Why Is the Church So Afraid of Women’s Voices?

by | Feb 22, 2022 | Faith, Uncategorized | 60 comments

Church trying to Silence Women
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Have people ever tried to silence you simply because you’re a woman?

The summer when I was 16 years old, I went on a Teen Missions International team to the Philippines. It was not a good experience. While I know that some enjoyed their time with Teen Missions, I found the theology abusive, and the team leaders abusive, and it was quite terrible. It was the first time this little Canadian was ever exposed to fundamentalism or any view of God that was not loving.

I saw many of the abuses that occurred, and I did not keep quiet. When girls disclosed sexual abuse at home, for instance, they were put in 24 hour solitary confinement so they could get their head together, and given no counseling. It was truly awful. (You can read more about Teen Missions International).

At the end of the summer, three teams got together in Hong Kong for a debriefing session, and the head of Teen Missions, Bob Bland, attended. He was a Big Deal. He was the Head Honcho.

And on the second last day, he asked to take a walk with me, alone.

He told me that he’d been speaking to my team leaders, and that I would never, ever be able to do anything for Jesus until I learned not to be rebellious.

He said that God would not be able to use me until I put an end to my rebellious spirit.

I have never had so much disdain for an individual in my life. I felt myself floating above myself during that conversation, tuning him out, thinking about the flowers we were walking beside instead, and every now and then nodding and saying, “mm hmmmm” as he continued to insult me. His words never really hurt me because I had so much disrespect for the organization already. I knew that they did not represent Jesus, given the way they had treated us all summer (I know that some had a better experience with them, but I did not).

(here I am digging a hole at our construction site)

Missions Trip with Teen Missions International

Fast forward seventeen years, and I’m leading worship on a praise team at a Baptist church.

We had four praise teams, and the leader of the one that I had been on stepped down, and our team decided that I should take over, and I did.

The first Sunday I led, I said something like,

As we sing this next song, take the things from this last week that are burdening you, and picture laying them down before Jesus.

Or something like that–I don’t even remember now. But it was short, and it was sweet, and it was just a transition before we went into the song “I See the Cross.”

Well, that raised quite a few eyebrows. I was a woman, and I told the congregation–and specifically the men in the congregation–what to do. I spiritually directed the men in the congregation to put their burdens down before Jesus. 

The deacon’s board took notice. And for the next year they debated, back and forth, whether I was allowed to speak between songs or lead in prayer, even if it was just to say something like, “Jesus, we love you. We worship you today. Take our offering of praise and use it to your glory.”

My husband was on the deacon’s board at the time, and he found himself in the terrible position of having to defend me and also argue for women’s right to speak to men. It was one of the worst experiences he’s ever had in church.

They finally agreed that I could speak, but that the pastor would have to talk to me after each service to go over what I said to see whether or not it was appropriate. And, of course, the pastor didn’t do this for any of the three other worship leaders.

At the same time as this was happening, I was speaking around the country at big denominational events, women’s events, and women’s conferences. I was the most accomplished professional speaker in that congregation. But they weren’t sure if I could say a sentence or two without it being an abomination to God, since there were men in the audience.

We stayed at that church for a few more years until I couldn’t take it anymore.

Interestingly, one of the deacons is now the lead pastor, and another arguing the most vehemently against me is now on the elder’s board.

We had a similar experience at the next church we landed at. It was wonderful for a time, but when it got a new pastor who was absolutely opposed to women ever having any teaching role, and who was adamant that women should obey husbands (I’m still angry I didn’t walk out when he said that in a sermon), we left there as well.

Interestingly, people from that first church still send me anonymous abusive messages quite frequently on social media. They create new accounts just to hassle me and insult me. Even when I was there, people used to put abusive anonymous letters in my mailbox, telling me that I was rebellious.

Looking back now, I don’t know why I took it so long.

I think I felt we didn’t have a choice, and they had a good kids’ program, and so we needed to stay for the kids. But that church left a lot of wounds in me, and a lot of wounds in my husband from being on that deacon’s board.

I’m now embarrassed that I ever let anyone treat me like that. But perhaps it was something I had to go through for my own growth.

I tell you all of this today so that you’ll understand what a big deal it is that next month my book to men launches.

