When I say I’m a feminist, all I mean is that women should be treated like Jesus treated them. In love, fairness, justice, and equality under the law. The majority of women around the world today are not treated with fairness and justice. This is why I call myself a Christian feminist. – Abby at Little Stories [It’s a really good post. Go read the whole thing.]

Where I come from, to identify with the feminist movement or feminist theory is the social equivalent of having a baby out of wedlock and enjoying the shock value, using the f-word in front of the Baptist pastor’s wife just to make her cry/blush, or wearing a pentagram and a mohawk to church because you hate your parents. It’s assumed that if you’re a feminist, you’re giving God the middle finger and plan to do whatever the hell you want to do.

That assumption is so wrong, and I confess I get impatient with those who believe this. People who identify themselves as feminists can sometimes be like that, yes. But then again, the Westboro Baptist Church doesn’t represent those who define themselves as Christians, does it?

The majority of feminists are just trying to live their lives in a thoughtful, ethical manner–respecting everyone, including themselves. Equality cuts both ways. Ethically consistent feminists will seek justice for any who are oppressed, and sometimes that happens to be women.

As an English major, feminism is a word that has a whole world of loaded meaning–and none of it matches up with the bra-burning, baby-killing, men-hating stereotype painted by the conservative Christian ghetto.

Feminist literary theory seems easy to me. At its simplest, it basically examines the text as if it were a photographic negative–what’s missing speaks the loudest. The absence of men in such and such roles, and the absence of women in these other roles, the masculine-heavy language used by the women in a text written by a male author, etc. You approach the text with your assumptions inverted, and see what you find. At its most complex, it tangles psychoanalytic theories of linguistics with feminine absences/presences and delves into subconscious nuances in the very words of a text. That’s where it gets fascinating, really. And my English professors would probably pale at the truncated and caricatured description I just gave–it’s a lot more complex than just what I [tried] to describe. Sorry, Messer.

The reason I feel that feminist theory is easy is this: up until the late 1800s, most books were written by men in a male-dominant culture. Feminist criticism can have a field day with almost anything written before Feminist theory came along and everyone started being self-aware in their writings. (meta-meta. This sort of writing became like an internet meme among novelists in the last 50 years and it’s really annoying.) It’s easy to find something new to pick apart for its misogyny and absence of feminine language. It becomes a cop-out among English students just trying to get a degree without putting a lot of original thought into their theses, while looking like they are because the text they’ve chosen hasn’t been analyzed in depth before from the feminist perspective.

. . . this doesn’t sound anything like the feminism you know, does it?

My point is, “feminist” is a loaded word, and using it in its fullest academic meaning will earn me dirty looks and incredulity from most conservative Christians.

Dear Christians, please lay down your arms, and make sure that word means what you think it means before teaching your children that [insert a word used to describe a group of people] don’t love Jesus.


Even though I’m an English major with a passion for editing and good grammar, I still write in all lowercase when I’m on IM. I write poetry in lowercase, too. I think it’s because when I allow myself to be transparent, I’m still afraid [of getting squelched? being too confident in my own opinions?] and want to protect myself by speaking more softly and appearing less definite. Thus: lowercase. I have nothing to fear, but the habit of undermining my own thoughts still holds.

Similarly, when I was about 14, I developed a bad habit/minor speech impediment–I mumbled. My dad would get annoyed at me and lecture me repeatedly for “swallowing my words,” and then I’d get embarrassed and either say “never mind” or repeat myself until he understood me or I got angry and just yelled the words and then ran off and cried. My confidence was shot. I second-guessed the worth of my thoughts, my opinions, my emotions, everything. And so I mumbled things, assuming that if someone was interested in what I had to say, they would listen closely and understand. I also got in the habit of undercutting my own sense of humor, adding “just kidding” to the end of a somewhat witty comment, and eclipsing the wit with my own insecurity. It became excruciatingly awkward, but if I did feel like someone really cared and would listen to me without condemnation, the mumbling would stop and I could speak with confidence.

