I am a child of 80s Christian culture.  A place filled with green teacups, mission praise songs and liturgical dancing (for those not aware of what this is, it involves tie-dye, floaty skirts and acting out songs in dance). A childhood filled with praise parties, Ishmael and Psalty, the singing song book. I grew up loving church, where my parents would say it was time to leave, and then proceeded to talk for at least another half an hour. My faith is rooted in my parents’ uncompromising values and the many adults in my childhood church who showed me what it meant to love Jesus, and I am forever grateful to them all.

As children in church we were taught that we are loved by God, that He created us and that we are special. We were taught that we can be courageous, that our words and actions matter and that church and the Bible is important. As children we were taught so many wonderful, positive things.

But (there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there…?) as girls we were told very different things. As girls we were told that our call is as mothers and wives, a call that is external to us, rooted in the men we marry and the children we birth.  We were taught that God is a father, and not a mother. That the heroes of the Bible are men, the prophets are men, the disciples are men, God is male. We were taught to dress in ways that manage male sexuality. The women in church modelled to us that our role is to make the tea, teach the children and perhaps sing in the worship group. In the periphery we heard about this thing called submission, that we didn’t really understand, but it seemed to mean men are in charge. We went to events like Soul Survivor and realised that it’s mainly men who speak and if we wanted to lead, we probably had to marry a man who was a leader too. And all this in a wider context where we were told our only power was in our ability to be sexual objects, where we accepted sexual harassment from boys and men and where 72 per cent of us would be emotionally abused by a boyfriend by the age of 16.

Yet in the midst of this we may have seen women who were vicars, women who led with authority. We may have seen our dad or other men in our church champion women, men who made the tea or ran the crèche. We may have had a youth group leader who was radical enough to sometimes refer to God as a woman or told us about the courageous women of the Bible. Or we may not.

As we’ve grown into women some of us rejected the lie of inferiority and smallness. We have learned that God is for us, in spite of the powers that seek to reduce us. Through the foremothers, our daughters, our friends and the men who champion us, we discover we are more. And yet, some of us don’t realise this, and our daughters and sons bear the burden of sin perpetuated.

Jesus died to give us life in all its fullness and yet the Church continues to be ruled by a narrative which reduces women and conforms to societal messages of hegemonic masculinity, declaring men to be the rulers and soldiers, banned from drinking fruit tea.

My son and daughter are children of noughties Christian culture. Projectors may have taken the place of hymn books and overhead projectors in their church services, but they still have to endure being told we’re leaving, to then sit through me having another 30-minute conversation. Their lives are littered with television channels and electronic devices, where women are stripped and made into only parts. In church they are taught as children that they are loved by God, that He created them and that they are special. They are taught that they can be courageous, that their words and actions matter and that church and the Bible are important. As children they are taught so many wonderful, positive things.

But (there’s always a ‘but’ isn’t there…?) my daughter, as a girl is told very different things. As a girl she is told that her call is as a mother and wife, a call that is external to her, rooted in the men she marries and the children she births…

Except, she isn’t told that at home. She isn’t told that by me or my husband, she isn’t taught that by my friends, and when she is taught such things at school or church, they quickly hear from me about not teaching such things. And she and my son are learning that they are gifted uniquely as people of God, that they can drink whatever tea they like and that God is the only leader and that it is their kindness and love that defines them as people of God, not their gender. And maybe if enough of us teach our children this, our grandchildren will know this and their churches will teach them this and the people of God will have life in all its fullness.

This article is part of a special series commissioned by guest editor Claire Rush to celebrate and remember International Women’s Day on 8 March.

Written by Natalie Collins

Natalie Collins set up Spark and is an independent consultant working to prevent and respond to violence against women and enable others to do the same. She is also the Creator of DAY (www.dayprogramme.org), an innovative youth domestic abuse education programme. She speaks and trains on understanding and ending domestic abuse and other gender related issues nationally and internationally.

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