Carol Howard Merritt on (Re)Imagining Christianity

This post is part of an ongoing blog series on Pomomusings entitled “(Re)Imagining Christianity.” To read about the series, as well as get a full schedule of participants, click here.

What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that must die so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?

Brainstorming women, armed with their Sharpies and poster boards, are going to battle. If you haven’t heard, there is a “war on women.”

Is this hyperbole? Is this “war on women” tagline merely something that can unite the various feminist waves into one tsunami that has real influence?  Is this “war on women” a cheap trick by liberal political operatives to highlight how out-of-touch and extreme conservatives have become on social issues? If there’s a war going on, who is attacking women anyways?

The sad truth? Christianity wages war on women. How are we doing it?

Constraint. Right now, on the 21st Century blogosphere, Christians argue whether women should keep silent in churches. That’s right. It’s 2012 and they believe that women are so subordinate that we should not even be allowed to ask questions in a Bible study. First Timothy explains that Eve tasted the fruit first, so two thousand years later, anyone with XX chromosomes should not open their mouths within the walls of a church. If that logic is not a contrived recipe for oppression, I don’t know what is.

In many congregations, women cannot become pastors, elders, or deacons. Leadership is barred from women. Where else in society does that explicitly take place? I can’t think of any place other than a couple of absurd golf clubs in the South.

Contraception. With the stunning, quick rise of Rick Santorum’s candidacy, we learned what many religious leaders think about birth control. We have not only found out that every sperm is sacred, but that women who use birth control contribute to the downfall of society.

Even though most women in the United States use contraception, even though there is nothing in the Scriptures that would explicitly keep a woman from using it (aside from an odd verse about a Jewish patriarch who got in trouble for “spilling his seed on the ground”) Christian leaders have taken this moment to expound upon how shameful it is for a woman who just might not want to have a child every time she has sex, or even if she might want to take the pill for other health reasons.

Collusion. So, maybe you’re a guy. You believe that women should speak in church. You believe that women should be able to use contraception. You don’t think this is an issue. You might even have daughters. But… this whole subject is kind of a fringe thing that you’re not really into… so you’re just going to let TeamUteri take care of it, while you sit on the sidelines. Since we have a Christianity that is, for the most part led by men, when men do not speak out, or stand with women who are, you end up colluding. Silence allows the dominant mode to flourish.

Women can collude as well. Mainline women feel like we’ve “been there, done that.” We roll our eyes at our evangelical sisters who struggle. We have great respect for the nuns who taught us liberation theology, but are now getting the smack down. But we shrug a bit thinking, It sucks to be them. Instead of realizing that we are all women and this is one faith, and we have got to start working together. We do not have the luxury of not caring about the oppression of women in our faith tradition.

How can we reimagine Christianity in the midst of this?  We can begin by asking ourselves how we tell our narratives. Do we propagate the narrative of patriarchy? Do we talk about the great, all-powerful God the Father who will protect us and take care of us if we grovel and show the proper fealty? Or do we utter a vision of a beloved community in which God made each of us in God’s image to care and love one another? Do we speak of an angry, warrior God who can only atone for our sin with the payment of blood? Or do we speak of the salvation that comes from becoming born-again by the Spirit?

In our tradition, Christianity has been a force of salvation and liberation for women. It has also been used as a tremendous tool of oppression. As we think about the future, can we stand with those who struggle, speak with those who protest, and nurture the narratives of community and hope? If we can, it will go far in creating a more compassionate faith.

Carol Howard Merritt: Carol is a pastor at Western Presbyterian Church in Washington, DC. She is the author of Tribal Church and Reframing Hope, and she co-hosts God Complex Radio with Derrick Weston. She blogs at, which is hosted by the Christian Century.


    • T Gross says

      “Brilliant”? Really? “…so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?” Really? Some of you hags need to visit a Moozlem country to see how women are treated in non-christian countries. Then, pick up a history book and learn how Christianity elevated women in every country it conquered. Then drop the Obama party line, no one but a haggard bunch of femma-Nazis believes is happening

    • Dave Paisley says

      T Gross – Better than the Muslims? That’s your benchmark for success?

      Wow, so interesting to read the anti-female invective here. Makes me realize how far there still is to go.

      Come on people we’ve got women scientists and engineers now (yeah, for real), and they don’t get a tenth of the crap the church is throwing at female clergy.

    • says

      T Gross,

      I’m not sure why the femi-nazi label still hurts. It’s been over twenty years since my fellow male students at Moody Bible Institute began to echo Rush Limbaugh and call me that. I suppose that saying men and women are equal is consistent with killing 6 millions Jews and gays in some minds.

      It has strong power to hurt and shame–and put women in their place. I suppose that was your point. Well done.

      Thankfully, I can remember that I am a child of God, and made in God’s image. And no matter what people might say, that cannot be changed.

  1. says

    Wow, you so quickly laid bare the sham argument of the Santorums et al.

    And, this is the most enlightened corner of the world. The oppression of women worldwide is generally much harsher at both the hands of churches and governments.

    And let’s not forget the hand wringing that’s going on in the grand old church of England about allowing women to be bishops (after very reluctantly allowing them to be priests in 1992).

    This whole issue is so pervasive it is, as you say, so easy to shrug it off as old news.

    • Clement_W says

      Using Willian Jefferson Clinton’s thinking “It depends on what ‘Enlightenment’ is”!

      The Vatican has given Carol Howard Merritt several prospective parishioners from among the errant nuns and maybe even a few priests.

  2. BertO says

    As a Christian seeking to understand these (and many other) contentious issues, I find your flip and condescending attitude to be of little help. What I read is, how dare I be a man and how dare I have questions. How dare I not already be in motion defending what we all should already know. How dare I, a mere lay-“man,” attempt to understand these issues as they have existed throughout history, in every culture, in the hope of finally grasping some of these new formulations in the light of our postmodern world. I find myself thinking that perhaps I should just shut up and go along. After all, both the old and New Testaments *were* written by men and are suspect for that reason alone.

    Your writing may be a breath of fresh air to those who already agree with you but it’s a wall to those of us seeking to understand.

    • says

      “I find myself thinking that perhaps I should just shut up and go along.”

      Perhaps it’s time for some of that, shutting up and going along, I mean. After all, it’s what men in the Church have largley been asking women to do for a few centuries.

    • says


      My apologies if I seem closed to questions. I certainly didn’t mean to be. I am kind of a sarcastic person sometimes, which doesn’t sit will with some people when they read me…

      The post that I linked by Frank Viola might be helpful for you. He does a great job of looking at many of the issues.

  3. Scott says

    So, the author is a pastor. It must be a small church seeing as the benefit of her preaching is entirely and solely enjoyed by the choir.

  4. says

    Women, although they might not be ordained, still do more than ‘speak’ in church and in fact they often teach in church.

    Are you refering to the same Rick Santorum who never called for abolishing birth control and in fact voted for Title X?

  5. Jon from Atlanta says

    What the author is describing isn’t Christianity, but something else. I’m not sure what it is.

    • says

      I’m floored by your astute analysis of her arguments.

      Please, Jon from Atlanta, do tell us what Christianity is that it is so diametrically opposed to what the good reverend has written here.

  6. John says

    Carol Howard Merritt I do not see how it is your duty to evangelize a post modern feminist relativism to the entire Body of Christ. You have a most impressive background and formidable ministry. However the rhetoric you employ is deeply disturbing. Your tactics are transparent and disingenuous.
    If you wish to preach another Gospel please rally your believers but try not to poison all the wells in the land. I excerpted some of your article and this is what I understand you to mean when I read between the lines. I wish you all the best and pray that you can find peace in The Lord Jesus Christ in all your endeavors.

