Friday, October 18, 2013

The Virtuous Woman

In the time I spent indoctrinated by teachings in the Churches of God, there were plenty of articles and sermons on virtuous biblical women.  The oft quoted Proverbs 31 wife was a thing to be reached, an achievement that was bound to garner you a godly husband (works). In contrast, the atmosphere was of women today having become rebellious, rejecting their God given purpose and divine role. Feminism was called a clever ploy by Satan to attack the family, which was always followed by a stern “tsk-tsk” that it was working. Women had been fooled, much as Eve had in the Garden of Eden. “Feminism” was the lie of carefree lifestyles, having no responsibility to the children, home or husband. It was a license for a woman to be selfish, and without the constraints of male leadership, she was wont to do so (as a child in need of discipline).
They willfully ignore the fact that feminism was born out of a world where women were legally abused and considered chattel. Equality was actually about equality, not misandry. In the Churches of God, it was an evil satanic desire to believe in that. As was continually stressed, this displeased God.

Many a sermon told us how women were more easily deceived than men, like our example Eve. It was Eve who was deceived after all, not Adam. This idea was used as proof of the weak and gullible nature of women. God had intentionally equipped us poorly for managing our lives, and we needed to achieve that Proverbs 31 attitude of submission to our husbands, who would take care of us instead.  The elusively meek, quiet, submissive, ever gentle, always happy, never arguing woman who appreciated that her husband was “over” her.

At the last Feast of Tabernacles I attended, there was a Bible study that first Friday night. The topic was family. That seems harmless and lovely, doesn’t it?
I sat there, listening to the gentle introduction about love, unity and all that warm fuzzy stuff. I felt so wistful for what I had always longed for, and could never seem to have. A sole parent, I left my marriage when my child was a toddler to escape abuse. Though I had no choice under the circumstances, it has been a regret of mine that my child had to miss out. I was nostalgic for something I had never known, the sacred beauty found in that commitment of marriage. In that room full of people, I felt alone and deprived.
That would have been enough right there, but this was just the easy introduction to let down my defenses for the real message.

The sermon moved on to juxtaposing the beauty and perfection of “the good old days” of godly families (back during things like slavery, and open woman abuse), to the debauchery and destruction that is today’s family. The minister spoke of “worldly” families, and how the women’s movement altered the fabric of society, simply because we decided we weren’t satisfied to stay at home (being weak, selfish and child-like). He condemned children raised by their mothers alone, as statistical nightmares of drug addiction, alcoholism and criminal endeavors. Additionally, they were often victims to high rates of self-harm, suicide, and homelessness. Having tied this in with feminism, he had effectively blamed women for destroying their own children.

As I sat in that darkened conference room, I held my breath. I was sobbing on the inside, my ability to hide it precarious. The detail he went into about these horrors was more than my heart could stand. Tears silently rolled down my face, and in shame I tried to feign anything other than wiping away tears. I lowered my head, and hid my face behind my hair. I felt so degraded and worthless in that moment, as every single fear a mother could have became sermon fodder.
...I had cursed my child in raising them alone.

The heaviness in my heart grew great so that I could not speak. I had failed God in such a spectacular way; ruining not only my life, but my innocent child’s. God disapproved of the less than virtuous woman I was. That feeling of God’s rejection was agonizing.

I glanced over at my friend sitting next to me and she too had been hiding her tears. She uttered "I feel so bad, I wish I could have done better with my son."

Worst of all, I was feeling very far from God. I was too ashamed to approach Him in prayer (a stumbling block). This has been an ongoing difficulty with me even after having left that system. Too ashamed to approach God, I feel anger, confusion, and eventually a return to His arms of Grace.

Can they ever know the damage that they do when their sermons are about failure of the self, and not victory in Jesus?

The great thing is that I now know, in the very core of my being, that He can handle my issues. He is bigger than all of them - my life, my weakness, and my lack. God is the one who is faithful, and it is because of this that I remain under His grace. Not my faithfulness, but His! Just like I wouldn't let my child go, He does not let His children go.
I see now that a marriage filled with love and grace is one of the greatest gifts that God has given to us. The beauty of two genuine hearts choosing to love each other with all their human foibles is a greater love, not one based on assimilation and conformity to a set of rules and laws. We cannot truly love if we are living in a false pretense of legalistic performance. We love because He first loved us, and we were sinners!

