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Why the Struggle Matters

Over the past couple weeks, I've focused on what still needs to be done in the Church concerning women. The older I grow, and the more I talk with people, I realize that many of the struggles I faced growing up, and continued to face until recently, have been unusual. Many orthodox churches have accepted the position of women in churches. Unfortunately, these churches are not in the many-headed Baptist denomination, which is by far the most populist denomination in America currently.
Church Ruins, County Galway, Ireland, 2007

Conservative Baptists

According to the Christian Post (article here), the Southern Baptist Convention is the largest denomination in the US currently. I found another post claims the Catholic church is actually larger than the Southern Baptist, but the list on the Christian Post limits it to the Protestant churches.

Understand that not all Baptists are Southern Baptists, and many Baptists are not a part of an organization such as the Southern Baptist Convention. Another such group would be the General Association of Regular Baptist Churches (GARBC) which my church was a part of, but not really. My church belonged to the Empire State Fellowship (ESFBC) which was aligned to GARBC, but my church did not pay dues to GARBC. Technicality, but one they stood by.

Since much of what I've discussed the past couple weeks has dealt with the Baptist church, it's important you understand the strength behind the denomination. Similar standards can be found in other conservative churches as well, but the Baptists are often the most vocal.

We've come a long way in my lifetime, and one that I did not fully understand until I grew up. For me, women have always worked outside the home and raised a family. Mom did, both her mother and mother-in-law did, as did various aunts and cousins. In my family, being treated as an equal to any male was normal; working outside the home, entering the military, starting a business was considered activities compatible with woman. I can personally recall only a handful of times (outside church) when my gender was a detriment. I can remember more times when I did not fit a stereotype, and balked at it.

I can remember, as a teenager, trying to fit into the stereotypical female identity of baking, boys and brunches, but I failed. I was not me, and to be me was more important than to be anything else. To be who I was created to be was more important than trying to be someone I was never meant to be.

At fourteen, I had bigger, more important things to do than to bake, talk about boys, and obsess over my clothes: I had books to write, places to visit, dreams to develop. My life was never meant to be a summer reading romance book, but a full-out fantasy adventure. My true love was not the end of the story - the ultimate goal; he was a companion on the greater journey, a character just like me, not the destination itself.

For me, too many of the books offered in the Christian market set man up as the end-all be-all. Course, they make it look like marriage is that, but it isn't - it's the man. Fantasy, mystery, science fiction all have larger journeys in store: defeat the evil wizard, find the killer before he strikes again, and combat the evil robots.

International Women's Day

This past Saturday was International Women's Day, and March, in addition to being all things Irish, celebrates women as well (here). Personally, I think the churches should celebrate International Women's Day over Mother's Day, but that's just me. We could simply celebrate both - what a concept!

For most of my life, feminism was a bad word (so was green, by the way, but I've gotten over that one). To put this into perspective: when I was around twelve or so, I made a comment about how men and women should have the same pay, and should be considered equal. My mom replied that I was a regular feminist.

I answered, "No; I just think it's the right thing to do." See how ingrained I was against feminism?

For most of my adulthood, I've never considered myself a feminist, but over the past seven years or so, I've realized that I was a feminist all along. Men and women should be treated as equals; men should not be paid more simply because they are male, or because they have a wife and kids. Our positions in leadership should be based upon our skills not our gender, and an unqualified man should never have a position that a qualified woman could fill.

Members of my conservative church would have been appalled had an unqualified white man taken a position instead of a qualified black man. Yet, in the same breath, they think nothing if a unqualified man takes a position instead of a qualified woman, especially if that position is within a church context. In the same breath, they will glibly explain that "God qualifies the unqualified." What's worse is if a woman is allowed the position, with the understanding that a male in the room will be available should she slip in her explanations.

Heaven forbid a woman cannot explain herself well.

It's amazing to me how much, and how little, has changed in my lifetime. I was born in the early 1980s. In my mother's adulthood, she turned down a job because she would be paid less than a man; in my adulthood, I haven't come across that situation yet.

In my adulthood, my sister can join the military without people giving her funny looks; she can train as a mechanic and still not have funny looks. I enter into business and be applauded for my contributions, not turned down for my gender. Is it easy for either of us? No. Do some places still have a bias against women? Yes, but it's shrinking.

Freedom Sunday

Sunday morning, I barely refrained from doing a happy dance in the pew. For the first time in recent years, I attended a church that not only has female pastors, but also understands the larger world pictures.

After we sang a couple songs, the congregation sat down and we watched a video about Freedom Sunday - a day dedicated to ending modern day slavery. The remembrance began in 2010, but continues to grow annually.

Last year, I informed my pastor about the day a couple weeks in advance (I wanted to make certain I could put the church's information on the Freedom Sunday website). Whether I informed him too late, or whether he simply did not care, he informed me I could put information into the church bulletin, but the church would not do anything special on that particular day.

This past Sunday, not only did my church show a video, set aside time to pray for the slaves, their owners and the abolitionists, but our pastor also incorporated it into his message. I was floored. The first point of his applications about finding our identity was to find those who did not have their identity right. "Slaves have a wrong identity of themselves; their identity isn't based upon how many stones they break or how they preform sexually, but is based on how God sees them."

Why it Matters

Celebrations like International Day of Women remind us to remember that not all women fit inside a traditional/stereotypical path. Being a scientists, adventurer, soldier or whatever does not detract from our identities as women. A woman can choose to remain at home, or she can choose to go into the workforce - it doesn't matter. Whatsoever she finds to do with the skills given to her, she should pursue. Where I find a problem is when one woman who believes she should be a stay-at-home-mom decides that all  women should be stay-at-home-moms. It's simply not possible.

Remembrances such as Freedom Sunday are important because we are not all free. Some of us are in the obvious bondage of modern day slavery; some of us are caught up in the invisible bonds of tradition.

You see, the two are connected to one another, though many don't realize it. Women are more likely to be cheated or overpay for services; we're more likely to receive a lower paying job than male counterpoints - even now. The ones who are most at risk for being pulled into slavery are women and children. Most girls who go into prostitution are between the ages of 12 and 14; many of these girls have been abused in childhood.

In cases of abuse, it is most often a husband/father abusing wife and children than it is for a wife or child to abuse a husband or father. Do the later happen? Yes. Should we combat that as well? Yes.

Rape victims are most often female, and many people still believe that rape victims 'asked for it.'

When a group tells their little girls they can be anything, except this that or the other thing, they establish a precedent. When a group tells women that they are unqualified for leadership based not on skills, but how God created them, they establish another precedent. When they ignore abuse within their own congregations, they establish a precedent.

Do all these precedents lead to abuse or slavery or prostitution? No, but they do establish precedents, and precedents become traditions, and traditions become doctrine, and doctrines become creeds, and people die for creeds.

We can support groups like Not for Sale and International Justice Mission, but if we ignore the elements within our own churches that lead to human trafficking and modern day slavery are we any better than those who ignore slavery and abuse?

If we allow girls to grow up in groups where they are considered less than because they had the misfortune of being born female - are we not perpetuating those same abuses?

While you might believe it does not matter whether or not a woman becomes a pastor in a conservative Baptist church, I would disagree with you. It does matter, and will always matter. Until the church itself accepts all humans are created equal, no one will to listen to them when they talk about ending slavery, rescuing the lost or saving souls from eternal damnation.

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