I will never forget the year that my husband asked me about my Christmas bonus. I had been working at the same church for many years and had recently received a raise. I was the only woman on an all-male ministry staff. On this day my husband asked me if I would be getting the same Christmas bonus that I got every year. I laughed dismissively and said in passing, “Oh no. I doubt it. Look at the big raise I just got.” He looked at me sideways, “Really? You think that because now you are paid equal to others that you will no longer get the same bonus others get?” I paused. “Well, I don’t know.” I said. “I guess I could ask.”
This Christmas bonus conversation was a mile marker on a long journey that began many years earlier. The journey was one toward freedom, equality, and authenticity. Have you ever taken a journey without the resources you needed? Think about hiking Mount Kilimanjaro without hiking gear or running a marathon without athletic shoes. I didn’t have the internal resources that I needed for this journey. Don’t get me wrong. I never would have believed someone if they would have told me that, as a female minister, I was somehow less than, second class to the ministers around me who were men. I was a feminist. I had degrees. I believed wholeheartedly in the egalitarian nature of the gospel of Jesus Christ and the inclusion of all people gifted and called regardless of gender. And on top of all that, I reveled in my femininity. Or so I thought. All of this was on the surface of who I was, but deep down below the level of consciousness existed a deep and festering wound, a wound that had become numb. And you know what happens to wounds that have become numb, don’t you? When the sensation of pain goes away, it means death has arrived. And I was very near death—the death of my own feminine soul. Psychotherapist Ann Wilson calls this wound “the original sin of being born female.”
She writes, “To be born female in this culture means that you are born ‘tainted,’ that there is something intrinsically wrong with you that you can never change, that your birthright is one of innate inferiority.”2
Somewhere buried deep inside of me was the belief that I didn’t deserve to be paid as an equal and certainly didn’t deserve to get a Christmas bonus after the great “favor” I had received in getting a raise. Deep down, I believed that I was inferior.
Sue Monk Kidd calls these types of revelations “recognizing the feminine wound.”3 This conversation with my husband began the process of allowing this wound to fester. The numbness wore off, there was no scab to keep it hidden any longer, and it begin to stink.
When you are raised, as I was, in a white, patriarchal church, women work in the nursery, teach children, and organize potlucks. They are mostly absent from pulpits and are seldom welcome in shaping theology and church policy. In this, women are deprived of fitting their own unique experiences into a theological framework. “There is no room for you here,” we are told in thousands of overt and subtle ways. Furthermore, there is no concept of a divinely feminine God, and therefore, women are relegated to define themselves in relation to men and not in relation to the Divine.
Through this conversation about a Christmas bonus, I began waking up to this reality. I began to stare it straight in its ugly, festering, wounded face. And the more it hurt and stunk and seeped out everywhere, the more convinced I became that I would soon have to leave my church, a church where I had been raised and to which I had given my entire adult life. The reason is simple: I could not exist as an equal in a church who refused to acknowledge my equality.4
So I quit my job, moved my family, and have embarked on a completely new journey in a new tribe with a new job and new way of being in the world. My feminine wound is not healed entirely. I feel sure that will be a lifetime’s work. However, I have resources for the journey now that I lacked before.
And I can tell you that this year, in a new place, I will be expecting that Christmas bonus.
Kelly Edmiston is the Youth Pastor at the Vineyard Church of Sugar Land/Stafford. She has spent the last thirteen years in ministry to students and families in domestic and international contexts. Kelly has a passion to equip the church for works of ministry. She holds a Masters of Divinity from Abilene Christians University. Her areas of interest are feminist theology, practical theology and spiritual formation. Kelly and her husband Ben, enjoy “suburban life” with their three children. @kellyedmiston