With the feeling that I held the whole world in my hands, I couldn’t wait to attend Sarah Lawrence College, a small liberal arts school in Bronxville, New York. The school is majority female and unapologetically liberal — the two main reasons why I decided to attend the school.
I was in love with the idea of being seen as a fiercely independent, bold, and fearless woman. I hoped I would come out of the other side of my undergraduate years as a model feminist.
But things didn’t turn out the way I planned. Long story short, I decided to come home because of personal convictions concerning formal education, my place in this world, and my future. I was thwarted out of my fantasyland and ended up back home with a burning desire to grow into such a woman but with limited means to succeed.
Changes at Home
At this point, I held beliefs that I considered to be deeply ingrained into my identity. I believed that women had the right to pursue an abortion. I believed women could perform any role that men could, and women could probably do it better.
I believed that religion was an institution that conservatives (namely conservative men) hid behind to perpetuate violence and oppression towards women. I sincerely believed men were the problem, and religion was about the last thing I wanted to delve into.
Six months later, I was in the pews of Gospel Life Mission Church, slowly but surely being convicted by the Holy Spirit. Before I knew it, the gospel was the absolute truth in my heart.
I found it was surprisingly easy to surrender to God. I was so willing to give up my time, money, and desire to be comfortable for the sake of a deeper intimacy with him.
Something I clung to a little more tightly, however, was my feminist worldview.
Two worldviews collide
This past feminist worldview was always in tension with the new Christian one I was beginning to adopt. I felt like I could only choose one, and every step into accepting Christian ideals felt like a betrayal to my old self.
Out of fear of seeming like a “bad Christian,” I quieted my pre-conversion ways of thinking and resolved to finding a more solid footing in Christianity first, hoping to revisit that past aspect of myself in the distant future.
But these suppressed beliefs sneaked into my interactions within the church. I enthusiastically rallied behind female leaders, regardless of their adequacies, hoping that my willingness to support and submit to their guidance would empower them in some small way.
On the other hand, I was more hesitant to extend my respect to male leaders, waiting for them to prove themselves worthy.
When pastors would pray for newlywed couples asking God to grant the husband the wisdom to lead and the wife the grace to submit and support, I cringed. When I read scripture, I would find myself adding words to appeal to my sensibilities. “Count it all joy, my brothers [and sisters], when you meet trials of various kinds…”
I kind of just went about life with this disposition, not really knowing how to deal with the palpable discomfort I experienced every time gender was discussed in church.
But I was uncomfortable for so long because I passively waited for change, hoping that my outlook would simply evolve as a result of being saturated in the church culture. It wasn’t until I actively sought out books, articles, and wiser Christians that I started to experience sanctification in my worldview.
A New Paradigm
I have arrived at a place where I can no longer hide behind my newness to the faith to avoid facing the tension between two belief systems I hold dear. It has been very challenging figuring out a way to navigate my inherent ways of thinking about the role of women in the realm of Christianity. It is easy to feel discouraged at the lack of conversation occurring in this arena because oftentimes it feels as though I am making a big deal out of a topic that has no room for discussion among Christians.
But I also know that the longer I push off addressing these conflicting beliefs inside me with biblical truths, the greater danger there is for my resentment towards the Church and God to grow.
The greatest challenge for me lies in the fact that my submission to God’s law is a betrayal to the communities I rallied behind pre-conversion. I literally have to put my flesh to death in order to genuinely value the things God values. However, the more I come head-to-head with scripture and God’s design for man and woman, I am humbled because there really is no way to deny that what is presented in the Bible is the way I should be striving to live, even if I don’t fully understand the reason behind the design.
I am also begrudgingly accepting that any desire for me to rebel from what God intended women to be in relation to men is a result of the fall. I have to constantly be reminded that gender roles and complementarianism aren’t constructs that were established after the fall. They were very much in place when Adam and Eve dwelled in the Garden of Eden. The only difference is that they were able to fully and completely delight in their distinct roles whereas I am constantly questioning the purpose and goodness of these roles because of my sin.
Pastor John Piper and theologian Wayne Grudem explain this in their book, “Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood.”
“In the Bible, differentiated roles for men and women are never traced back to the fall of man and woman into sin. Rather, the foundation for differentiation is traced back to the way things were in Eden before sin warped our relationships. Differentiated roles were corrupted, not created, by the fall. They were created by God.”
This particular resource has been helping me to understand that manhood and womanhood are gifts from a loving God who keeps the best interests of His children at heart. The task at hand isn’t for me to understand what God was doing when he established manhood and womanhood. My only duty here is to have faith in the character of God and trust in His perfect plan for humanity more than I trust in my idea of what good is.
My understanding of feminism had come from holding a superiority complex. Accepting Biblical truths helped me to understand that I had been scapegoating men for the evil that all of humanity was responsible for as a result of the fall.
I have slowly been transitioning into a new perspective in which living my life as a Christian woman is not about superiority and inferiority. Rather, it is about daily being convicted of what I was created to be, and striving to become a reflection of the gospel in all facets of my life through the grace of God.
I had previously felt like I could only choose one worldview: feminism versus Gospel-centered. But now, I know differently. God’s view is a pro-woman view. The empowerment of women is in God’s agenda too, but in His way.
And I have only the wonderful examples of godly women in my life to thank for arriving at this truth. They continuously exemplify holiness through qualities such as meekness, submission, and gentleness — words I used to associate with weakness.
These same women also demonstrate holiness through their intelligence, wisdom, and dignity — words I associate with strength. These women completely shatter all the preconceived notions I had about Christian women when I was a nonbeliever and spur me on to continue striving harder for a greater understanding of God.
I am by no means the prime example of somebody who completely understands manhood and womanhood in the way God has intended. Every day, I am confronted with situations in which the not-yet-sanctified parts of my heart dare to flare up in response to injustice or ignorance, and I have to align my heart to God’s.
But there are also times when I am passionate about social justice and the empowerment of women because I know God cares about these issues. In that way, I am so thankful that I have been led to a position in which God has shown me there is no deeper joy than living life in absolute submission to His will for me, especially as a woman.
Jasmine Ham is a 4th year student at UCI and a member of GLMC.