As noted in my recent post on Facebook and in the introduction to my new article regarding male and female role relationships in the church, the article grew out of a midweek outline for a lesson I taught. One sister who heard the lesson, Demerris Johnson, wrote me an email the next day that made my day! She has since read the much longer article now on my teaching website. Her heart-felt comments produced some special heart-felt emotions in me. She wrote about the racism and sexism she has experienced, of both overt and systemic types. More impressive was her description of how she has handled it all while fighting to maintain spirituality. She is an excellent writer and the contents of what she has written deserve a broader audience. I am posting it as an article on this site and also as a follow-up article on my teaching website (gordonferguson.org) – a follow-up article to “Male/Female Role Relationships in the Church.” God’s blessings as you read!
You may not know me by name, though you may know me by face. Your lesson, along with a few I’ve heard since returning to Dallas after 8 short years, really stirred my heart. I’ve been a disciple of our Lord for 18 years now, and I’ve had countless struggles and an equal number of victories. I’ve endured extreme harshness and wrestled with my own value. I’ve dished out my own share of harshness and probably caused others to wrestle with their value. I lived in fear of “man” (or people) for many years, most likely due to my own upbringing and times of victimization, so there was a part of me who believed that this was the norm and just how I was treated. I thought I just needed to toughen up, but I just couldn’t be that tough. I was bound by the rules of our tradition. Sometimes, I even “needed” them. They helped me not to sin. But obedience out of fear, is that godly? Or should my obedience be prompted by love? Obedience to God out of the fear of God is one thing, but obedience to God out of fear of man? I think that’s obedience to man, not to God, though my obedience may produce an outward appearance of godliness.
I have sought, for many, many years, to find my voice. I’ve been singing since nearly birth. I sometimes say that when the doctor spanked me after delivery, I sang rather than cried! I hid behind my singing voice for years. I didn’t ever think my words had any value. I mean, what would I say? And during a period of a few years, every time I was in a Bible study it was, “you didn’t say this, or you didn’t say that.” I wondered at what point the Spirit would intervene? Perhaps he was waiting for us to “need” Him—that is, to see our need for Him, but I digress. I wondered if I would ever share my testimony—tell what the cross has meant for me—but I knew that one day, God would give me a voice.
He has always surrounded me with people who love me, and in spite of the internal battle I was experiencing for all of those years, I always had someone to turn to. Why am I saying all of this? There are two things I really want to address in this email:
One, I am a black woman who has often felt inferior or has been made to feel so in a white male dominated society, and at times felt unloved and unappreciated by my black brothers and hated by my black sisters, culturally speaking. Though I don’t directly experience much of this anymore, I know that it’s something my culture suffers, and from time to time, generations of oppression slip through the creases of today’s fabric and it all comes flooding back as if I had been living in the 60’s or sooner when racial tensions were high.
When I got back to Maryland, in May, after having been away in Madrid for 16 months, I was in a movie theater with my brother in Christ and his son, who is like my little nephew. We got into the theater just as the movie was coming on, and the dad had gone for snacks. I knew nothing about the film, so trying to be discreet, I whipped out my phone to quickly find the name of the main character. As soon as the light hit the air, a man behind me rebuked me and told me to put it away, that this was a public theater and that he would get the manager if I didn’t. He was a middle-aged white man, and I wrestled in my heart with soooo many thoughts. Why did he think he could speak to me in that way? I wanted to yell at him, I wanted to tell him that he couldn’t talk to me that way, that I was a woman of God, worthy of respect. But more than that, I wanted to respond in godly way, and I resented my own anger. I hated that he would put me in a position to feel that way. But I resolved that if he were to ever see Christ in a woman like me, that the best reply was a quiet one. And I simply put the phone away, and prayed in my heart, because I was sad that our cultures are still divided.
Two, I’m also a woman who has fought for her relationship with God, and I’ve sought understanding of some biblical concepts like the roles of men and women. Recently, I learned prior to your lesson on relationships and roles that the same word for helper in Genesis 2:18 was used to describe the Holy Spirit, and I was floored. Hearing you teach it just doubled the impact! I was soooo encouraged because I knew that God is just so much bigger than we are, and we can’t begin to comprehend his heart and mind. See, God has slowly been moving inside of my heart, allowing me to grow through difficult times. He has been healing my heart; I’ve found my voice, and I’ve won over many people, disciples and non-Christians alike. I’ve gained the respect and trust of many men and women in God’s kingdom (and apart from it), and I’ve been honored in many ways by no doing of my own. He has placed me in roles where I’ve been teaching men and women, but I don’t deem that to be exercising authority over them. I’ve wrestled in my heart with this concept and tried to wrap my mind around it.
I’ve always been very cautious about this, and I’ve wondered, “God, is this okay?” But if God is opening up these doors, and I’m not seeking this role but it’s being given to me, could it not be God doing it? I’m still trying to navigate these waters, but I see how God has strategically placed me in situations, towns and countries, which has helped me find my voice and my place as a woman of God, a black woman, a single woman, a mentor, a worship leader and a performer. I’ve begun to have my own convictions based on the Bible, not on tradition, and I’ve begun to taste the freedom in Christ which doesn’t leave me bound by guilt and fear. But I use it with wisdom.
Your lesson brought these two parts of my heart healing, and it wasn’t just the words you shared – it’s you. Your heart and convictions and humility shone through. Your heart to continually follow the Bible over tradition, your honesty about how chauvinism comes through from time to time. I mean we have to be honest about all being prejudiced toward something or someone whether we realize it or not. There are things we will fight till we die, but we must see it, and we must fight to master it. Your truth is my truth. You are my brother, and I’m so grateful that we have men like you in our movement to help us grow. You are a man just like any other, but that doesn’t change the fact that God used you to help heal my heart regarding the man in the movie theater. He used you to help me feel okay about the role I believe God is giving me in leadership. I’m not being extreme with this, but think about it, in our movement sometimes the smallest notion of a woman leading in any form could be viewed as extreme. I’m not referring to studying out sin with a young man but something as simple as teaching the choir or sharing some biblical thoughts on worship and why we do it or whatever else falls in my lap to share.
I hope you get my point. I’ve sought healing and wholeness for a long time, and God has used you for many years to help with that in my life. Every time I’ve heard you speak, I’ve just felt the love of God. Your heart for God is wonderful, and the fact that you’re an “old white man” (giggling profusely) makes it all the better. I’m so blessed that in God’s kingdom, I can look into your eyes and feel the love of a father. It makes me well up in tears right now as I write this. I love you very much and don’t even know you. But thank you for your heart and for sharing your gifts with us.
Love your sister in Christ,
P.S. I would love to meet Theresa. She sounds like a PAW, a pretty awesome woman (I literally just made that up, so corny. lol).