In the riches of the New Covenant, I have also come to understand just how much more wonderful God thinks of women, regardless of the role they espouse.
Upon the resurrection of Jesus, it was not one but two women (witnesses!) that Jesus chose to appear to first. It was a woman who was given the honor of washing the feet of God prior to His giving life for His beloved children, and a woman that Jesus publicly defended when she had been dragged into His presence, accused of adultery. He spoke to a woman at the well, and not just any woman, but a Samaritan woman! Greatest of all (even though Mary was taboo to speak about) God entered the world through the womb of a woman. Without a woman, we would not have a Savior.
Other important events took place throughout the Bible, such as Rahab the Harlot and Esther the Queen. Clear messages to us on the true value of a woman! It is not in her ability to suitably submit to her husband, or keep her children in line through Sabbath services, or wear the perfect length of hair or dress or skirt. It is not in what she does, but who she is – God’s redeemed daughter.

Can you see the healing that comes when the message is about victory in Jesus, and not failure of the self?

God loves you, women in the Churches of God. Are you weary of conforming to the Churches of God standard of “most approved women”? Never doing quite enough, never deferring well enough, and never appreciating the “man God sent to lead you”. Remember dear woman, that there is only one mediator between us and God, and that is Jesus Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female. We are all one in the Lord. Take comfort that God, who knows the very hairs on your head, also knows the very personality He endowed you with. Let the love of the Holy Spirit lead you in everything. When we let the Holy Spirit lead us through His love, we are exactly what He intends us to be - women! Strong, resilient, faithful, loyal, kind, caring, loving, and the expression of the fruits of the Spirit. We are no longer failures, but victors in Jesus Christ! Let no one deceive you regarding God’s gifts to you (Acts 2:17). You have a mind and heart of great strength, able to contribute your God given intelligence and compassion in ways that should not be silent. Let’s rejoice in the freedom that God has given.

It is important that you understand; Everything on this blog is based on the current understanding of each author. Never take anyone's word for it, always prove it for yourself, it is your responsibility. You cannot ride someone else's coattail into the Kingdom. ; ) Acts 17:11


Byker Bob said...

I've been quite amazed at the depth and Biblical wisdom in the sermons on marriage and family in the non-denominational Christian church which I've been attending. It is also quite a revelation to learn about grace-based parenting, as opposed to the zero tolerance parenting which most of us received if we grew up in classic WCG.

One God-relationship nugget came to me from a Catholic lady I dated briefly several years back. She told me that King David was a man after God's own heart because no matter what he had done, he never let anything get in the way of his conversations with God. Apparently, the Psalms were my lady friend's favorite book of the Bible because they catalogued David's relationship with God, and gave us one of the most graphic descriptions of God's character and love, from the perspective of one who knew Him intimately.


Anonymous said...

The expressed and profound anguish of this writer’s response to the “you better be a good wife” “bible study” and sermon is understood.

For me, a former member of the WCG, I experienced virtually the same anguish. Of the hundreds of morbid “sermons” I had to sit through, one of all is seared in my memory, a piercing sermon telling why everyone should be married to a “believer,” that to be “unequally yoked” is a great sin and would virtually prohibit the attainment of sufficient righteousness to be saved.

The thrust of the sermon was to explain why pastors would only approve marriages between active and sincere members of the church. Any other marriage would be destined to sin and failure.

Nice thought—except that I came into the church after marriage. My wife would have nothing to do with the WCG.

I walked out of that service and cried for an hour in the car on the way home. And I’m a man. Men don’t cry. But I had just been told that I was essentially worthless in God’s eyes; that my wife was an unconverted, deprecating sinner who would make my salvation almost impossible. She was rotten, and I would spiritually stink because of her.

Of course, had I come into the Church sometime earlier, before Herbert W. Armstrong felt he needed to remarry a formerly married and divorced much younger woman (and thereby change the no-divorce, no-remarriage doctrine) , I would have been told to either separate from my wife and family or walk away from the eternal salvation that only the Worldwide Church of God could provide. It would be (as it was for so many), discard your wife, or discard your salvation and get tossed alive into the Lake of Fire.

