Around us, couples chuckle, the husbands with their arms draped around their wives' shoulders, looking over at them occasionally and nodding. The lights come up on this morning's speaker as everyone puts down their thermal coffee mug and loads up the bible app on their phone.
The speaker stands on the stage wearing a tool belt, preaching about the tools needed for a successful marriage. He talks about the tools men use, the drills and hammers and screwdrivers. Reminding us that women use tools, too, he pulls out a pink and white hair appliance, a straightening iron or some other such device intended to primp our pretty little outsides.
My husband squeezes my thigh, as if he can draw the frustration from my tensed up muscles, and it does calm me, miraculously. I know he loves to tell the story about the Christmas where I got power tools and he got cooking supplies and a musical on DVD. I know he is also squeezing my leg to diffuse his own frustration and keep him from making a huffing sound in the middle of the sermon.
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Why would they let women spread the good news to the group overwhelmingly likely to be drawn in by it (since everyone loves to spew the statistics about the hefty percentage of believers who come to faith in childhood), and yet declare them unworthy to stand up and lead those same believers when they have reached adulthood? It didn't make sense, logically speaking.
And also, I couldn't find a way to fold that message of male domination into the picture Jesus left us. I couldn't find it in the way he treated women, or the admonitions to love our neighbors as ourselves, or the assertion that there is no male or female because we are all one in Christ Jesus. How could we be one, if half of us were unfit to lead adults and the other half of us uninterested in leading children? How could you love someone as yourself and yet give them fewer rights, fewer options, and less respect?
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The sermon isn't terrible, isn't necessarily offensive. He puts a gentle, muted accent on the different part of the different-but-equal-roles picture he's painting. Doesn't directly engage in the "wives submit" portion of that morning's passage. He speaks of his wife with love, describes her as supremely competent, implying perhaps that she is even more competent than he is. A more natural leader, a better decision maker.
I realize that's a hallmark of this kind of sermon, the praising of the wife's abilities or the jokes about the wife wearing the pants in the family. We aren't implying that women can't lead, these stories tell us, just that they shouldn't. Hey, it's not our idea to put women in the passenger seat, it's God's.
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On the way home, I am actually in the passenger seat. My husband is at the wheel of our new red minivan, and our boys are in the back seat, tired and hungry after a long morning at church. We are tired, too, from the years of holding our tongues and squeezing each other's thighs to keep us both calm. We wonder briefly if church is worth it, worth this disappointment and frustration, but it is a quiet, passive thought that has no meat to it, no weight in it.
We will climb in the minivan again next week and take our usual seats, digital bibles loading as we wait for the inspirational video to start. We will be there, week after week, because we have decided to walk this walk with other people. We remind each other that people are flawed, and that we are people, too, broken in a thousand spots ourselves.
Some weeks we'll get frustrated all over again by listening to someone tell us who should be in the passenger seat and who gets to drive. But some weeks, instead of squeezing each other's thighs, we'll look over at each other with knots in our throats because we get a glimpse of why we sift through the nouveau rituals of modern evangelicalism. Some weeks we will see the indescribable beauty of lives coming together, of broken people laying themselves bare in front of other broken people, all of them looking up together and begging for healing, and redemption, and understanding. Some weeks, we will catch a glimpse of grace lived out, and when we are back in the minivan, Sam at the wheel and me in the passenger seat, we will look over at each other and clasp hands over the center console, locked in a silent prayer of thanks.
This look at faith and feminism was written for the September Feminist Odyssey Blog Carnival being hosted this month by From Two to One.