Voices of Experience: Please Don’t Ask Me to Stay, by Rebecca Kello

Please Don’t Ask Me to Stay

Someone has to stay, someone has to stay to make change or we’ll die. This has been the plea that I have heard expressed to myself and to many other women (and to be fair, men as well) in my first year of seminary. I’m lucky enough to be able to attend a seminary that understands my issues with being a woman who grew up in the churches of Christ, little c or it doesn’t count kind of church of Christ, and in many ways this is one of the reasons I chose this seminary, but it also comes with a dose of desperation to save the denomination.

After a year of hearing this plea, though, I have to finally express my exhaustion with it. It’s important to note the need for change agents to stay, but it’s also important to acknowledge when one’s own health is compromised by staying. Asking me to stay in the churches of Christ is like asking a abused spouse to stay in a marriage because fifty percent of marriages end in divorce. I struggle with identifying and labeling my experience as abusive because it seems severe and I love the people and the church that made me who I am; most days I don’t look back on my experience and feel like I was purposefully subjugated, but purposeful or not, it happened.

It was in a small, cinder-block church classroom, with brightly colored paint that was desperately trying to bring some life to the room, that as a 13-year-old girl, I realized that I could never be enough. It was in this class that I realized that I would have to change who I was to become who God wanted me to be. As a shy child, I was hardly as loud or as opinionated as I am today, but even still, I knew that being the Proverbs 31 woman would be an uphill battle for me and that the gentle quiet spirit did not reside in me in the way it did in the women in the church who I adored. I was devastated.

This devastation leads to self-doubt, which leads to self-esteem issues. Those self-esteem issues were not merely about my appearance or social status as most teenage girls struggle with, but rather they were consumed with the guilt of being a better leader than the boys in my youth group, they were ravaged with what career path to take in college, and on a very personal level, they began to create problems in relationships, subconsciously creating a fear of the rights I would lose if I were to be married. I have switched from career to career; teacher, missionary, teacher again, counselor, etc. Those who don’t know or value my story see that as me being flighty and wasting my 20s, those who do, however, can see how I was trying to make my calling to ministry fit into socially acceptable boxes, dancing around what God has designed me for: ministering to wounded, scarred people.

I was born into a generation and a society that allowed and thought that the education of its young girls should be equal to that of its young boys. While this was the case in my public school, this was far from the case in my conservative church in which women were held to a very specific ideal of Christian womanhood. The two places that were most influential in my young life and personal development, the church and the school, both sent clear, intrinsic messages in their structure and intent. The vast dichotomy between the two, as well as the value and potential that I felt, highlights what has plagued me and many females in my generation: a theological identity crisis.

Growing up in a community and family in which church was vital to everything, this theological identity crisis became so central to who I was, in every aspect of life. The church who I gave my whole life to, consistently, by word or by deed, sent the message that as a woman, I could never be enough. This became my underlying schema and the narrative that ruled my life.

Honestly, sometimes anger creeps in when I think about how my life could be so much further along if I had been instilled with the theological identity God gave me rather than the gender identity the church has boxed me into. It doesn’t plague me all the time, but it’s there and everyday I fight; I fight for the theological identity that God has instilled in me and my church denied me. Everyday, in my religious, personal, and professional life, I fight to undo the wounds caused by growing up in a very conservative church of Christ as a woman.

This is why it’s so hard when people ask me to stay. I have wrestled with God and the church, and for me to be a healthy, life-giving member of the Christian story, I cannot stay. I have met those who have the heart and the support and the hopes to change this denomination into a healthier place for women, but I cannot be one of them. Each day I’m growing in grace towards my past but my gifts fall to better use in another denomination, and the wounds still run too deep, so please don’t ask me to stay.

What’s New: a memorial page for those called elsewhere

On the menu bar you will see a new tab, labeled “Memorial.” When you click on it, it will take you to a new page. This page is an interactive wiki, and it is open for anyone to edit.

That may be a risky move, I know.

The idea behind it is simply this: women called to ministry in ways that question what we’ve been accustomed to call traditional “women’s roles in the church” have to face a choice–do we ignore the claim of God on our lives, or do we follow it…even if it takes us right out of the church we love and long to serve? Or to put it another way, do we serve God, or men?

Many women have, courageously, followed the example of countless biblical heroes and followed the call of God out of the familiar and into the unknown. They leave. Because they have to. Because the Churches of Christ give them no way to stay, even if they really want to.

And worse, when they leave, no one mourns their absence. No one mourns the loss of their voices, their gifts, their wisdom, their leadership, their presence. How can we miss voices that were never allowed to speak? How can we miss gifts that were forbidden use? How can we miss leadership that was never allowed expression?

This problem, of absence being unremarked because there was always an absence-in-presence to begin with, is what this wiki project is about. It is time to name our losses. It is time to grieve them. It is time to repent of the sin that caused them.

If you are a woman who has left the Churches of Christ because there was no place for you, please add your name to the Memorial. If you know of someone who has left to follow her call elsewhere, please add her name (with permission) to the wiki.

It is time we honored these women.