    Is this “war on women” a cheap trick by liberal political operatives to highlight how out-of-touch and extreme conservatives have become on social issues?”

    We feign objectivity by asking a rhetorical question. If you do not answer correctly your wrong and now we’ll
    tell you why.

    “If you haven’t heard, there is a “war on women.”

    What she means is, if people do not agree with me they are wrong and we will wage war on them.

    ‘”The sad truth? Christianity wages war on women.”

    We are at war and Christianity is the enemy.

    “They believe that women are so subordinate that we should not even be allowed to ask questions in a Bible study.””anyone with XX chromosomes should not open their mouths within the walls of a church.”

    We will make gross generalizations and outright lie in order to shame the opposition and mobilize the troops.

    “Christian leaders have taken this moment to expound upon how shameful it is for a woman who just might not.”
    want to have a child every time she has sex,”

    We will use any evidence of false teaching anywhere to smear the entire Body of Christ.

    “It sucks to be you.”

    Sucks Meaning “do fellatio”. Is this a ironic reference to a profane act?

    We roll our eyes at our evangelical sisters who struggle.


    Do we speak of an angry, warrior God who can only atone for our sin with the payment of blood?

    We will mock The Blood of Christ and never speak his name among the initiated.

    Do we talk about the great, all-powerful God the Father who will protect us and take care of us if we grovel and show the proper fealty?

    We will mock the sovereignty of God.

    • says

      Your comment = war on women.

      Lighten up John. It’s not like she’s stealing Jesus from you. You can still go to your church and do everything in the exact same way as if this post was never written. She’s a sister in Christ, part of the same body of believers, and she disagrees with you. You may not like what she has written, but the tone of your comment strikes me as way over the top. I’m sure you won’t see it that way, but in case you care how you’re being perceived by other Christians I’m just letting you know because I’m hopeful that you won’t want to be perceived that way.

      I thought this was a very conversational post, even if it took up a particular perspective that many may not accept.

    • says

      If this is “clearly and respectfully,” then I would hate to see “ambiguously and disrespectfully.”

      Your own feelings are betrayed in your first sentence, where first it irks you so much that she is a reverend, you won’t even address her by that title that she has rightfully earned and holds, and second, you dismiss what she says by presenting us with a series of impressive-sounding-even-if-only-semi-connected abstractions (post modern feminist relativism). It’s a nice strawman you’ve built, and you do knock it down so well.

      Putting words in people’s mouths (especially words that caricature their positions, instead of accurately representing them) is not usually a strategy that results in winning arguments. Where I come from, in fact, we usually call that ceding the argument.

      Not once do you substantively address the issues she addresses, but instead you dedicate your time to attacking the cartoon version of her that exists only in your head. You’re tilting at windmills, brother, and reality beckons.

    • John says

      ed cyzewski @ Luke Harms

      Defend Rev. Merritts’ two statements.
      Tell me how my understanding of them is wrong.
      I know psalms has quite a bit of David ranting in it.
      I hope she gets her answers from Him.
      Dogmatic as it is the only atonement for sin is the blood of Christ.
      What secret escape hatch did God create for those who don’t accept Christs sacrifice?

      Do we speak of an angry, warrior God who can only atone for our sin with the payment of blood?

      We will mock The Blood of Christ and never speak his name among the initiated.

      Do we talk about the great, all-powerful God the Father who will protect us and take care of us if we grovel and show the proper fealty.

      We will mock the sovereignty of God.

    • Dave Paisley says

      John, believe it or not, not every Christian faith tradition believes in penal substitution. It is a favorite of the reformed branch (hence most US evangelicals) but it is a dubious theology at best.

      Mocking that properly and discussing why it is spectacularly unhelpful in drawing people to christ is something I don’t have time for here.

      It is, however, very useful for scaring people and using faith as a club to keep them in line, much as you are using it right now.

      So if people fon’t want to engage your particularly invective charged angry guy christianity, don’t be surprised.

    • John says

      Dave Paisley I hate to break it to you but if you deny Christs sacrifice as payment for sin you are not what the new testament Gospel calls a christian.

    • Dave Paisley says

      How predictable. With Calvinists it always comes down to who’s in and who’s out. Kind of a hyper control freak religion. It bugs the hell out of you that someone you don’t like (which is most of the world) might secretly creep into the tent.

      I’d suggest you get out more and stop hanging around people who only agree with you. That makes for a fairly poisonous church.

    • says

      “God decides who gets in not us” -John Yesterday
      “you are not what the new testament Gospel calls a christian” -John Today

      I’m getting some mixed signals here, brother.

      The theory of penal substitutionary atonement is not as absolutely descriptive of church tradition as you suggest. Reading some of the early church fathers (specifically the pre-Constantinian ones) will give you an idea of the depth and breadth of atonement theory even then. Regardless, the point is that your tradition is not the only tradition, and if your tradition is one that encourages you to bully and cajole behind a mask of anonymity on the internet, then is it a surprise that it’s a tradition many don’t want anything to do with? Though I suspect that’s actually a comfort to you, because you probably see it as a validation of your narrow path…

      As for “mocking the sovereignty of God,” I’m sure I don’t even know what you mean. Is asking questions about God’s nature that run counter to your conception of God all that it takes to qualify as mocking? If so, I think we’re all in trouble…except you, of course.

    • John says

      Luke Harms

      I would not classify this discourse as bullying or cajoling. Rather it is a response to claims and statements made in a public forum that in, my m,ind, merits a honest debate. The acid test of this whole issue is, in my mind, whether or not I am subservient to God. What if it is Gods plan that 250000 people die in a tsunami, or a family burns alive in a car accident? Will I still worship Him? If God chooses certain people to be sent to hell from before they were born would I still worship Him; am I one of them? These are very sticky and difficult questions. Some wish to ignore the stick others the carrot. That is not surprising. Neither is the propensity for eisegesis. The bible if full of information that creates such cognitive dissonance within us that we are either compelled to reconcile the truth to ourselves in meditating day and night on scripture in the Spirit or choose another Gospel that makes us feel good about God. Ask the 20 million or so Saints martyred during the 600 year long inquisition if they thought God or man decides our fate. That’s a a lot of witnesses.

    • says

      @John – Your own classification of your behavior is irrelevant, as the responses from commentors here plainly illustrate the communal perception of your behavior as untoward and uneccessarily combative, or, in a word, bullying.

      “The acid test of this whole issue is…”

      You see here’s the problem. You’ve yet to present any kind of cogent argument that defines what “the whole issue” that you’re addressing actually is. Is it equality? atonement theory? free will vs predestination (how in the world did this one even come into the conversation)? You’re all over the map here.

      “If God chooses certain people to be sent to hell from before they were born…”

      Then I would argue that, on your view, our choices don’t matter, and god is neither loving nor a father, but I think we’re digressing here, and venturing far away from the original point of Rev. Howard-Merrittt’s article.

      It’s interesting you mention the inquisition, a movement that existed ostensibly to “purify” the faith and ensure strict adherence to a particular doctrine. The irony is that you, my friend, are the intellectual progeny of the inquisitors. You hunt heretics everywhere, but instead of racks and ropes and blades, your weapons of choice are words. You wield them like daggers, dripping with the poison of disdain for your brothers and sisters in Christ as you dismiss their genuine attempts to work out their own salvation through fear and trembling.

  7. Artaban7 says

    Your overly simplistic analysis of the situation and mischaracterizations of several of these issues are harmful to the “re-imagining of Christianity”, not helpful.

    1) You raise the issue of women and silence in churches as your first point of contention, yet in my 32 years of churchgoing, have never encountered or heard of such a thing. Can something that is such a rarity, such a fringe position, really constitute the opening thrust of your argument?

