Thursday, February 10, 2011

I thought ...

I thought at first, when I started writing about coming out of biblical womanhood, out of what was for me a sort of non-living, I thought that I could write through the pain. I thought that as that life became more distant, it would also become less painful. But the truth is rather the opposite.

As I leave behind, in my real life, both the demonization and subordination of femininity, I actually have times when I forget what it means to be hated for being female. Then, when I read again about biblical womanhood, it is like a flood of pain washing over me. It feels more painful all the time. The more I realize what it means to be alive as a normal person, living a normal life, the more I realize how terrible and dehumanizing it was to be subordinated by being told that this is what God wants for you.

I thought there would come a time when I could think about these things dispassionately. But the truth is that I realize more and more every day how much was taken from me as a woman, how much I was deprived of. Now it just hurts more when I expose myself in the slightest way to these beliefs, rather than less.


Anonymous said...

May God continue to heal you.

Don Johnson

Bob MacDonald said...

There are difficulties for all, but none like you have described in yourself that compare well. So many more are in your position and do not know it. You fight against the sin of the world, even as the youth of the world do today in Egypt. I have found psalms 44-48 a remarkable juxtaposition of female images in an eschatological context- I am still working out Rashi's psalm 48 but a note will take its place in my emerging pdf some time in the next few days - see - (drafts on the right, posts more final). There must be comfort for you. A very good friend of mine, Hannah Main van der Kamp, poet and faithful person, is reading these notes and encourages me to keep going. I am not a woman but she is. Take it for granted that some of us do not use the scripture or so I hope as a justification for social power structures.

Mara Reid said...

Make sure your are kind and patient with yourself.

And give yourself plenty of time to grieve.

The 'biblical womanhood' that is pushed by so many, steals, kills, and destroys things within women.
There must be ample time to recover and grieve what was stolen, killed, and destroyed before we can truly come up out of the ashes and before we can look back with less pain.

Be blessed and be patient with yourself.
And allow yourself to grieve.

J. K. Gayle said...

Aren't there parallels in the horrible legacies of race-based slavery? For example, after the Emancipation Proclamation of the "United" States on New Year's day 1863, "Civil" War continued on while pro-slavery preachers still preached. After the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution, abolishing slavery on December 6, 1865, the ideology survives the then-illegal practices. After the 14th amendment adopted on July 9, 1868, blacks who were once enslaved, and their children, became US citizens. After the 15th amendment, ratified on February 3, 1870, these individuals, ostensibly, could vote. Nearly a century later, it took a contentious "Civil" Rights movement to address the unaddressed, the inequalities. And preachers, white ones generally, were still no help, as the letter of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., addressed to such men in April 1963, shows. In April 2010, furthermore, Dr. Joseph A. Bailey II is compelled to write of continued pains and literal sufferings:

"Long after slavery ended Negro parents punished the rebellious or naive inclinations of their children for approaching White people as equal human beings. Even in the North Negro mothers frequently reprimanded a child who approached a White stranger or made any effort to communicate with Whites in a "forward" manner or looked at a White person in the eye."

We can ask if there are parallels, but for women in the history of the US, improvements have moved arguably slower than for the African American people as a whole. Note what Bailey observers about "mainly the [black] mother" and when (black) women were finally given the right to vote (i.e., 1920) and how incredibly wide today the wage gap between (black) women and men in American. Are things better in Canada? Are things better in the North American church?

Anonymous said...

I hear ya.

To this day I cannot read conservative Catholics.

Thanks for the good work you do.

-- woman, no longer Catholic

Bob MacDonald said...

Always glad to see comments and writing from JKG :)

Yes there are parallels. But the individual is uniquely placed to lament both for self and on behalf of all the community.
So my note re the sequence of psalms from 42-48
42-43 individual lament - 44 community lament
45 the presentation of the bride
46 the city of God and the destruction of instruments of war
47 the cry of joy
48 how to see the city - both sides of joy and trembling as the pain of birth

Suzanne is in labour as individual on our behalf. I repeat: There must be comfort for her. The parallels are with the exile and the crucifixion and the unity of the body in the consecration of Jesus (John 17) - draw it out. Sorry I am so inarticulate. It is Christendom and unjust social structures that have failed to see anything but power politics in the problems at hand.

