More girls were killed in the last 50 years, precisely because they were girls, than men killed in all the wars in the 20th century. (Half the Sky)
In light of that fact, my own journey of girlhood was charmed to say the least. I grew up happily in rural America where I was encouraged in academics and sports just like any boy. To a casual observer, the playing field seemed fair, but even at a very young age I knew that just wasn’t true. Sadly, in retrospect I realize that much of my experience of gender inequality came from the church.
I vividly remember one night at church camp around the age of 10 when I cried myself to sleep because I thought that the Bible was written to men and that somehow God loved boys more than girls. You see, the verses I had memorized were in Bible versions that did not use inclusive language, and I felt deep exclusion. Surely these verses must apply to me – but why did they only refer to ‘man,’ ‘men,’ and ‘he?’ The next morning when I asked my camp counsellor about my worries, she brushed it off by saying, ‘Oh Faith, those verses are about all of us – mankind.’ She had no response to my next question of, ‘Why isn’t it called ‘Womankind?’
Later during my sophomore year of university my father (a pastor of an evangelical church) and I got into a heated argument about women in leadership. I was young and emotional and he was caught off guard to find out just how ‘liberal’ his daughter had become. I expected him to argue for male-only church leadership, but I was completely shocked when he told me that he didn’t think a woman should be president. I was crushed. My own father didn’t think that anyone from my gender should lead a nation.
There were many other moments that devalued my girlhood. A male student at university saying that he didn’t think women should be CEOs to the agreement of much of the class. And a prominent American evangelical leader stating that God intended Christianity to be ‘masculine.’
Thankfully God is a God of redemption and healing whose power conquers fallen gender norms. Since that argument with my dad, our family has gone through an amazing redemptive process. My sister and I learned to dial back our anger, and my father took it upon himself to undertake deep Biblical study on women in leadership, reading many authors with opinions different than his own. Although we are still not in full agreement theologically on the issue, last year I had the pleasure of listening to him preach to congregations in Kenya on why Christian men owe women an apology for limiting their role in the church. He still might not vote for me for president, but that would be due to my politics, not my gender.
Not many people know the true reason why, only three months before our wedding date, David and I changed the location from my hometown church in Nebraska to Minneapolis. One of our dear friends who is a Lutheran minister, and happens to be female, was supposed to co-officiate the ceremony with my father. When the all-male board of my home church found out about her involvement, they voted against allowing her to officiate as they felt she would compromise ‘what the Bible teaches about spiritual authority.’
That day David and I decided to move the wedding. Though I had dreamed of getting married in my picturesque hometown church, those dreams were not worth bowing to a patriarchal version of Christianity that denied my friend her calling to ministry.
Through all of this my parents stood with David and me. My dad wrote letters to the Board urging them to allow her participation, and after their decision, he supported us when we decided to move the wedding.*
When I become frustrated by the church’s treatment of women, I think of how much my own dad has changed and supported me on this topic. It is my prayer that as more Christians like my father become committed to gender justice, fewer girls will cry themselves to sleep at night for fear that the Bible is not written for them.
*For those of you who attended the ceremony and might be confused, in the end our friend wasn’t able to officiate at the wedding since she was adopting a second child. We are still very happy with our decision to move the wedding.