Embracing The Full Freedom Of Christ As A Single Woman
Christ has set us free to live a free life. So take your stand! Never again let anyone put a harness of slavery on you. Galatians 5:1 MSG
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28 NIV
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, then you will produce much fruit. Without me, you can’t do anything. John 15:5 CEB
As a single living in the evangelical complementarian culture which venerated marriage, “biblical” gender roles and having children, singleness was often viewed by me and my single friends as the maiden waiting room that we endured until we got the gold ring of marriage. When one of my friends married, I felt like one of the nuns in The Sound of Music, stuck behind the gate and living a “less than” life.
I also had a complex relationship with complementarian marriage, as something inside me knew that it was attractive in some ways for some reasons (infantilizing and evading responsibility as a “submissive” wife) and repellent for other reasons (giving up my sense of self and personal agency and embracing patriarchy).
All my relationships as a single were grounded in mutuality, and felt more “right” than a marriage with hierarchy. Of course, I was often told in books and sermons that this was because my “flesh” was selfish and hated authority. The sticker is that there was a bit of truth in those statements. In honesty, I do struggle with authority, as does pretty much every one at some time, male or female.
In any relationship there is a dying to self, a dying to flesh. What I didn’t see for too long is that I was doing that in the relationships I already had. My sister and I shared a home where there I learned about submitting to the other in love, many times because my sister so beautifully lived this out. I died to self the night I helped care for a dying friend, when I became a safe place for another friend to share her story of childhood sexual abuse, and each time I renounced a life choice for the sake of relationship and community. And yet the church often told me in plain words and inference, from pulpit and in community, that I was single because I was selfish.
Sometime in my 40s everything started shifting for me. It started with a questioning of living half of my adult life waiting for something that was less possible each day, but was the nexus around which I was arranging and managing large parts of my life. It grew with an unquenchable desire to find meaning for a life that would be lived in community, but not with husband and family.
The watershed moment was when I began reading a book I’d picked up to explore what God means for women — Guardian Angel by Skip Moen. I read about Katherine Bushnell’s discovery of Pagnino’s translation of teshuqah to “desire” and instead of “turning” and how that translation marked a turning point in the interpretation of Genesis 3:16 (and one that future translators would rarely question). Could it be that this verse talked not about a punishment on Eve and her daughters to be forever under Adam and his sons, but instead, “about Eve turning away from God and toward her husband as the center of her life”? The scales began to fall. If I could have been misled by a 16th century monk about this verse – one that is a linch pin for the complementarian view – what else was going on?
My season of questioning began — of deeper Berean examination of interpretation of the handful of Bible verses that form the foundation of the complementarian view. I studied alternate interpretations and the scholarship behind them. I looked at each interpretation with how it compared with the whole of scripture and the teachings and life of Jesus. What I found broke down the structure of my complementarian house, including it’s hope chest of marriage, but it left the one sure foundation, which is Christ.
This brought me to where I am now, an evolving egalitarian. I no longer have a love/hate relationship with marriage. I see it as one choice, but not the gold standard. If I were to marry I would seek the same mutuality of submission and love that I already have experienced in relationships. I still think marriage would be a wonderful journey, but it is likely not in my journey, and my journey is not less for its lack, just different than others. I remind myself that my Savior and the “author and perfecter” of my faith chose to live as a single person in this world.
After moving toward egalitarianism, I have discovered more of my gifts through exploration in ministry and affirmation of my brothers and sisters in Christ. I have led men and women in teaching, prayer, and worship. I’ve served the Eucharist. I’ve had my ears anointed with oil as I entered training for spiritual direction. I don’t fear moving into any area of ministry or leadership that I once considered “male territory”. More importantly, I don’t censor my encouragement of other women who are exploring any ministry that they feel led of the Spirit to pursue.I am convinced that all the gifts, callings, and ministries of the Holy Spirit are gender neutral, given as the Spirit wills, not men. Click To Tweet
There are still days and moments when I feel the gates in front of me, but that isn’t because God put them there, but the traditions of humans. Sadly, many of those moments happen among the community of Christ. But where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty, and the Spirit reminds me of this when I stop to listen.