Of course there are parallels in Egypt today and families still enslaved to their traditions of children carrying bricks in India even though it is illegal and unconstitutional. Ways of existence are not easily overcome in a few generations as JKG notes.

Derek said...

It is not fair or accurate to describe complementarians writ large, with terminology like "demonization of women" or as subjugators. You don't like it when people smear your motives, merely because they have a different conviction about what the Bible teaches, nor is it fair for you to do so, Suzanne.

I'm perfectly willing to accept and extend condolence that you were hurt by individuals who either misunderstood Biblical complementarianism or who were just hurtful for other reasons. But if you are going to have reasonable dialogue with others who hold a complementarian or even mixed convictions on this topic, the Christian thing to do would be to extend the grace and willingness to allow for the actual possibility that their motives are not evil or wicked - that it could simply be that they understand Scripture differently than you do.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I am very conscious of the commonality of suffering, and of the more intense and pervasive suffering of many groups of human beings. I also wish to acknowledge the privilege I share as an educated and employed Anglo Saxon Canadian.

I ask myself how those of other ethnicities, those who live in poverty, can ever forgive those of us who live in relative ease and comfort.

I live a modest life, but I am not willing to give it up. I am not willing above all to surrender the right to pay for my children's college fees. I also own a car.

In other way, as I say, my life is fairly modest. i do a good job of accessorizing blue jeans!

But what I have, I don't want to give up. So how can I be forgiven by those who live in poverty?

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I have to honestly say that I don't know that I am able to have dialogue with complementarians. I don't know if that is possible. This is the pain I am talking about. I can't connect my present life backward to the life I had by dialogue. It is an open cut between the present and the past.

On what basis would you propose dialogue? If you respond, I will write my next post for you. And I can promise that I will not attack the personality of any complementarian who comments here. I never have smeared any commenter here.

EricW said...

I am sorry the pain continues for you, Suzanne.

Denying or restricting a Christian person's ability and giftings to be and do in and for the Body of Christ who and what they are in Christ vis-a-vis any other believer in Christ simply because they have 2 x chromosomes instead of an x and a y chromosome is:

a) evil
b) silly
c) wrong
(pick 3)

Suzanne McCarthy said...

To tell the truth, Eric, I have only a limited interest in the opportunity for women to use their giftings in church. I would throw my knowledge of Greek and hebrew in the trash for a little personal freedom.

I protest the mandate that says that a woman must obey her husband in all things in the home and outside the home.

I protest that women need to be able to toilet themselves at their own discretion, to eat and exercise according to their own body's needs.

I am crying now. It will never go. I give my dog more freedom and my cat my tolerance than theologians ever accorded me. Did they think they could cut out my brains, my ability to feel and think that it would not cause pain?

EricW said...

I protest that "mandate," too. But because I most encountered (as well as unexaminedly supported) Christian patriarchal hierarchicalism with respect to church structurings and operations, I tend to focus more on that aspect of "complementarianism."

J. K. Gayle said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
J. K. Gayle said...

So how can I be forgiven by those who live in poverty?

Suzanne, Thank you very much for asking such questions! Whether class, race, or sex, the issue seems more a matter of heart, and of hate, that would marginalize and subjugate the "other" because of a body one does not choose.

In other words, "biblical" wealth teachings, taught by the rich, preach that poverty is God's design for those who will not name and claim, will not sow their seeds of offerings (namely those who may be born into classes that cannot afford to give up their pennies for the preacher).

"Biblical" slavery sermons, taught by slave owners, used the text to show how Ham was cursed or that blacks were born for servitude.

"Biblical" womanhood sermons, preached by men who would have wives "compliment" them, still use the text to let the men preaching take the roles above women.

