that it can be interpreted differently by different people, and that, just maybe, we all interpret it in a way that benefits us.
She also taught me that you don’t have to ditch something the second it upsets you. I still don’t know why my parents decided to stay, but my parents never liked making a scene. Unlike their overly dramatic daughter, they’d prefer not to make grand gestures to prove a point. More importantly, sticking around had something to do with not wanting to lose the community they had built there (They still spend every New Year’s Eve with friends made at that church, after all). That was more important to them than one piece of doctrine.
Instead of leaving to prove a point and then hoping to find a magical unicorn of a church where everyone agreed on everything, I spent my teenage years with a mix of people. Some of them held my love, respect, and admiration while I didn’t particularly like or respect others. On both sides, there were people I disagreed with on the issue of women in church leadership.
Thanks to my parents staying and my mom’s research folder, I learned how to articulate an argument to someone who I wanted to continue in relationship with. This meant I couldn’t just yell and name-call. I learned the need to back up my claims, even if they seemed incredibly obvious like women being capable of more than raising children. I learned people are complicated and hold contradicting views. I learned the importance of community is and that a good one isn’t only made up of people like yourself.
It wasn’t until much later that I learned I will likely never change anyone’s mind, no matter how brilliant my argument is. Also, that changing someone’s mind isn’t really the goal but that by respectfully letting our ideas clash, we open up a little bit and that’s a good thing.
I learned all this because my parents unfathomably (to me) stayed at a church that made an extremely sexist move. Of course, if my current church pulled a move like that I would be gone in a second. As I have also learned in my time since then, you only have to put up with so much.