Deana Nall has been writing features for magazines since 1994 and contributes to a number of nationally-distributed publications. She lives in Little Rock with her husband Chad, and their daughters Julia and Jenna. Deana would love for you to check out her professional web site at www.deananall.com, and her blog at www.deanaland.blogspot.com.
I grew up in the Church of Christ, and my family has a heritage in the church that runs several generations deep. As a kid, I never questioned why the rules were different for women than men. In fact, I was grateful for those rules. Not long after my older brother was baptized in fifth grade, he was asked to lead a Sunday night closing prayer. He spent a week working on it and going over it as my dad coached him. As Sunday approached and his nervousness built, I thanked God for my gender so I would never have to go through such a thing.
My dad was a minister, and by listening in on my parents’ conversations when he came home from elders’ meeting every week, I knew the elders at our church had long, and sometimes heated, discussions about what women could do. Should a woman continue to teach a Sunday school class if one of the male members of the class gets baptized? Should women be allowed to wear pants while working in the nursery, since they’re not actually in church? When the song leader is taking requests on fifth-Sunday singing night, should women call out song numbers, or should their husbands do it for them? If the church has a ministry for the hearing impaired, should women serve as sign language interpreters for the preacher?
The elders didn’t seem to care what men did. Unless they were divorced. Which was a whole other issue.
As I got older, my relief at having been born female began to wear off and I started questioning some of this. At the end of worship services, boys picked up the membership and visitor cards that had been passed to the center aisle. Why couldn’t girls do that, too? Why could I pray aloud at dinnertime in front of my family, but not in my Bible class? Why could women pass communion trays if they were sitting in a pew, but not if they were standing in the aisle? Why did we cling to I Timothy 2:12 so tenaciously, while coming together to help a young woman whose husband had died—although helping widows younger than 60 is forbidden just a few chapters later? Why were church leaders spending so much time hashing these issues out when there were lost and hurting people in the world?
And why did reading the Bible only add to my confusion?
The communion issue really baffled me. When I went to a restaurant, the waiter who brought me my food didn’t have authority over me. So how was passing communion trays in church having authority over someone? Especially when the early church met in homes, and women likely served communion since men in that culture did not do kitchen work or prepare food?
I asked my dad, and I expected him to launch into I Timothy 2. But he surprised me.
“It’s an ego issue,” he said. “Men just don’t want to give up any amount of control to women.”
I had no idea my dad thought this.
“But don’t tell anyone at church I said that,” he added quickly.
Wow. My dad was a closet renegade. My respect for him went up a few notches, and I kept his controversial opinion to myself.
In the years to come, much of my experience growing up in the Church of Christ would be positive. I liked something about all the congregations my family was a part of. I can think of people at each church who helped shape my faith and contributed to my spiritual growth. But somewhere along the way, resentment began to replace my confusion about church rules regarding women. I began to suspect that women in the church were being undervalued—for no reason other than the way God created them. Once, when I voiced my failure to understand why women couldn’t serve communion, another church member told me, “Communion is just too holy.” So women aren’t as holy as men? This just didn’t line up with Galatians 3:28 to me. As much as I believed some people who hold such opinions are just trying to follow their interpretation of the Bible, I realized my dad’s words held a lot of truth.
Now, as the mother of two daughters, I believe God has equipped them with talents that will be revealed as they grow in Christ. And I wouldn’t want them to be told they can’t use those talents in a church context because of the way God created them. That’s a mixed message that I would not be able explain while maintaining any sense of respect for scripture or myself.
We left Highland in 2000 when we moved to another town. Since then, many women in addition to Gayla have voiced their prayers through Highland’s sound system. I’m glad men and women have been able to hear their prayers and be encouraged by them, as I was by Gayla’s prayer that night.
God equips people with all kinds of gifts, and a gift he has given all of us is a voice. Our society has learned in the past 100 years that when women’s voices are allowed to be heard, amazing things can happen. The same is true in our churches. My prayer for my daughters is that they will be a part of Christ’s body for the duration of their lives, and that Christ’s body will value their voices. And that they can pass the same sense of value on to their own children. I know there are tough issues they will need to wrestle with. But this should not be one of them.
And I still think everyone should hear Gayla Pope pray.