Art by Nate Barton
My experience as a female Christian has less to do with overcoming the sometimes-subtle marginalization we experience as women, and so much more to do with who I believe Christ wants and allows me to be: fully His, fully human, fully a woman and fully complex.
I think many people who know me might be surprised at how I claim my own faith even during the times in my life where my personal identity or actions seem to actively take issue with the Christian status-quo, and especially with its gendered expectations. I don’t embody many of the traits one might think of when they think “Christian woman,” and specifically, I reject the “wifey” image for many reasons, two being that my personality doesn’t line up with it anyway, and that I believe homogenous, hyper-gendered expectations (on both sides) are entirely harmful to the health of the Church on both a personal and collective level.
I’m sure from a couple standpoints, I could be seen as a failure of a Christian woman. I’m often the sailor of the group in terms of language, and I sometimes seriously doubt God’s care. I am probably one of the more politically liberal people at this school, Tarantino is one of my favorite directors and German philosophy is one of my favorite subjects. I admit to wandering from my own moral ideals (not that I take this lightly). I often ask myself, as I believe many secretly do, how I even belong to this faith or this community.
But more and more, my biggest concern is with honesty, not performance. I believe that although honesty can be difficult for anyone in a faith community, the Christian sphere may make it a little more difficult for a woman — the perceived “keeper of goodness and steadfastness” — to be completely open about herself, her struggles and her seasons of deepest darkness.
Struggle and darkness are not gendered experiences. I struggle with pursuing the heart of God. I get distracted. However, my obedience is to God, not my community, my culture or anyone’s expectations of me. Believing this has made my experience with faith so pure. By hiding less of this from my community, I end up hiding less from God, who to be sure, knows my thoughts before I do anyway.
The labels put on a woman who doesn’t painstakingly aim to be the angel are harmful. In fact, the image of being an angel is itself harmful. At different times in my life, I’ve been perceived as both the angel and the Delilah. To be the angel is pressure near insanity. It led me to dishonesty and intense feelings of isolation whenever I needed to express my imperfection, or namely, whenever I needed help. To be the Delilah, well, you just never get rid of that image. As I grow as a person, I try more and more to peel labels like these, or of any sort, off of myself. I don’t want your approval. I want God’s. However, I do wish the way that others saw me could have always been, as best as possible, the same as the way God sees me.
Faith, identity in Christ and the cultivation of a heart for Him are all ongoing journeys. They are journeys that do not end. Within these journeys, we — men and women — are all equally lost people with complex experiences and dialogues, and must be equally here in support.
Even subconscious beliefs that work to diminish the internal complexity of anyone, regardless of his or her labels, are damaging. To say something a bit more harshly, if you can’t see your sister-in-Christ in higher terms than her immediate wifeability or level of social approval, there is most assuredly a greater problem with you. She’s still a Christian woman even if she doesn’t spend her weekends practicing to make peach cobbler for the next church potluck, and furthermore, no matter where any woman stands with faith or non-faith, no matter her actions or beliefs, she is also God’s beloved creation.
Putting a woman into an archetype, even subconsciously, or judging her more harshly than one would a man for not keeping up with Mother Mary, probably happens. I personally feel like that’s pretty obvious. However, these internal sentiments fail to promote restoration, understanding and belonging, which are paramount to the best form, and the arguably intended form, of the shared Christian experience.
If the experience of navigating faith in a fallen world is like sailing on a dark and choppy sea, I am not on the shore waiting; I am tackling the waves. I can do all this for myself and still, perhaps, learn to make a fantastic peach cobbler between reading Hegel and the Gospel of John.
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