The Beauty and the Brains

When my mom was little, she took one of those IQ tests schools offered, and tested fairly high on the intelligence scale. I say this because I never took one of those tests, but my mom is often astounded at my intelligence.

Fibonacci Scarf
On our continuing theme of Women and the Church, intelligence is one of the sensitive areas people don't like to discuss. Well, to be more accurate, we do discuss it, but when it bites us in the rear, we don't know what to do.

I attended Christian (Protestant) schools for ten years. My first six were spent in Maryland while the last four were spent in New York. The first six were at a school that averaged around 400 students from Kindergarten through Grade 12; my second school averaged around 40 students, Kindergarten through Grade 12. To put this into perspective, it wasn't until my last year at the second school did the entire student body compare to my one grade level at the first school.

Culture shock would be putting it mildly.

Elementary, My Dear

Both schools emphasized academics, and to be smart was a good thing. I excelled in school, not straight A's, but solid A/B Honor Roll. Learning came easy for me, much to the annoyance of my high school compatriots. While in elementary school, I had competition to sustain and encourage me; at my second school I had ... well, nothing but self-motivation.

Elementary school had teachers; high school had videos. My elementary teachers could adjust the curriculum for the students, and gave my fellow Honor Roll students and me added challenges. My high school couldn't.

I looked forward to attending my elementary school; I dreaded going to high school. Why? Because in elementary school, my intellect was stimulated and challenged. In high school, I was ignored so long as I did well in school and didn't cause any trouble.

By the time ninth grade rolled around, I had learned which classes I could ignore, and which classes to pay attention to. I ignored English and History, and paid attention to Math and Science. The first two were easy for me since I knew the system and loved the subjects; Math, I detested and it took me awhile to understand the problems. Science was one of the ones I enjoyed, but still needed to focus upon the subject to do well.

During English and History, I wrote. I knew what would be on the test; I paid attention close enough to learn what I needed to know, and ignored what sounded nice, but didn't actually apply. I was bored, and wrote to keep myself from going mad.

In my world: intelligence was just as important as sports ability and personality.

College

I graduated from school and chose a Christian college to attend. My world had flirted with the more rigid Conservative Christianity, but not to the extent that some of my friends at college understood. For example, I could wear jeans to morning church services; I had friends who couldn't wear jeans on a family hike.

In school settings, intelligence is a valued asset - to be smart is to excel, but while the teachers encouraged the smart women, those same women didn't always get dates. I joked about it with friends of mine that we were too nice for the bad boys; too bad for the nice boys; and too smart for any of them.

For the first time in my life, being smart wasn't good enough; I had to be beautiful as well, and when it came down to it, beauty trumped brains. The women who had beauty and could play dumber than the man had the dates. The women who were confident in their intelligence didn't.

Now, granted, I had some highly intelligent friends who were married by the end of their four years of college. Those women met men who could accept their intelligence, and not feel intimidated. I had other friends who had no desire to marry, and remain blissfully single.

Other friends were like me: we had more important things to do than to settle down and start a family. We had mountains to climb, and worlds to explore. When marriage came, we would enjoy it, but it would never be our life's primary pursuit.

For me, knowledge was the pursuit, and the ultimate goal was to know God. To know the world He created, the people He formed, and the cultures they attained was to know another part of God. To learn about science and technology, history, and the universe were still more layers. To learn, to gain knowledge to satiate my knowledge-lust was to pursue God, and glorify Him in my gifts.

Real World

When I graduated from college, I fully expected to find a job where I could do what I love, and establish myself in a community where I could worship God through my gifts, both the physical gifts of writing and art, as well as the spiritual gift of teaching.

A quick side-note for those who did not grow up in a Christian background: spiritual gifts are gifts bestowed upon people at their salvation. These gifts are spiritual in nature in that they are meant to build up the church, and include teaching, preaching and prophesying. Some believe that the gifts remain throughout life, whereas others believe the gifts can come and go as the need arises. Where it gets tricky is when gifts like teaching are mentioned. When a spiritual gift test is taken, my mom tests high in the administrative roles; I test high in the teaching roles. The irony is that my mom's degrees are both in education (bachelor's in Elementary Ed; master's in Special Ed). The thought of entering a classroom full of teens or children freaks me out.

Because I tested high in the teaching category even in high school, most expected me to enter the education field. After all, I had a gift of teaching and since I was female, it meant I was destined to teach in a school. Simple. The problem is, I teach best in a lecture situation where I can provide all the necessary information then answer questions at the end. The give and the take of teaching children and teens or even small groups is difficult for me to manage. Also, because I tend to dwell on dark subjects (human trafficking, abuse, and ethics in the church) or abstract topics (elements of worship, entertaining aliens, and comparative theology), adults are my primary target audience.

My very gifts set me up for failure in the Baptist community because I am a woman. Taking verses from the New Testament, church leaders both in my local church and our larger fellowship, believed that women were commanded to remain subordinate to men based upon gender. Therefore, women could not teach men about theology in church beginning with high school.

