Recently, I have been doing quite a bit of thinking regarding things I have heard come across the IFB pulpit. I have spoken to a few women and a few men about something that has really been bothering me. That “something” is the verbal abuse that women have suffered by their pastors. I am not saying that every IFB pastor is like this, but when I was growing up, the pastors were very good about verbally abusing the women in the congregation. It occurred to me not very long ago, that verbal abuse done in the name of God, is spiritual abuse. No woman should have to be treated in that way, yet we are.
According to the Random House Dictionary, one of the definitions of abuse is “coarsely insulting language.” During my years in the IFB, the pastors would use their pulpit as a literal “bully pulpit.” According to what I was taught while growing up, women are responsible for any and all lustful thoughts that a man might have. We’re responsible if the kids don’t turn out right. We’re responsible for keeping ourselves in shape. (That right there is a double-standard because I have met many overweight IFB pastors. Why don’t they have to stay in shape for their wives?)
One former pastor of mine would go on such a tangent, that he would start calling women names. My mother and I can both remember women being referred to as “heifers” from the pulpit. These and many more things were shoved at us as our “Godly” responsibility towards, husbands, fathers, pastors, and men in general. What do men gain by verbally beating up on women? Is it some kind of power trip? Do they think that because of feminism, they have to keep their women in line?
I read something very interesting on a blog called Under More Grace. The article was entitled New Cults of Christianity. I am not saying that the IFB is a cult. I just happened to read this article and what it says regarding the abuse of women in a cult, is something that I have either experienced or seen in the IFB. I have seen women who go to church by themselves, be treated in a different way than the women who have many children and have a husband who goes to church with them. In some cases, I have even heard a pastor tell a woman that since her husband would not come to the church, then the pastor was going to be her spiritual leader and she should submit to him as she would to her own husband.
Abuse of Women. One of the most controversial issues within contemporary Christianity, distortion of the proper role of men and women within the life of the family, the church and society-at-large, also emerges as perhaps the most damaging of all abuses within Bible-based cultic groups. Strong correlations between spousal abuse and cult membership exist as well as a continuum of psychological and physical abuse of women within cults. In a response to the excesses and harmful caricatures of women within feminism, many churches narrowly define the role of women. Women who define the exceptions to these narrowly defined roles are granted only limited grace and freedom of activity. In many orthodox Christian groups, the barren woman, the ill woman and the woman oppressed by a spouse out of compliance with his own role in the family become hopelessly and despairingly devalued.
Where does the woman’s responsibility end and the man’s begin? I know women who have followed everything their pastor said, to the letter. Still, their husbands looked around at other women. Some of them are now divorced because those husbands left them for the other women. Why is the woman marginalized in these situations? Why is the woman held responsible for her husband’s behavior?
As has been happening more and more lately, I went to the Bible to find my answers. I wanted to find out exactly what God thinks of women. Sometimes, it’s easy for me to forget that Jesus grew up in the Middle East. For thousands of years, women in the Middle East have not been treated as equals. That was also the case in Jesus’ day. How did Jesus treat the women He came in contact with while He was here on earth? Did he call them names or put them down in some way? Did he tell them that their only role in life was to get married and have lots of children? I started reading the Gospels and underlining every instance where Jesus came in contact with a woman. I found out some things that I did not know before. There is not enough space for me to give every single Biblical account, but I would like to highlight some of the things that I did not know or the things that I understand much better now.
The woman with the issue of blood. (Matthew 9:20-22; Mark 5:25-34; Luke 8:43-48)
Most people know of this Bible story. A woman who had been bleeding for twelve years was trying to get to Jesus so He could heal her. The crowd around Him was so large, that she realized it would be very difficult to ask Him to heal her. But, she had enough faith in His healing powers that she told herself if she could just touch the hem of his clothes, she would be healed. So, that is what she did, and she was instantly healed. Jesus, immediately started looking around for the person who had touched Him because He felt the healing power leave Him. The woman was trembling and terrified, but she acknowledged to Him and the crowd, that she was the one who had touched Jesus’ clothes.
As I was thinking about this, I realized that Jesus did not condemn her for daring to touch Him. Why did He want to find out who had touched Him? The fact that she was trembling and terrified about going up to Him is an indication to me that she probably thought the worst was going to happen. My NIV Study Bible says in the notes, “Jesus would not allow the woman to recede into the crowd without publicly commending her faith and assuring her that she was permanently healed.” Jesus wanted to make her faith known to everyone around them. He used her as a good example of faith in Christ.
