This is for everyone who’s ever sat through a wedding service, cringing in their seat over the hurtful, debilitating, limiting words they’ve heard from the preacher, whether about gender limitations, or salvation of some and damnation of others, or both.
This is for everyone who’s ever sat through a church service, for that matter, and shaken in their in their pew, anger slowly boiling up in them, unsure whether they will cry or give voice to their righteous anger.
For anyone who’s ever been to a convention, women’s conference, meeting, or bible study, for that matter, and been told over and over again that Jesus died for you, but were never taught what he lived for. Who’ve been taught that God finds us so utterly, distastefully sinful and so despicable that we can’t even catch a glance at Him without the blood sacrifice of another human being. Because God’s punishment is death when you mess up, make a mistake, or sin. A loving Earthly Father would be jailed for punishing a child in such a manner. I find all of this rhetoric to be a bit of a hyperbole, because the God I know told me I’m made in His image, and like my Earthly Dad, I don’t need to be beaten, spanked, or die when I mess up. Knowing I’ve disappointed him is the ultimate punishment for me in itself because I hate it when I disappoint someone I love so much.
This is for days like today, in which I’m outside on a beautiful autumn day, sitting in a cushioned seat at a wedding, while a white socially conservative Evangelical man purports that this man up front, about to become a husband, is this woman’s leader. And she, the wife, is to submit to his leadership while he “lovingly leads her” and “leads his family as head of the home.”
For days in which the preacher man then describes God’s design for marriage with Paul’s words in Ephesians 5 to designate the husband as a head of a wife and his family instead of Jesus’ words to “love God, love one another, and love others.” I don’t understand why Evangelical preachers focus on gender so much during a ceremony, when Jesus never once used the terms “gender roles” or “submission to male leadership.” I don’t understand why the preacher asks an adult female, who has already consented to marriage, “Who gives this woman to be the bride?” in which the father, not the mother, then states “her mother and I do.” The Jesus I know offers choices and reminds me to grow up in maturity. I don’t need permission from anyone. Even if a woman actually needed permission, why wouldn’t the husband need permission too? Never mind. Someone’s probably going to retort a verse about leaving and cleaving instead of actually affirming equal decision making capabilities among spouses.
A service in which the preacher mentions not once, not twice, but three times in the same half hour service that marriage is between one man and one woman. We heard you the first time, actually, sir. And it doesn’t make you “right” simply because you repeated this three times with a stolid, authoritative glare and had “reverend” in front of your printed name in the wedding ceremony bulletin.
In which the preacher declares that “sin isn’t discussed often enough in the world” and I internally have to remind himself that this is his opinion, which he is entitled to, but it’s just that- an opinion; not etched in stone cement fact.
In which you must shake the hand of this preacher man who just finished stunting your entire gender as you exit the recessional, only to be seated across from this same preacher at the reception table afterwards.
And this, then, is when things start to turn around. Loud sound pours through the speakers and the first song ushering the crowd onto the dance floor is Aretha Franklin’s “RESPECT.” You rise to your feet and start singing it at the top of your lungs, in wild, reckless abandon, glancing over to eye this preacher man in the face, as if to remind him to respect the strength, knowledge, power, and VOICE that women have, alongside of men, and that this preacher man’s words will not resound as the only possible way for a woman to be a Christian woman, for we are in an era of freedom and grace and this girl, alongside so many other women and girls, has Kingdom life ready to bust out of her veins to quickly remind other females that you don’t have to adhere to any “role” some white man tells you to… for you have brains in your head, passions in your heart, and your relationship with God to reveal who you are and who you can become.
This is for Jesus’s words in which he asks us to, “be one, like I am one with God, to complete unity.” And to “love your enemies.” “Do good to those who disagree with you.” Because we’re all in this together, even if we come to different understandings.
This is for gathering around the table, the same table, with that preacher man and the rest of the body of believers, and sharing in the same cup, partaking in the same bread, whispering a prayer to the same God, realizing that our God is bigger than the divisions we’ve created.
This is for unity without passive agreement to everything “Christian” that you hear.
This is for asking questions. Lots of them. Any of them you’d like.
