Monday, June 28, 2010

Strong Women = Intimidation

I was speaking with a female friend of mine the other day (and I hope she doesn't mind that I share this story and our conversation - I didn't ask), anyway, she was telling me that in her Christian circle she has had several males come up to her and tell her that because she is so outspoken and wants to lead that she was not wife material and not only that she was intimidating. My first reaction of course was anger and disgust for the insecure Christian males that I have encountered today (of course Andrew you are not one of them).

She went on to tell me that she, although felt called, has left her position where she was working in a ministry type setting for another career path because she was tired of being patronized or challenged about her strengths because they did not meet the expectations of her Christian male counterparts. It broke my heart as she told me that it hurts so much more to be put down for being a women from your Christian male peers. And it hurt even more for them to judge her and tell her she was not worthy for them to consider as spousal material.

My first reaction to her was how barbaric that these Christian men thought so highly of themselves that they could in essence tell my friend she was not chosen by them. As if they had any ability to pass some type of pick and choose method with her. I said next time tell them its okay because you don't even make my expectation list so you were never marriage material for me either. As we laughed a bit about my statement and I encouraged her to continue to be strong and celebrate in her outspokenness and leadership abilities. I began to think about that ministry position she felt forced to leave because she was told that her place was only to contribute in the areas of XYZ even though her talents and her skills warranted her to contribute in areas of ABC.

Why is the glass ceiling for women leaders so much lower and thicker in the Christian circles? How can we teach and partner with our male colleagues in this arena so they do not continue to lose these very successful, beautiful, intelligent, and powerful women who will continue, in any place they are at, to change this world for the Kingdom? How do we empower the next generation of women and change the message to this next generation of males in the Church and the world?

I stand with all the women who feel beaten down by too many expectations, labels, and roles. I have been there and know the struggle, the pain, the frustration, and the sense of betrayal and defeat. I stand with the women who fight everyday and push against the glass ceiling in their ministry positions. I stand with the women who have either been forced out or like my friend couldn't take it anymore and needed to leave, I stand with them to encourage them to come back and fight to find significance in their gifts that they have been blessed with to be courageous and bold. As women I want to encourage each of us to write a better legacy to this next generation then the ones we have been handed. Lets us be thankful to the women who fought before us, but let us not get tired or discouraged, but let us be one voice that will crack and break the Christian ministry glass ceiling.

God uses us all and we can look to the bible to see that it was women who stood when so many others fell away. It was Mary who boldly went to the tomb and discovered that Jesus had risen!!!


Leneita Fix said...

Oh- Ok- This is going to be another one of those ridiculously long comments. But you have said you like them :0) Seriously, if your friend wants to chat- PLEASE give her my email address. It sounds like my life.

However, the Lord gave me an amazing husband who is running the race for the Lord with me. I am not sure if your friend is married or not.. But, tell her that there is a man made for her. However, the problem is that as a friend of mine pointed out in some ways because of our personality differences (John and I) it can seem like a traditional role reversal. Meaning that I can be the one who is the "workaholic, in your face, visionary" and he is the one who is more of the "homebody who loves dinner on the table at 6 as we all eat together. Yep, he cooks and cleans!" However, for us that is not a bad thing. We work together. We are helping each other in a partnership to be two have of "one flesh"

But, here's the problem. We (John and I) were just talking the other night about how the Church world has such and issue with this. I have been accused of emasculating my husband and not being a proper mother to my children. The reality is that this ceiling does sit very low. Not only in the being a missionary setting, but in how you are supposed to look and act as a wife and Mom. Did you know when that happens you should no longer be called as a leader? I believe it is because the church tries so hard to look opposite from the world that they can confuse tradition with what the Bible says.

Leneita said...

Have we ever really looked at the Proverbs 31 woman? She was amazing! She was in your face. Buying land, planting vineyards, taking care of the poor, her family, her servants, making cloth, covering her family. Her husband is respected (partially because of her) She speaks with wisdom and teaches and is full of strength and dignity. What part of that is not a strong woman? She was not wishy washy in any way.