I’m not writing here to wallow in pain, but sometimes it needs to be processed. Today I read a paragraph that triggered a host of memories for me, memories of the darkness and fear that made me so insecure as a teenager. Blogger Melissa wrote:

My parents told us that if people saw us outside during school hours, we would get taken away and put in foster homes where they would make us go to school. I remember crawling underneath the windows in the front of the house, because I was afraid someone outside would see me and call the police. One time a family friend knocked at the door during school hours, and my sister ran to open it. I heard the commotion from the other end of the house and ran in the kitchen screaming “don’t open the door!!” and when I rounded the corner and realized that the door was already open and there were no policemen waiting to take us away, I shrank away in embarrassment. I remember being outside and hearing the screams of a sister being spanked for what seemed like an eternity, and besides that usual sick feeling in my stomach for what she was going through, my main worry was that since the window was open, someone might hear and call the police. One time when I was babysitting my siblings, a chair got knocked over and broke the dining room window. I cried, and yelled at all the kids that now someone would see the broken window and think that dad was a drunk who beat us, and they would call the police. (From her post “Rights of a Child Part 2“)

This description matches parts of my childhood quite well. We were afraid of strangers asking questions about why were were out of school, we had rules about how to answer the door or phone during school hours, and it was always a bad day when a sibling’s misbehavior and its consequences could be heard outside of the house. “Quiet! The neighbors might hear you and call the police!” we would tell each other. Fear seemed to dominate our homeschooling, and we were always on the defensive about our lifestyle.

This was not always how it was, and the day to day of my childhood was pretty happy. My family is full of creative people and we were almost given total free reign to draw, paint, narrate, imagine, create, build, etc. I have many happy memories of my dad playing guitar and reading to us before bed, of camping trips and learning to appreciate nature from mom. My siblings and I mostly got along, and life was fine. We didn’t have any tangible troubles to point to, and we certainly had many things to be thankful for. Our parents loved us.

I was the outspoken, spunky kid who wanted to do everything, see everything, know everything, be everything. I told my mom once, “When I grow up I want to be a candymaker veterinarian ballerina writer teacher and go hiking all the time.” I was un-self-conscious and would talk to anyone about anything (but mostly about how I thought Jesus was amazing and they should think so, too).

Once, when I felt that my Sunday school teachers were patronizing my fifth grade class by giving out candy for bringing a Bible and candy for acting out the story of Jonah (with no “this teaches us about God because…” follow-up or lesson), I wrote a long letter to our pastor in pencil on binder paper and told him that this was unacceptable and we were old enough to learn real things about God. (He pulled me aside the next week and told me that was inappropriate and did my parents know? I told him they didn’t, and if he wasn’t going to fix the problem, I would stop going to Sunday school and just sit in the sermons. So I did, and they were just as bad. My parents thought this was hilarious.)

In short, I was a confident, slightly stuck-up kid with a passion for knowing and talking about truth. But when my family moved across the country when I was 12 (for a host of reasons…another story for another day), my world fell apart in ways I wouldn’t realize until years afterward.

After our move, I was introduced to the Sovereign Grace Ministries culture. Actually, more like immersed in it. Our first week there, we got moved in and unpacked by SGM families, and my sister and I were invited to a “welcome to the church” party with all the girls our age. Things seemed okay, initially. [Looking back, this was a classic SGM love-bombing, and we didn’t develop deep relationships with many of the families who helped us out and welcomed us. I’m glad they helped—it made the move easier—and I know they meant well. But most of them never noticed us  when, a couple of years later, we had a really rough season and desperately needed help.]

We stuck out, as a family, from the other folks at our church. I called adults by their first names (until I was swiftly rebuked), I liked both feminine and masculine things (ballet, softball, shooting, camping, horses, etc.), I was a fashion disaster, I wanted to go to college, and our family was (compared with the other families in our church) somewhat poor. The other girls—the popular ones—would go out to movies and go to the mall to hang out. I would be restricted from these things by money and morals (“that movie isn’t from a Biblical world view”) and my friend group dwindled as a result.

Most of the other families in this church were homeschoolers, too, but that common ground disappeared quickly—the majority of these homeschoolers participated in co-ops where moms taught and the kids went to classes with their peers for various subjects. These might be once or twice a week, or every day for part of the day. My parents wouldn’t put us in these, though, saying that we couldn’t afford it (both the time and money). My dad also commented on these co-ops, saying that “they don’t really homeschool—it’s ‘faux-schooling.’” His opinion was that these other parents weren’t as committed to raising their kids in a godly manner and were shipping their kids off to be taught by other people (which he thought was lazy and irresponsible).

