These events happened like clockwork. Before a meeting. After a meeting. Every year I lived through wasted time that I’ll never get back. “You sisters need to shape up. Submit. Be quiet. Don’t make your pastor ashamed.” Every year since the age of 13 when I entered the sisterhood I endured this event. I left feeling like I could never live up to what they wanted but knew that it wasn’t an option to do anything less than standard. Never quite feeling I was enough. Knowing my God made me female, and he was ashamed.
In Boise, the meeting was run by a sister in the church, the one I call Sister Anna. I remember my first meeting. I was 13 and excited that I was considered old enough to be “one of them”. We sat in her living room. A group of girls/women from the age of 13 to 21. We were told not to discuss this meeting with anyone, especially the men. She started by explaining that our presentation as future members of the Bride of Christ was the utmost importance. If we ashamed our pastor, her, our parents, we would be shaming Christ. I listened intently. I loved the Jesus I knew and didn’t want to make him disappointed. I vowed to do whatever she asked of me.
We talked about skirt length. Our skirt was to be at minimum 2 inches below our knees when we bent over or raised our hands. A demonstration showed that most of us didn’t meet that particular standard. My father wouldn’t let me wear anything that was remotely close to my knees, and I wore two sizes above my natural size; it wouldn’t be a problem for me.
Then we talked about boys. Now boys and I were a mixed bag. I was simultaneously intrigued by them and repulsed by them. We talked about how the way we dressed would cause them to stumble. How they could not concentrate on the things of God while our enticing bodies were right in front of them. So we were told how to hide our beauty and our sensuality and our femininity so that they would be free from temptation. What age do they stop? “Even when their 80s they will still look.” Fabulous. I didn’t just have to worry about the boy next door, my father; I also had to worry about the 80-year-old minister? Looking back, as a mother, any person says that to my daughter they would be arresting me. Am I the only one that sees a problem with telling a 13-year-old girl her body will cause an 80-year-old man to stumble sexually?
I was relieved of the meetings when I lived in California; they were unnecessary. If we were caught doing anything less than standard they’d talk about it in a service and call your name out. It was humiliating. I learned quickly to do nothing than standard in California.
When I moved to Portland, it took me a few years to relax. There was a distinct difference between the place I grew up and the place where I married. The pastor was able to keep somewhat of a rein on the over zealous saints who would make the standards more intense than they already were. I learned a new culture with direct rules and implied rules. I learned the 6-inch rule (never be closer to the opposite sex less than 6 inches). I discovered the “appearance of evil” standard. (Never be in mixed company with even numbers). And the slits. Before I arrived in Portland I had never heard of slits; now they were the bane of my existence. Given the opportunity to wear something that fit me, I chose straight skirts…and they typically had slits. But we had a seamstress who could turn the slit into a pleat, and all was well with the world.
The madness continued spiraling downward when the new pastor took over. A general meeting was coming up, which meant it was time to clean house. So we were told after dinner there would be a quick meeting in the dorm dining room. At this time our church was about 200+ people, so the room was full. The new pastor, his wife, the elder pastor, his wife and a sister who was voted to talk to us emceed the meeting. About slits. Ok, I figured this would take about 10 minutes, and we could go. One of the younger girls volunteered to wear a “non-standard” item to make a point. They had her bend over, sit down. And then they shared what one of the teen boys said in response to slits. “I see that, and I want to know what’s up above there.” As a married mother I found the idea ridiculous. I rolled my eyes. “These people are crazy.” I thought. Why am I sitting here? Really? That’s what my husband thinks when she walks by with a slit. I stopped myself from going further. There was no way I was going to believe anything less than what I knew to be true about my husband. He may have done a lot of things wrong, but ogling a 15-year-old girls’ slit was not one of them.
I thought the meeting was over, but then they opened it to questions. The new pastor spoke up. Thus began a long diatribe about boots. Apparently, boots were now going to be banned. Several of the more “worldly” sisters began questioning him. Why? What’s wrong with boots? His response was “You’re wearing them to be sexy.” Which made us laugh. No matter what we said, he had an answer. Finally, he just boomed, “They are worn by prostitutes. You cannot wear anything worn by a prostitute.” I refrained from standing up and replying, “So should we come naked because you know prostitutes wear clothes.”
I kept hoping people would shut up. But a lot of my sisters, especially the older ones, lacked any wisdom or discernment. A sister who is one of the most passive aggressive people I’ve met spoke. “Can we address women with a big chest (God forbid we ever called them breasts or even boobs). They need to keep those covered up. They are also enticing the men.” Looking back, I hope she was sarcastic, but I doubt it. The discussion was pissing me off. And finally, I did one of the bravest, stupidest things I had ever done. I stood to my feet. And I spoke up. And I told them that some of us with big chests have husbands who like the way we look. And they like us to dress attractively. And if brothers cannot figure out that they are coveting their brother’s wife that’s their problem. But perhaps, maybe, us big breasted woman don’t want you men looking at us, and maybe you should respect our wishes. I got a lot of compliments for speaking up, but I became an enemy of the new pastor.
Last week Sheila Gregoire addressed the idea that women cause men to lust (read here). It brought back memories. Of the time I wrote about being a stumbling block, and it resonated with so many people. Of the meetings. And the stories. The stories of girls who told about protecting their brother’s souls. The teenage sister who was paraded on the stage and made to bend her body so many ways to show how a woman entices a man. Of the teenage girl who asked to visit an another assembly and endured an abusive rant enquiring how many people she’d slept with and how many she would sleep with on her trip. Of the teenage girl who had her breasts and her hips and her curves pointed out by the pastor while her parents sat there silently. Of the many girls who were fondled, molested or raped and blamed because they didn’t love their brothers enough. And the silent ones. The ones that they will never share because the fear of exposing a man of God is so intense they will endure their silence.
It makes me sick, and it makes me cry. Mostly it makes me angry. These are Abba’s daughter. He made us. With breasts some bigger than others. And I’m sure he intended them for our love to enjoy, but primarily he made them so that our babies could be fed and live. He made us with hair, some shorter, some longer, some straighter, some curly in a variety of colors. He made us with hair for he finds it beautiful, no matter the color, length or style. It is our glory. He made us with hips, some curvy and some straight. And Lord I know the men love them. But those hips give us strength in childbirth, and they support our bodies and allow us to run and escape danger. He gave us eyes, and ears, shoulders and arms, knees and ankles, and feet. Every inch of our wonderfully, female bodies, our Abba made. And he doesn’t look at us and see a stumbling block. He doesn’t see an object of sexuality. He sees the child he made, and he loves us. We are not sinful in who we are. Yes, he made us be sensual and sexual. And sometimes woman get messed up, and they use their sexuality for the wrong reasons but that doesn’t make our sexuality sinful. And can I just say, God looked at a naked woman and said she was very good.
So, my sisters, do not take on the yoke of bondage. Your body does not cause men to sin. Do not believe that which is not true. . You are beautifully, wonderfully made. Your heavenly Father loves you. Stand boldly in your truth and walk in freedom. You can do it!