I was told when I started writing that men can write general marriage and sex books, but women can’t. Men can write to women, but women can’t write to men, because men won’t listen.

And so I did have my husband come on board with me to write The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex. And his edits and ideas honestly made it so much better! But I still like the fact that I’m now writing a book to men. In fact, my blog is read by so many men everyday. And every week, at least several thousand men listen to our podcast.

Last night I tweeted this:

 

 

That’s how I’m feeling right now–a little bit celebratory.

I wish I could go back in time and talk to that 16-year-old girl, walking and staring at flowers and trying not to listen to the man drone on about how God wasn’t pleased with her; or go back in time and tell that 34-year-old woman who had to lead worship while angry men looked up at her from the congregation every week, just waiting for her to make a mistake. And I wish I could tell her, these things will make you stronger, but do not allow them to have any impact on how you see yourself, because their words and opinions don’t matter.

What I have learned is that when people believe things that aren’t of Jesus, and when they don’t act like Jesus, we don’t need to listen. We can walk away.

One of the things that has disappointed me the most over the last three years as I’ve been speaking up about the harm in evangelical marriage teaching is that instead of listening to our study of 20,000 women; instead of listening to the cries of women who have been abused; instead of hearing out our critiques, the response has been to say that I’m rebellious and try to make me be quiet.

They threaten lawsuits, they get me blacklisted from conferences, they go behind my back to berate podcasts that have had me on–but they never actually listen.

But I won’t be quiet.

I will keep speaking, because I believe i have some important things to say. And in The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, and the new and revamped Good Girl’s Guide, I believe that we will set so many couples free from the toxicity around marriage and sex, as well as the ignorance, that we have grown up steeped in.

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Launch March 15!

Imagine building a great sex life–from the ground up!

What would it look like to build a picture of sex that was MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH–with no harmful messages?

Welcome to the The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex and the ALL NEW Good Girl’s Guide to Great Sex.

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Recently I went on a little bit of a Marie Kondo kick on Netflix, and got inspired to go through some of my old boxes of mementos. As I was going through them, I found this letter that my pastor from a DIFFERENT Baptist church wrote to me as a child. We had a wonderful relationship, and I really loved him.

The date on that letter is March 9, 1976. I wasn’t quite six years old. (Here’s my cousin and I outside the church doors around that time).

Dear readers, I don’t know where you are in life right now and what voices are all around you. But let me assure you, when people are telling you your voice is dangerous and it’s too loud and you should be smaller, that’s not of God. 

And I love the fact that God prompted my mom to save this letter, so that I could find it right now, when I have so many negative voices all around me. 

God has given you a wonderful love and a happy smile and a good mind, and I know that  you will grow up learning to use these for our Lord and Saviour.

Thank you, Rev. Pierce.

He’s passed away now, but I like to think that he would be proud of me. And he would never have berated me for being rebellious for wanting to use my voice to speak of things of God.

Church trying to silence women

Has something like this ever happened to you? Let’s talk in the comments!

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

Sheila Wray Gregoire

Author at Bare Marriage

Sheila is determined to help Christians find biblical, healthy, evidence-based help for their marriages. And in doing so, she's turning the evangelical world on its head, challenging many of the toxic teachings, especially in her newest book The Great Sex Rescue. She’s an award-winning author of 8 books and a sought-after speaker. With her humorous, no-nonsense approach, Sheila works with her husband Keith and daughter Rebecca to create podcasts and courses to help couples find true intimacy. Plus she knits. All the time. ENTJ, straight 8

Related Posts

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60 Comments

  1. Nathan

    Sheila, I’m so sorry that you had to go through that. Same goes for anybody else who had to endure abuse like that.

    I’m not sure which is worse…
    You can’t speak in church because you’re female
    Abused women need to shut up and get their heads together.

    Both are horribly toxic. Hopefully we’re starting to turn the corner.

    My own church is a bit better than that, although there are no women pastors or elders. Sometimes, though, pastor’s wives will give the talk on Sunday, though.