However, he was simultaneously becoming less and less involved in our family’s educational choices and we had limited resources for text books and curricula. The cognitive dissonance of this manifested itself in my mom’s rising stress levels and I began to shoulder more of the housework and help watch my siblings more.

In the meantime, my friends kept going to co-ops and the mall, and I’d see them at church on Sundays and try to talk about things I was learning, books I was reading, and daily family life—and it grew increasingly evident that no one could relate to my experiences and that almost no one wanted to take the time to get to know me and understand my family and my passion for new ideas. Several girls who had initially been wonderfully welcoming (and whom I had begun to count as dear confidantes) faded out of my life and moved on to be close with other girls who were more “cool.”

Around that same time, my mom was pregnant with twins (siblings #6 and #7) and our family life revolved around doctor’s appointments for her, and then for the babies. Life was full and overwhelming and my siblings got restless and edgy with mom being so absorbed with two newborns. I took on more around the house, and school fell to the wayside completely. For a period of six weeks, we had at least three doctor’s appointments every week and I was babysitting for some reason or another every day. Mom was utterly exhausted and had a hard time recovering from her pregnancy, and it seemed that every day was in crisis mode on cruise control.

These circumstances made a social outlier of me and my family, and I felt like I had been pushed aside by everyone at my church as if I wasn’t either too different or just not worth their time. In the meantime, high school was a struggle for me (finding time and a place to work in peace was hard) and my mom had another baby and fell into post-partum depression, which really didn’t lift for the next four or five years.

I was a hollow person, tired of being so busy at home, and desperate for friends and time to pursue my own interests. And I stopped speaking with confidence, and grew afraid of letting anyone get to know me, for fear of being rejected again.

Miraculously, God provided an online community for me and I eventually made a few very dear friends, but it still never quite filled the void of fellowship, and I was still very insecure.

Going to college was something I had always assumed I would do, and as someone who loved to learn and think about abstract theories, college seemed like it would be a kid-in-a-candyshop experience for me. However, my church taught that women were designed to find their highest satisfaction in homemaking. So, most of my friends assumed that they would not go to college, that they would stay at home and learn domestic skills, that they might work as a secretary at the church office part time, and that eventually they would marry some godly SGM guy (ideally, a pastoral candidate, or at least a potential care group leader) and then they would make a bunch of happy babies and stay at home and homeschool them all.

Since I had just spent the last 6 years of my life playing second mom to my siblings and was already quite competent with household management, I thought that this was utter nonsense. They would be bored to death before the honeymoon was over!

In a word, I didn’t fit. I was worn out by the circumstances surrounding daily life with my family, and I couldn’t live up to academic standards, social norms, or my own hopes for myself.

I don’t think I was ever technically depressed, but all this took a major toll on me, as my confidence withered and I retreated to the recesses of my bedroom to create an alternative imaginary reality where I could decompress. Novels, art projects, and writing stories became my refuge, and I suppressed emotions (loneliness, feeling inadequate, yearning for affection, desires for acceptance and affirmation) through imagination until my own feelings were distant and vague in comparison with the stories I threw myself into.

This was only noticed as it affected my high school grades, and I lost practically an entire year of school. My parents cranked up the academic pressure and accountability, and my academics did improve, but the deeper issues lay untouched. They were themselves too burned out to be able to offer helpful support beyond guilt-trips to finish school well.

A lot of women coming out of CP families have experienced an overwhelming flood of difficult-to-process emotions, bottled up over years of living in denial of normal emotions, or living in repressive environments, or just being too busy to process themselves and their lives as they lived them. Sometimes this aftermath is so strong that they are very rightly diagnosed with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Sometimes it’s just a matter intense frustration with relearning what the heck a normal person, a normal Christian living in grace, is supposed to do with normal emotions. What does one do with the grief over dreams left to wither for practical or irrationally motivated CP-like reasons under the auspices of honoring God.  With processing friendships that unraveled or turned sour over things that should not have mattered. With years of loneliness. With weariness. With a marriage that didn’t happen at all or didn’t happen the way you thought it would. With lingering insecurities over various aspects of “being normal.” [how does it work?]

