I read this article from Bitch Magazine and am both annoyed and fascinated by the content. Essentially it is a look at the west coast evangelical super church Mars Hill, women’s roles within the church and where “feminism” and the church’s dogma clash. On the surface, Mars Hill’s mission reads like most other grassroots, church-planting, evangelical houses of worship, and Alison Sargent’s article confirms that it is… but on steroids.
In my experience most of these sorts of churches do have a primarily male hierarchical leadership team. And it is solely based on the idea to draw men to the faith the idea being that men won’t necessarily respond to “female leadership”; which, to be honest, a certain sort of man won’t. Is it fair? Is it backward? Is it totally 1950s? Yes. But is it true? Yes. Women can lead other areas: like music/worship, but if a willing and qualified man comes along, then she can get bumped and he can replace her. I will take this, for the men that need this sort of security, but what about the women who need it too?
I have never been much of one to be dictated to, therefore to be told that I can’t do something, for such an arbitrary reason as being female, rankles me something fierce. As does being told that I have a “place” in society solely because I am female or that I must submit to another person because he isn’t. The concept of the believer submitting to Jesus is one thing, but then turning around and telling half the congregation that she, on top of that, has to submit to another fallible human being is bullshit.
Sargent’s piece includes the testimony of women both a part of the Mars Hill community and women who have left. The reasons these women left the church, voluntarily and involuntarily, are mainly to do with their relationships with their husbands; something that really isn’t anyone else’s business. I can understand individuals getting their noses bent out of shape (depending on their involvement) but the entire institution getting involved is a bit much. The church drafting a reconciliation form that takes away a person’s volition is somewhat anti-Christian. Banning a woman from seeking outside counsel and telling her that her being the breadwinner in the family is what is causing her marriage to fall apart is ludicrous.
Christianity is built on some pretty simple concepts; mainly: love your neighbor as yourself and he without sin cast the first stone. Oh, yeah, and that “I am the way and the truth and the life; No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) thing. But other than that it’s not that different from the basics of Judaism: Don’t be a dick and don’t make other’s lives harder. Somewhere *coughRomecough* this got perverted. Somewhere along the line it became OK to be a super-judgy-bigot-Christian, but divorcing your husband/wife (even when the two of you are in complete agreement on the matter) is a travesty. It’s OK to think that homosexuals are the reason the economy is in the shitter, but it’s not ok for a woman to give a sermon. It’s OK for someone to ostracize a friend because she “didn’t put her family first” and don’t you dare do the same thing. None of these are very forgiving. What happened to Love the Sinner; Hate the Sin? What happened to Loving our Neighbors? What happened to Treat Others as You Want to be Treated? The person being ostracized because she “couldn’t stop” her marriage from falling apart probably really could have used a friend during that time. The homosexual friends of the woman who converted to the Mars Hill church were probably very hurt and angry that she cut them out of their lives. This dumping of people is rude and unforgiving and Christianity is all about forgiveness and tolerance, believe it or not. It’s also about equality.
There is a story in the Gospels about Jesus and the disciples (men) staying with a friend who lived with his two sisters. After dinner the menfolk gathered around Jesus to listen to his sermon. So did the sister Mary. The other sister set about cleaning up, as was her duty. Reasonably so, she was pissed that Mary wasn’t helping her out, so she called her on it. And Jesus spoke up in Mary’s defense. He doesn’t tell Martha she’s in the wrong for doing what she’s supposed to do, but he does stress that Mary was right to want to listen to him and learn. He wasn’t about to let her ascribed role, or anyone else, stop her from learning. Just because Mary was a woman didn’t mean she had to miss out. Jesus also tells the story of The Good Samaritan. The Israelites and the Samaritans were not pals, but, in the story, it is not the righteous, pious, or countryman that helps the bleeding, broken man, but the “enemy”. This story is meant to illustrate that Duty, Decency, and Love know no cultural bounds. It is meant to promote caring about and helping people who are widely different from you; doing the right thing even when it isn’t popular.
That not a single person has contacted the woman who was removed from the church is highly unChristian and I am highly annoyed by it. That it was publicly announced that no one should contact her is asinine. That she was given grief for having a job when her husband didn’t is completely insane. Her family needed a place to live and food to eat and she did something about it. If it meant that her husband was the primary caregiver then so be it.
As a teenager I started attending, with my parents, a church very similar to this Mars Hill joint, minus the tattoos, smoking, and beer drinking (I’ll get to that eventually). I liked it mostly. I made friends and I took in the good and rejected the bad. The youth pastor is one of those Macho Dudes Mark Driscoll would approve of and the Pastor occasionally talks about the roles of men and women in a marriage. The reinforcement of gender stereotyping always gets to me and being told that I can’t do things because I’m female (or that I have to do things because I’m female) makes me uncomfortable. And, as a societal hub, I see no place for myself in such a church. The draw to that particular church is the spiritual boost you get from the Pastor (who is a lovely man). But apart from that there is little to draw me to this congregation.
When I was a teen, there were two women who helped out with the teen group who are my personal heroes. One woman because she is very down to earth; she was married and had a child, but she was a very warm person who gave damn good advice and accepted every girl in the group with zero judgment. The other woman did the same, but she was also empowering. She was a single mom and she always encouraged us to “do the right thing”, but also to stand up for ourselves and to be our own person. Neither woman ever made me feel like I had to have a man in order to be a person, the way many other people in that organization, and organizations like it and Mars Hill, tell me.
That woman’s approach to teenage girls was very important to me, as a girl who didn’t want to be told she was nothing without a man. I was lucky she was there when I was in high school because she was the only person who was going to do that for us. The rest of the organization was telling us to “wait for the man God is preparing for you” and to “prepare ourselves for him”; practice good cleaning habits while single; learn to cook. Us girls were never told that we could become leaders; women weren’t praised for having keen business minds. We were told to make wise decisions about our personal lives so we could be good mothers and women were praised for being good cooks and good wives. A church is meant to be a societal hub as well as a spiritual one and based on Sargent’s article and personal experience they’re not doing that great a job reaching all of their flocks.
Feminism is primarily about giving women options. Religious organizations that limit a woman’s options clashes with that principle. The Mars Hill Church limiting how involved a woman can be isn’t the place for a highly feminist woman. And it’s wrong of Mars Hill to tell their female members they must behave a certain way and do what the male leadership says they must or else they will be kicked out. It’s wrong on a feminist level as well as a Christian level. There are women who see nothing wrong with the Mars Hill way of life, and hopefully belonging to such a group is their choice. And all good feminists should respect that.
Disagree, sure, but be a pal to your friends who choose a lifestyle different from yours. If feminism is all about giving women options then those who choose to marry and birth babies and not work shouldn’t be ostracized or belittled or looked down upon. Just as a woman who seeks out a leadership position, a career, or becomes a nomad gypsy, shouldn’t be either. Personally I think Mars Hill’s approach is stupid. I think it’s good to encourage women who want that role to not feel guilty about choosing it, but I think it’s wrong to tell them is it is their only “right” choice.
There are many different societal approaches to Christianity and I love that. There is a place within Christianity at its most basic level for everyone. Since people complicate things, I’m glad there are different approaches and houses of worship within the Church. I think it’s stupid when they don’t get along, but I am glad the variety exists. This means that there is a place out there for someone like me: a third wave feminist type who wants to accept all.