Right in front of me, I have the publication of the world's largest seminary. This is the seminary whose president endorsed the termination of the employment of one of its a faculty members in a tenure-track position, teaching Hebrew in its school of theology three years ago -- because she was a woman and her students mostly men. This is the seminary that has a homemaking degree for women only. The Winter 2011 issue of the seminary's journal is themed "Biblical Manhood." The letter from the president has these sentences:

"Unfortunately, the feminization not only of the social order in general but also of the local church in particular has pushed men increasingly away from the center. Without a doubt women have played a strategic role in the church for 2,000 years, operating often quietly behind the scenes but with a stupendous faith. Perhaps women have always been in the majority within the constituency of the churches, but a fair assessment would also have to conclude that present trends in the social order and in the church are not hopeful."

Ironically, this same seminary president justifies how the magazine issue "focuses on ministries to men" by looking to the example of "E.V. Hill, the famous pastor of Mount Zion Missionary Baptist Church, who developed strategic ministries... to prostitutes, gang members, and drug addicts." One irony is that the seminary president is comparing the specific needs of women-bought-and-sold-for-sex-by-men to the needs of men-pushed-from-the-center-by-"feminization".

Another irony is that the "Baptist" church of Dr. E.V. Hill is miles away from the "Southern Baptist" denomination of this seminary and its president. Southern Baptists infamously formed their church, in the South of the US, in large part to make sure that enslavement of black bodies would continue and would continue to be justified by what's "biblical."

To be sure, in June 1995, for its 150th anniversary, the Southern Baptist Convention voted to approve a resolution on racial reconciliation, saying, "RESOLVED... we apologize to all African-Americans for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic racism in our lifetime."

But will our children or grandchildren or great-grandchildren ever see the day when that denomination, so "biblical," will say:

"RESOLVED... we apologize to all girls and women for condoning and/or perpetuating individual and systemic sexism in our lifetime"?

Until the rejection of so-called "biblical" classification and the delegation of others to meager and sub-ordinated roles "below" -- just because of their bodies -- I doubt it.

J. K. Gayle said...

Some of the things some of you have said in this comment thread remind of something Martin Luther King, Jr. said:

"I have begun to realize how hard it is for a lot of people to think of living without someone to look down upon, really look down upon. It is not just that they will feel cheated out of someone to hate; it is that they will be compelled to look more closely at themselves, at what they don't like in themselves. My heart goes out to people I hear called rednecks; they have little, if anything, and hate is a possession they can still call upon reliably, and it works for them. I have less charity in my heart for well-to-do and well-educated people - for their snide comments, cleverly rationalized ones, for the way they mobilize their political and even moral justifications to suit their own purposes. No one calls them to account. The Klan is their whipping boy. Someday all of us will see that when we start going after a race or a religion, a type, a region, a section of the Lord's humanity - then we're cutting into His heart, and we're bleeding badly ourselves. But then, I guess there's lots of masochism around!"

Dr. King made these remarks in an interview with Robert Coles, who is the psychiatrist whom Ruby Bridges allowed into her family's home, to interview her. (Dr. Coles reproduces the MLK 1/10/63 interview in Atlanta in his wonderful book Simone Weil: A Modern Pilgrimage.)

Suzanne McCarthy said...

Paulo Freire, and Simone Weil were two authors whose books touched me deeply. Because they were not talking about women first, but others, I allowed myself to read their books. I allowed their words to reach into me and tell me that it would be okay to wake up, to come to life, that the pain would not be unbearable, but was rather something that was common to humankind.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I appreciate everyone who stands up for equal opportunity for women to participate in ministry.

But in response to those who say that not everyone can be a leader, not everyone who is gifted has the opportunity to use their gifts, I can only say that this is not what I am talking about. I am talking about the right of an adult human being to live in shelter, to be clothed and fed, without being bound to obey another human being 24/7.

I moved a mattress into our garage once, a leaky and unlit shed, for shelter, for somewhere to have the right to be by myself. My neighbour has a dog shed set up in the back yard where she spends the evenings. This could happen to a man also, I know. But the church is only is support of this alienation from basic human rights happening to women.

Derek said...

I'm referring to the way that dialogue is poisoned when you and some others on this blog/community imply or suggest that comps are subjugators or that they hate women or that, to use your terminology, that the demonize women. We should be able to share where we disagree without assuming the worst of each other's motives. If there are abuses that occur, then fine- point those abuses out, but don't libel the color of other people's skin on the basis of some bad apples, which can certainly be found in every bunch.