    Reply
    • Grace

      Oh, absolutely! This past weekend it was, “you need to learn to not see everything through the eyes of abuse. Trust God. The women who’ve walked away from him due to abuse and toxic church weren’t really his to begin with. We’re praying for you.” Am I not allowed to grieve the women damaged by false teaching? Does my experience in the field of domestic violence disqualify me from talking about it?! What about “If anyone causes one of these little ones—those who believe in me—to stumble, it would be better for them to have a large millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.”

      Reply
  2. Nathan

    One other thing. My guess is that much of this started with Paul’s verse about him not permitting women to teach or have authority over men. Also that Jesus only chose men as his disciples (although Mary Magdalene likely played a larger role in the ministry than most of us think).

    Reply
    • Estelle

      I think, if Paul were here today, he would tell the men to stop lording it, or whatever ‘authentein’ actually means, over women.

      Reply
      • CMT

        Ha! YES. It’s rather fascinating to me that there is so much doctrinal weight placed a word whose meaning we aren’t completely sure of. And the meaning, from context, likely refers to behavior that is undesirable for anyone, regardless of gender.

        Reply
    • EOF

      One thing you never hear American men point out is this:

      Jesus also only chose JEWISH men to be his disciples.

      How many of our church leaders and husbands fit THAT description?? 🤔

      Reply
      • Jo R

        And not college or seminary educated.

        Reply
  3. Anon

    I was told I’d never ‘get a husband’ because no man would want to marry a woman who spoke out for justice and specifically against the sexual abuse of women.

    Hmmm…so let me get this right. If I complain that sexual predators are using church as a hunting ground, I’m supposed to be DISAPPOINTED when those same guys don’t want to marry me?!!

    I think that finding her own voice and using it is the single most healthy thing a young woman can do in church. It keeps her safe from abuse, it helps her to find a church where she can thrive (because if she’s told to pipe down, she knows she needs to leave and find another church) and most importantly of all, it turns off the kind of abusive, manipulative creep who wants a passive, voiceless wife to control, so she’ll never end up married to one of them.

    Reply
  4. Kelly

    Oh, sister. I hear you. Loud and clear. And I have had several experiences like yours. The last one ended with me receiving an email saying “I’m sorry you won’t be attending ________ Church anymore. We’ll miss you.” Funny thing? I didn’t know I wasn’t going to church there anymore. Continuing to focus on Jesus is difficult if I don’t remind myself daily that He is the only judge that I need to be concerned about… Continuing to speak truth in love and being all God called us to be is the best remedy. And calling out the behavior in a way that encourages change… Praying we will continue to be faithful and do and say what He would have us do and say…

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, wow! So they kicked you out before you even decided to leave? Yikes!

      I find it discouraging some days as well, but then I remember that Jesus never said it would be easy either. And He wasn’t accepted by everyone at all.

      Reply
    • CMT

      Wow. That’s some seriously passive aggressive nonsense right there. Even if someone were completely in the wrong in a disagreement, that is such an immature way for a church to respond to them. That must have really hurt.

      Reply
  5. Estelle

    Cute outfits in your photo! Did your gran knit them?

    Reply
  6. NM

    What a wonderful gift your childhood pastor gave you. I too had a wonderful pastor when I was young who really believed in me. I would drop by his office after high school to talk about life and faith, and he never made me feel weird about it. His wonderful wife mentored me too. He wrote my college recommendation letter and we still keep in touch. If only all pastors understood what an impact they could make by just treating women & girls as people who could make an impact for the kingdom.

    Reply
  7. Tiff

    So many of us, instead of living in the freedom Jesus provides, keep tending hedges instead of hearts. We bargain blessings from God by creating rules for His children and enforcing them, as did the Pharisees. I pray my heart is soft to the errors in my own thoughts and beliefs. I pray that the bride of Christ can hear her bridegroom and join together; there is room for disagreement, mutual respect, and continued relationship through so many non-salvation issues. However, issues that are cannibalizing the church; often centering around shaming people, blaming others for our own sin, reducing people(s) for selfish gain or manipulation, the pursuit of power/leadership over servant-hood, and cultural fear mongering, that must be addressed for the sake of, not just our witness to the world, but for the health of the bride herself.

    Reply
  8. Sarah

    That letter made me tear up a bit. What a lovely word to sow into the life of a little person. I’m glad he saw you. What true, what good words.

