I hurried to my pew as the music started and the choir began to sing, church was starting. My brothers purposely stretched out their legs in front of them forcing me to climb over them in order to get to my seat. “Jerks!” I hissed as I finally tumbled onto the bench breathing heavily. The choir finished their opening number and the director turned to lead us all into a congregational song. I began to follow along mindlessly looking around to see which friends I could spot and then scanning the men on the platform to see who Pastor had selected to sit with him this week. It was a long row of men, some who had permanent seats, others who rotated in and out, and always one new guy nervously fidgeting and trying to look important. I couldn’t help but smile as this weeks new guy nearly knocked Brother Moffits Bible off the arm of chair.
Pastor stood and greeted the crowd and I continued in my own thoughts until I felt my my mothers quick pinch. Startled I turned to her and she simply pointed to my skirt which had slid above my knee. I quickly tugged it down and could tell from her stern look that she didn’t approve and this skirt would need to be retired. I had expected as much anyway. I couldn’t wear it at college because of the strict dress code and had hoped I could get away with it for Sundays. I should have known better. The dress standards for women in my fundamentalist church were nothing with which to be toyed. A long list of immodest looks from pants on women, to writing across the chest, to slits higher than four inches were expected to be guarded against. It was our responsibility as women to keep the minds of our men pure. Any opposition to these rules was very simply not tolerated.
I readjusted in my seat and tucked the skirt tightly underneath me so it wouldn’t ride up again. I then grabbed my bible and placed in on my lap to further hold things in place. I ran my fingers across the leather cover and fiddle with the worn edges. I loved this Bible. It was filled with years of my own notes and research. I read it every single day and trusted its messages implicitly. There were many things in my upbringing which I was beginning to question and I struggled with my place as a woman who was subservient to men. It wasn’t that I didn’t like men or respect them. It wasn’t even that I didn’t believe a man deserved to head the home. It was just that I often felt my opinions and thoughts didn’t matter simply because I was a woman. And I couldn’t understand that thinking since the Bible was filled with wise and courageous women from Abigail to Ruth to Esteher and Anna. But when my fears became too great and I began to feel suffocated my mother or female teachers would assure me that women had just as much place in this world as men, we only needed to accept our different roles. And if I accepted my role as the helpmeet to a man, then god would reward me with peace and prosperity.
As I flipped through the pages of my treasured manuscript and read over so many highlighted parts, Pastor began his announcements. I didn’t pay much attention as he talked about this event and that person in the hospital and when he would be leaving for vacation. Then suddenly he stopped and said slowly “Now before we start the service I want to discuss one other matter and I need everyone’s attention”. I looked up, it was odd for him to get so serious during announcements. “I’ve had some reports,” he began “and they trouble me. Reports of some of you women holding Bible studies without a mans approval”. I froze, I hadn’t heard him right, he was going to explain. But he continued “The Bible makes it VERY clear that men are to be the teachers. We are able to understanding scripture in a way that women cannot and god speaks directly to us. So for a woman to conduct a Bible study without a mans authority guiding her is a recipe for disaster. I’m going to tell you women right now, stop it! You understand? If you want to have a Bible study that’s fine but you better have your husband, father or another one of gods men overseeing it.”
I could feel the heat rising to my face and clutched the Bible tightly. How dare he tell me that I was not worthy or too stupid to study the Bible on my own. We had to answer to men for EVERYTHING else and our private studies were the one place where we could have something of our own. The one place where I and other women could feel connected directly to god and not through another individual. I was devastated and humiliated. My entire life as I jumped through the hoops of the dress code, and avoided playing sports, and took my home ec classes I hated, and tried my best to be a submissive and godly lady had all been because I thought I was valued. I thought I was more than an object to fulfill a man and make him look good. And at 21 I finally realized I was nothing. It seems like such a finite moment and I don’t know why that’s the moment that shifted my thinking. I don’t know why a simple admonishment about Bible studies is what finally stood out after 2 decades of open mysigony. Perhaps it was because it was so personal. I don’t know. But one year later I left and I’ve never looked back.