    2) The screed on contraception shows a stunning lack of scientific knowledge as to the many negative side effects of such drugs. Take, for instance the fact that smoking and using a birth control pill increases your chance of getting cancer 35 times. Then there are the harmful consequences the EPA has reported on fish and frog populations, and which doctors have documented in regard to depression, infertility, and breast cancer. Such ignorance is ironic given the intellectual high-horse you claim to be riding.

    3) You briefly allude to the correction (which you call a “smack down”) the Vatican has required of a small group of nuns. Study the document. It is one specific group being required to change, and the changes required are because they have taken a course that is contrary to the long-held moral teachings of the Church. They are a minority, not the majority of women–or even Catholic religious women–by any means.

    Ms. Merritt, please take the time to research and properly present various positions rather than making deliberately inflammatory and divisive stereotyped statements. A pastor should seek unity under the truth of Christ, not division.

    • SamHamilton says

      I get the feeling that when people have written about the recent action by the Vatican regarding the group of nuns that they’ve been relying on media reports rather than reading the Vatican’s Assessment. The media can’t help but try to squeeze the Vatican’s Assessment into some sort of “culture war” box, and the bloggers who write about it seem to take their lead from the media.

    • says

      From the patronizing tone of your comment, I can’t help but assume that by “seek unity under the truth of Christ” you mean “Agree with me or shut up.”

    • Dave Paisley says

      Artie, You’re really saying you’ve never seen women “put in their place” in 32 years?

      I’m episcopalian, with a female presiding bishop (6 years now) and the old boys club still plays games with her and excludes her in subtle (and not so subtle) ways. So I find it hard to believe you live in a place that is so enlightened. Even if you do the rest of the world is not so lucky.

      As for birth control, the FDA regulates drugs, so I’m not sure why the EPA is trying to do their job. And really, you have to add smoking? I’m sure driving fast exacerbates the situation too, but it’s not relevant either.

      And really, you’re defending the child molester protecting Vatican? You think there’s no such thing as a papal smack down? Wake up and smell the incense buddy…

    • Artaban7 says


      Sure I’ve seen discrimination against women throughout our Fallen world, but I’ve also seen (and been victim of) discrimination leveled against men by women. I find it fascinating that so many assume it goes one way only. We’re all sinners in need of repentance. What do you think is more productive, creating divisions or trying to heal them?

      I’ve also seen women given places of respect, recognition, and sought out for their opinion by parishes with which I’ve been involved. In the Catholic tradition, several nuns have criticized cthe actions of ancient popes, and the popes have changed as a result.

      It’s also sadly true that a lot of people want to be and do things they simply were not given the gifts to do. Once had to gently tell a student he had neither the grades nor the physical stamina or strength to become the firefighter he so longed to be. People have to face reality, rather than trying to force reality to conform to them (our culture’s subtle form of idolatry). There are things women can do no man can, and things women are more suited to do than most men. The reverse is also true.

      As for birth control, the FDA regulates the effects of drugs on the human body (often poorly). The EPA has found birth control has far-reaching and harmful effects on other creatures and the environment. Your dismissal of the deeply harmful effect of combining birth control with smoking displays you really don’t care about women. If you did, you wouldn’t blindly support drugs that cause so many ill effects for so minuscule a “benefit”. Why would I ask my wife to use something that harms her, when I can exercise a little self-control and get the same effects (if I wanted–we view children as gifts from God to be welcomed not avoided).

      As for your comments on the Vatican, I don’t know whether to point out you seem to think they’re superhuman, and able to monitor some 600,000 priests (or even the 4-8% who’ve committed that heinous crime) throughout every nation on earth, or to point out the rates for abuse are small and equal (and in some cases less) than other groups studied. Other studies have found the same % of molesters in the military, other faiths, in universities–actually a greater % of them in the public school system, and that system is more “protective” than the Vatican.

      But thanks for outing your own ignorance and prejudice…: )

    • Erika Gillian says

      Well, I can see you’ve got the party line down! Good student that you are. Have you read the insert that come with the pills? ‘Cause you forgot some of the best stuff! And smoking is always warned against and the pill is rarely prescribed to smokers, because it enhances the risk of blood clots. The reason you have EPA authored info in that pamphlet from your bishop is they monitor things like the effects of estrogen in the water and environment. But sad to say most of that estrogen is not coming from the urine of women taking the pill (and hormone replacement! Forgot that one didn’t you! Same stuff! But since the women are no longer able to be forced to give birth, you don’t care about them anymore) it’s from things like pesticides and other forms of pollutants. Of course there are a lot of estrogens in natural sources like yams and soy beans. But the rest of the information they gave you is either flat out wrong or exaggerated, but nice to see you’re not flat out saying abortion causes breast cancer! Well done! As for these other gentleman not caring about women? They have this strange idea we have enough intelligence to make our own decisions about what to put in our own bodies. For which they don’t get a cookie because that’s the baseline of decent human being in my world. I’d give ’em a cookie for being good writers were they close enough however.

      So putting a man at the head of what was always a self-governed organization of women religious and telling them they had to stop helping the sick, the poor, the homeless, and get back to the true gospel as preached by Jesus of Nazareth of talking about abortion, homosexuals and women not being priests, i.e. not speaking in Church as mentioned in 1 Timothy. Man, those feminazis! Helping the poor, feeding the hungry, visiting the prisoner, giving away one coat when they had two, doing to the least of these. Can’t get those nuns to do anything right without a man standing over them!

      And boy, yeah, the Vatican can’t get after those rapist priests! There are so many priests! But, boy, deviate from the new missal at mass, and you’re out! Mention those forbidden subjects in a newspaper (this was in Ireland) and get rebuked *right* away. But baby rapers? Move ’em fifty miles down the highway to a new fresh set of kids. Monitor? It wasn’t about monitoring, they were told, up and down the line, they were told what was going on and didn’t do a thing to stop it, just to hide it. And they’re still victim blaming.

      And no, I’m not anti-Catholic, I’m anti-American Bishops, I’m anti-the present pope, I’m generally anti-Vatican but most Catholics I’ve met are people just like people. One of my mom’s oldest and best friends is a Jesuit. And I adore him. But using power to aggrandize oneself and to harm others, to hide behind religion in order to do so? That’s evil in my book. If you’d been an American evangelical I’d have had the same objections, except about the nuns, they don’t have nuns.

      Actually nuns are kinda the point, the only women you allow to work for the church you basically neuter in power, in money, you make them give up family and life and previously, their names before you’ll allow them to be part of what you think is God’s glory on earth. How scared are you of women?

      Reverend Merritt, if I’ve gone too far, or made comments you dislike feel free to delete this.

  8. SamHamilton says

    While I agree with Rev. Merritt about the issues of women in the life of the church, contraception and men needing to speak up on these issues, I really don’t believe these are the issues holding the church back for the next 100 years.

    I think she blows these issues out proportion. Yes, there is a very small subset of Christians who believe that women should be absolutely silent in church and a larger subset of Christians who believe that women should not have leadership roles in church. Again, I disagree. But her provided evidence is a blog by some guy named Frank Viola (I assume this isn’t the former MLB pitcher). Is that it? Does Rev. Merritt want to convince people of the rightness of her stance or not?

    As for contraception, it wasn’t with the rise of Rick Santorum that we first learned about the Catholic Church’s stance on birth control. This has been its policy for centuries! I’m not sure what she means by “every sperm is sacred,” but whether or not you agree with the RCC’s position on contraception, its argument goes much deeper than what she presents here. The only reason this issue is even being discussed is because the government wanted to force the RCC to pay for other people’s contraception, not because some Christians have found some new cause in which to more forcefully asserting themselves over women.