    Reply
  9. Anon

    I was asked to share my testimony at church by the pastor after I shared with him one day my journey to becoming a Christian. I said sure. Then before the day I was supposed to share he said that the elders said I couldn’t share it myself. I’d have to write it down and my husband could read it for me. I wasn’t even teaching or leading a prayer or in any sort of leadership role. It was just going to be me sharing a story about my life. I said no and told my husband that I didn’t want to go to that church anymore. I was not raised in that setting like my husband was and he did not think it was as insane as I did. Women couldn’t lead worship, lead a prayer, serve communion, or even teach teenage boys. Unfortunately even though we eventually left that church (not right away when I wanted to- it’s complicated sometimes, right?!) we still stayed way too long in this culture and mindset and took in way too much harmful marriage advice and are struggling to heal and deconstruct sixteen years later.

    Reply
    • CMT

      “The elders said I couldn’t share it myself. I’d have to write it down and my husband could read it for me.” Come again?

      Did they think Mary Magdalene got her husband to read a written “testimony” to the disciples after she met Jesus on Easter Sunday? Sheesh.

      Reply
      • Anon

        Miriam didn’t get either Moses or Aaron to lead the Israelites in worship for her. Deborah didn’t get her husband to rule Israel for her. And Esther sure didn’t have Mordecai go to the king on her behalf – on the contrary; Mordecai was the one who told Esther to defy protocol and speak up!

        Reply
    • Anon

      Another Anon here but with a similar experience. When I was baptised, it was mandatory to give your testimony verbally from the platform. (Women who felt it was not right for them to speak in public were told they either had to do it or not get baptised. But if a woman’s FATHER or HUSBAND objected, then her testimony would be read out by a man instead) BUT – you had to write your testimony out in advance and stick to it word for word so that it could be checked to make sure you weren’t ‘preaching’.

      I nearly tore my hair out writing it, because of the endless debate over whether I could say how God had spoken to ME through the Bible (which would be personal testimony and ok) without it sounding like I was telling other people what God was saying (which would be preaching and not ok)!!!

      Reply
      • Angela

        Pretzel logic! Typical gymnastics required to navigate these fuzzy lines.

        Reply
  10. CMT

    I’m so glad you’re talking about this. I may have shared this here before, but part of the reason I have sought out communities like this in the last few years was to learn how to speak up in church. I had several unrelated experiences that made me realize I didn’t know how. The hardest stuff for me to recognize and challenge sometimes comes from other women.

    Once, while I was visibly pregnant with my now two year old daughter, I was at a marriage seminar at my church. The pastor in the video series was using a “cute” euphemism for sex (“belly button to belly button time”). I got annoyed and said something like “it doesn’t always work like that for women, can we talk about that?” A pastor’s wife shot back, “well, you’ve obviously figured it out!” and everyone, myself included, laughed… and that was it. I didn’t realize until later what a firm “No, we can’t,” that was.

    Another time a few months later (not at the same church), I was chatting with a mom at kids event. She glanced over at her husband, who was tossing their daughter in the air and flipping her over (incidentally causing her shirt to fall down), and remarked, “Ugh, we really need to start teaching her to cover up.” The kid was three. Playing with her daddy. I said something inane like “oh she’s fine” but I was so gobsmacked I couldn’t find the words to really push back!

    I appreciate hearing that even people who sound so confident and determined have gone through a learning process when it comes to speaking out!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, yes! I went through a big learning process! I’m glad you find this an encouraging space! (and I wonder if that woman realized that it didn’t always have to be belly button to belly button?)

      Reply
      • CMT

        I really do, you and many of the commenters here put words to my own experiences in a way that is so refreshing. When what you’ve been taught is making you sick inside but you don’t even know why, and you think it’s just you, that’s soul poison. Knowing you’re not alone and that Jesus is not trying to keep you down you just because you’re a woman, is so healing.

        And regarding that pastor’s wife-the sad part is, I found out six or eight months after this incident (after we had left the church for mostly unrelated reasons) that her husband had cheated on her and lost his job as a result. I don’t know details but it made me feel a lot less resentful toward her once I realized she was probably in an unhealthy situation in her own marriage at the time. That was just one of many hints of deep dysfunction in that church.

