The funny thing about a good church community is that it allows all sorts of baggage to come up and be dealt with. In that particular moment, it was a word spoken over me by a fellow Christian telling me that I couldn't have full inclusion in the Church (the capital C, all believers everywhere Church) because of my gender. I'd been trying to brush it off for days, but it came up full force. My church family comforted me and discussed the word with me, pointing out the untruths in it. Best of all, they reminded me that I wasn't alone in it. Everybody has had words thrown at them.
Especially (and unfortunately) in the Church.
Let me be clear: I believe in forgiveness and rooting out all bitterness and offense in our hearts. But I also believe that that's a process, and we can help each other through it by telling the truth. So, here goes.
I've been in a lot of different churches in my life, ranging vastly in tradition and doctrine. Somewhere in the midst of these Sundays, I learned that because I was a girl, I had to be submissive. In some churches, this meant I wouldn't see a woman speak in front of the congregation. In others, it meant that when the pastor called me "sugar" (which is exactly as gross as it sounds), I wasn't supposed to say anything.
Submission is a huge trigger word for me, instantly forming knots in my stomach. It's funny, because I actually believe strongly in the concept of submission. I believe in humility. I believe in surrendering ourselves to God, and even to earthly authorities. But the word submission, for me, carries so much baggage. It's like hearing someone tell me to "shut up, already," because that's how I've heard it used time and time again.
In a similar vein, there's the word helpmeet. In the Biblical creation narrative, Eve is described as Adam's ezer kenegdo, which many translate as "helper" or "helpmeet." While this is actually a powerful title for her (ezer is otherwise used to describe God's help and military aid), the word somehow came to mean a Christian wife who cooks, cleans, and generally serves her husband.
Purity is another tricky word. The concept is good—I certainly want to be pure of heart (Matt 5:8)—but the implied definition is often murkier. When the church talks about purity, it's usually talking about sexual purity, and specifically about the young singles. As someone who was once a young single, I can tell you it's like having someone constantly breathing down your neck, whispering, "Don't screw up!" I know so many girls (and some guys too) who developed severe anxiety over the issue, convinced that they were going to mess it up and then be (gasp!) impure forever. Even I felt some of this and wore a purity ring throughout my teenage years to assuage the adults' concerns about my sexual status. Of course, that didn't stop people from interrogating me about it right up until my wedding.
The wonderful thing about Biblical purity is that it comes from the cross and the cross alone. And we will never run out of it, even if we screw up. There is always room for repentance, always room for growing in righteousness. I really wish we talked about purity of heart more often, because it applies to everyone in the church, and single folks need a break from the usual scare tactics.
And finally, here's a word that's liable to make us all squirm: Sin. Obviously, this isn't a word we can stop using anytime soon. It's pretty crucial to the gospel. But it's often used in less wholesome forms, intended to wound certain groups of people. Sin actually means to "miss the mark" or fall short of God's perfect plan. We all do it in a million ways each day. But when we use the word sin against groups of people we don't like or "don't agree with" (to put it more kindly), we usually mean it more harshly than that. Often, we go so far as to imply that their particular sin is damning. Which is just not how sin works. All sin is forgivable, and no sin will send you to hell except the sin of rejecting God. That's it.
For those of you in the Church, I ask you to choose your words carefully. I ask you to consider not just what you are saying, but what you might be implying as well. Empathize with those of us who've had bad church experiences, who've been belittled or abused by Christian-y words. Help us to move away from bitterness and towards feeling included and accepted in this big crazy family of ours. I have so much hope that this can be done. Which is precisely why I shared today.
Let's be the wildly-loving, wildly-inclusive Church that Jesus called us to be. And may His spirit help us get there.