    Again, I agree with Rev. Merritt on these issues, but the flippant way in which she engages them is not likely to win any converts, nor is the small segment of the Christian community that adheres to the opposite position going to hold the broader church back in the years to come.

    • SamHamilton says

      No, I’ve never watched the Meaning of Life, so I didn’t get that this was a joke. Thanks for filling me in.

      Suzannah – I have no doubt that Rev. Merritt, as well as many other women, have felt second-class in church. What I disagree with is that this is the issue that’s going to hold back the church over the next 100 years. I think the protestant church, in general, will change its ways relatively quickly over the next decade or so to fully accept women. I think we’ve reached the tipping point. But perhaps that’s just my perspective and experience, being a member of a church congregation that has no restrictions on what women can do in the church.

  9. Parmenas says

    Now perhaps I’m a bit off base here, but I thought Ms. Meritt belonged to the PCUSA which has had three of last five general assembly moderators be women. Some “War on women” that would be.

    If Christians wish to live, give, and serve in a church that adopts a stridently feminist position, they are always free so to do. What is curios is how many women tend to vote, either officially or with their feet to leave the churches which see the world in like manner to Ms. Merritt. Perhaps myriads of women leaving the PCUSA for the EPC, PCA, etc. are not suffering under patriarchal domination, but experiencing Christianity as they believe God has led them so to experience.

    By their fruits you shall know them, and the sustained growth in female congregants amongst the conservative churches seems to be a fruit that suggest these women do not feel they are being warred upon.

    • Erika Gillian says

      Someone just did an extensive study, oh, here I go, Catholic again, of a Catholic See, I believe, and two thirds of the lapsed were female and the average age of the females was 53. Pretty small sample but. Then there’s the young people leaving churches too. Pew has done several on that. Haven’t seen a break down on sex on those though. But the stricter churches are losing faster.

      So you may be seeing it one way but it’s also happening the opposite in other places.

  10. Pat says

    So, let me get this right. You decree an element of Christianity should be elimnated or die out in order for Christianity to move on. How did Christianity ever make it the last 2,000+ years without you at the helm. You think you have the required knowledge and inspiration from the Holy Spirit, or is it direct orders from God the Father or God the Son to decree an element of Christianity should be eliminated or die out. It must be good to be you!

  11. says

    I wish I could claim to be “stunned” by the level of mean-spirited invective aimed at Rev. Carol Howard Merritt. Alas, this seems to have completely replaced civil discourse these days. Pitiful.

    • John says

      I only see one post that could fall under the invective label and it was so pathetic it was a joke. There are more than several good points raised here in response to Rev. Merritt. unfortunately Ms. Gould, it appears that in your mind rebuttal is mean-spirited invective.

  12. Rev. Bonnie Wilcox says

    Well-spoken. The word “collusion” spoke most powerfully to me today — as in the collusion that sits by the sidelines and says, “its not so bad,” and keeps silent.
    Would God our creator truly have eliminated the ability to speak, lead, and proclaim the Gospel of Jesus Christ to 50% of the population?
    Not the God who created me.
    Thank you.

    • John says

      That really is the acid test. Would you worship a God who did absolutly exclude women from the pulpit?

    • Erika Gillian says

      I was discussing the idea of women as apostles with someone who doesn’t believe there were women that were apostles as Paul was one, we did decide there had to be women with all of them if they wanted to convert women, most of those places no way could a man speak to a woman. Women had to teach, and in fact there are places in the bible where they do. Now when you define priesthood as something other than someone passing on the gospel you can define anyone you want out of it, like the Mormons formerly did with African-Americans, but in the early days women spread it. Heck, the possibly biggest news ever was carried by a woman from the Christ to men who did not believe her. Doesn’t that say men ought to be very careful when listening to women? And even more careful when they call her a liar?

  13. says

    Wow. Reading through the comments pretty much makes the point.

    Carol Howard Merritt did not pose the question, it is part of blog series. She simply answered it from her perspective. And it is not just her perspective. There are thousands of women crying out to be heard, to be included, to be allowed to make their own choices. Men before you start attacking Rev. Merritt, talk to your wives, your mothers, your sisters. Ask them what they think about the contraception debate. Ask them where God has gifted them. Ask them if they feel stunted by the church.

    Don’t just keep shouting us down.

    • John says

      Great comment Jen! I made my points very clearly and respectfully. Rev. Merritt seems to be thrown to the wolves as I have not read one logical or systematic theological argument supporting her position from her or anyone else. Very weak showing from the post modern feminist camp. Your “feelings” aren’t gonna get your point across.

    • says

      While I am quite capable of making a logical and systematic theological argument for supporting the equality of women in the Bible, I have this weird rule that prevents me from doing so at this time. I don’t engage in intellectual debates with people who put quotes around the word feelings. It is pointless and not worth my time or energy.

  14. says

    Just wanted to add a voice in support of this piece. Sometimes it is easy to take gains that have been made within some churches for granted, and to forget that not all women in Christian settings experience the freedom to fully engage the vocations, ministries and forums that they feel God calling them to. I believe that there are many trappings of “Christendom” that will need to be challenged so that we can move forward into the future, and certainly ingrained sexism is one of those. Thanks!

  15. says

    Wow, the comments here are like “exhibit A” for making Carol’s case for her. The church has ever been an ambiguous entity, called by grace and not because we’ve always gotten it “right.” How can anyone look at our history and not admit that we’ve too often bought into worldly and distinctively anti-Christlike attitudes toward one another? It was a problem among the early church and has never not been a problem. What makes us biblical people is not that we never fall prey to unChristlike attitudes, but that we confess them and long for transformation.
    Thank you, Ms. Merritt, for an analysis that both uses and re-frames many familiar terms for addressing the church’s historic and contemporary attitudes toward female children of God.

  16. Lia says

    Thank you for this post, Reverend Merritt. I, too, believe that this is one practice that must die if the Church is going thrive in the next 100 years. If life is to be better for all human beings, the divide between genders must be eliminated, whether it is in income inequality, opportunities in the workplace, responsibility for child-rearing, and in political positions.

    There is a deep divide among women about the role of women in church. And many of the organizations who say that they promote women in ministry do it with an unspoken caveat: we support you in ministry as long as the roles are subordinate. We’ll hire female associate ministers, not senior or head of staff ministers. Or, we’ll hire you for our small dying congregations… but not our large vital ones.

    I’m thinking of a denomination who says, “Affirmation of women in ministry was one of the founding principles of [our organization]” and yet, 14/15 of their churches hires men as pastor despite well-qualified women applying.

    The Stained Glass Ceiling is still in place. And many young women leave the Church because the Church doesn’t have anything to offer her—no clerical role models, no Savior who knows her and what she’s going through, no Bible stories given to sustain her. She is not including in mankind, does not understand the father symbolism for God, and she thinks women can do anything, including preach, be the President, and even be a mother.

    Women are loved by God. Not in a different way than men. But the same. And we are not called in a different way than men. And that’s what we hope will be recognized. Joel 2:28 says:

    “Then afterwards
    I will pour out my spirit on all flesh;
    your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
    your old men shall dream dreams,
    and your young men shall see visions.

    Reverend Merritt, please keep prophesying.

  17. says

    That article that Frank Viola wrote that was linked to in the original post is a pretty interesting article (when you read the whole thing. Everybody is reading the whole thing, right? I mean, surely no one is just reading the first paragraph and drawing a conclusion based on that. Right?). Carol, I’d like to see you engage with the entire article rather than simply post a link to it. If I read Frank Viola correctly, and this is the first time I’ve read him, isn’t he arguing for the inclusion of women and in favor of them speaking out in church and being in leadership positions?