        Reply
    • Angela

      I was raise an egalitarian and it still has taken me 10-20 years to deprogram from my marriage to fundamentalism.

      Reply
  11. Em

    Several years ago you wrote at least one post, maybe more, on the dangers of fundamentalism on young women. Do you know how very many podcasts and blogs there are now from women (and some men) who grew up in that culture? Thanks for sounding the alarm bell so that when I actually encountered it years later I had a frame of reference for it. The Leaving Eden podcast and The Modesty Files podcast are just two of many that I’ve come across.

    Reply
  12. A2bbethany

    So kinda ties in with the happenings over here! I had some interesting dreams last night involving talking about Sheila and irritating my parents by bringing it up again.(very sleep deprived currently!)

    And then today my mom asked me something….worded in a way she’d never really used before. About a 2nd job my husband just got, she asked who’s idea it was, or was it a a mutual decision. Making me think that the conversation I had with younger brother got mentioned. In which I was arguing that submission wasn’t necessarily a biblical, set in stone idea.
    Also this morning before I went over, my dad reached out for lunch with my husband. (Not too unusual, but he rarely remembers to do it. Hubby is an introvert and my dad is an extreme extrovert!)
    But I’m not really sure how much, is my dream affecting my reality? or if my parents are mildly concerned that we don’t do the submission thing.
    (I can’t remember if they knew we’ve never done it or not. As that was the 1st teaching Sheila showed me, was a bad trap!)
    (If this isn’t coherent…I haven’t slept well all week.)

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I hear you, Bethany! I hope your parents do change soon for your brother’s sake! But it sounds like it’s a good sign, even if they meant it for the wrong reasons.

      Reply
  13. Mara R

    Why are (some) the male leaders in church so afraid of women’s voices (and build an environment hostile to women’s voices)?

    Because, to borrow a phrase from EE, they have a GOLDMINE! They are the bosses and women aren’t. They are right and women are wrong. They get to disrespect and abuse and women have to be respectful, endure abuse for a season (or their entire lives), and SHUT UP about it all.

    Of course the don’t want women drawing attention to the abuses of their systems. Not when their systems serve their flesh, their egos, and their pocketbooks so well.

    Reply
    • EOF

      Exactly.

      Reply
  14. Nathan

    On Paul and women in authority
    I’ve heard that at the church Paul meant the letter for, many people had comer over from another church, that was more matriarchal than others. Many of the women there were teaching non-Christian theology, and that’s what Paul was thinking about when he wrote that phrase. Also, note that he said “I do not permit”, not “God does not permit”. I don’t know if this is true, however.

    Other comment on Sheila’s in the Philippines
    You’ve talked about this before, but with other things. Like mainly the leaders had you engage in unnecessary physical labor (that was deliberately created as make-work) instead of fellowshipping with each other, getting to know the local population, etc. Something about different sized rocks being deliberately piled in one place so that you would HAVE to manually sort them or some such thing. I guess that even worse things happened there.

    I would love to see the reaction of some of these “Leaders” if they were in a situation where somebody told them “Sorry, but we don’t allow men to speak in public here. However, you can write a statement and your wife can read it out loud to everybody”.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, that’s what happened, Nathan. It was just a bad summer all around. I was very traumatized for a few years afterwards (and I had to deal with the fact that I had never truly hated anyone the way I hated the team leaders, and to this day I’ve never hated anyone like that). But now, looking back, I can see how they were steeped in fundamentalism that trapped them too, and it makes me more sympathetic. But I had to pray about my attitude for years.

      It’s interesting because if I hadn’t have had that experience, I don’t think I could really understand the fundamentalism that Emerson Eggerichs writes into, for instance. It had just never been a part of my life up until then. So God has used it for good.

      Reply
      • Angela

        I find it so interesting that Canada and Australia aren’t so bad. Do you have any theories?

        And I wonder how many of those leaders would do things totally differently today. Were they pretty young? Were they following orders?

        Reply
  15. Sarah O

    I love all the stories people are sharing about ways Sheila inspired them to speak up. I got “uninvited” from a homeschool co-op open house just this week!

    They had some questions on their application that I felt were unfair and invasive to Christians who are divorced, widowed, or converted as adults. Especially since moms will be the ones filling out this application 99% of the time. And I had my girl Sheila in my ear. And so I raised my concerns (very respectfully with a focus on kids who might get left out).

