The Time: Around 1991
The Place: Student Pastorate, United Methodist Church, The Bible Belt
I’d signed up to participate in a prayer vigil at our small UMC in rural Georgia. We’d scheduled people to pray in one-hour increments in an effort to “pray without ceasing” for 24 hours. (I know… how can you ‘pray without ceasing’ if you cease after 24 hours?) Anyway…
I spent my hour alone in our tiny sanctuary that smelled of musty, old hymnals and bargain brand cleanser. Kneeling at the altar, I began with praise, “Thank you Jesus for blessing my family….”
After some minutes of gratitude, the old pain bubbled to the top as it always did. So I faced it head on, requesting God’s comfort praying something like, “Father, please help me. Because of your Word my feelings of ‘lesserness’ and inferiority permeates every thing I do, infiltrates everything I am. Father God, why does your Word speak so poorly of women?”
In a flash I got an inner sense of God’s voice that said, “Feel free to call me Mother.”
By the time my hour of prayer was over, my face was covered in tears as I rode a wave of relief at the words I believed God had spoken to me. At least they were somewhat validating. But when I got home and told my husband what God had said he replied, “But that’s not scriptural.”
What little hope I’d had in that moment was crushed when I got home. Crushed by someone who knew the depth of my pain. What was he thinking??
Even right now, as I re-construct this incident, I can still feel the desperation I wrestled sitting in that tiny church. It was as though my heart was breaking. I could see that I was changing as a person, my light was growing dimmer. I was watching myself being slowly snuffed out by bad theology. The more I learned, the worse it got.
The way I saw it, it was hard enough to face sexism out in the godless world… but, hell, I expected it to be there. It was quite another to face it in God’s Church and even worse, for God to inject it into our homes. God was the only one who could fix this mess and set things right, but to me, He’d stubbornly refused to do that. Moreover, He’d refused to say why in spite of my persistence.
I swung open the church doors that day knowing I was at an impasse. No amount of study or prayer could make sense of the endless amounts of apologetics I’d heard in defense of God’s words against women. The rape He didn’t stop, the murders He’d commanded, the babies He’d drown, the virgins He gave as spoils of war, the women He’d silenced, the women He’d subjugated… I simply could not reconcile it and I was dying inside trying.
I can see it now with the brutal clarity of hindsight: If I was going to continue in my Christian walk believing God was love and God was fair, I had to have something to counter balance what I had that said the opposite. So, I did the next best thing right there in that country church…
I threw myself a lifeline.
I constructed my own solution, wrapped it up neatly in my God concept and presented it to myself as a gift from God. God said, ‘feel free to call me Mother.” I sensed these loving words out of desperation and into my reality.
Maybe it was genius. Maybe it was delusional. Maybe it was both. But without a doubt, it was pure self-preservation. And it probably would have worked for a little while. At least, it might have if I’d not heard the words, “But that’s not scriptural.”