My church put on a Ladies Candlelight Tea recently for the women of the congregation to enjoy. Which I though was a really nice idea, but all the same I decided not to attend because of keeping our spending down in anticipation for Christmas and tax season. Friends asked me if I would go and I felt welcomed and warm at the thought that other women in church actually wanted me around, which is something I hadn’t experienced at this church for the past 6 years I’ve attended. I was encouraged, but all the same, the expense was unnecessary, and I decided that I didn’t want to spend money to go drink tea when I had so much of it in my cabinet to finish at home. Plus I like relaxing evenings at home.
A couple Sundays after the announcement that the Lady’s Tea was going to happen another announcement was made that they were still looking for men to help serve at the Tea and where they could sign up to assist. I couldn’t help but let my inner feminist feel a twinge of injustice at the thought, and it really spoke volumes to me and revealed just how strong and out of place my feminism felt in conservative atmospheres.
My biggest worry about evens like these in Christian culture, is they’re usually more about men then they are about women. While the ladies attend and are served by the men from the congregation, and I understand why they are trying to be thoughtful and have all the women feel like they can take part in the festivities rather than working on serving and managing the event, I feel like it undermines the part women play in serving in conservative churches and in turn sends a really weird message.
You see, in many conservative churches, women are usually only allowed to serve other women and children. Not to serve men, unless they are married to said man. So have the men serve the women is kind of a double standard, but also takes away an opportunity for women to serve one another. While I know that the intent of the event was to give women an opportunity to have fellowship with other women without the hinderance of having to pay attention to serving and other such tasks to distract them, it appeared to be more of a platform to flaunt that men were serving women.
I became even more disappointed when the church posted photos of the event, and it was mostly of what the men were doing. Every single image had the male as the focus. It was so disheartening and disappointing to see an event that was supposed to be empowering women in faith, was undermined by the men who were meant to be serving at it. I didn’t even go to the event, so maybe that’s not how the whole night was, but if a person of the public saw the images without context I got the feeling they would think: “Awful lot of men there for a ladies night.”
I wonder too about the women in attendance who had husbands there serving. I can imagine the distraction it would be to have my own husband there. While he has a servants heart and I am well taken care of at home, I know plenty of women in want of their husband’s time, energy, and service. I can imagine any woman at all being saddened in her heart and even bitter about how her husband is putting on a good show for all the other women and men at church and serving all of them so well, and knowing when he returns home and feels he no longer has anyone to impress anyone, goes back to being himself. A self that she bends over backwards to please and doesn’t see any reciprocation from him. I think of the women who may feel these things and might secretly or unknowingly be verbally or physically abused at home and their husband is once again intruding in a space that is meant to be safe in the name of appearance (yes, even in church, people are toxic and have secret dark parts in their lives. Some couples aren’t even aware that they’re abusing each other, because they grew up in toxic homes and know nothing else).
I don’t want to exclude men from the conversation about what is going on in the intimate spiritual lives of women, because it probably isn’t that different than the spiritual lives of men and I’m sure a lot of misunderstandings could be eliminated through thoughtful communication, but I also don’t feel that having men serve at an event directed at and for women is really empowering women. In many cases it might hurt women.
I realize though, that this causes an inner conflict in myself. Because I have a very contrary belief as to how to conduct these kinds of events and they tend to lean more coed. These thoughts started when I did a bible study with a couple other girls on the book of Esther, and by the end of it I had wished every man I had ever known personally had seen and read it. Now that I’m married I certainly wish my husband would read some of the women’s ministry books that I do. I feel like some women can better explain what I’m going through than I can. In turn I feel like I ought to read more men’s ministry books to understand how men of faith are leading other men in faith in regards to how to conduct relationships with others, incuding women. That probably sounds a little nosy of me, and in truth it is, but how are men and women of faith supposed to learn how to live together in Christian brother and sisterhood, if we aren’t even including each other in the conversations? How is segregating our literature and events supposed to help enrich our lives together in humility and with serving spirits? God didn’t make certain promises to men and other certain promises to women. He made them to everyone.
So why are we being so exclusive? That’s easy: Excessive sexualization.
For all the reasons I mentioned earlier as well as the obvious “boy meets girl” and sexually abusive ones I didn’t mention until now, is why we can’t bring the opposite sex into the discussion. Sexual predators are a huge issue in Christian culture in both men and women alike. Sex and sexuality is a touchy subject that many churches either avoid or overly glorify, and I doubt that anyone has really found a solid and effective way of having that conversation ina church setting without someone being emotionally wounded in some manner. So there is a lot of miscommunication and unspoken emotions, desires, and toxcitity that isn’t being addressed. This can cause a lot of issues, all very complex, and can result in sexual deviants within the Christian culture, which when toxic, can become predatory. While not all men and women are looking to harm another person sexually, enough of them have successfully done so to cause both sides to shut down the connection and only conduct those kinds of conversations within the intimacy of romantic relationships. Which is also a broken system, because not only might it be too late to start that conversation by that point, but it can cause dating couples in a Christian community to start confusing dating and marriage and not look deeply enough into their relationship to see when it is definitely not working and to call it quits.
This last point, I say regretfully, but also in praise because Gods grace is restoring this part of my life, is something I fell victim to. Some men I dated in the past used these kinds of conversations to convince me to stay whenever part of me knew I should leave them. This is exactly why we have such broken relationships between men and women in faith, and exactly why we have broken events like women’s teas, and why we have confused young Christian feminists like myself who know the issues, but settle for things as they are because getting people to care especially when they have strong aversions to the words “feminism” and “equality” in their worldview, takes a lot of time and effort. Time and effort that some of us are too tired to invest anymore. Especially after so long of trying.
Thats this lady’s cup of tea.