Dawn Zoller Hodges was born and grew up in the Texas Panhandle town of Amarillo. She earned a B.A. from Harding University, a M.Ed. from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, and a Ph.D. from the University of Oklahoma. She has worked in higher education for 32 years and currently is Vice President for Academic Affairs at a two-year technical college in Georgia. She lives with her husband Rick in the Atlanta suburb of Newnan.
When Mike first invited me to write something about women’s role in the church, I told him that I really don’t know how I feel about. I wasn’t sure I had anything to say. I am very conflicted. But as I thought about it, I remembered that I’m conflicted about many things regarding my upbringing in the Church of Christ, and have been since a young age. When I was 16, I told my Sunday school teacher that I felt like we were being brainwashed. I said it in a calm and non-confrontational way; it is just the way I saw things. Later, when I knew that I could present a more interesting and compelling devotional than any of the young men in our group, I told one of the elders that I didn’t see why I couldn’t do it since I know I could do a better job. He smiled and told me to “stick to my guns,” although I still wasn’t allowed to lead a devo. But, I was certainly a leader in our youth group, albeit a silent one. As a matter of fact, I’m the one who led the effort to get rid of our extremely boring “young people’s class” at 5 pm on Sunday nights and turn it into an after Sunday night service devotional and fun activity (along with sandwiches, chips, and cookies). I know it is the way they did things for years after that.
I was a “born” leader, if you will. I’m a baby boomer who was born in the second half of the generation. My older siblings were among the first boomers, and my baby sister and I in the younger group; thus, I became one of the neighborhood and church leaders of the younger kids. It simply came naturally to me. I remain a leader; as a well-educated woman who has worked in higher education for 30 years, I have “risen” to the position of a chief academic officer for a college of 5500 students. But, I long ago got over wanting to lead a devo; in adulthood I have had no interest in being a church leader. Again, I don’t mean that in any resentful or hostile way; the desire just isn’t there. Perhaps if the Church of Christ had fostered and nurtured young women, I might feel differently. But, in our Wednesday night classes when the young men were being groomed for leadership in the church, the young women were being taught to remain virgins until married and to be The Fascinating Girl. Do any of remember that book? Helen Andelin wrote it in the 1970’s and it guided at least one generation of religious girls on how to land a husband. The chapters include, “The Domestic Goddess,” “Appreciate Him,” “Admire Him,” and “The Feminine Manner.”
Even then as we studied and discussed the chapters each Wednesday night, my sister and I made fun of them behind the scenes. My sister remains unmarried at the age of 53 and I didn’t marry until I was 35. You can see how we might have viewed ourselves as total misfits if it weren’t for the love and direction of two very strong parents. While they were immersed themselves in the doctrine and the conservativeness of the Church of Christ, both coming from second- or third- generation C of C families, they didn’t pass down that dogma so strongly to their children, although we were raised in a very conservative congregation. For example, we were allowed to “mix bathe,” attend school dances, and even skip Sunday school or services if we didn’t want to go. Those behaviors were tantamount to sacrilege in an evangelical religion. I think that balance of having “not so dogmatic” parents made all the difference in our lives. While I did attend one of our “sister” Church of Christ colleges and received a very fine undergraduate education and had an experience that was extraordinary, I was still questioning women’s roles. I remember I wrote an op-ed piece for the college newspaper that questioned why women students had to wear dresses to chapel while a male swim coach could show up in a sweat suit and flip-flops. Ahhh, I was always the rebel!
I have discussed with Mike that I don’t want to turn back time and have a different upbringing. I grew up in a congregation full of God-fearing, well-meaning, loving people. They knew and loved my family just as much as we loved each other. Some of those folks, including the elder I referred to earlier, knew my parents before any of their children were born. They all raised their kids together in that very strict, but loving environment. Over the years we celebrated together, and mourned together. We had pot lucks, ice cream socials, and wedding and baby showers; we celebrated baptisms, graduations, weddings, and anniversaries; we cried through many a funeral together. I love those people. I simply have grown not to believe much of the doctrine. There are some very distinctive events that caused my total ‘perspective transformation’ during my 30’s, but they really don’t have so much to do with the role of women in the church as some other “less than foundational” issues. I’ll save that for another day. But, in the end, I am a “leaver” of the Church of Christ. But, I remain a believer that God is in control and that it is through His Son that I shall find redemption, salvation, and ever-lasting life.