    • says

      Yes, Keith! It is a very helpful article. Frank told me on Twitter that he was getting a hard time for posting it, and I was surprised that he was encouraged to cut it from his book. So, I wanted to give him some link love…

      It would have been easy to link to Mark Driscoll or John Piper, but I thought I’d give a positive example of someone who was struggling with the issue.

  18. Rev. LadyPastor says

    The level of invective directed towards Rev. Howard-Merritt in the comments here is somewhat indicative of what she is trying to say.

    She dares to challenge what is all too often the status quo and is attacked for it because it is not in the experience of the male commentators here.

    Let me break down my experience: I am a female clergy member in a mainline protestant tradition. I am the only female clergy member in my small town. The majority of other clergy members are from traditions where women are not allowed to be in leadership. When we have ecumenical services at some of those churches, I am not allowed to lead a prayer…I can greet the gathered body, but not pray…that is a man’s job. When I got married, male colleagues mused, aloud, to me about not understanding how the “authority” in our home would work. I have been referred to as a “cute little thing” and “adorable” and “sweet”. Men and women alike feel free to comment on my body (weight gain/loss), my hair style, my makeup, my shoes, my nails, my clothes, etc in a way that men are never subjected to.

    Now, some of those who scoff at Rev. Howard-Merritt’s post here may say, “Pshaw. That is an aberration. I’ve never seen/heard about it” But, in reality, every one of my female colleagues have experienced these things on one level or another. We don’t talk about it, except with people we feel we can truly trust, and most men around us don’t recognize it.

    It’s not just in my community, either. Like many, I watch in awe and wonder as news organization after news organization and Senate hearing rooms brought forward “religious leaders” to speak authoritatively on issues of women’s health, reproductive issues, and contraception…and I don’t see a single woman (religious leader, that is) speaking. All the Reverends, Pastors, Priests, Rabbis, etc. are men…even the ones representing traditions that allow the ordination of women. We are not even considered to be religious leaders with a voice authoritative enough to speak on issues that affect us both as clergy *and* as women.

    Open up your ears for a moment and listen to what Rev. Howard-Merritt is saying here. Try to do it without getting defensive and thinking that she’s attacking you, your belief system, or your own actions. Try to understand what she is saying here about the experience of women in our churches, clergy and laity alike.

    If you do that, I think that you’ll find a MUCH different article than the first time you read it.

    • BurtO says

      As I mentioned above, I do have questions and I’m not completely comfortable with what I think I know about some of these particular issues. What I want and need is to engage others who believe differently than me in dialog. What I don’t want or need is to have someone yell at me and tell me that I’m wrong, largely because I’m a guy. I certainly don’t expect that approach from a minister, male or female.

      What I do know is that when either “side” in a conflict attacks the way Rev. Merritt attacks in this essay, the conversation ends, defenses are raised and the church loses. She’s not doing anyone, least of all women, any good. We need conversation, not vindictive cheer leading.

    • Rev. LadyPastor says

      Please, BurtO, if you truly want to have a dialogue about these things, then reread the post, and try to let go of your lens of feeling attacked. Because, really, she’s not attacking, or cheerleading (vindictive or otherwise)…she’s pointing out real issues that real women in the church (leadership and laity) face.

      Pointing out issues is not attacking. By declaring them “attacks” in the way that you did, and in your vitriolic response (above, not to me) you are in essence attempting to silence the voice of the one speaking. It’s the same thing that happens if one were to tell women who were speaking about these things to “stop being so sensitive”.

      BurtO, the church is already suffering because we hurt and minimize the value of the women in our midst. And the church is already suffering because, when we do that, the men in our midst also have their value minimized and pigeonholed, albeit in different ways.

    • says


      In these comments, there is name-calling (haggard bunch of femma-Nazis, errant nuns, and a vindictive cheerleader).

      Scott offers a strange, sarcastic response belittling my ministry.

      John says I’m told I’m preaching another gospel and poisoning the wells of the land. (Even though “you must be born-again” came from the mouth of Jesus). I am told that I am waging war on anyone who does not agree with me. I am told that I’m smearing the Body of Christ, I mock the Blood of Christ, I mock the sovereignty of God. I never speak the name of Christ among the initiated.

      Artaban7 calls my writing a “screed” and says that I claim to be riding an intellectual high horse (I’m not sure where I talk about my intelligence anywhere in this post).

      I have not said anything bad about men. And yet… you feel that I am attacking, yelling, and telling you that you are wrong because you are a guy.

      I am not claiming to be a victim here… I am just wondering… in light of the evidence… when you have called me a vindictive cheerleader… why *you* feel attacked by *me*?

    • John says

      Rev. LadyPastor

      It is called debate. It is not vitriolic. I absolutely am at a loss to understand why you need to explain Rev.
      Merritts’ point of view. All this P.C. rhetoric about silencing debate in the name of unity is fatuous at best. What about Iron sharpens Iron?

    • Rev. LadyPastor says

      Here’s the thing, John: You are not engaging in debate. You are simply attempting to tear and shout down and insult anyone who disagrees with you. That much was made clear in your first comment where, in spite of your argument that you’re engaging in systematic theology (Sir, I have read, studied and engaged in systematic theology, and what you have presented here is in no way, shape or form systematic theology), you sought to minimize and demean what the post actually said by dismissing it through the insinuation that she referred to fellatio in reference to nuns.
      You, sir, are a troll* and therefore I refuse to engage in any further “discussion” with you.
      Now go away or I shall taunt you a second time.**


    • libby says

      Preach on ladypreacher!
      I too am a young, female, single, (straight-not that it ought to matter) mainline clergy woman. The sexual harassment female clergy experience from other colleagues and parishioners is real. It is real and it is belittled. I assure you no male clergy person I know has ever been told “what a shame it is to cover up a young body with such a bulky robe”. When our more conservative brothers start hurling hate-speech, or accusing us of “over-reacting”, at those trying simply to name their experience and implore the church to do better it simply serves as an example to little boys off what’s okay and to little girls what they can look forward to. It perpetuates a cycle of violence- no I do not use that word lightly- and someone has to make a choice to stop it.

  19. says

    There certainly are a lot of dudes weighing in on this one.

    I think Paul had it right when he says that there is neither male nor female, but all are one through Christ. It’s one of the best parts of his theology. Jesus doesn’t discriminate who can carry forward the message of the good news. If anything, Jesus trusts the women more than men.

    Christianity isn’t the only institution responsible for the war on women. But it certainly doesn’t help in the capacity that it should. My wife is a pastor, and a very good one at that, and I simply don’t have the time for someone to tell her (or any woman) to be quiet in church because of their interpretation of Timothy.

  20. dave says

    Carol is spot-on with this post. And the vitriol (hags? really?) from the conservative male commenters on this post is, as others have said, “Exhibit A” why she is right.

  21. Mary Ann Dimand says

    And then there’s that whole stained glass ceiling thing. Until the world changes so that all of us are one in Jesus Christ, longer Jew or Greek, no longer slave or free, no longer male and female in any way that compromises unity: Well, I’m working on perfecting several models of a Liturgical Strap-on– instantly makes any woman pastor younger and more charismatic!

    • John says

      “Until the world changes so that all of us are one in Jesus.” Wide is the path of destruction narrow is the path to salvation. Get your theology straight. God decides who gets in not us! You contend that we decide when we are one in Christ? Dig a little deeper.

      Liturgical Strap-on is a Vile comment.

    • Chris says

      John, of course you would take offense to foul language, and not the mistreatment of an entire gender. It’s what so many Christians do these days – take offense to tiny things while ignoring real injustice. Reread your bible.