So why are we always talking about her but don't know what to do when we stand up and actually ARE her. Ironically, out of 21 verses, her role as a wife is really only mentioned in three verses and her role as a Mom is mentioned only once. Yet that is what we always seem to only focus on in those verses. This is only part of who she is, her role in these positions do not define her. I hope you do not misunderstand. I LOVE being a wife and a Mom. It is a huge part of who I am. We are a family that ministers together. But what I am trying to say is that our Proverbs 31 woman was not only these things. Instead these parts of her are all a part of a bigger whole. Her husband has FULL confidence in her and she completes him. So my call would be that if your husband loves who you are then that is what matters. Those men were not worthy of your friend.

I have been accused of so many things through the years from being too much in my ministry to being kicked out of a Bible study for not being demure enough, to the men I have worked with and for telling me exactly what I should do and be.. Finally a great mentor said to me "You do know if you were a man then there would be no issue." That makes me sad. Why can't we celebrate each other? But it is true. My personality would actually be celebrated if I were a man. Why does it equal intimidation to be a strong in your face in love with Jesus woman? Why can't we stand in the full calling of who God has made us to be? Why does it feel like the world accepts us more than the Christians some days. Why do we feel like we have to leave ministry because we are tired of being told what we are not?

If I could just...

be a stay at home mom
be quieter
be less of an over achiever
be more "traditional"
be less blunt
be better at small talk
be considered sweet
talk less

Well, don't you think that if God wanted me to do those things I would. Don't get me wrong. I am not talking about being proud or obnoxious. I need to make sure my heart is right before God. I can't just sin and call it ok. I have friends called into the more typical life and they are thrilled where God has put them. That is good. We can celebrate that.

But I am different..

I am not a stay at home Mom... I am in full time Ministry WITH my family

I am not quiet

I am strong

I tell you like it is (tempered in love)

I want to go deep

I am always "on"

Guess what... My kids are happy and loved and actually like their life. My husband loves me just like God made me. I actually even have friends... And I do what God told me to do.

Leneita said...

t is not easy. It is always a fight. It has always been a fight to just be me. The more God asks me to lead the lower the ceiling can feel. I just keep remembering that Jeremiah 29:11 isn't just for graduates. It is for us today. That is what we have to hold on to. We are the pioneers blazing the way. It is never smooth to be someone taking the road never traveled.

It has taken me a long time to embrace just being me. I hope this comment did not sound angry. When you tell this story you could have been talking to me. This is a passionate subject for me. With two daughters in my house they need to be what they want to be. One wants to be a missionary scientist and own horses, the other wants to be in your face and wants to simply take over the world in any way possible (with Jesus). And my hubby and I have a responsibility to raise our son knowing he can embrace that God has a plan for each of us. It might not look like we are used to and that is ok. I have a friend who is a not back down woman and also happens to be 6'4" True. Let me tell you , no one tells her what she should and should not be. We were actually talking last week about how she loves that everywhere she goes she commands attention. For me 5'3" , blue eyed, blond hair, not too heavy or too thin, I look like I am supposed to be a little more like expected. I know God has the ability to use us just the way that he made us to be. He built us with a blue print to live passionate lives. Some of us just express it more openly than others... and we happen to be women... God wanted to use us fully and completely.... Sadly, I used to ask God to change me and just make me like everyone else. I get tired so tired like everyone else. But, God keeps me this way. I am pretty certain is was not be accident.

Sorry that was ridiculous... I should have just emailed you :0)

Anonymous said...

Each church has its own antiquated attitudes about women in leadership positions. Most of this stems from the fact that no church in America is subject to civil rights legislation, that was instrumental in changing the work environment for so many women in America. We had to bring about multi-million dollar law suits before women would get top corporate positions, we have to pass laws in congress, we had to march in the streets, and we had to go on strike. Not long ago, it was perfectly fine for men to pinch women's butts, call them "honey" and outrageously underpay them. I still hear men on the radio say that women should not be "the head" of the family, and that the male should dominate a household. Shocking as this sounds, this "submission" theology is still huge in so many churches in America. No lesbian couple would ever tolerate such an ideology in our household, but then, we don't live with men, and don't have to deal with the issues straight women have to deal with.

It is illegal in my office for men to make sexist comments of any kind, or to make derrogatory comments about race or sexual orientation for that matter.

Evangelical christian churches are still pretty horrific to women, and right wing christian radio often just insults the intelligence of women. I'm often shocked that straight women put up with these places. Heck, I'm still shocked when women take the man's last name in marriage-- why not have the men change their names as an act of repentance for the sin of sexism?