How fortunate it was, then, that I was allowed to become a baptized member, while still living with an “unconverted,” quite sinful and demeaning wife. Nonetheless, after that “marry only a member” sermon, I felt utterly condemned, by both the “sound doctrines” of the church, and God Himself.

The Worldwide Church of God, and Armstrongism—A Church of Fears and Tears.

...and profoundly heretical teachings and doctrines, utterly suppressing or ignoring the Grace of Jesus Christ.

–John of Ohio

xHWA said...

Thanks for sharing that, John. Your comment really touched me.

Penny said...

John, your story really touched my heart. Thank you for sharing that.

Byker Bob said...

I Cor. 7:12-16 are the scriptures which these ministers were violating with their teachings about being unequally yoked.

Some of the stricter splinters are still breaking up good viable marriages for various "Old Covenant" reasons.
It's enough to make anyone cry!


Anonymous said...

Yes, I was well aware of I Cor. 7:12-16. My wife did agree, at great sacrifice, to sta with me as I went off to the Armstrong church and left my family's home church.

Made no difference. The pervasive and conveyed impression that I was "less than righteous" for living with an unconverted mate coudln't be disquised.

I marveled that I never once heard a sermon telling how blessed my unconverted wife would be, living with me and the true doctrines of God's real church. I had hoped that I might be looked upona as doing something useful and helpful for my wife and kids, allowing them to see how "real Christians" lived in conformance to ALL of the Bible.

Nope, From the start, I was looked upon as a less than perfect member, frankly cursed as it were.

For the 13 yrs I was a WCG member, I felt cursed and deprecated. No one ever asked, "How are the kids and wife?" To learn that would be to be associating with heathen non-members, and would jeopardize the questioner's pursuit of righteousness. It was bad enough for baptized church members to "associate" with non-members out there "in the world." But here I was, a member, married to such a heathen despicable person. I was to be --- and was --- pitied. My wife and marriage cursed me. Gaining sufficient Levitical righteousness for salvation was hard enough for those blessed with real Church-families. For me, my chances were pretty grim. To preserve whatever domestic tranquility I could, I did only what I had to, go to weekly services and the Feast. No Bible studies. No church social events. I was alone. My wife didn't support me (understandibly). And neither did the church or it's members (sinfully).

The wounds and scars are not as deep now that I've returned to a real church and back with my family. But it will never be the same. It still hurts, as anyone can imagine. I wouldn't want to be any of my several WCG pastors explaining on the Day of Judgement about how they treated me and my family.

I forgive them. That's an easy thing to do. They will be accountable not to me, but to Jesus Christ Himself. I simply pray to God each day to help me make my way as Christ and the Holy Spirit (yes, Him)direct.

And you can bet, my daily prayers are for real Christians married to non-Christian mates.

Grace to all.

--John of Ohio

Caleb said...

Less than a half dozen years ago in what is considered the most "balanced" splinter group, our friend was told that she could divorce her non-church member husband even though she didn't want to and they were not having any problems. The minister was suggesting it out of the blue. The guy was not a member and THAT was all that mattered to the minister.

Around that same time I attended a wedding that was the woman's 4th marriage in the church, most of which were in "God's church" - with all the splintering it is now permitted to divorce if one's spouse is in a different splinter COG. So now "unequally yoked" includes marriage to someone in any other COG splinter group. That marriage ended in divorce a few years later.

Since I left the COG just my little area alone has had several divorces in the local church. They are divorce-happy....after all those years of the D&R policy. Even pastors can divorce freely. So when it comes to which scriptures they violate with their teachings....there are plenty.

Penny said...

John of Ohio,

The heartbreaking testimony of your experience is palpable. You have well described the two tiered treatment of members. Like you have said, "real" and truly committed members would not find themselves in the pitiable position of being unequally yoked. What a horrible position to be in, utterly alone through that struggle. Many acting much like the Israelites of ancient days, who considered the Samaritans to be dogs. So it is, in these splinter groups, those who are afraid that their own salvation is weak and tenuous, even speaking to an unequally yoked person could cost them their salvation. Yet, greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends. -John 15:13