The Grief of Half the Church… Held Back

*I’ve been reading a book called Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James in the hopes that it will find the target of both empowering women and calling them to the role God has for them. I believe that women were created as helpers… but I also believe that current church culture teaches women to hold back so that men will fulfill their God-given role. I think that’s bad for both men and women. Here’s a quote from the book that shows some of my own grief.

“I grieve over the opportunities and blessings I have wasted because I didn’t know about God’s vision for His daughters – I didn’t realize God expected so much of me. I grieve the loss to the church when so many Christian women believe it’s possible to subsist on an anorexic spiritual diet. I grieve that far too many women and girls are living with small visions of themselves and of their purpose. I grieve the loss to our brothers who are shouldering burdens we were created to share and are doing kingdom work without us when God means for us to build His kingdom together.

When half the church holds back – whether by choice or because we have no choice – everyone loses and our mission suffers setbacks. Tragically, we are squandering the opportunity to display to an embattled world a gospel that causes both men and women to flourish and unites us in a blessed alliance that only the presence of Jesus can explain,” (James 19).


17 thoughts on “The Grief of Half the Church… Held Back

  1. I agree. I’m curious as to which roles James specifically feels are neglected (as these would be in mens’ interest to encourage), but perhaps I should read it for myself. I find this post timely, as God recently highlighted this passage in study:

    Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God. (Titus 2:3-5)

    I don’t know about you, Katie, but I don’t think I’ve ever seen a young woman being trained to love. Men are willing to impose the “submit and be pure” message, but how could we possibly know what that means?

    This is a taller order than we’re often willing to admit, but at the heart of Paul’s advice for men and women is discipleship. We can identify the inefficiencies in our church culture’s fleshly attempt to maintain “balance,” which is at the heart of female suppression, but rarely do men or women take responsibility for the training and building of mature, functioning believers. This requires a personal investment beyond running a program or teaching a class.

    As I shared this passage with my church last weekend, I told the elder women that not only are we dropping the ball in how we disciple young women, but that older men (even those with a ministry degree) are insufficiently wired to do so. We encourage young women to grow in these ways, yet rarely show them how it is of unique or specific use to the body.

    I don’t mean to simplify or diminish James’s message, but I feel that intentional discipleship would go a long way in restoring His full intent for His Church. It requires diligence, responsibility, and a submission to His Spirit to advance the Gospel in such a way that our fruit will also grow and reproduce. I don’t see any role being embraced without that.

  2. I am not a Christian though raised as one. Though I have not chosen to become Christian this does not mean I don’t see the beauty in the faith. Most women I found seem to have no place in most Christian churches as the non-religious world offers them more freedom and lets face it more respect.

    You see women as helpers. I respect your belief but I prefer to see women as partners rather than helpers. A helper does not make decisions, a partner shares in the decisions. When one gets married does the wife only assist and follow and help her husband. Some would say yes. What if she married and idiot?

    Sorry, I tend to be a bit sarcastic.

    In all honesty I believe we have free will and Christian women have a choice to follow the churches interpretation of the Bible or go to a church that values them as equals with men and utilizes their love, grace and talents that God gave them.

    I posted a blog recently about religion. It’s focus is not on women but rather on worshipers and atheists. I usually read a book a week then blog about it and life in general.

    Thanks for your post.

    • A.W. – I completely agree with you about the need for discipleship. I know I would benefit a lot from having an older woman who is investing regularly and intentionally in my life.

      Postitwright – I agree with (and certainly hurt to my core for) some of the things you’ve written, but I also don’t think being a helper necessarily implies inequality. I think the church has struggled to live out the equality that should be there, but the bible uses the same word for helper to describe women and the Holy Spirit. I don’t think it would be right to say that the Holy Spirit is less important or unworthy of respect because He’s a helper… nor do I think we should treat women as if they are less important or worthy. I think western culture has come to hate some things that are beautiful and valuable when they seem less powerful at first glance. I think the role of the helper is one such thing we undervalue. It may not be the kind of role where there’s obvious glory and power, but it is the kind of role that is needed in any partnership. I also don’t think a helper is left out of all decisions. I think making decisions is one of the primary activities men need helpers in. 🙂

      As for the point, “What if she marries an idiot?”

      I don’t have a super answer for that. The usual churchy answer is that she should be careful about who she marries, which is true, but doesn’t really answer the question. I will say that my pastor pointed out that submission and obedience are not synonymous. The bible never says that a woman should obey her husband. It says she should submit. I know that’s going to seem like I’m looking for loopholes, but I’m not. I really do think it’s an important distinction that we’ve forgotten.

