I was a minister’s wife, a missionary in Africa, a prayer warrior, and in ministry of one kind or another for 33 of my 40 years as a Christian. Then I left. Here’s why:
One particular Sunday sometime in 2006, I sat in the pew sweating, listening to my (now retired) husband behind the pulpit. Can’t remember what the topic was, but it doesn’t matter. The problem was the inner dialog. “I don’t believe what he’s saying anymore,” I thought. “Oh, my god! I don’t believe this message is true.”
This didn’t happen suddenly, like the flip of a switch. The truth is, I saw issues with the Christian faith and many Christian teachings almost as soon as my ‘relationship with Jesus’ began back in ‘79.
I was born again at the age of 10 and then later, at the age of 17, my relationship with Jesus really took off when I was baptized in the Holy Spirit with evidence of speaking in tongues. I was ‘on fire’, as we used to say in the charismatic church.
I couldn’t get enough of my new love interest, Jesus. During those early days in the faith I delighted in the basics of the faith…
- God is perfect, kind, loving, just, forgiving, gracious, merciful.
- God is the same yesterday, today and forever.
- The bible is God’s love letter to His people, good for preaching, teaching and correction.
- God has a plan for my life.
- If I was the only person on the planet, Jesus would still die for me.
- The bible reflects the character of God.
- The bible is the inspired word of God.
Every day with Jesus was a glorious adventure for me until one Thursday night. I had attended our youth group meeting at my United Methodist Church with my boyfriend.
We all have experiences in life that separate the before from the after. This is one of those experiences for me.
“There can only be one captain of the football team,” the bible teacher began as we sat with our bibles open to Ephesians. “And God has designed it that the man leads and the woman follows.” She continued her lesson outlining the roles for the sexes according to the traditional biblical model for marriage:
The husband is the head of the wife. He loves her as Christ loves the church. The wife is to submit to her husband’s authority over her. She is to respect him.
I was in instant turmoil. My boyfriend was instantly smug. And God was instantly different to me.
The teacher went on to encourage the young men to ‘take the lead’ with their girlfriends. To initiate prayer and bible study. Never before this moment had I felt uncomfortable in my skin, feeling almost naked among my friends, ashamed and awkward of my girl parts. It was nothing short of a cosmic betrayal.
We had claimed God was perfect. But this message of male supremacy flew in the face of that for me. “Our perfect God by His very nature cannot be a sexist,” I reasoned. “And this teaching is sexist.”
Like most Christians, I longed to find my place in the body of Christ, to nurture my relationship with the Almighty and grow into the person He wanted me to be. But that teaching (and the many others like it to which I’d later be exposed), changed my course.
No longer would I search for God’s will for my life simply as “a child of God”. God had added a caveat. I had to search for His will, “as a woman” instead. It never occurred to me that I could reject this teaching because it was so clearly scriptural. And with Jesus as the ‘only way to God’, I felt I had no where else to go for salvation. I was stuck unless I could find answers to refute this teaching.
For the three long decades that followed, I studied scriptures and church teachings in an attempt to reconcile my perfect God with His subjugation of half the Body of Christ. I inquired of leaders and bible teachers, of books dedicated to the subject, and of course, I prayed my ever-lovin’ brains out.
After years of study, it seemed to me that the bible was clear about women. When I looked up from its leather bound cover to peek at the world, I could easily see its powerful influence in the world in which I lived:
- In our church… where we spent months debating if it violated scripture for our pastor’s wife to be given the title of “co-pastor.”
- At work in a Christian ministry… that refused to promote women above a certain level of management lest they be “in authority over a man”.
- In the secular work place… where women are paid less than men.
- In courts of law… where a woman is often blamed for her rape.
- In government… where to this day we’ve never had a woman president.
From one end of the bible to the other, God’s message to women is that we were created to serve and to be owned. In many ways, the world continues to act on that message.
Reading the bible to uncover God’s fairness to women is like listening to a known bigot make a case for how he’s not one. It seemed the deeper I dug into the Word of God for hope, enlightenment and comfort, the more confused and depressed I became.
Years passed, I got married, and we entered ministry. My inner struggle continued to fester like an old, ugly wound. At my core, I felt diminished as a human being standing next to my husband, where God would always see me as a subordinate. The frustration grew for my husband who had long since dismissed the offending scriptures as nothing more than outdated, ancient history.
When one views the world through this broken lens of ‘lesserness’, everything looks gray. Ministry in particular became a psychological hell as I secretly loathed the bible for placing me in shackles I couldn’t break.
After decades of being told that biblical misogyny didn’t exist and that I was reading it wrong, I took a dog-leg turn…
I quit making excuses for God and for offensive portions of text.
I began reading scripture differently. I quit making arguments for the text. I stopped running to the nearest bookstore to find an ‘expert’ who could explain away the atrocities and protect my image of a fair and loving God. I quit collapsing in a heap of tears, begging God for answers.
I gave myself permission to think critically, instead of prayerfully. And a floodgate opened. I traded faith for skepticism.
The next four years were very hard, scary, and painful. I scrutinized my entire Christian life, every teaching, every claim to answered prayer. Month after month I removed the layers of dogma that I once believed (or felt obligated to believe) to reveal the truth:
What I’d been taught did not add up, therefore, I could not remain a Christian.
After those four long years of intense scrutiny everything came to a head. Alone at home, through tears, pain and sorrow, I cried out to God for one last time, “I’ve been hanging by a thread for years and years and years! If you’re real, you know this festering, old wound. If you’re there, you know the pain I’ve been in, the hours of study and prayer for your answers and comfort. If you really are the God who meets us where we are, then you know what I need right now to make it. This is it. I need you to reach me or I have to let go.”
Utterly broken I waited. For something … For anything. But I got what I’d always gotten if I could be honest with myself… dead silence. Only THAT time, I didn’t try to interpret the silence as a Holy moment or God’s Holy Silence. Instead I saw the truth. The silence was an absence of my Christian God.
I let my god go that day. I left the religion, the ‘relationship’, the church, and tossed my bible in the trash.
The next day, I wrote Jesus a ‘Dear John’ letter. I wrote of my disappointment, my pain, and my anger at having wasted so many years trying to build relationship with nothing… and of course, I’ve heard nothing from him in response.
The world around me since that time has gone on as usual. Stuff happens with or without prayer in the exact same way as it always has. The disciplines of the faith that I once held dear are fading as I forge ahead with a new sense of freedom.
No… things are not perfect. But the nagging chronic emotional ache is gone. The overall purveying sadness has lifted. Womanhood is no longer a gray, heavy burden bereft of joy. Every year is more colorful than the one before as I’m continually discovering the beautiful essence of my womanhood.
If you’re a Christian, thank you for reading my story. I welcome dialog with you and hope you’ll take me up on that invitation. I was once your sister in the Body of Christ so we may share many commonalities that would help us understand one another even if in our discourse, we disagree. I’m glad you visited my page! I hope you’ll come back.