Recovery is slow. Grace works thoroughly, not quickly. In the meantime, I still IM in lowercase. But I don’t mumble.


After a couple months of steady discouragement fogging up my thoughts, I’m waking up to discover that it’s melting away. All I can see are new ideas, new options–life rearranged in a myriad of shapes, and they’re all pretty exciting.

This morning was a grumpy morning (Monday showed up and Thursday called in sick): the cat had shredded an entire (new) roll of toilet paper all over the bathroom, my dress pants were missing, my pearls were missing, I didn’t have any leftovers ready to go for lunch, I ran into horrible traffic when I took my husband to the subway so he could get to work, and then again on my own route to the office.

Yeah, it sucked. But it wasn’t really anything bad and none of it really affected anything important, and the day went well and I felt like I was a productive person, and I had Chipotle with my husband for dinner and we got drenched in a downpour. And that was funny, because we had to dry off under blow driers in the restrooms and wipe our faces with paper napkins. We’re just silly kids, and there’s grace to not take ourselves or our plans too seriously.

I think I like this. This uptight firstborn INFJ is learning to enjoy options. To change plans. To savor the freedom of waiting on the next thing and not know yet what’s around the corner. My job is good. It’s stable, and I’m enjoying it. My guy’s got some temp jobs and piano lessons, and we’re making ends meet. I lack nothing.

Being married to a second born is a serious lesson in adventure for me. We’re painting pictures of tomorrow and I’m learning how to laugh. I have to admit, it’s really fun.


Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God. So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.  By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love. We love because he first loved us. 

– 1 John 4:15-19, ESV

I suppose, if I were the tattoo-getting type, I might get this inked on me in some artsy fashion: Perfect love casts out fear.

This passage above was the catalyst for one of those epiphanies which we have when we are at our most broken and some phrase sticks in the mind and beats on the heart until its origin is dredged out of memory and brought to light. This phrase came to me several times when I was discouraged and anxious about my relationship with my then-boyfriend/now-husband (let’s just call him “Jayber” okay fine I’ll use his real name: Kevin) and how the choices we were making were creating a strain in my relationship with my parents. Perfect love casts out fear. The grace I knew I had in Christ came through that perfect love and did not require me to be fearful or anxious about how I was measuring up to ideals, standards, or values I no longer quite identified with.

This phrase became my touchstone. With Kevin, I was not afraid. After living under a spirit of fear for nearly my entire adolescence, this was a new, bright, and relieving experience. I didn’t have to be anxious about measuring up, I didn’t have to apologize for everything, and I didn’t have to tiptoe around the expectations of others, fearful of raising a “I-fear-for-your-soul” lecture dripping with guilt-trips. I could just be and know that Kevin still loved me because Jesus loved me. I was safe. I could spill the thoughts brimming in my heart and ask the questions which were lined with doubt–and I would still be confident that I would be accepted and loved, even if I was confused or weary.

My husband’s example of tenderness and patience demonstrated to me, in the most tangible way I had ever known, that Jesus and His redemptive love were real. Because Christ loved, Kevin loved. And in that love was a miniature reflection of redemption and grace on a heavenly scale.

And it was the sweetest thing I had ever known.


Maybe it seems to some of my readers that this whole “Christian Patriarchy” is just one of those sub-culture issue about which Christians like to get their knickers in a twist, and maybe it seems like I need to “just get over it” and accept that there were problems with my family and move on with life. Everyone has their own issues, right?

I would posit that both these reactions are understandable, and that, in a way, I would agree. First: Christians too often care about things that shouldn’t matter, and neglect that which is vital to their identity as Christians (Jesus, grace, forgiveness, etc.). Second: yes, life is hard and everyone has their own story to tell and everyone has their own intensely personal pain to wrestle. Mine is not unusual and mine is not particularly remarkable. I’m not asking you to give me sympathy, I’m not out to get my parents (they’re super nice and I really admire them), and I’m not out to get a memoir deal with a big publisher.

However, I still feel compelled to write about Christian Patriarchy and the detrimental effects that this philosophy of God, life, and family has on churches, women, children, and good heavens, yes! the men involved in and affected by CP.

The reason this issue is so important is that CP–being primarily derived from interpretations of Scripture and reinforced by assertions about God’s character–is at its heart an issue of essential beliefs about God, his nature, and the nature of his relationship with man.