  22. says

    “What is one belief, practice or element of Christianity that must die so that Christianity can move forward and truly impact the world in the next 100 years?”

    I got one. How about if the Church stops thinking that the primary mission of the Church is to fix the Church.

    Everyone in this discussion here just made that blunder.

    Including me, just for bringing it up.

    Sigh. Can’t win.

    • says

      Good call, Jeff! I guess when we love a group of someones, we want to best for them… we plan, we hope, and we pray that will happen… Of course, it would be better if we concentrated on what’s outside the church than what’s inside… but sometimes we have to clean up our own business before we can figure out how to reach out.

  23. Makeesha says

    Looks like most of the ignorant, mean-spirited responses are just proving the good reverend’s points. So, well done … to all! Especially the nasties, thank you for making our point for us better than we could have made it ourselves.

    • John says

      I saw one ignorant mean spirited response and it was a so lame I felt sorry for the person who posted it. If a person can only defend their opinion by regurgitating stale talking points and tired war rhetoric that is their own fault. Step up your game Makeesha: your I’m rubber and your glue retort Is more lame than the weak minded spouting of one insulting poster.

    • John says

      You’r mean-spirited! The invective is so debilitating. I still have not seen one logical rebuttal. I have read a lot of lame emotive victimology ie we’re women we’re victims. If you don’t get it we cant explain it to you in logical terms that are explained in a systematic way through thurough biblical exegesis.

    • Jeff says

      The funny thing John, most the people you apparently disagree with on here are the very people who have done lots of biblical exegesis. Let it go man. If people disagree with you, so what? Practice civility.

    • Erika Gillian says

      Wow. That was the most polite thing I’ve ever heard called an Ad Hominem. I’m afraid I’m going to have to call it, John is a Poe.

  24. Kimberly D says

    Love this: “As we think about the future, can we stand with those who struggle, speak with those who protest, and nurture the narratives of community and hope?”
    A noble goal indeed.

  25. says

    Thanks Carol! I do wonder if you got your friends to sign on and model being ignorant religious bigots for us in the comments. If so they did a great job. If not you really got your point proven.

  26. Paul Campbell says

    Thank you Carol, this was a great post for me and hitting the festering thorn, that so many remain silent on. I am one of the men that you talk about that remains silent too often. I give moral support, stand with women who lead the change, and I will vote for supporting the ministry of women. But I admit being the one that does not boldly speak out enough. I come from the heritage of strong aunts raised in the reformed tradition, who in the first half of the 20th century pushed thru glass ceilings of business, education, and missionary work, in times when single women were not suppose to do that. So thank you for reawakening the call that is needed to raise the ministry of women up more often and to stand against all oppression. Seek justice, love mercy, and walk humbly.

  27. says

    I was listening to a news story about the Kosovo War & how rape was not classified as a war crime prior to this. That rape was used as a weapon to silence disent and to punish men and women that spoke up against the powerful.
    Those that had perpetrated these crime still roam largely unpunished. Many times families are forced to live in the same villages as their perpetrators. The husbands of the victimized women are looked down upon. The victimized women are shamed by heh culture and bear that burden. There are efforts to reframe the cultural understanding of the rapists and those that have been victimized, abused, and scared by these horrific crimes.
    I see a similar effort going on in the church in the US. We have victimized women with religious doctrine and demanded them to bear the burdon to provide proof inside a sustem designed to protect the dominance of men. Then when women speak out against it and offer a new way of faith that is inclusive and offers to women a way to end the systemic ravaging the same oppressors point to it as a warning that they are being victimized.
    I will have nothing to do with a theology or God that does not love and honor all of creation equally. I will have nothing to do with the people that honor and worship a God that excludes, divides, and subdues another fearfully, wonderfully made creature unto another.
    It pains me to see Carol being challenged in a this manner. It congers up anger in me. I am not saying anything to try to change someones mind. I believe we can all agree that that endeavor is fruitless. I offer what I do as support for Carol and the silenced women that continue to fight, weep, and mourn the ways of men. Thank you, Carol.

    • Artaban7 says


      I think you raise a good point–that what many in America today are characterizing as a “War on Women” really pails in comparison to the deeper harms and injustices done against them in parts of some other cultures. It raises another question as to what is the most effective means of advancing the rights of women in the world?

      Is the most good in that regard done by debates and/or condemnations in our society, where people have the right to freely associate with those of similar or diverging beliefs (as proven by the fact that Carol is a pastor in a congregation that obviously welcomes her), or is it done by insisting and advocating for the voting rights of women in countries that’d previously denied them (Iraq, Afghanistan, Saudi Arabia)?

      Is more good done by sponsoring the education of a female child in Asia, Africa, or Latin America through Compassion or Catholic Relief Services, and giving her the skills to someday determine her own future, or by spending millions or billions that could fund such an effort instead on contraceptives?

      I think it’s pretty clear, but too many people seem to want to leap to take offense, quibble over whether offense was intended, or unintended yet mistaken for such, or to tear down or denigrate other denominations. It’s sad, but hardly surprising in a world stricken by sin. Thank God we don’t have to rely on mere humanity alone.

    • libby says

      It’s not a zero sum game. The global war on women is real. Study after study proves that when sexes are more equal a society prospers- economically, socially, politically, education, and on and on. It’s real when 1 in 4 women in the US is a victim of sexual violence. It’s real when 70% of women globally are victims of abuse within an intimate relationship. It’s real when women continue to make 77 cents on the dollar to men for the same work- and earn less than men in 99% of occupations. It’s real when half the population is considered a “special interest” rather than simply a welcome voice who is part of the discussion, decision making and moving forward of a government.
      Fewer than 17% of the 112th Congress is women. (I believe the lowest in 30 years) Some of those countries you mentioned, as well as many others across the globe have a mandated minimum of women in their legislature because it is understood that to govern a whole country requires representatives of a whole society. In this country when Nancy Pelosi was elected to congress the first question she was asked was “who will take care of her children?” Sarah Palin had photographs taken between her legs. Condoleezza Rice was asked if she was “tough enough”. And Hilary Clinton has been called a bitch by so-called news commentators more times than anyone can count.
      Don’t believe there’s a war on women? That’s because you’re on the winning side. Look at your mother, your sister, your wife, your daughter- tell them they’re worth 77% of what you are. Look at 4 women in your family who you love and think that statistically one of them is a victim of sexual violence, then come back to us and ask how you can be part of the solution. Liberation doesn’t just free the oppressed. Turns out it frees the oppressor to.

  28. Donytop5 says

    My concern on issues like this, is that we see the issue through a political lens and not through the lens of the gospel. As you look through the gospel how are the issues of our personal rights addressed?

    • Lia says

      Women’s rights are not personal rights. Women’s rights are collective rights—half the world.

    • says

      I agree with the Reverend Lia Scholl.

      When I look through the lens of the gospel, I see that “in Jesus Christ, there is no male or female, slave or free.” I see that we ought to be working for things to be “on earth as they are in heaven.”

      When the unclean woman reached out to touch the hem of Jesus’s garment, she was healed. Jesus cared about the unclean, the broken-hearted, the woman who was about to be stoned, and Samaritan women. He was always lifting up the outcast. I see the salvation of God as partnering with the continued work of Christ.

      Yes, we are still in a society where women are mistreated and abused. One in four women will experience domestic violence. One-third of female homicide victims are killed by a partner. One in six women have experienced an attempted or completed rape. Aside from any political party, we should be aware of the suffering of women in our society. In our churches, we should always be sensitive to the ways in which our Christian cultures perpetuate hatred toward women

  29. Bradford Wade says

    How sad. Women’s authentic voices are still erased so routinely that some people can’t understand what you’re talking about. Carol, thank you resisting the pressure to remain silent. God bless you!

