Last week, after #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear went viral, a new hashtag labeled it “a megaphone for bitterness.” #Winsome encourages those who are upset about how they have been treated by churches to express their discontent more positively. The Merriam-Webster definition of winsome suggests that those who are upset should act: 1) generally pleasing and engaging often because of a childlike charm and innocence; a winsome smile 2) cheerful, lighthearted. The hashtag urges women to work out their painful stories privately. Thankfully women and men continue speaking. And their collective voice is rising.
A couple of years ago, when I published an essay on being a woman in seminary, I felt nervous. I assumed nobody would care. I expected push back for talking about my bad experiences as a woman in the church. And I was wrong.
Many people cared. Women and men shared their stories. As the truth of our experiences bubbled from the depths, into the light, I felt less alone. And I began realizing the importance of our collective voice, rallying for change.
Most of us don’t fit into tidy pink versus blue boxes. We are weary of hearing instructions about who we are supposed to be, and what we can and can’t do, as men and women. The status quo hasn’t delivered flourishing communities in Christ.
It’s hard to find permission to tell our stories. It’s harder even to find the courage to speak. So many of us feel pressured to minimize our bad experiences because we’ve been taught not to make churches look bad.
We feel responsible, as if keeping quiet somehow protects Jesus’ reputation.
We share our stories, and many Christian leaders tell us to be less angry, as if stuffing our frustrations will fix the problems.
Or they tell us to be more winsome, as if watering down our painful experiences will make the problems less offensive.
Or we hear advice not to speak publicly, as if keeping things “private” helps the situation (it doesn’t).
A funny thing is happening as our collective voice rises. Insensitive responses fade into the background as Jesus’ voice grows louder. And he reassures us:
God never shuts down our painful stories.
God doesn’t minimize our bad experiences.
God doesn’t shy away from our hard questions.
God doesn’t write us off for doubting.
God patiently and kindly walks with us.
God encourages and empowers us with streams of living water.
God embraces everyone who wants a place at the table.
A strand of three cords is not easily broken. (Eph. 4:12) We are stronger together. This doesn’t mean we have to agree about everything.
I’m grateful for my friends who think differently, who are willing to have reasonable discussions. A Facebook friend somewhat recently disagreed with my article about why churches don’t have more women leaders. He asked thoughtful questions and listened patiently before explaining his own convictions.
Truthfully I struggled to listen because I disliked what he was saying.
When it was clear that our consciences couldn’t see eye to eye, we mutually ended the discussion. No harm. No foul. We are still friends.
Having closed the doors on friendships, earlier in my life, mostly out of arrogance, I’ve learned it isn’t worth it. At the same time, I’d rather not go round and round with insensitive people.
I doubt that in heaven angels are handing out surveys as souls enter the gates: “Please tell us, were you Calvinist or Arminian? Premillenial or postmillenial? Complementarian or Egalitarian ? . . . ”
I’m guessing that Jesus greets everyone with hugs and invites them to dinner. I imagine him asking, probably over a glass of red wine, “So how did it go with your neighbors?”
The more I know Jesus, the more I think that God is less concerned about our theological positions than how we actually treat each other.
Let’s do our best to be kind. When others tell their stories, please be sensitive. Please listen. Please ask thoughtful questions. We’re all in process of growth, after all, from glory to glory. Who knows what changes Jesus will work out in the end.
“Do all that you can to live in peace with everyone.” (Rom. 12:18)