There are many churches that have better attitudes towards women in ministry or leadership. The episcopal church just ordained its first lesbian bishop, Metropolitian Community Churches has taken the lead in having about 50% of its clergy be women, most are lesbians. The head of MCC is a lesbian.

Up until perhaps the early 70s, women were banned from studying theology, and biblical scholarship continues to be male centric and androcentric. You'd be shock at the antiquated ideas about women that are taught at seminaries.

The church is the one institution in America where it is legal to discriminate, and if you have institutions exempt from these laws, you have lower glass ceilings. It is up to women I think to walk out of churches that treat women in this way, and to fight hard to change this toxic environment.

I'd say evangelical straight women have a very tough boat to row, because they have to deal with really offensive men. I would not tolerate a place where men ever said things like strong women aren't marriage material. A man who thinks women are inferior or should not go for leadership in my mind is not marriage material himself. Reverse the reversals.

Good luck with the continued fight for women's freedom within the church. But I couldn't sit in those churches and listen to those men if you paid me! Just can't stomach any form of sexism or homophobia and I don't tolerate it for one minute.

Maybe evangelical women still need their own revolution, and I assume they are doing the best they can within bad circumstances.
-Turtle Woman

April said...

I just finished reading "Lost Women of the Bible" (Carolyn Custis James) which was a BEAUTIFUL book on the way GOD looks at women. I loved it and felt more empowered as a women, wife, and as a pastor!

Nathalie A. said...

Leneita Fix, THANK YOU for your post. I AM GLAD YOU DID NOT email her. I needed to read your post and i'm sure other women and people needed to as well! I can completely relate. I'm from the younger generation. age 22. graduate from a women's college- Smith. feeling the call to lead from God and also feel the message from the church that women should not lead like men or be as powerful or as strong. that i may come off intimidating or challenging what's tradition or the accepted "norm" or what's right.

thanks for sharing your story. its easy to think you are alone in this experience.

ps. leneita, i think i met you at the young women's conference in miami. is that you?

Nathalie A. said...


Thank you so much for sharing this story and I hope your friend does not mind. i think the role of women and leadership can be seen in the debate over women pastors- does the bible support or not? should church ordain or not? I've had some interesting conversations on this topic with friends especially female friends. I'm Christian- Seventh-Day Adventist. i think the faith would be considered a conservative faith.
in the church there is some debate over women pastors. it surprised me that one of my female college friends believed that the Bible does not support the ordination of women pastors. that women should not be pastors.

THOUGH i can totally relate in feeling disgusted that men would tell your friend that she is intimidating and not wife material, i also think it is important to step back and seriously examine those men's reactions and concerns . as you mentioned Brenda, how is the church developing men to view women when so often women are primarily regarded as beautiful objects of admiration and not much of substance.

i think understanding these mens concerns is important to address the bridge building if you will regarding strong women and weak men and both sexes.

many people use the bible to justify beliefs that women should act a certain, etc. (demure, quiet, not too powerful, etc). i think it is important that we ground our understanding of women, their roles, positions, values and will of God in God's word and let the truth speak for itself no matter how we may agree or disagree, painful, affirming or not as leneita suggested in provers 31 woman.

in the same way andrew is creating culture change between lgbtqia community, we can try to create culture change in the ideas about women in the church. i have a sneaking suspision that much of what we believe to be true for women's roles is in tradition and necessarily built on word of God/ God's views.

what bible verses support the idea of a strong woman when so many people would tell your friend that the men are right and she needs to change to be a proper woman and get a man.
where is the place for a strong woman and strong men to work TOGETHER.

much love.

i look forward to continuing the conversation

Brenda S. Marin said...

Nathalie - thank you for your comments I am going to take the time to answer through a post because I think what you asked and raised is important and will hopefully get some dialogue going. April - I will totally check out this book! Thanks for suggesting it. Leneita and Turtle women - thank you for your insight and stories. Both may be coming from different spots but both voices are incredibly important for us to hear.

Nathalie A. said...

Great. Thanks. Look forward to reading the post.



Beth said...

Thank you for this post. A fellow female pastor forwarded it to me because I am a doctoral student studying the "stained glass ceiling" -- the obstacles women in ministry face as leaders. We face every challenge women face in the secular workplace, with an added layer of theological issues. An excellent book that addresses these theological issues is "Why Not Women?" written by the founder of YWAM. Great stuff.

Anyone who is interested in reading the research I've done on the stained glass ceiling, feel free to e-mail me at