The woman from the region of Tyre & Sidon. (Matthew 15:21-28)
This woman from that area came to Jesus and wanted Him to heal her demon-possessed daughter. When reading the story, it appears that Jesus is trying to ignore her. She kept persisting to the point that even His disciples told Him to send her away. Finally, Jesus told her that He was not sent to her. When she further persisted He said, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” Now, it appears that Jesus was calling this woman a name–a dog. In reality, He was using an analogy to explain that He had been sent to the Jewish people first. He was not putting her down when He used this analogy. The woman understood what Jesus was saying and basically told Him that she would settle for crumbs. Jesus spoke the word and her daughter was healed. Again, Jesus commended the faith of a woman.
Women disciples. (Luke 8:1-3)
Did you know that Jesus had some women as disciples? I did not…at least not until I read the Book of Luke. Most of the time, when people think and talk about the disciples who followed Jesus, they talk about the Twelve. But Luke records that there were a group of women who also followed Jesus and financially provided for Jesus and the Twelve. I find it very interesting that one of the women listed, is also listed as being married. I don’t see Jesus telling the married woman that she needed to go home. He evidently did not feel that any of these women’s proper place was in their homes. In fact, He encouraged women to sit at His feet and learn from Him as He did when He was visiting at Mary & Martha’s house.
The Samaritan Woman. (John 4:1-26)
This story is fascinating to me. First of all, Jesus spoke to a Samaritan woman. The Jews thought of the Samaritan’s as unclean. For Him to speak to a woman…much less a Samaritan woman, went against the culture of that day. He asked her for a drink. That was also not done because she was a Samaritan. It was thought that a Jew would become unclean if he used a drinking vessel that was handled by a Samaritan. While He was speaking to her, Jesus exposed everything about this woman’s life. He never threatened her or humiliated her. He simply showed her her need of a Savior and that He was the Savior she needed.
There are many other examples in the Gospels of the way Jesus tenderly and compassionately spoke to or healed women or their family members. He even used women as examples in parables and that elevated their status. He did not ever speak of them or to them in a demeaning way. Women followed Him to Golgotha, stayed while He hung on the Cross, watched as He was being placed in the tomb, and were the first people who were told of His resurrection. A woman was the first person Jesus revealed Himself to after the Resurrection.
As I have continued to think about this issue, I have remembered some of the men I used to go to church with. Whenever the pastor would start his rant against women, some of the men in the church would egg him on. I have seen men I grew up with, grow up to treat the women in their life as though they are second-class citizens. Why is that? The only answer I can come up with in my own mind is that these boys were taught how to treat women by what came across the pulpit and possibly by what they observed in their own homes. When some of their fathers would start to egg on the pastor, the boys were watching. I know of examples where the women in those families were not treated respectfully. I looked at some of the passages in the New Testament where Paul tells husbands and wives how to treat each other.
I looked at Ephesians 5:22-33, where Paul is talking to the Ephesian believers about authority. The commentary in my Bible says of verse 22, “To submit means to yield one’s own rights. If the relationship called for it, as in the military, the term could connote obedience, but that meaning is not called for here. In fact the word “obey” does not appear in Scripture with respect to wives, though it does with respect to children (6:1) and slaves (6:5).” According to my Bible, the phrase “as to the Lord” in verse 22 means, “This does not put a woman’s husband in the place of the Lord, but shows rather that a woman ought to submit to her husband as an act of submission to the Lord.” So, from what I’m getting, the husband cannot demand that his wife submit to him. Submission on the part of the wife is a voluntary thing. She chooses to submit to her husband’s leadership because she loves the Lord.
In verse 25, Paul is telling the husbands that they are to love their wives with the same type of self-sacrificing love that Christ showed for the Church. He sacrifices his own wants to help his wife mature in the Lord. As it goes further in the chapter, husbands are told to love their wives as they love their own bodies. A husband and wife become one flesh after they are married. She is as much a part of him as his own body is a part of him. As he would take care of his own body, he must take care of her.
My Bible cross-references Colossians 3:18-19. So, I looked at those verses as well. Paul again tells the wife that submission to her husband is something that is “fitting” for the believing wife to do because it is what the Lord wants her to do. Husbands are commanded to love their wives and not be harsh with them.
Honestly, I don’t envy you men. Before God, you definitely have the harder job. The IFB completely reverses things and makes the woman responsible for everything in the home and everything in the relationship. But, as I am finding out, it is the men who bear the responsibility of loving and caring for their wives. The husband is responsible for not being harsh with her and for treating her as the Lord treated women when He was on earth. It is the man who is responsible for nurturing his wife’s spiritual growth. We women have a much easier role. We are commanded to submit to the husband. That doesn’t mean to obey. That doesn’t mean the husband is “like the Lord” to us. It just means that out of love and respect for our mate, we honor him and defer to him as the leader in the home.