A New Lesson for Church Women

Recently I polled Twitter for reasons church women do not help women being abused in their church. I was shocked at the responses.

Some thought it was the power of group membership. Others that they feared male authority. But the number one reason was to feel superior.

What happened to Jesus’ message of helping the sufferer? I naively thought people were in a church because they believed in helping others as Jesus taught.

Now I understand not wanting to get personally involved in a messy conflict between a wife and husband. But that is not what is needed. We all know people can do more harm than good if they don‘t know how to help.

But too many churches are upholding male entitlement. They are siding with the abuser and shunning the victim. Shunning a woman retraumatizes her.

How is it that women, who represent caring, turn against one another in the church, the institution of Jesus’ caring?

Llewellyn Vaughan-Lee asks

          Can we remember the wholeness within us, the wholeness

that unites spirit and matter? Or will we continue walking

 down this road that has…but women off from their sacred power

 and knowledge?

The dedication to denying that women are made in the image of God equally not  only betrays Jesus’ foundation of respect for women but also justifies abuse and violence against women.

The story of Sarah and Hagar illustrates women’s plight today. Both were put at odds with one another as pawns for men’s agendas, patriarchy. They didn’t recognize each other as ‘sisters in suffering’ (Vanessa Rivera de la Fuente). The toxic legacy continues today.

Both women showed the ability to directly communicate with God outside male parameters, but were nonetheless subjugated to submission and servitude. A Biblical version preceding the Handmaid’s Tale, it illustrates the gender wound women are born with. Worth, even survival, depends on bonding with a man. Status comes from the man. Male social domination comes to be believed, elevated to truth, in the church, as divine will.

So women are either oppressed or agents of oppression in religious groups. One ends up helping to recreate the patriarchical world. She is invested in it, to  her degradation. Men also are limited by  it.

Women must learn to reject enmity between each other in the church, to see how patriarchy damages everyone. Church women can start by discovering and honoring themselves as independently worthy humans in the image of a God who is neither male nor female. They can work with other women who are already on the journey. Making God only male is idolatry.

The demonization of the word “feminism” should be a red flag to women in the church. Feminism is simply upholding women’s equality. It shows up in many ways. Men in church condemn it because it is a form of power not under their control.

Befriending women outside the male definition of a “good woman” is a transformational journey. The same forces that subject a church woman to abuse in her marriage are operating in less obvious but equally powerful ways in other church women.

Church women must reject hatred of other women to feel secure in patriarchy. Only by strengthening our ties with one another will we truly be followers of Jesus.

Published by Fessup

A 30-year veteran educator and counselor, published author, lifelong student of religion and women's issues, educator with divinebalance.org, mother, and lover of Far Side humor.