I once heard a boy brag about his father locking his mother in a room until she repented for "not being submissive." He was my teammate on a teen mission trip to Venezuela. At 16, already harboring anger toward men, it was not what I needed to hear.
The church has not always championed women, and growing up, I suffered for it. Christian girls were supposed to be "gentle and quiet." But, I wasn't quiet. I had things to say - important things. How could I be docile when I had ambitions to change the world? This clash caused deep wounds that are still healing today. It also required me to forgive.
My experience is not unique. Many women have been hurt, not only by men in the church, but also by other Christian women. When we suffer an assault on our gender, it pierces us to the core. How we respond to this pain seriously impacts our ability to lead. We must learn forgiveness. Without it our ministries are crippled.
What is forgiveness? Forgiveness does not mean we apologize for being strong, intelligent women. It does not mean we deny our gifts of leadership or teaching. It does mean we demonstrate love toward those who hurt us. Scripture says God is "kind to evil and ungrateful men" (Luke 6:35). Forgiveness is showing kindness where kindness is not expected. That is not easy. When we are wronged, the temptation is to brood, retaliate, or engage in caustic venting. This, in turn, leaves us feeling more demoralized.
Forgiveness is vulnerable. It is scary. It is painful. At the same time, it is somehow invigorating. Forgiveness brings God into dark places, infusing a brilliance that even unbelievers notice. When the Amish of Nickel Mines forgave Charles Roberts, the world gathered around to catch a glimpse of this strange thing. They're forgiving the man who murdered their children? How absurd ? how fascinating! Even if only for a moment, we could sense it - something beyond human was there. Forgiveness makes God tangible in a way our hearts hunger for, like reaching through a window to touch the Unseen.
We love stories of forgiveness. We know there is something otherworldly in its beauty. Yet, as much as we are enthralled, it is so desperately hard when it comes time for us to do the forgiving. We need each other to walk this path. Too often we collude in our anger, dragging each other down in mutual bitterness. Or else, we are apathetic toward the pain of other women, dismissing some as "angry feminists." I was in my 20s before I met another Christian woman who - instead of giving me a "talk" on submission - simply said, I understand. Gayle, in her humility and her own pain, mentored me toward forgiveness.