Serious post. I am glad I went to class and had the opportunity to contemplate on this Rembrandt painting of “The Return of the Prodigal Son.” I saw something in it that illustrated what went through my mind when listening to Beth Barr speak on complementarian theology.
It is easy to point out the clearly abusive theology and actions that are now walking around in the open air unapologetically straight out of complementarian churches. But, there is another form of abuse coming out of it that seems less harmful because you cannot see the wounds. The words do not sound as sharp or as ridiculous either. I come from that—and it is not because the people are bad. I am still in a great relationship with many of them. It is the system that is abusive. Dr. Barr said, and it took her 41 years to say this, this theology is going to go to its logical end. It cannot be done nicely. She is right. We cannot say: Oh, I can see how you came to that conclusion. That makes sense.
No, not anymore. It is rotten and sinful theology that has harmed God’s creation. Women. women are not subordinate to men. This theology can no longer be defended faithfully.
Here is what has happened to me, but first let me say this. My trauma is not just out of church. I was also a gymnast when USA Gymnastics became big business. Us kids became commodities instead of children. Our abuse was silenced because of all the winning. God sees what winning hides. (Pay attention soccer—I have seen what cannot be unseen there too). Authoritarianism anywhere is a sin everywhere. Children are full human beings. Full stop. (Please be thinking trans children right now. They know).
Church did not help me gain confidence either, though. I was not going to church and hearing my worth to recognize I was not being treated as I should in gymnastics. I was hearing what a sinner I was, along with everyone else. We were lucky God loves us despite ourselves. Church was not offsetting abuse.
There was one time I really wanted to speak to the church publicly when I was 17. This is a big deal because i never wanted to speak publicly—still don’t. I have major public speaking anxiety because no one every worked with me on it. I was never considered a possibility to be a leader, ever, in the church. I thought I was going to get to speak too. I was brought to the front with the rest of the kids who went on this mission trip that had set my soul on fire and I wanted to share, only to find out after all the boys had spoken we were done. I was stunned. I had never been so angry at church in my life. I told my mom I was leaving church after graduation. I did not do it immediately, obviously. I did not make good on that promise until Donald Trump was elected. I said I would leave at 17, but it was when I turned 38 that I actually did it. I returned, differently, at 40.
So imagine my surprise hearing I might be called at 40 years old at a new church that had just met me! And I was also so in love with this church already. I literally burst through the doors of Wilshire in 2017 and was like: I have been looking for you. I know you do not know me. But you will. We are friends! (I said this last sentence b/c I have been told I am obsessed with friendship. I am. Proud of it.)
But with all of that excitement and joy, wounds I did not even know I had showed up and it has been a long and frustrating process working through. It has taken my church, Perkins, and therapy to keep me in this process of healing and answering this call that I feel so passionately in my soul.
Look at the Rembrandt picture. I circled the person I saw as me in this story. I am a person who is trying to become visible. A person wondering if they belong in this story at all. I have been hiding. To this day, I do not speak up in big groups. I wanted to ask Beth Barr a question today, but my heart was pounding to quickly. I felt like everyone else had better questions.
I am learning that I apologize for taking up any physical space. At the ladies’ retreat, I was rushing through the salad bar to not hold anyone up. I was told to slow down, no one is in a hurry. I did it the next week at La Madeline when getting coffee. I did not want to put the person out behind me b/c my presence takes some time and space. I never realized this until recently. My sermons are bold but also apologetic. I feel apologetic for saying hard things but for also taking up people’s time. I Write on social media b/c you can choose to read or not. I hope you do. I love writing and sharing. I hope it is helping. But I struggle existing in the physical space. And it is because I was trained to be invisible. Me saying I want to preach is laughable when I think about it. It is absurd and does not make sense based on who I am.
This is another reason why complementarian theology needs to end. It is not good for the imagination of our children as they dream of that might want to be one day. The girls are limited and the boys are often forced into roles they do not want. There is more to say, but this says a lot. Maybe someday I will say this in a physical space.
My body and my breath belong in the physical space too.