  30. says

    Barack Obama just tweeted this:

    “Rights that women felt were settled for nearly a generation have suddenly become contested again.”

    Seems appropriate for the crazy conversation that is happening here on this post of Carol’s. It’s been awhile since we’ve had some of these types of commenters on Pomomusings…which, certainly drives up traffic and gets people’s blood pressures rising, just sorry that it happened on your post, Carol.

    • Artaban7 says

      Sadly also true that religious rights and rights of conscience that were settled for generations have become contested by this administration. You want not to be forced to pay for another person’s abortifacient drug because you know abortion takes a life? Sorry…

      You’re part of a religious organization that wants to hire teachers that hold your beliefs and can teach them at a private school that no one is forced to go to? Sorry (thank God the Supreme Court struck down that Obama attempt).

      I would ask how the rights of women have been contested? Look at even those deemed extreme here (Santorum, etc.). Did he ever call for banning of access to contraception? No. Did the Catholic bishops? No. They just don’t want to be forced to pay to make them free (something Planned Parenthood already does).

      The right to free association is what is under greater threat here. A truly pluralistic society lets people have leeway to not be forced to compromise their morals, or think as everyone else does. Crazy that this has to be pointed out, but a person’s right to speak their mind is the foundation of all the others. Why are some on this board threatened by the exchange of ideas and open conversation?

    • Dave Paisley says

      To do realize the issue is them taking state money, right?

      If they just stuck to doing their own thing with their own (enormous fortune) money they can do whatever they want and legitimately claim religious freedom. But you can’t have it both ways.

    • says


      Do you know what it is like to bleed so profusely for two weeks straight that you become weak and anemic? Every time you stand up, you feel dizzy. Do you know what it’s like to have pains in your stomach that are so debilitating that you have a difficult time going to school or to work? Do you know what it is like to go through menopause, with incredible floods of blood that seem to come from nowhere, and frighten you even though you have been bleeding for over fifty years? Do you know what it’s like to have hormonal swings? Alongside the weakness, you have vacillation in body temperature, becoming hot or cold and feeling faint for no apparent reason. Do you know what it’s like to have depression and anxiety that creeps in regularly? You learn to manage it, aside from all the other pain. Do you know what it’s like to have surging, pounding migraines due to your menstrual cycle? A lot of girls begin going through this when they are nine years old, and many do not stop bleeding until they are fifty.

      Do you know what it’s like to realize that one tiny pink pill could help with all of it?

      There are some things that men will not understand. You cannot understand. Women have a different embodied experience. So it is difficult to hear men condemn women for using birth control, assuming that they will be using it as “a license to do things in the sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be” (as Santorum said) or assuming that we will use the pill as an abortifacient (as you have done).

      I imagine that is why many Evangelical women and Catholic women go against what their churches teach about birth control. We learned to ignore men when it comes to birth control, because a RC Bishop may understand a lot things, but he can never be an authority on what it’s like to menstruate.

    • Artaban7 says

      Regarding menstruation…I have a sister, fiancee, mother, and aunt, so yes, I know a little about menstruation. I also know that the extreme description of it you’ve chosen to use to characterize the condition is FAR from the reality faced by most women. Are you honestly going to claim that 11 million women in this country that use birth control all experience such debilitating effects from menstruation?!

      I also know many doctors have found ways to treat many of those other symptoms with diet or drugs that don’t cause the other ill effects. Heck, many professional female athletes don’t experience a menstrual cycle, because once the body reaches a certain ratio of body-fat it shuts that off (not necessarily saying that’s a good thing). Finally, some of those issues you describe are due to thyroid issues, not necessarily menstruation, and that is not restricted to one gender or the other.

      There are benefits to menstruation, too. Many researchers attribute the longer life expectancy of women directly to it. It clears excess iron, toxins, and therefore oxygen free radicals from the body. Men only get those benefits if they regularly donate blood, and in those that do, there is a correlation to longer life. Interestingly enough, the gap has been declining with an increase in the use of the pill. Women used to live 7.8 years longer than men (1979). Now it’s 5.3.

      Concerning the comment, “Do you know what it’s like to have depression and anxiety that creeps in regularly? You learn to manage it, aside from all the other pain. Do you know what it’s like to have surging, pounding migraines due to your menstrual cycle?” there is a growing body of evidence that men go through a hormonal cycle of their own that closely resembles PMS, minus the monthly bleeding. It’s being dubbed Sexual Deficit Disorder by some, and linked to depression and anxiety in men.

      Depression and anxiety are WORSE in men, if one looks at the data (79% of all suicides, as opposed to 21% in women). But I guess you either didn’t know or don’t care about that…

      Carol, there are some things you just can’t know about men, being a women, but you can do research. Please let go of the indignation, rage, and division. It’s not meant to be an “us” vs. “them” Church. It might help some folks.

    • says

      Perhaps I should qualify that statement a bit, because I think there’s a very real possibility that you feel that you don’t look silly, and are indeed engaged in some kind of serious discussion.

      You know women, so that makes you qualified to lecture them on menstruation and make moral decrees about what treatments are and are not appropriate for controlling their symptoms? Honestly? You honestly don’t see how silly that is?

      “There are benefits to menstruation, too.”

      The same benefits might be had from leeching and bloodletting, so let’s get THAT party started!

      Regarding depression in men, would you begrudge men anti-depressants as well (knowing the negative side effects) or do we get a pass? If we get a pass, is there actually some underlying philosophical reason for the exception, or (setting aside all pretense) is it SOLELY based on the possession of a penis?

      “Please let go of the indignation, rage, and division”

      It’s easy to make dismissive statements like this from a place of privilege, but these types of statements say much more about you than they do about the women whose feelings and experiences you so callously and haughtily trivialize.

    • Paul Campbell says

      Maybe it is time to bring Walter Brueggemann’s “Prayers for a privileged People” off the shelf! “….we wait little for what lies beyond us, and then settle with ourselves at the center…”

    • says

      Actually, these are not extreme. They’re quite common. Women are conditioned not to talk about menstruation, because it makes men feel uncomfortable.

      There have been a couple of times during this stream that I have been accused of rage, anger, screeds, and yelling. Perhaps it’s because some people on this stream don’t know me, personally… but… I have not been angry as I have replied to these posts. In fact, it’s a pretty rare event for me to lose my temper.

      Now I don’t think that anger is a bad thing (especially when being called names and having your personal ministry and theology maligned), but I do find it fascinating that my responses have been interpreted as anger.

    • says

      Artaban7, One last thing… I don’t talk to my nephew much about what it’s like to have a period, but I’m glad that you have these conversations with your aunt. As you go deeper into your menstruation research with your aunt and mother, I encourage you listen closely to women. When a woman takes the time and energy to describe the precise physical symptoms of monthly bleeding and you (a person who has never menstruated) rebuts that those common symptoms are “FAR from reality,” then it might suggest that your research skills might be a tad bit rusty.

    • Artaban7 says

      “As you go deeper into your menstruation research with your aunt and mother, I encourage you listen closely to women. When a woman takes the time and energy to describe the precise physical symptoms of monthly bleeding and you (a person who has never menstruated) rebuts that those common symptoms are “FAR from reality,” then it might suggest that your research skills might be a tad bit rusty.” –Carol Howard Meritt


      You have my sympathy if you are one of the women that experiences the rare and debilitating side effects of menstruation. I have never anywhere denied that for some, those exist, and have even affirmed that there are many alternative, less harmful ways of treating symptoms than by taking oral contraceptives.