    After their next board meeting, they let us know that suddenly our kids were not the right age ranges for the program (ages we provided well before the application). I’m delighted they saved us a trip.

    Just wait until the end when we’re all there together and we can actually SEE whether we made any difference! You’re in for quite a show!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Aw, thanks, Sarah! And I’m sure that was a group you didn’t really want to belong to anyway. 🙂

      Reply
  16. Nicky

    So sorry to hear about your awful experiences at the hands of believers, Sheila! Should certainly not be that way. When I came to the Lord in college, God lead me to a Wesleyan congregation, when I did not know the first thing about theology. Now more than 30 years later, a full-time missionary (they sent me when I was single!), teaching at a Bible college, studying a Master’s Degree to be a better teacher and counselor, I am grateful for our Wesleyan Arminian theological heritage and distinctives, as well as our theologically related families such as Nazarenes and Methodists, that recognize that God calls and gifts ALL of His children, men and women, to serve Him, bless people, and grow the Kingdom. Your ministry blesses us, Sheila, so thanks! And a reminder here from Latin America, I hope all your books, especially these new ones, will be translated into Spanish soon so I can require them as textbooks at our Bible college for our counseling class!

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes, Rebecca was married in a wonderful Wesleyan church in Ottawa! Very grateful for the Wesleyan tradition and rich history.

      Reply
  17. Jo

    My first toxic exchange with a guy happened in university when a male friend told me he couldn’t be the Christian Jesus needed him to be while associating with me. What!? Just my presence in the room derailed his faith? This was a person I attended church with regularly with a very similar faith background to my own.

    Much more recently I spoke up at a church meeting, voicing my concerns about an issue. Apparently being female and having a well thought out response to something I disagreed about made me “aggressive” and I was effectively shouted down at by the meetings two primary organizers (both male but neither of which was in church leadership at the time.) I had spent extensive time in prayer leading up to the meeting, I gathered my thoughts and presented them in a respectful manner. I had never felt so peaceful in such strong disagreement before. I left that meeting even more convicted, and bolstered by many (including men!) who came to me after to thank me for my clearly spoken words.

    The older I get the more I see people agreeing that women could/should be in leadership positions, but too many are afraid of (or not willing to) make the effort of change.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Yes! I think change is coming, but it may take many people leaving for churches to finally realize they’ve lost the body.

      Reply
    • Angela

      I know what you mean about peace. In my story I told here, I had strong peace, and a strong sense of “you had better be a good example of a gracious attitude” from the Lord.

      Reply
    • CMT

      “Couldn’t be the Christian Jesus needed him to be while he was associating with me?” Whut? Is that some bass ackwards purity culture way of saying you’re attracted to someone??

      Reply
    • Anon

      That reminds me of how Carol Burnett described Lucille Ball. Lucy had to become a little tougher and more outspoken after she and Desi Arnaz divorced and she became president of Desilu Studios (the first female studio executive!). Carol said that, at the time Lucy was assuming her leadership role, if a man was opinionated and wanted to lead, he “knew what he wanted…” but if a woman tried to do the same, she was considered a b****. Sure sounds similar to the evangelical mindset.

      Reply
  18. Angela

    I recently went to a conference run by a very small missions organization that I have loosely associated with for 30 years. I’ve been to their conferences before occasionally and seen women share. I’ve done their missionary training long ago with the founder. I have close friends in these circles. Besides some designated speakers, they believe strongly in having open meetings where anyone can get up and share. Most folks who come to these conferences are in churches that have open meetings regularly, so people understand the concept and how to behave. I have also fellowshipped in organic church circles for decades and we also have open meetings and sharing, and we believe women are full equals. I also grew up with a mom who was a leader and sought-after speaker in circles and denominations that were pretty egalitarian. My dad was a quiet engineer and very supportive of my mom’s ministry and proud of her. They had a good marriage.

    Well, I felt like the Lord gave me a message to share on practical helps about prayer. This was a big stretch for me, as I have never spoken to a large group before, unless you count my Valedictorian speech at high school graduation from a tiny Christian school. My normal MO is small groups and springboarding encouraging comments off of what others share. I have also taught small classes a few times. I’m absent-minded and knew I would be nervous, so I wrote out what I was going to say. Besides feeling like I was supposed to share, I figured it would be good to stretch myself, that at 55 it was about time to learn to share a message with a large group.