Christian Patriarchy assumes a particularly pernicious  interpretation of the gospel, and does not reflect, at all, the God that I know or the grace that He has chosen to define His relationship with mankind. Because a right view of God and grace is vital to a saving faith in Jesus Christ, I feel that I have a sort of moral obligation to “give a damn” about what this school of thought teaches, and if I can intelligently engage with it to the furtherance of a right understanding of grace, I will do so.

I don’t think I can “fix” this issue or even that I have to “win” an argument about whether or not CP is based in heresy. But as someone who has encountered radical grace in my recovery from the legalistic oppression of CP, I have a sort of “mama bear” reaction when I see friends or acquaintances burdened by the mental guilt of CP’s “gospel” and live in a horizon-less, black-and-white world, when there are colors and shadows and sunrises to be found in living without striving to patch oneself together to achieve man-made approval. (Other elements of CP wake in me grief and compassion–more on that in another post.)

Let me unpack this in a bit more detail.

Christian Patriarchy assumes that God demands His people to be separate from the world, citing the Old Testament to back this up, as well as choice selections from Romans.

The idea is, that if His people are to be like Him, they can’t be like the world (e.g. sinful) and so they must live in a radically different manner from the world and separate themselves from sinful people. This thinking makes sense, on some levels, but it goes awry when they handily overlook the fact that there are two different sorts of separation going on between the OT and the NT, reflective of two different covenants with God and two different types of relationship between God and man.

The first (OT) covenant is one of law and ritual purification and a higher physical standard of living for religious purity reasons. God demands His people to be holy, they are sinful, they must obey the Law to appease Him, etc. This covenant, St. Paul later explains, was given to demonstrate man’s utter inability to meet God’s standard through holy living and separation from the world. Sin is a heart issue, and law cannot uproot it from human nature.

Hence, in the NT, God gives His people Christ as a substitute, the incarnate God bearing His people’s sins upon Himself to propitiate for their sinful nature. The focus from this point on is the unmerited grace that God gives through Jesus to those who trust in Him for redemption from themselves. Grace supersedes the need for the law, and grace becomes the motivator for a believer to live a holy life. The relationship between God and man is no longer based upon fear and obligation, and is transformed to be centered upon unmerited, unceasing love and a transformed heart that will naturally desire to live in a way that pleases God.

The Christian Patriarchy movement misses the whole point of the second covenant, the new relationship forged in blood by Christ. CP teachings are classically monocovenantal, which basically means that these people believe that God didn’t make two separate covenants (OT, NT), but rather that the life of Jesus was an addition to the first covenant and that the obligations of the OT law still hold some sway over those who profess faith in Christ.

The details of how the patriarchal Christian is supposed to work to please God by obeying various laws or rules varies from group to group–Bill Gothard is famously detailed in his law-based teachings, Vision Forum is slightly less standardized, and Sovereign Grace Ministries functions almost entirely upon unspoken social mores that function as spiritual laws. However, the focus on outward behavior, undue confession of sin (to parties uninvolved, male authority figures, etc., rather than God or privately to an offended brother), a perverse obsession with personal guilt and striving to improve the self, and a constant feeling among CP individuals that they can’t quite measure up or that they are unworthy of ____ (fill in the blank!)–all these things bear the marks of CP beliefs about God.

In the minds of CP adherents, God becomes a taskmaster, an angry judge, and an indifferent and offended authority figure; all these reflect the sort of men and fathers involved in CP,  which suggests to me that they have created this system of theology to mirror God after themselves. And such an action is classic of any heretical teaching: man forming God in his own image is as old as Adam and still just as damning.

This shift in how God is viewed is poisonous to the faith of believers in CP, and stunts the faith of those raised in it, and frightens those to whom CP tries to “witness” or “share their faith”–but it’s not the gospel of grace in Christ that they’re selling. It’s a man-made system of appeasing authority in hopes of purifying oneself and the culture enough to make a lasting difference (in what? it differs, depending on the group. VF would say: America!, Gothard would say: The Church!, others would vary by turns).

A right understanding of God is vital to the Christian walk and vital to the redemption of human hearts desperate for grace. And that’s why I give a damn about this.