Suzanne McCarthy said...


I have responded with a new post.

Kurk, Bob, et al,

I am reading and I am fed by your comments.

Katherine said...


Thank you for all you've written, painful though it can be. I have benefitted so much from your words, especially as I left behind the denomination of my youth and its view and treatment of women. (The church I grew up in often gets its pastors from graduates of the seminary you mention, Kurk--I am quite familiar with the seminary, its leader, and the incident with the Hebrew professor you mention. Home state happenings, blergh) In many ways I'm fortunate--I never feared for my physical safety, and I know you and others have suffered so, so much more, and for longer. The legacy is all in my brain, though: I paid too much attention to all the teaching I got about how women should be and what women are good for, and it drove away all initiative and ambition in me. I do not know and cannot conceive what to do with myself, because I reject the narrow vision of my youth, but I still don't know any other stories, and I have a hard time believing in my worth even if I reject the thinking that I don't have any.

Anonymous said...

'm perfectly willing to accept and extend condolence that you were hurt by individuals who either misunderstood Biblical complementarianism or who were just hurtful for other reasons. But if you are going to have reasonable dialogue with others who hold a complementarian or even mixed convictions on this topic, the Christian thing to do...
You come to Sue's blog, you admit she is bleeding all over the page, yet you pick on her choice of words and then dare to talk about "the Christian thing to do"??

Cold-blooded just doesn't say it strongly enough. May God judge between you and her.

Kristen said...

Suzanne, my heart goes out to you. Your honest expression of your pain is beautiful to Christ. I pray that more of His followers would open their ears to hear.

Kristen said...

Derek, your words sound to me not unlike walking up to an ex-slave who is rubbing ointment into his half-healed lash wounds, and drawing him into a discussion about whether it was just his master, or slavery as an institution, that was responsible-- when the appropriate thing to do would be to be quiet, pick up the ointment bottle and help with the healing.

Derek said...

I've dialogued with Suzanne for a long time and I have always assumed and said that I'm sure that her hurt was and is real. As I said in my first comment here, I don't want to minimize that in any way.

There are positive and negative ways that we deal with hurt and pain in our lives and I'm just trying to point out that it is actually negative and counterproductive to radiate negative and angry energy towards people who are not responsible for the hurt. It doesn't benefit anyone and in fact, it ultimately creates more hurt and pain for everyone.

Anonymous said...

"I'm referring to the way that dialogue is poisoned when you and some others on this blog/community imply or suggest that comps are subjugators or that they hate women or that, to use your terminology, that the demonize women. We should be able to share where we disagree without assuming the worst of each other's motives. If there are abuses that occur, then fine- point those abuses out, but don't libel the color of other people's skin on the basis of some bad apples, which can certainly be found in every bunch."

In effect, Suzanne speaking of her experience insults Derek. Wonder why?

How can one derive authority over another by teaching mutuality? Submission one to another as Eph 5:21 teaches? How can they abuse that teaching without it being clear they are abusing it?

With comp is not so clear because it teaches authority over another with lots of adjectives to describe what "kind" of authority it should be.

Tell a young man long enough of his exhalted position over women..even with all the adjectives...and he will make it his own. Some are nice and some aren't. The problem is in the errant teaching. I mean, what is the Holy Spirit for if believing women need a male authority?

believer333 said...

” I'm perfectly willing to accept and extend condolence that you were hurt by individuals who either misunderstood Biblical complementarianism”

What you fail to understand is that the things non gender hierarchical Christians are referring to and complaining about are not misunderstandings of ‘Biblical complementarianism’ but are the writings of the leaders of complementarianism.

It really in many ways just comes down to whether or not women are human, or as human as men are to Christians who believe in female subordination to males. There are hundreds of thousands of millions of women who have been deeply wounded and hurt by these teachings. Many we will never hear from. Many have become so wounded that like the black mother who taught her children to never look directly in the eyes of the white person, they know they can never relate as an equal with men. These women have hunkered under and adjusted their lives to live this way. But no human being should ever be asked to live this way. And to think that such a thing is promoted by those who love God is horrendous.