    Well, it turned out pretty bad. A lady stood up half-way thru and shouted that I was teaching New Age (because I suggested turning your heart to the Lord first thing in the morning before you get out of bed??!!). Some people walked out. I froze and didn’t know what to do because of not being a practiced speaker, and made strong eye contact with the “leaders” in the front row as if to say, “Do you want me to stop? Do you want to get up and handle this?” I guess they froze too, because they made no sign. Then a young gal in the back yelled “I want to hear what she has to say!” So I plowed on as more restlessness continued. As I was closing, the organizer said something like, “Well you’ve spoken long enough, you’ve gone over 15 minutes” (they had repeatedly emphasized that while people should aim to limit themselves to 15 minutes, you could run over a bit, and several folks did before and after me, and I might have gone to 20 with all the kerfluffle.) I said I was almost done and asked if I could wrap up, but he said no, so I sat down. Then I had to deal with the aftermath in my rather shell-shocked state for the rest of the weekend (I resisted the urge to just drive home, since I was there to see a long-distance friend.)
    The next person to get up to share was a young man who simply read 1 Tim 2:12 from the KJV pointedly, and then sat down, with no comment. The next one had a short comment on how feminism was taking over the country. Exhibits A and B for passive- aggressive “sharing.”

    The younger-than-me lady who shouted at me came to talk to me right after the meeting (I actually didn’t know until the next day that she was the one, because she wasn’t clear about that), and wanted to lecture me about how women are controlling and always want to boss their husbands around. She was very shocked when I told her flatly that Gen 3:16 didn’t say that. She was literally incapable of reading that verse as it is without inserting that teaching into the text. Good for her for coming to me directly, but curious that she said nothing about her accusation of New Age. In fact, no one ever mentioned the content of what I said, pro or con, except the young gal who yelled for me to continue– she sought me out the next day and said how helpful it was. All anyone wanted to do was correct me on the difference between women “testifying” vs “teaching.” (“Testifying” is not a scriptural category, just a religious one. Our concept of teaching via lecture isn’t particularly a scriptural concept either– I suspect that when scripture says “teaching” it usually refers to discipling via a shared life. The Bible uses the very broad term “prophesying” for what all believers should be doing, which can include public speaking as well as small group sharing.) Even the very few supporters simply argued that my message qualified as “testifying” since I was sharing my personal experience. I began privately calling everyone’s mental gymnastics about it “pretzel logic.”

    I will say that everyone tried to be gracious and kind — there was no vitriol from anyone who spoke to me directly, although I overheard some snide remarks by very young men. I consider this a huge win, actually, and a sign that these folks do have better character than the average fundamentalists.

    The women called an emergency women’s meeting so they could share freely since now too many were scared to share in the regular open meeting. Some young gals were overheard saying “wait a minute, do we teach that women can’t speak?”
    None of the leaders came to me to talk to me, so I sought one out on the last day and said that I didn’t want to argue about “women’s place” since we would never agree, but just to discuss how we could have handled everything better once the lady interrupted me, and shared my thoughts on how I could have handled things better, as well as asking why no leaders did anything. I also shared how the women were now fearful. He was gracious in attitude but did keep turning back to why women can’t teach, and I learned that he even believes in women needing to wear head-coverings! I was encouraged by most people keeping a gracious loving attitude, but incredibly disheartened otherwise, especially for the women and young people in these circles. I knew many of these people were very conservative, but never heard any special rules about women coming from the organization, but now I know that at the next conference, a random brother got up and gave a whole message about why women can’t teach. Oy vey!

    I never would have done it if I had known what would happen, but if it only helped one person…and better for the young gals to know what they are getting into before they marry some guy who believes that way about women.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Wow, what an ordeal! Good for you for talking to the organizer afterwards too. And I totally agree with your conclusion–better that these young women know where they stand now.

      Reply
      • Angela

        I hate confrontation, so I’m pretty proud of how I handled things overall. All the Lord’s work in me over the years, when in the past I would have just hid or ran. Many lessons learmed.

