Why I don’t go to church

It’s hard to get past patriarchy when it’s all around you in church

Pedestals are for statues, not real women.

Pedestals are for statues, not real women.

I’ve been to Christian churches perhaps a little more than a dozen times in my life. The count doesn’t include the times I attended church weddings, although at one of them, the “church” looked more like a warehouse, and the minister told the bride she must obey her husband for the rest of her life.

My nonreligious family never expected me to subscribe to an organized religion, which meant I freely drew my own conclusions about the importance of church, and I found some value. Church brings joy, hope and community to people. It’s a place to pray and engage in unquestioning belief, something of a relief in our science-driven world.

But in the Christian tradition, church also represents something else: a patriarchal institution that promotes the subordination of women. This is why I don’t go to church.

Do you think I’m exaggerating about it? Consider this: Last October, more than 6,000 women gathered in Chicago for the True Woman conference, basically an evangelical movement that calls for a return to the biblical pattern of womanhood.

This concept of “womanhood” means submissiveness to men, paired nicely with modesty and gentleness of spirit. A speaker at the conference, according to an online transcript, said he doesn’t like wimpy women, but “a brash, pushy, loud, controlling, sassy, uppity, arrogant Amazon is not the opposite.” He equated a nonwimpy woman with one who is down on her knees.

This movement openly calls for women to return to the home, otherwise known as the “private sphere.” In 1950, 30 percent of American women worked in the labor force, a figure that has almost doubled in a half century. In the eyes of a True Woman, this is a travesty.

“Men and women are both created in the image of God and are equal in value and dignity, but they have distinct roles and functions in the home and in the church,” reads a line from the True Woman pledge, which currently has almost 8,000 signatures. They want 100,000.

The True Woman movement is a patriarchal movement. It opposes the feminist movement, which is blamed for having destroyed our culture; positioning men and women as equal, they say, causes confusion over “God-created” gender roles. Nancy Leigh DeMoss—an author whose books have sold more than a million copies—dreamed up the True Woman movement as part of Life Action Revival Ministries.

The True Woman pledge also states, “We are called as women to affirm and encourage men as they seek to express godly masculinity, and to honor and support God-ordained male leadership in the home and in the church.” That means that a good Christian woman must allow her husband to lead, protect and provide in the home in greater service of “Him” and “His Kingdom.”

Some Christian churches continue to act as a powerful arbiter of social systems that restrict women’s autonomy; for instance, condemning birth control and abortion, and demanding that young women pledge their purity to their fathers until they are passed on to a husband.

And so to me, “church” represents a place where women are considered the original sinner, the downfall of civilization. Women must be relegated to the home, to subservience, so men don’t have to worry as much.

I have, on occasion, felt the presence of something greater within the confines of four human-built walls. When I briefly lived in Italy, I was awed by the ornate architecture, stunning stained-glass windows and rich sounds of organs in the dozens of beautiful Catholic cathedrals I visited.

It’s likely I’ll visit a church again in my life; but hopefully, as in my visits in Europe, it will be to soak up the beauty and not for “lessons” in gender roles.