AGITATE with Pam HogeweideAgitate — By Pam Hogeweide on December 6, 2012 at 3:00 am
“I can’t go to this church anymore,” said the brown-eyed woman, lowering her voice as if confessing a crime. “I don’t know if I’m crazy or what, but the way I feel devalued as a woman …” Her voice trailed off as her eyes misted over.
She had been part of her faith community for more than a decade. She met her husband in the choir and birthed two kids, both of whom had been part of the Sunday school since they could walk. Her church was her home and to think of leaving was like getting a divorce.
Her story was familiar to me. She loved her faith tribe, yet her soul was suffocating. Her church was as lovely as any church in her midsize town, but she felt crushed beneath the weight of teaching that men are to be leaders and women their assistants.
Many churches are doing their women wrong and many in the sisterhood are finally saying I Am Done.
In the summer of 2011, research organization the Barna Group, released its latest findings in regards to American women and the Christian faith. The number of women attending church has declined by 11 percent according to their research. Church volunteerism has fallen by 9 percent, which is to be especially noted since women have long served behind-the-scenes to keep church programs humming along.
Barna’s study summarized that the only religious behavior that increased among women in the last 20 years was becoming unchurched.
I like to believe that this shift of women leaving is positive, an indication of resistance to the injustice of inequality in the church. In fact, when I first read this study, I had just met three different women who left their churches (but not their faith) as a result of sexism they experienced in their faith communities.
One of the biggest questions anyone has who decides to ditch their faith community is where will I go from here? For many women, it can be the question that paralyzes her into staying in a stifling environment for another decade or two. Like a friend of mine who waited for nearly twenty years to be affirmed in her calling at her church. The problem was the theology: her church did not believe women ought to exercise authority over men. She hoped that she would be the exception. It was her dream, but it was a delusion which took years for her to wake up from.
She and her husband finally left. They no longer go to church and at this stage of life, they are just fine with that. “We didn’t leave our faith,” she explains. “We just left the church. Now we are finding God’s presence in the everyday places.”
A group of crowded in my living room. We are older women, all of us aged like rising full moons as we weather into our crone years. “Who among us is still in church?” I asked. “Anybody?”
None spoke up, though a few of us chuckled. These are veteran Jesus followers. All of us have been ministry leaders at some point in our lives, some of us for many years.
“Then what are we doing with our Sundays?” I pressed. “What does church look like for us now?”
The conversation flowed as we talked about being church compared to going to church. One of my friends, a retired church leader, said she now meets with a small group of Christ followers and together they are leaning into the knowledge of God. “It energizes me and I am seeing spiritual growth in myself and others,” she said.
“I just meet friends for coffee,” said another. “Church is no longer a place for me and I can never go back. I just enjoy fellowship wherever I find it.”
A glow of comfort swelled in my heart. Women, I thought, are finding their way.
I got an email yesterday from a reader of my blog. She is disquieted, agitated about the faith tribe she is in. She has had what Sue Monk Kidd calls, a feminine awakening. When a woman realizes the polite oppression against her gender in her beloved spiritual community, it will cause her discomfort and perhaps a bit of anger … and more than likely an exodus from what she once held dear.
I have spoken to many women while they are in this transition place of tension and upheaval. I tell them each the same thing : I am excited for you.
They are breaking from the ranks of Christian hierarchy into the wildlands of uncertainty. This is where the good stuff happens. It is where new trails are blazed and undiscovered terrain is mapped out. It is how people create new outcomes and new places. To create new forms of Christian fellowship, we have to agitate our imagination. For many people, this won’t happen until there is a crisis of belonging.
Crisis can be a good thing, a breeding ground for birthing new ideas. It’s how one of my friends began a ministry to the homeless in her city. Her faith community kept blocking her. So she left. Agitated and upset, she left, wondering if she was a fool to leave the fold. That was years ago. She has since demonstrated the love of God to hundreds of men and women who will never step foot inside of a church. If you ask her, she’s found church among the most destitute citizens of her town.
It is not the end of the church if women and men decide to exit and find new ways of creating spiritual community. Innovation occurs when we have courage to abandon the tried and true. Our imaginations soar when given permission. Women (and men!) thrive in imagining the new.
It is an exciting time to be a Christ follower. I am not disheartened by the emails I get of women divorcing their churches or statistics I read at Barna’s website. These are birth pains of new ways of being church.
Women are expert birthers.
Pam Hogeweide lives in Portland, Oregon with her husband and is mom to two thriving teenagers. She is the author of Unladylike: Resisting the Injustice of Inequality in the Church. You can learn more about Pam at www.pamhogeweide.com