        Reply
  19. Jane Eyre

    Growing up in a secular household in a progressive area, I have deep-rooted expectations that my voice matters every bit as much as a man’s. Moving to an evangelical area… It was like going back in time 80 years.

    It also really made me understand how much culture matters. If your culture is that women are able to contribute on equal footing (and not just in a ladies axillary way), no misinterpreted Bible verse about submission matters. But if your culture is that women are for cleaning, fussing, babies, and living behind the scenes, no amount of “throw out a Bible verse about women’s empowerment” matters.

    “Looking back now, I don’t know why I took it so long.”

    Because you’re patient and people think there’s something wrong with you if you bail out after only a few months of it. You aren’t giving it time, you’re too judgemental, etc. Again, I have no patience with this because my entire life was different – and people think there is something wrong with me for just walking out the door and finding a better fit.

    Reply
  20. Nessie

    I’m so grateful you found your voice and have enabled others to find theirs. The pastor of your childhood did a wonderful thing, encouraging you as he did. What a beautiful memory to have as you fight so many hateful/toxic teachings. He helped you on your journey to help and love others- what a Christ-like legacy.

    Reply
  21. Christina

    Shiela,
    Thank you so much for sharing this part of your story.
    -I had bad Teen Missions experience. I mean their daily Bible study was split into boys and girls, the boys being called “God’s Gentlemen” and the girls being called “Grubby to Grace”. Just wow. But sadly this Canadian girl was only acquainted with fundamentalism and I didn’t know any different for a very long time.
    -Then I volunteered for 10 years at a church because they would not have a female pastor-so I did the kids pastor job probono.
    -Then I left a church 3 years ago. we stayed because we thought we had friends, and they had kids programs for our kiddos. But finally we drew the line when I was told it was wrong of me to have gotten a protection order against my abusive father who also attended there, and that I was clearly mistaken and mentally unwell. Also, harbouring unforgiveness and bitterness by speaking of this.
    -Then we left our last church when my husband who is 2 years into addiction recovery work, was told by leadership that he was wrong and didn’t have an addiction and just had what is common to man. I was told to have more sex with him and love him better. It’s a scary thing when the recovering addict sees more clearly than the church leaders. Lord help us all.
    -I started last fall and am 1/2 done my seminary degree.
    -I am 35.
    Sheila, thank you for sharing this part of your story with me. I feel swelled with hope for my future, as I read your story. I feel emboldened as I lean into what God has had for me all along, as I read your story. I have looked back and been shocked at how I’ve let people in the church treat me. Leaning into self compassion has been essential. I did the best I knew how; now I know better.

    All this to say,
    Me too sister.
    If I lose my voice I will only hear Yours speak louder Lord.
    Thank you.

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      Oh, Christina, how wonderful to see you growing your voice, despite what you’ve been told! I had forgotten that “grubby to grace” thing. Yes. It was just so, so weird. I think I was in cultural shellshock for most of the summer that I missed out on a lot of it!

      Reply
      • Stephanie

        English is a second language to me and have never seen the term “grubby” cited above before. After looking up the meaning now, I’m similarly shell-shocked to you back then…!! That’s not just misogynistic in the gendered context set up for that missions trip group. But it’s generally debasing and humiliating to use such a sentence towards a group of young people!

        Reply
  22. Jess

    I’m feel trapped between two beliefs when it comes to this issue. It seems, logically-speaking, completely ridiculous that a woman cannot speak in church. But what do we do with the passages in Paul’s letters, such as 1 Corinthians 11?

    Reply
    • Sheila Wray Gregoire

      I highly recommend Marg Mowczko’s blog! She goes over all these scripture passages and shows what the Greek means. I also highly recommend Cynthia Westfall’s book Paul and Gender, although it’s very academc.

      Reply
  23. Bethanie

    Okay, I am truly trying to understand this. My heart and soul agree 100% and I have many of the battle scars of growing up in dangerous teachings.
    Here is my struggle. Why is the Bible so clear about men teaching in church and Paul specifically says that women should stay quiet in church.
    I have studied enough of the Bible to know that those are not the main and plain things. But why are they there? And how can we defend our female voices in the church using scripture as our solid ground?

    Reply

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