This is for speaking up, recognizing that your voice is equal to that preacher man’s, regardless of title, gender, professional studies, or social beliefs.
There’s a place, there on that same dance floor that Aretha was singing out from earlier, that’s big and open and free.
A place you can go to physically, or carry within your heart on days in which you feel stuck hearing another message that doesn’t ring true of your study of scripture, who God says s/he is, that is subtly being used to denote a hierarchy of gender.
We’re in that place with you.
It’s this wide open field.
Some of us do cartwheels here.
And some of us just like to sit on our backs, gazing up at the sky, deciphering the shapes of puffy, white clouds against a contrast of ocean blue, while warm zephyrs tickle your face and the tip of your nose.
We love each other here.
We offer freedom here.
There’s more of us out here than you think.
We sit in church pews next to you, putting our arms around you when they tell you that the Muslim woman on the tv screen suffering in Saudi Arabia from gender based violence, rape, female genital mutilation or human trafficking, is, undoubtedly going to Hell, banished from God forever. We know that all you want to do is hug this woman and sit down with her, like Jesus would have, and listen to her story, her pain, her dreams, her brokenness and affirm her strength and dignity and that God knows her heart, her beautiful, pained, but still resilient heart that’s being redeemed by the Healer of the World. This is what happens when we embrace. When we engage in loving kindness and this is how we make Jesus visible. Not through forecasting doom and hell and who’s “in,” and who’s “out,” as if you are the gatekeeper.
We sit beside you in wedding services that often feel unbearable and oppressive.
We dwell inside of you, the voice that longs to be heard, to be voiced, to be understood.
I promise you, there’s more voices than you think.
You just have to be courageous and dare to believe that the God you worship is big enough to hold you, those you disagree with, room for all of us… to believe that God is big enough for our questions, our doubts, and differing interpretations and studies of scripture.
We have a dance floor too out here in this open space.
And our song is freedom.
We’d love for you to sing along.
We will comfort you when you are cringing in your seat, in disbelief of what you are hearing.
We will listen to your questions and share some of our own.
We will help you find new places and ways to worship, places in which you are free to express your thoughts, feelings, opinions, ideas, longings, and aren’t restricted by an authoritarian, intransigent pastor.
We will cheer you on when you speak up for the first time.
We will support you when it feels like no one else is.
You don’t have to be afraid here.
You don’t have to submit to one of your fellow, Earthly, breathing, pulsating human beings here.
You don’t have to vote any particular way.
You are free to love whomever you love, irrespective of gender.
We are people of grace. We are people of second chances. And third. And ninety nineth. We’ll come back to find you if you lose yourself along the way.
We are people who are willing to stand, or at least try to stand, in the face of those who try to tie boxes around you, dismantle your voice, stereotype you, or shame you.
We are outsiders, on the fringe, and our God has brought us into inclusion.
Instead of shrinking and succumbing to words of preachers who try to tame your gender, passions, feelings, and questions, we ask that you speak out.
You are needed.
You are wanted.
You are welcomed.
We want your presence. The world will be stronger because of it.
We want your voice. The world will be more courageous because of it.
We want your song. Whether it composes a beautiful cacophony choir of Aretha Franklin’s R-e-s-p-e-c-t or the song we have yet to hear because you only sing it alone in your shower, where no one can judge you or tell you you’re not good enough. We’re here to tell you it is good enough. In fact, we’d like an encore.
Enough of walking on eggshells.
Enough trying to please everybody.
Enough of the disrespect and incivility.
Come, let’s lock arms together, you, and me, the preachers who are willing, all of us, each of us, each of us who recognizes the Image of God in ALL of us, not just some.
And instead of debating and arguing and trying to convince your “rightness,” and their “wrongness,” hop on the dance floor. Put on your boogie shoes. Play your funky music, [white/black/Asian/Indian/whatever culture you identify with] –[girl/boy/man/woman/transgender/whoever you are, wherever you come from.]!
Because you can’t argue and dance at the same time.
And remember, the place we’re headed- we’ve already been told there will be dancing and merriment.
Some come on.
Dance. Dance with somebody who loves you.
Turns out there’s a lot of us.