Twitter thread attacks sexism in churches

Canadian Christian author Sarah Bessey has unwittingly revealed the ugly truth about Christian male privilege in a Twitter thread tag #ThingsOnlyChristianWomenHear.

After she started the hashtag on a whim, it quickly amassed hundreds of tweets from women (and men) sharing the sad, funny, infuriating sexist things they had heard in their Christian communities.

“I didn’t have a big agenda with it – I honestly just thought it would be an interesting convo on the heels of similar conversations,” commented Bessey, the author of Jesus Feminist, on her Facebook page.

“But now this hashtag is pulling back the curtain on the everyday lived experiences of women within the church.”

Queensland music teacher Simone Richardson, who has written song lyrics such as Never Alone and Grace Awaiting Me, normally hates seeing the church dragged through the mud.

But she says it is not the hashtag that is dragging the church through the mud but rather the words and attitudes of those in the church.

“This hashtag is pulling back the curtain on the everyday lived experiences of women within the church.”- Sarah Bessey

“As a woman who has experienced frustration and some hurt from deliberate and inadvertent sexism in the church, having the ridiculousness of Christian-context sexism pointed out was personally affirming,” she says “For women who have suffered deep harm from church sexism, it would have been much more than that.”

She says it is “not good enough” that nine-year-old girls continue to be told that their spaghetti-strap singlets are causing boys to sin.

“It is not good enough that battered wives continue to be told to pray for their husbands instead of escaping them. It is not good enough that women are made to feel that their quick minds, biblical knowledge and professional competence are dangerous things to take into marriage, yet these things keep on being said in the Christian Church. If it takes a Twitter hashtag to make it stop, so be it.

“When destructive things happen in the church, they ought to be brought into the open, named and acknowledged so that a pathway to repentance can be embarked upon.”

Having read through the tweets, Richardson divides them into four categories. “First there are those that blame women for the sins of men, encourage women to remain in unsafe situations and sexualise children. Christians from all theological camps ought to agree that if a nine-year-old girl’s singlet ’causes’ a boy or man to sin, the problem is not with the girl or even with her singlet, but entirely with the boy or man. A rape victim ought not be told that healing will come when she marries her rapist.

“Wives should not be blamed for the abuse they receive and be told that God wants them to stay in dangerous situations. Regardless of our denomination or theology, we ought to all agree that statements of this type are destructive and wrong and call people on them whenever they are said.”

“Here’s the rule: To keep out of trouble mostly all you need to do is mind your own business.” – Simone Richardson

Then there are hurtful and frustrating statements that stem from the incorrect assumption that marriage and motherhood are the highest calling for women, when in reality following Christ is their highest calling. She says both men and women find it surprisingly easy to say dumb and hurtful things about what godly womanhood looks like in practice.

“Numerous tweeters shared stories about being told to wait for their Boaz, ‘really’ understanding things only once they were married with kids, it being assumed that they would help on the creche roster (despite not having kids), it being wrong to work outside the home (unless it is to support your husband seminary), and questioning their career choices.”

While these things are easy to say, it is also surprisingly easy not to say them, she comments.

“The problem here is not that the church is worse than the world. It is that we are no better.” – Simone Richardson

“Here’s the rule: To keep out of trouble mostly all you need to do is mind your own business. If a woman tells you she is starting study in a particular area or a new job, don’t feel that it is your place to question that choice of hers. It isn’t. If you are wondering why Miss X isn’t yet married, remind yourself that there is no rule that we have to get married by a particular age, or indeed, at all, and say nothing. Similarly, if you are wondering why a particular couple only have one or two children, or seven, or none at all, again remind yourself that this is something that is their concern and not yours. Godly womanhood can be expressed in a thousand different ways and we need not worry ourselves with other people’s business.

“Third, there are those tweets that express frustration and hurt over a threatened, over-zealous application of complementariansm. “You can’t be a Christian and a feminist.” “Women can’t MC a Christian meeting.” “A woman can be the ‘director’ overseeing children’s ministry, but not the ‘pastor’ overseeing childrens’ ministry.”

Finally, there are those tweets that result from genuine disagreement over egalitarian/complementarian views on how the church should be ordered.

“I can well understand the frustration a woman might feel when she knows herself to be well able to preach but is not allowed because of her church’s view on a male-only pulpit. This is a difficult issue and I can only suggest that to limit hurt we listen to one another and assume they have the best motives. Men should not assume that a woman has a ‘Jezebel Spirit’ because she wants to preach, that she wants to usurp his authority or that she doesn’t accept the bible as God’s authoritative word. Women ought not assume that men are sexist in wanting to keep women out of the pulpit – it may be their genuine theological conviction on what is right. Working through such disputes will take time and patience and graciousness, but it may be achieved while remaining respect for one another.

“Because this is Jesus’ vision for the church. The Christian Church ought to be a place where racial differences, class differences and gender differences are put to the side, where we are unthreatened by the gifts of others, unthreatened by differences in opinions, and ready to graciously speak and hear. We are all one in Christ, united in him. This is where the gospel leads us and I pray that this confident unity will be the desire of us all.”

Here is the tweet that started off the conversation.

“You are an amazing leader! You’d make an excellent pastor’s wife someday!”

Here are a few responses:

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