Theology, the study of God, to Baptists permeates everything because they believe 1 Corinthians 10:31 that 'whatsoever you do, do all to the glory of God'. Studying the Bible is important, and everyone should study the Bible therefore Bible studies are the best subject in Sunday School curriculum. Because they study the Bible (theology) in Sunday School, and Saint Paul said to Timothy 'that women should not have authority over men', women cannot teach men about the Bible.

Who cares if the women are highly intelligent, understand the Bible, and can explain complex subjects to people? Because they are women, they are disqualified even if their spiritual gift is teaching.

Send them to teach the women and the children that's all they're good for anyway.

Might I add that my Baptist church in New York was unusual because it offered a ladies' Sunday School class? Most church I attended offered only one adult Sunday School class for everyone. In many Baptist churches, women are excluded from teaching based solely on their gender.

Can women gifted in teaching work within this system? Yes, because they do on a regular basis, but for many, the gifts are squandered. Remember, these gifts are given for the edification (building up) of the church.

Scary Times

I grew up in a family of strong women. In my experience women have always been the equals of men. Mutual submission was expected because the individuals in my family understood that sometimes a woman would know more than a man, and a child would know more than an adult. My opinions mattered because I mattered. Me, individually. There was no condescending attitude in my family; no, 'we need to listen to Bridgette because it will make her feel good.' My family asked for my opinions and accepted them. They did not always agree with them, and they did not always follow my suggestions, but they did listen.

Let me reiterate this: no one in my family discounted my opinions; and I did not discount others' opinions. Not my grandparents, not my parents, not my sister, aunts, uncles or cousins. In my family we were equal, and no one was better than anyone else. When I was eleven, and my parents considered moving to New York, both my sister and I were consulted.

This is my world: a world where individuals are respected because they are human, not based on gender, age, race or religion. This is what we strive for here in America, and around the world, yet, in many conservative Christian churches, women are ignored because of their gender. They are told that men are always more intelligent than women are. They are forced to learn from unqualified teachers who are teachers solely based upon gender and church membership.

These women who were applauded for being bright in school, are now shunned for the same intellect, unable to utilize it in the faith they love. When they question the traditions, verses are thrown into their faces with the word rebellion the harshest criticism.

Men in the church might listen to the concerns of these women, but as soon as any passion is expressed, the women are tuned out for being too emotional. Too emotional disqualifies women from leadership, but at the same time, a male pastor who expresses passion is applauded for having such heart and desire.

I look around, and my heart breaks for the women in conservative Christianity. We were never meant to have these rules and weights placed upon us. We were never expected to be beautiful show pieces while checking our intelligence at the door. We were not meant to bite our tongues in the face of bad theology or inaccurate facts because correcting a man would be sinful.

Men were not expected to worry over whether B.A. Brown, an author of a theology book was really BethAnne Brown or Benjamin Andrew Brown. For if it was BethAnne then anything therewith would be bad for the man to learn, but if it was Benjamin Andrew, it was all right to learn.

Have we descended so far that once again intelligent women must hide behind masculine sounding names to be heard? Must we once again resort to being George Eliot and not Mary Anne Evans because if we are the later then men will not listen?

Christianity, of all places, should be the first place where leadership is based upon ability and not based upon gender. If churches wish to limit their leadership based upon Biblical qualifications, then let them do so, but do so with equality. If a woman is to be disqualified based upon Titus, then so must be the following:
  1. Single men (Titus 1:5)
  2. Childless couples (Titus 1:5)
  3. Inhospitable (Titus 1:6)
  4. Unjust (Titus 1:6)
  5. Unruly (Titus 1:10)
  6. Vain talkers (Titus 1:10)
If the church is to take into account Paul, Timothy and Titus (all of whom were single men according to traditions), so too the church must take into account women like Deborah, Junia, and Huldah who all exercised leadership over men not because there were no qualified men, but because God placed them into the positions of authority.

God never expected intelligent women to put our beauty over our brains. We were never expected to play dumb to make men feel good about themselves. We were never meant to be pushed down because of our natural abilities. God gave us our beauty and our brains. He created us to exercise our intellect in order to discover more about Him. For many of us, playing dumb is impossible and revolting. Yet, among many conservative Christians, to be anything more than a submissive beautiful woman is akin to open rebellion against God. For some, this suppression is limited to the church; for others, it involves all steps of life.

It is time for us to reconsider these restrictions. It is time for conservative Christianity to examine its heart. It is time for intelligent men and women, scholars of the Bible, historians, and teachers to sit down and debate the role of women in the church. Are we to forever remain subordinate to man because of our gender? Are we forever to be pushed down and trodden because we dare to question male authority? Are we forever to be treated as less than based on an M or an F on a document?

Are we to forever value the appearance of a woman, and never her mind?

I pray not, but until the leadership in the conservative churches accept that there is something better, we never will. Until that day, women in these churches will be pushed down. They will either break or they will leave. Some will even lose their faith over the matter.

Until the leadership in these churches accept that all humanity is created equal both in secular society and religious society, the only thing that beautiful, brainy women can do is fight. Fight to have our voices heard; fight for the children coming up behind us. We have voices through the written words and the spoken words; let us use them. Let us debate and educate; let us find like-minded individuals who will explore these topics through every means possible.

Let us use our intelligence and our beauty and take a stand.

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