Monday, November 19, 2012

You should hear Gayla pray



 
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.

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It was a Wednesday night in Abilene, Texas, so naturally, I was at church. My husband Chad and I were members at Highland Church of Christ, and the congregation was in the middle of a series in which men and women met separately for times of worship and prayer. We women had gathered in the main auditorium, and all of our heads bowed as Gayla Pope approached the podium to lead a prayer. As Gayla’s sweet voice flowed through the sound system and filled the auditorium, thanking God for the women who had gathered there, my eyes popped open and my head jerked up. I had heard many prayers led by the male members of that church—people I loved and admired such as John Willis, Charles Siburt and David Wray. But I had never heard a praying female voice come through that sound system. Across rows of bowed heads, I kept watching Gayla as she continued her petitions to God for peace, healing and strength. Such strong words from such a sweet voice. I thought about the men across the street in the Family Life Center, who were missing out on this. “They need to hear Gayla Pope pray,” I thought.

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.

6 comments:

  1. “It’s an ego issue,” he said. “Men just don’t want to give up any amount of control to women.”

    Your dad was 100% dead on target with that comment! That is a fact that has been at the very heart of the issue of women being included equally with men in the Church of Christ, and most of Christianity for that matter. And the thing that makes it worse is that men are in the minority of our membership. Men, all Christian men, need to hear women lead prayer and many of us need to take lessons from those women in how to pray! The door has been opened in a small but growing number of congregations for women to be equal members without restrictions, allowing them to follow where the Spirit leads.

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  2. Your dad was a very wise man, and one of those I always looked up to with respect. However, I think it is more than just ego. Give women a voice and you might just have to admit that there are some women in congregations far more apt for roles of authority than some of the men currently holding those positions. I for one do not believe God intended women to be in a subservient role.

    In 1 Timothy 2:11-13 we read, "Let a woman learn in silence with all submission. And I do not permit a woman to teach or to have authority over a man, but to be in silence. For Adam was first formed, then Eve."

    In fact I'm going to go out on a heretical limb here and say 'Seriously? That's what God wants? And all because he made Adam first?' What kind of crazy logic is that? Sounds like very male centered cultural bias to me coming out of a human voice. That does not sound like the wishes of the loving God that Jesus taught us about.

    I know I won't make friends here by saying this, but here are some facts.
    1) the culture of the time was very male dominated and chauvinistic.
    2) There are other letters in which women were not mentioned as being in subservient roles. There were even books like the Gospel of Mary.
    3) Around 300 years after Jesus' death a council was gathered to determine what the official bible would look like. That council went through and discarded many letters and gospels which were considered (by them) as being not authoritative, or not really authored by those who supposedly wrote them. In fact we have questions today as to whether some of the books that were chosen were really from those to whom we have ascribed them.

    300 years... let that length of time sink in for a minute. For longer than the United States has existed as a nation, there were many "Christianities" running around, Ebionites, Gnostics, etc. There were groups that thought Jesus was purely divine, and others that thought he was purely human, groups that believed he was God, and those that felt he was the Son of god a separate being. Ideas that could not be easily reconciled.
    My point is that for 300 years there was no "right" answer, various different christian groups worshiped as they saw fit. What we have today is the descendant of the winner of the battle for orthodoxy, and those making the decisions on what to include in the bible purposefully chose to minimize women's role in the church very likely because of groups like the Gnostics and their Gospel of Mary.

    But, but, the word of God is holy and inspired and without flaw...

    But it is not. There are dozens of flaws that crept in due to translation alone when it was brought into English. The very word Church didn't exist prior to King James version. I could go on but those who believe there can be no error, will never agree and dismiss what I say as heretical. I know, it took me over two decades to come to terms with that concept and a whole lot of studying and soul searching.

    If you accept that there can be no error, then sadly there can be no equality, which cannot be what God intended for that is not a loving concept, but if you can accept that what we have today was assembled by men who had as their very purpose to eliminate diversity, then perhaps we can someday unshackle half the membership of our faith and let them participate with dignity and equality.

    I apologize to those who will be offended by my words, but they are what I believe. Deana, as always, I am in awe of your eloquence, I enjoyed your article.

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  3. The absence of role models for young women in embarrassingly absent at the most influential age. I wish there were more examples of a modern day Deborah, Huldah, Phoebe, and Priscilla...Capable and gifted by God. I wonder how much more strengthened our churches AND families might be..

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    1. We had one excellent female role model a few years ago but our CoC men who could not handle the fact that she was preaching from a CoC pulpit eventually made it impossible for her and her preacher husband to stay in the CoC! She was our only female preacher for the first few years of this century. She and her husband are now part of the Christian Church/DOC. There are a hand full of female CoC preachers-to-be in school now. I wonder if they will be able to stay in the CoC or if we will try to crucify them also.

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