Sisters from Other Misters 11


No one was, as they say, more surprised that I. In fact, it came as a huge shock.

Fortunately, I learned it early. Still hurt to learn it, though, what with pride coming before the fall and all that. I learned it the hard way, which seems to be the only way I can learn things. My first year at college (not freshman year, because there were no men on my campus) it became glaringly obvious that my firmly held convictions about faith and feminism were, in fact, not shared by every single one of my sisters.

I met another young woman on campus who wore long denim skirts every day. She did not cut or adorn her hair. She wanted to marry and raise babies, because that was what God called her to do. She also had a keen interest in science and education and had planned to learn all she could before motherhood. We read the same Bible, but we read it very differently. (She is now a wife, a mother and an educator.)

I could not fathom how she could come to vastly disparate conclusions about the same scripture passages. We talked a lot throughout our four years together, and I tried to understand her point of view. She tried to understand mine. Neither one of us were swayed.

It did not stop us from praying together. It did not prevent a friendship to gel between us. Her idea of submission and mine would never match.

And so I learned that not everyone comes from the same kind of family. That not everyone reads the Bible with the same eyes, the same heart, the same filters. Even more so, on my female-only college campus, I learned that there were as many definitions of feminism as there were women in the dorms.

While I was willing to take my husband’s name (a story for another day), plenty of other women chose to hyphenate, or to keep their maiden names.

Were they wrong? Was I wrong?

There has been a lot of blogger buzz lately about what feminism means, and if it’s still important. Some writers are talking about submission, and some are rejecting other’s definitions. It isn’t always pretty.

It’s isn’t pretty because we survive on earth in a base human condition. It isn’t always pretty because words are complicated and nuanced and textured. It isn’t pretty because life is not some big come-to-Jesus, kumbaya campfire where we can hash it out, once and for all and have done with it.

I don’t have the answers. I know what feminism means to me, and I know how I understand the idea of submission (another story for another day), and I know how it works itself out in my marriage.

I don’t worry about being wrong. I don’t worry about my friends who read the Bible and come to different conclusions. And this is where I get all pleady and sister-hearted.

My dear sisters (from other misters),

As a middle child of the classic variety, the “smooth waters” instinct is strong in this one. My instinct demands, “Why can’t we all just get along?”

But, as a woman, and a believer, I have instant reactions to the things I’ve been reading, and I’m not always the awesome, inclusive, tenderhearted, fun thing you see represented here. I can be, and I know this is surprising, a prideful, know-it-all jerk.

But, I know that I do not corner the feminism market, though I like to be right and I like to opine.

The truth is, there is room. There is room for you to work out your faith, with fear and trembling, in your home, and room for me to do the same. When we disagree, and we will, let us err on the side of grace, rather than rightness. While I might fully embrace an equitable marriage, and you might staunchly stand by your complementarian ideals, we do not negate each other. We are not a threat to each other.

Neither does our interpretation of Scripture change the nature of Jesus. Rather, our willingness to ease into the corners of grace changes us. Being changed allows us to listen, rather than push to be heard. Women have a hard enough time (still) in this world without committing the kind of girl-on-girl hate Tina Fey and Amy Poehler talk about. We can’t expect to be respected if we do not show each other the respect we want.

My mother said to me once, “You never know what kind of decisions people make in their marriages to make them work.” She’s right; the implication is it’s really none of my business. My business is to listen and love.


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11 thoughts on “Sisters from Other Misters

  • suzannah | the smitten word

    i hear ya. there is room, surely, for a variety of perspectives, interpretations, and stories. but it does put a palpable strain on relationships if one camp maintains that there is only one way of interpreting scripture and my marriage/theology is built on disobedience.

    i don’t mind the tension of disagreement. truthfully, i appreciate it! but it’s hard to find common ground with folks who experience the tension as black and white, you’re-not-different-but-wrong, ya know?

    sidenote: male-dominated theology blogs get REAL HEATED, and i rarely see arguments there characterized as disrespectful, hurtful, or attacking. but women disagreeing in the blogosphere, even couched in niceties about hearing people’s hearts gets painted as girl-on-girl violence! believe me, i’m all for grace, respect, community, assigning positive intent, and giving the benefit of the doubt, but sometimes i wonder if there is any way for christian women to disagree that is socially acceptable.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler

      Exactly. What I’m arguing is that abrasive attacks do little to help any of us. I think the violence comes from this either or mentality, this idea that rightness is valued above relationship. And it does get mean. (I don’t read a ton of male theology blogs, but you’re right. Women are often called bitchy when we disagree. Sometimes, though, we are being less than kind.) there is a way to disagree without being arrogant, rude or mean.