      THANK YOU for commenting, by the way. I’ll definitely be checking out your blog today 🙂

  3. I am intrigued by A. W. Mark’s quote of Titus… Is there another place where it is explained how young men can be taught to love their wife and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their wife? What I mean is, I don’t disagree with what that says, but I see it as applicable to all human beings. How is it specific to women?

    For me, the power of Christianity is in considering all human beings as equal to one another, no matter what earthly form they were given. Detachment from earthly matters and self-renunciation do not mean anything else than what little importance is held by who you are as a concrete person, a man, a woman, a child, sick, healthy, beautiful, ugly, weak, strong – compared to the importance of your soul, which has no sex or age or earthly shape.

    Lastly, if you needed to “train” a believer to love, wouldn’t that be a direct insult to their Christianity? The love we give others only mirrors the love we give God (and the love God gives us). Is there a difference? Do men and women love differently? I don’t think so.

    • That’s a great question Asia. The primary reason I quoted this passage is because Katie posted specifically about women holding back on their role in the church to accommodate men. Men certainly have the same responsibility to be discipled within the church — in fact, Paul advises Titus before and after this passage:

      Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.,,

      Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness, and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us. (Titus 2:2,6-8)

      John tells us that we are not even capable of knowing pure love without knowing God Himself, for God is love. Therefore, for men or women to reflect this love, they must intimately know the source. However, I do believe that God has created man and woman with the intent to reflect this love differently. This doesn’t mean that one reflection is greater than another, for both are a reflection of God Himself.

      In scripture alone, we see God love through leadership, discipline, correction, pursuit, protection, provision, multiplication, mercy, nurturing, sacrifice, counseling, and comfort. While we may argue that none of these characteristics in themselves are “masculine” or “feminine,” God in His goodness has allowed two people to come together to better represent the fullness of His love. So if my love for my future wife and children is best demonstrated through my provision and protection, and my partner’s through her counseling and comfort, this is a good thing, and not a relationship in which we are struggling to serve outside our roles, simply to show how empowered we are.

      Likewise, these roles are beautiful because the love of the marriage covenant was intended to reflect God’s love for the church. To the Ephesians, Paul writes:

      Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to maker her holy, cleaning her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself… (Eph. 5:25-28)

      Women can grieve about the call to “submit” in this culture, but the command for men to love their wives as Christ loves the church is an even greater task. Men are expected to love their wives with the same sacrifice and pursuit as Christ does for the church, thus my love for my wife should go to every measure to place God’s interests above my worldly desires in protection, provision, and romance, just as Christ was willing to sacrifice his own life for the sake of the church. John says that there is no greater act of love than this.

      Postitwright and Katie: As for the question of when a woman “marries an idiot,” Paul always couples the call to submit with a reciprocating command for men to be worthy of that level of respect. In Colossians 3:19, husbands are told to “not be harsh with their wives,” but the idiom in the original language implies, “Do not cause your wives to be embittered.” In other words, if the act of submission becomes a grievous act rather than a respectable and honorable one, the husband has failed his responsibility to the marriage covenant and is accountable to God for his actions.

      And I do believe that much of the freedom that women have received in Christianized cultures (including through the feminist movements) is a result of God showing mercy to generations of men that used the call to submission as an excuse for treating their wives poorly. But I’m not aware of any freedom that comes without responsibility. Since we are living in the first century in which many women are given the full right to accept or deny a man’s pursuit, I do believe that women will be held accountable for that choice.

      C.S. Lewis offered that God does not hold us to an unrealistic standard; we are judged according to the grace that we have been given. Those who grew up without earthly fathers will not be judged as those who did. Those who attain a small number of resources will be judged on account of their situation, just as those who are rich will be judged according to theirs. Women placed unwillingly in abusive homes will not be judged as those who could easily submit to a nurturing environment, nor will they be judged as those who chose an ungodly man when given the freedom to choose otherwise. Men are given the ultimate freedom to choose their spouse, and thus are held fully accountable for that decision and will be judged accordingly.

      We may not approve of understanding of God, but it is what makes Him just. He has mercy on who He chooses, and we should be moved to love in kind to the mercy we receive.

      [Sorry for getting so off track, Katie. I’m interested in hearing more about women’s role in the church and how it differs or compliments my own.]

  4. A.W. – You totally didn’t get off track. 🙂 It makes me giddy that everyone is discussing things here.

    My thoughts: #1… Again, you and I believe a lot of the same things about this topic.

