This post is the reason my blog hasn’t been updated in months. It’s such a complicated, sensitive subject that I didn’t dare attempt it until I felt I could do it the justice it deserves. I’ve also struggled with deep-rooted bitterness toward the faith of my formative years, and I did not want that bitterness to decide the tone of this post. The traumatizing experiences I had as an intellectually inquisitive young Christian are absolutely integral to my decision to leave the church. But they were not deciding factors, and I cannot over-emphasize exactly how weary I am of the stereotype that prodigal sons and daughters like myself left because of an emotional reaction to the very real problems of hate, hypocrisy and politicization that plague American Christianity. It’s patronizing. Ultimately, I left because I simply don’t believe the doctrines of the Christian church. But that is a decision that has been looming in my life for years, and the process of reaching that decision is what I want to discuss here.
It’s a process that began early, due to one of the most basic aspects of being human: gender. I’m female. That’s how my gender was assigned at birth and it’s how I continue to identify myself. Specifically, I’m a feminist sort of female. And please, check your stereotypes at the door. When I write that I am a feminist, I do not do so while clutching the severed testicles of the latest male to fall victim to my misandrist ways. When I write that I am a feminist I mean that I was a little girl who used to tell everyone that her favorite books of the Bible were Ruth and Esther because they were the only books in the Bible named for women. I write it from my memories of being an adolescent girl left cold by the relentless lectures on female modesty, purity and submission that have been lobbed in my direction before I even owned a training bra. I cried about puberty. I dreaded it. I remember lying awake at night and begging God to slow the process, even just for a year, and who could blame me? If you’ve been told your entire life that you represent a potential stumbling block to every man who sees you, that it is your responsibility to pay minute attention to your dress and your body so that you in no way offend men, who wouldn’t dread the onset of adolescence? The roots of my feminism are, therefore, clearly emotional. I am furious that I was indoctrinated by evangelical Christianity to feel such shame over my own body. I resent that I was raised not only with a lack of agency, but also with the belief that I should not expect it.
But chiefly what I mean when I write that I am a feminist is that I believe it is an intellectually untenable position to insist that either sex is meant to submit to the other. I also believe it’s theologically untenable. I think that complementarianism is an oppressive philosophy that survives due to pervasive gender prejudice. I was an egalitarian Christian, and I still believe that egalitarianism is the most accurate interpretation of the Bible. But I do owe complementarian theology something, and it’s this: it is the reason I began to question my faith. Clearly since I later held egalitarian views it’s not the reason I rejected that faith altogether. It merely showed me that organized religion has some serious drawbacks if the equality of the sexes is even a matter for debate.
I could elaborate this for days. I could describe the countless times I felt inferior because the way I express my female gender didn’t match the role set out for me by my religion, or that while I respect women who freely choose to become housewives and stay at home mothers, neither is a job that I ever wanted no matter how many times somebody told me about Proverbs 31. But really, what I’d love people to understand is that the experience of being a woman in American Christianity propelled me toward the process of leaving the church completely. It shouldn’t be remarkable when a woman chooses to have a career. There should be no sermons on the appropriate roles of women. There shouldn’t be a book in the world that actually posits that women were created by God to long for fairy-tale princesshood and rescue (from what exactly, I want to know) at the hands of strong silent types on white chargers. The fact that these things exist, and are promoted by so many religious figures, reflect the deeply damaging consequences of organized religion as they pertain to female-identified people. It’s a herd mentality, and those are potentially very dangerous–like when the herd decides it’s against your civil rights as a citizen in a democratic society.
In that spirit, the next installment of this series is going to cover the politicization of Christianity.