      I’d go a step further and say that the palpable strain comes from factions in all camps, not just one side.

      As a point of clarification, I’m not sure I’m arguing that this kind of disagreement is not socially acceptable. Rather, I feel like it is counter to a Church communinity that is called to foster unity, to do whatever it takes to be at peace with one anger. And perhaps those male blogs you talk about would do well to revisit those passages, as well. In over words, is it necessary for me to jump into every comment section with my points? Or can I read, disagree and walk away?

      Or, to put a fine point on it: do we have the wisdom to discern which conversations ARE actual conversations that move us forward, and which ones are simple arguments with no give and take?

      • suzannah | the smitten word

        sarah moon said something on twitter that i appreciated, that speaking up for abuse survivors is not valuing rightness over people/relationships because survivors are people, too, who matter no less than writers who put their feet in their mouth.

        i want unity but not status quo, and i want to feel like anger at injustice can be honored, too. female anger is shamed a lot in christian community, and it often doesn’t matter at all how gracious and careful our language is.

        as for walking away, there can be wisdom in that, of course. but i hear a lot stuff like, “YOU shouldn’t care about this/it’s not worth it,” and i don’t think we get to decide that for someone else, you know? there are often unacknowleged power dynamics at play that matter a great deal. for instance, i saw a lot of christians (on the right and left) last week making unity pleas and saying that there were bigger things to worry about than marriage equality. it’s totally fine if that’s not someone’s passion, but i don’t think straight people get to moralize about how lgbt rights are a side/inferior “issue” and christians ought to worry about more important things. does that make sense?

        • Jennifer Luitwieler

          Yes, and it does rankle when people (men) smile and nod when I get to arguing about women’s position as full humans. As if to say, “oh ain’t you cute, honey, with your opinions and whatnot.”

          There are times when I reply, then delete instead of posting. There are times when my blood pressure gets so high reading a post that I simply cannot engage in the comments. It is absolutely right that we each decide which battles to fight.

          Finally, when people tell me what I SHOULD do, you can be damn sure I’ll think about not doing that.

    • Danielle | from two to one

      Interesting point about the side note on that. I do get really annoyed at people calling the tone police because, like you said, there are usually underlying power dynamics at play. In this case, perhaps part of it was “YIKES! All the females are getting HYSTERICAL!”

      • Jennifer Luitwieler

        I’m so curious about this, because tone police? We’re really criticizing this now, too? Women can disagree in smart, gracious ways. But perhaps the Internet makes it easier to rise up fast and furious. What I am seeing here, it sounds like, is very clear infighting, which, again, doesn’t help anyone.

  • Brock Webster

    Nice post, the only ones that can’t handle the “womens movement” is the weak minded!!
    God shows more “female” qualities then “male” ones!!

    Plus one of my main points is…..Man has ran this world for 8,000 plus years and look how bad it is, so why not let the women help and WORK TOGATHER!!

    After all, COMMUNITY is way better and more effective then individuals!!

  • Laureen

    Wise woman, your mom. After 38 years of marriage, I find that to be true: You never know what kind of decisions people make in their marriages to make them work. And equally, the daughter of the mother: it’s really none of our business. Our own insecurity & defensiveness makes us critical & judgmental. When I am confident in myself as a person, as well as a woman, my critical voice silences. As always, good on you for this.

  • pastordt

    Jennifer, I so appreciate the irenic tone of this essay. Thank you. But I will admit to a lot of ‘battle fatigue’ about some of this. I generally refrain from commenting in the midst of hundreds of them, partly because I’m exhausted by it all and I’ve DONE this work, a long time ago, but partly because I don’t want my frustration to bleed through. But it’s getting close to the surface right about now. Really, really close. Maybe I need to take a break from all of it – I am wanting so much to be a source of encouragement but right now, I’m not sure I’m able to be. I’m just that close to the edge.

    • Jennifer Luitwieler


      I said the very same thing in an email to a friend. I have settled things for myself decades ago. I sometimes wonder if it’s generational, if each group has to come to terms on their own. I feel enough older to share your battle fatigue vin fact, I don’t comment, because I very rarely read that kind post. They tend to be confrontational, and I’m not sure anything positive comes from that.

      Thank you for your work. I’ll take a break with you.