    #2… The only place I see a difference is in this last thing you wrote here is about men having a greater task. I don’t believe either task is greater or more difficult; I think both are impossibly challenging. I think we tend to tell women that men have a greater task because we want them to accept submission. We think, “Hey – quit complaining. You don’t know how difficult it is on the man’s side of things.” The problem with saying this, is that it communicates to women that their job is easier and therefore less important. I think that’s the opposite of what we want to communicate. I think we want to tell women that Jesus submitted to His Father’s will in a way that was important and beautiful. When He was on the eve of going to the cross, He said, “…not my will, but Yours.” He submitted to drinking the cup that He wouldn’t have chosen for Himself. I think giving women that picture of submission shows them how important and powerful submission is. It gives them an example they’d want to follow.

    We give men a large vision of themselves by saying they should be like Jesus, but I don’t get why we intentionally give women a small vision.

    #3… So much of what we tell women is to avoid marrying an idiot. That’s good advice, but I think the trouble is that some women are in sticky situations and have to find ways to fulfill their roles when there’s no one lovingly leading. It’s all well and good to talk about making the right choice for marriage and about how God is going to deal with us after we’re dead, but I think the struggle is knowing what submission should look like while she lives with her idiot. 🙂 I believe she’s still called to submission, but it’s such a sticky mess that I have no clue what that would look like and I’m not sure anyone can truly advise in this hypothetical situation.

  5. I’m not nearly as skilled as everybody else in this thread to venture jumping in and throwing out any gobbledygook I could come up with.

    I will just nod a smile through this one.

    (By the way, these comments made me feel like I was in Sunday School).

  6. What an enjoyable discussion of a challenging topic. Thank you. I read Half the Church over the summer and much of it resonated with my own thinking and experience as a Christian woman. I particularly liked her discussion of biblical examples of men and women working together as their giftings and opportunity allowed: Esther and Mordecai and Mary and Joseph. That was a new thought for me.

  7. My 2 cents…I have been married for over 10 years now, and I am just starting to understand (by the grace of God and lots of time studying His word and being mentored by a wonderful woman and taught by great shepherds at my church :)) what submission to my husband means and how beautiful it is. A godly marriage reveals Christ’s love in a special, unique way that nothing else can.
    First, part of submission means to submit my ideas and thoughts to my husband (in a loving, respectful way). This is part of being a helper.
    Second, after I do that, I can rest in whatever decision he makes. It is actually more freeing than anything I’ve ever known! I have peace. I am protected under the God-given authority of my husband. I pray for my husband – for God to help him lead us as a family – and I trust God to do that. My husband is meant to be the head of me, just as Christ is the head of the Church. This is the way God set things up. I may not understand it, but I trust God and His perfect wisdom.

    Great post and discussion! Thanks, Katie 🙂

  8. Wow…lots of discussion on this post…which was great by the way! As a married woman, the whole submission thing is kind of overdone in the church. In my marriage, in which we are both practicing Christians, I submit to my husband and he sacrifices and loves me as Christ loves the church. There has never been a time when we came to the crossroads of disagreement and my husband pulled the submission card. In fact, we both feel strongly that if God speaks to one of us, He will speak it to the other. That being said, I agree with wordprocessor that if it came down to it, I would submit to my husband knowing God has called him to be the leader of our home.

    I agree that God calls women to ministry as much as He calls men. There are many examples of this in the Bible. Somewhere along the way we have lost sight of this fact.

  9. I just wanted to add that I don’t think living out God’s plan for our lives as women is in any way hindered by (or in conflict with) being married and living out the Lord’s plan for us as wives. They weave together beautifully. My husband is very supportive and encourages me to use the gifts God has given me and what he sees God leading me to do. In fact, I wouldn’t have a blog if it weren’t for my husband’s guidance and help 🙂 He has been gently leading me (in that wonderful husband-way) to do what God is calling me to.
    All of us, both men and women, are uniquely made by God. He has plans for each of us and gifts He has given us to use for His glory – good works He planned in advance for us to do in Jesus (Eph. 2:10). We are all different parts of the body of Christ. As we allow the Holy Spirit to fill us and unify us, we will catch God’s vision, which is bigger and better than anything we can imagine, and perform our specific functions to make His plan prevail! And, we will ALL shine like stars for Jesus! All praises, glory and honor to Him now and forever!!

    • Lori – Something you said reminded me of a pastor who said something like, “Men, if you have to pull the submission card, you’ve lost already.” I also like how you said that submission is blown out of proportion in the church. One of the reasons I feel so passionately about this topic is because I’ve blown it so out of proportion – spending more time worrying about whether I’m allowed to ask a man to get coffee if I’m interested rather than concerning myself with cultivating a heart of submission.

      Wordprocessor – It’s so cool that your husband encouraged you to blog. 🙂 Does he also have a blog?

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