Twenty years ago I walked into a conference at a Baptist seminary not far from where I currently live. I was growing by leaps and bounds in my faith. I loved studying the Bible. Secretly I longed to attend seminary. I was very excited to attend this conference and learn more. It was advertised as open to both men and women. Although it might have been advertised that way, that was not the reality. There were only four or five women there amidst a few hundred men.
And we were anathema to the men who were assembled.
I buddied up with another woman old enough to be my grandmother and we attended some of the sessions together, going our own way for others. We were ignored virtually everywhere we went. The men wouldn’t look me in the eye when I passed them in the hallway or sat down next to them in the different sessions.
I was worse than invisible to them.
I was despised by them.
I was not their sister in Christ, eager to grow in my faith.
I was a woman who didn’t know her place. I was a dangerous woman.
I was a Jezebel.
Discouraged at Every Turn
In the ensuing twenty plus years I’ve experienced plenty of the same. I’ve sat through poor Bible teaching in church classes by men who were qualified to teach only because they were men. It didn’t matter if I was both gifted and experienced. I was flat out told I would never teach the class because I was a woman.
When I shared with someone that I knew God had gifted me because I had experienced the power of the Holy Spirit while teaching and leading I was told that it was impossible. I was told that if I had felt empowered while doing these things, it was not the Holy Spirit empowering me. It was Satan. The Holy Spirit would never empower a woman in such a way, I was clearly and forcefully told.
My husband and I have gone from church to church to church, trying to find a place where we could fit theologically and I would be welcomed as a woman with certain gifts from the Holy Spirit.
I’ve been fighting this battle longer than some of you have been alive.
And so I found myself finally pushed over the edge today when I read something written by a twenty-something about “this generation” and how they are the ones to make a difference. They are the ones to do what no one else has been willing to do. They are the ones to go against the power structures and speak out. It wasn’t the first time I’ve read this attitude amongst those who are younger than me. But today was the day it finally made me frustrated (?) annoyed (?) angry (?) enough to write about it.
So this is my open letter to you. I’d like to offer you some perspective that I frankly think some of you lack. In your youthful zeal I don’t think you fully appreciate how your experience and your opportunities are truly unique to this tiny sliver in time. And maybe, just maybe, my words will help some of you realize that “this generation” is the beneficiary of an alignment of time never seen before.
When I Was Your Age (Yes, Really)
When I was your age, calling long distance on the phone was expensive. We called after hours when it was cheaper. We didn’t instantly call (or text) our girlfriends around the country and around the world. We didn’t even have dozens of girlfriends around the country and around the world. Our circles were small and largely local.
When I was your age, we didn’t travel to multiple blogging conferences by plane each year. Plane travel was expensive. It was an event. Young moms didn’t take off for long weekends across the country to gather with their far flung friends in glitzy locations with tons of swag.
When I was your age and I was treated like total crap by my supposed brothers in Christ at a Bible conference, I didn’t have an online “tribe” to run to and share my story with. I didn’t have a blog. We didn’t even have the internet. When I was treated like crap, I was alone.
When I was your age, a young woman in her twenties or thirties couldn’t call out a national Christian leader. There were a few national Christian magazines that were nearly impossible to get published in. And do you honestly think a national magazine would have printed an article by a young woman calling out a national leader?
When I was despised, you were watching Barney.
When I was ignored and turned away by men in leadership, you were doing your teen angst thing.
Some of us have been fighting this fight for a long time. But we had none of the tools available that you take for granted.
There was no internet. If we researched a theological topic, we went to the church library or the Christian bookstore. That was it. And books were expensive because there was no Amazon, no Paperback Swap, and no eBay.
There was no email. We didn’t have a list of blog subscribers to keep in contact with.
There were no blogs. We didn’t get to discuss the finer points of theology with people around the world. We didn’t get to learn and absorb from those who had studied more and experienced more on the topics that were nearest and dearest to our hearts. If we were lucky, maybe someone in our church or our pastor might discuss something with us. Once.
There was no texting, Twitter, Facebook or all the other social media that you have today that make it possible for you to connect with others.
We were soldiering on, mostly alone.
But we have been out there doing what we could in our small way with the limited opportunities we had.
I encourage you to reconsider your views of the women (and men) who don’t come from “this generation.”
And I encourage you to take just a moment and consider that perhaps “this generation” has the opportunity to make a difference because of the time in which you live. Is it the fact that you are “this generation” or is it the fact that you are incredibly fortunate to live in a time that offers the ability to connect with others like you in a way that has NEVER been available before?
Time and Opportunity
While it does take courage to speak out, it also takes opportunity. Up until recent years, women did not have a platform to speak out like I have or like some of you are now.
Before you decide that the generation before you didn’t sufficiently care enough to do enough… Consider what we did do with virtually no tools at our disposal at all.
We have been out there fighting the fight. Quietly and alone much of the time.
Our voice doesn’t sound like your voice. We don’t write like you do. We don’t “speak” online like you do. But that doesn’t mean we don’t have our own authentic “voice” and we don’t have something valuable to say.
Please don’t ever think that we didn’t care or quietly dismiss us as not having done enough. Maybe we just weren’t fortunate enough to have the tools and opportunities that you have today. We’ll never know. Our youth is past. God put us in the previous generation for His own purposes.
But I do know that I’m 46 and I have a 7 year old daughter. This does matter to me. I want better for my daughter.
And someday she’ll be looking at your generation and critiquing what you have or have not done for the cause of Christ.
And hopefully she’ll be a little kinder to you than I sometimes think you have been to us.