      I have only stressed that to characterize all menstruation that way, as you’ve chosen to do, is a gross distortion of reality. When I say debilitating menstruation is “FAR from reality”, I am basing that on the experiences of women in my life, and the fact that we don’t see droves of women taking sick days every month, or displaying sickness at work.

      You make some pretty bold claims to know the content and nature of conversations on menstruation between me and my female relatives and friends, all without knowing any of us. It is a shame you choose (to use Luke Harms’ words) to “callously and haughtily trivialize” the experiences of those women. It is the height of irony that you then, in such ignorance, claim that my research skills might be a tad bit rusty.

      I rescind my earlier impression that you are angry. I mistook anger for what is in actuality hubris. Twice have you dismissed out of hand the experiences of others merely because they were not the same as your own. You did so with the bishops, who at least founded their position on objective facts concerning certain forms of birth control, and the harm they do to women (bishops have mothers, sisters, and female friends, by the way, and can grow up seeing how menstruation does or doesn’t effect them).

      ALL of us deal with pain in our lives–that is not reserved to menstruating women–and it rarely does any good to dwell on it. I have a form of arthritis (similar to rheumatoid) that can, untreated, lead to loss of the use of limbs. There is sometimes daily, persistent, throbbing pain involved, which mostly goes unnoticed if I keep busy with other things.

      I’ve had periods of weeks at a time where I limped because of swelling in the hip or feet, and had trouble holding a yard implement or tool, though most of the time others wouldn’t have any idea I’ve got arthritis. I’m not demanding that others pay for my medication, as are some women with contraception–I paid for it myself, when I needed it, though it’s a heck of a lot more expensive than the pill. And I think you’d find doctors rating that disease as more debilitating than menstruation by many degrees.

      But in the five years since my diagnosis with psoriatic arthritis, I’ve also found there are ways to eliminate or greatly mitigate the symptoms and effects. Many of those don’t involve artificial drugs, though they do take discipline. If I stay away from certain foods and workout three times a week, I don’t have to take the drug like the doctors recommend. That (discipline) is precisely what is lacking among too many Americans. Too many are crying “woe is me”…”provide for me”, when they could, with a little personal responsibility and effort, resolve their own problems. I suspect the same is true for most of your claims concerning the “horrible scourge of menstruation”.

      Finally, it is a sadly modern mistake to think that because one is not something (male, female, black, white, rich, or poor) they therefore cannot know anything that state/condition. While it may be true there are different types of knowledge, it is illogical and destructively divisive to be so dismissive of the other’s ability to know. One need not ever have murdered or raped to know those things are terribly wrong. And none of us would only go to an oncologist who’d had cancer if we needed treatment. Hence my citation of numerous outside, scientific sources (which you haven’t bothered to attempt to refute, I notice).

      There ARE grave wrongs done to women by men, and men by women, and both should be fought against, but it helps no one to hold grudges, belittle the other sex, or play the blame game and declare one is worse than the other. Doing those things doesn’t achieve shalom–restoration of harmony & peace–it only deepens animosity and division, and that is my main problem with the way you present your case.

  31. says

    Hello Carol. What a wonderful commentary. I left the Evangelical church to pursue a vision of Christianity and womanhood that just were not available to me there. I asked Jesus to show me the feminine face of God. And He did. I thought you and your readers might enjoy the attached blogpost as it seems germane to re-imagining Christianity, especially in light of your statement,”Do we speak of an angry, warrior God who can only atone for our sin with the payment of blood? Or do we speak of the salvation that comes from becoming born-again by the Spirit?”

  32. GailBrown says

    Dear Rev. Howard Merritt:

    Thank you so much for the post on sexism in the Church. The discussion comments seem to have gone way beyond your original post, but all the better. I have been feeling so dispirited, ready to leave my denomination, because of sexism. Of course, there really is no place to go. Because behavior that would be forbidden anywhere else is still very acceptable within the Church. Being exempt from most civil rights laws barring discrimination has not helped the Church but has rather allowed it to go on in this fashion unchecked. I fought cancer this past year. At every stage, women with my kind of cancer fare much worse than men, mostly because they are diagnosed an average of 9 months later. Why? Because women with the same complaints as men are not taken as seriously. When I see Congress or state governments taking money away from Planned Parenthood for cancer screenings, it isn’t hypothetical to me. And I feel like my Church just won’t stand up and grow a backbone and take these issues on in any real way. It might look good at denomination headquarters, but how many women are leading large or influential churches? How many women are having real difficulty finding positions after their initial call? Even in one of the most liberal groups in our denomination, the casual sexism and marginalization of women is widespread and unchallenged. At a time when I need the comfort of the Church the most, I feel like the door is increasingly closed or that it costs me more emotionally to be in Church than to stay home. Your post was a blast of fresh air and love. God Bless and keep your chin up.

    Gail Brown

  33. says

    Carol, great post and subsequent responses. (Lots of good responses.) You know, as most of us do, that this is nothing “original” or “prophetic” or “radical” in what you are saying. You are following the path of Jesus into grace. If it weren’t for women (and men) like you, I’d be hiking with my dog every Sunday and going out for brunch. The community of Christ is more beautiful because of you.

  34. Julie bailey says

    Hi Carol,

    Thank you for sharing your prophetic word with us! I grew up in a Presbyterian church in Mississippi, never having seen a woman in ministry until I went to college. I struggled for several years with my decision to pursue a call to ministry. As a minister in Memphis, Tn, I still find myself having to explain that I Received the same Masters degree from seminary that my husband did, and no – my role is not children’s ministry and women’s Bible studies. Clearly, even in the “mainline churches” in the deep South, women in ministry are not the norm… Yet! What disturbs me most is not how men treat women in ministry, but how “conservative” (for lack of a better description) women are fierce defenders of the old social norm, where men are the spiritual leaders of their families, even (or especially?) their church families.

    Anyway, thanks!
    Julie bailey

    • says

      I’ve been wrestling with this a lot… Lia Scholl and I talked about it recently and there’s a thread above about women going to conservative churches. (Although it is wrong to say that conservative churches are growing with women. Nationally, conservative movements/churches are dwindling.)

      What do women get from a patriarchal view of religion? There are a couple of things…

      It is a bargain for security: if women will submit, men will protect and provide. For some women, this is a very important exchange.

      It is the ability to become a “new creation.” I have seen women who have been embarrassed by their past, embrace conservative churches because it allowed them to start over. It felt good to have new norms that were so radically different.

      It’s because women don’t know that there is any other option. When I was growing up in the Baptist Church, I thought of progressive churches as old people with boring music. I thought there was only one real flavor of Christianity.

      Southern women can be a whole different thing… I grew up in a Southern family that feigned those social norms, but the mamas ruled…

      It is an interesting question!

  35. says

    Hey Carol,

    Thanks for putting it in perspective.

    A word on the much-maligned story of Onan.

    Gen. 38: “Then Judah said to Onan, “Sleep with your brother’s wife and fulfill your duty to her as a brother-in-law to raise up offspring for your brother.” But Onan knew that the child would not be his; so whenever he slept with his brother’s wife, he spilled his semen on the ground to keep from providing offspring for his brother. What he did was wicked in the Lord’s sight; so the Lord put him to death also. ”

    This is a story of social justice. She was a widow without offspring or inheritance, and Onan wanted to keep her as his sexual concubine instead of providing her with what, in that time, would have been her insurance in old age: children. It also would have given her status in the community.

    Let’s not fear this passage any longer. This is not about “birth control,” but about a greedy man who doesn’t want to diffuse his inheritance, and who wants to keep a woman as his sexual slave, disinherited.

Leave a Reply