Liberated From Feminism:
The Personal Testimony of Carolyn McCulley
Carolyn McCulley is the media & marketing specialist for Sovereign Grace Ministries,
a church-planting ministry with a publishing arm. She is also a freelance
writer who writes for both Christian and mainstream publications.
There is a certain response from men that both feminist and Christian women desire
to elicit: a masculine benevolence that knows how to live with women in an understanding
way, being both considerate and respectful toward those who are co-heirs in the gracious
gift of life.
Secular feminists approach this desire stridently, from a position of anger.
Christian women are taught to approach it gently, from a position of trust,
knowing that God's Word commands men to live up to this desired standard (1 Peter 3:7)
and commands women to cultivate a gentle and quiet spirit (v. 4).
In my own generation, it has been quite evident that marginalizing men through
anger has had disastrous cultural effects. We have told men that we cannot count
on them, and we have given them a plethora of ways to duck responsibility for the
relationships they initiate and the children they create. The cultural indices of
this failure continue to climb: pornography, child abuse, public murders of estranged
wives, fatherless children, and sexually transmitted diseases to name a few.
What is liberating for women about this mess?!
Growing up in the rebellious '70s, I did not foresee these consequences.
Even as a child, my femininity was a source of confusion for me. The oldest
of three daughters, I felt I always had to prove something to the boys - that
I could be faster, smarter, and more aggressive than they were. I did not
want any limits, and I looked for every opportunity to show my independence.
How I gloated and swaggered when Billy Jean King beat Bobby Riggs in a
well-publicized "battle of the sexes" tennis match! As a teenager, I was also
headstrong and not submitted to my father. I did not respect his decisions, and I
sought to wear him down through constant arguing. Though my mother faithfully took my
sisters and me to mass each week, I lacked any real personal spiritual compass, and
so I pursued whatever philosophies were currently popular.
I reached college filled to the brim with the "wisdom" of Cosmopolitan
magazine, but I was to encounter something more insidious than fashion magazines
- feminism and the Womenís Studies Department. Class after class promoted perpetual
victimhood, disrespect toward all men, an overt embrace of lesbianism,
and a broadly directed militant anger. I became a teaching assistant in that
department for a semester before graduating with a bachelorís degree in journalism
and a certificate in womenís studies. My twenties were more of the same and then
some. I remember when I was 29 that I was so confused and depressed that I entered
into therapy to figure out why I was so angry ... and for that matter, why I
was still single. (Not that the two could possibly be related, right?!) Obviously,
I did not have a very positive outlook on my femininity, and my therapist did not make
much headway. However, God graciously intervened just as I turned 30. I took a
pleasure trip to South Africa to visit my sister who was living there at the time.
I heard the gospel while I was there, and during the last week of my trip,
I heard an American pastor, C.J. Mahaney, preach in a church in Cape Town. He was so
passionate for Jesus, and so very real! His relationship with Christ appealed to
me, so I decided to respond to the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit in my life,
and I gave my life to Christ. When I returned home, I called Pastor Mahaneyís
church to obtain a recommendation for an evangelical church in my town.
The Culture Shock of Christianity
Though I felt God was calling me to this church, I was in for a culture shock!
It was like being on another planet - the women and their viewpoints there were
completely foreign to me. I remember meeting with my pastor and his wife shortly
after I started attending and making a crack about submission. I did not think
anyone still believed that part of the Bible! My pastor wisely asked me if I
liked to read and then recommended Recovering
Biblical Manhood and Womanhood to me - theological reading not typically
recommended to a two-month-old convert!
The Lord used that conversation to start retooling my concept of femininity
and sexuality, overhauling my lifelong views on abortion, sexual immorality, and
even submission. I read God's Word, hungry to find out why my new church friends
held views so different from anyone else I knew. From Genesis, I came to understand
that God is purposeful in his creation. From the Gospels, I came to understand
that God is purposeful in his redemption. I saw he was quite serious about
sexual purity before marriage and fidelity within marriage. I was also convicted that
abortion was a terribly selfish action to avoid the consequences of sexual sin.
Just as importantly, I saw that God had made me female, and that he had specific
tasks and roles for women that would glorify him to an unbelieving, yet watching,
world. Slowly, I was becoming more concerned with his glory, and not my own.
As I studied the Bible, I also studied the marriages of my new friends eager to
see what this Christian concept of benevolent masculine leadership and joyful
feminine submission actually looked like in real life. Though not perfect, what I
saw was attractive. I saw men who sacrificed their own preferences and pleasures to
make sure their wives and children were cultivated spiritually. These were men who
took their responsibilities to be servant leaders seriously. They did not see marriage
as a trap or children as an impediment to the pursuit of their own leisure and
weekend hobbies. Instead, their families were seen as gifts worthy of their hard work.
Likewise, I saw that my married women friends sought to respect and build up
their husbands. I was used to a stream of cracks from women about the uselessness
and unreliability of men -- but this I did not hear from the mature, married women
in my church. Their submission seemed freeing ... dare I say, liberating?!
They certainly seemed free from much of the discord, sarcasm, and disappointment
I usually encountered in modern marriages.
Slowly I began to note that the teamwork in these marriages mirrored the teamwork
in the church. While married men had the responsibility of leading their families,
these same men were called to submit to the spiritual leaders God had put over them.
In fact, when I was focused on the "limitations" I perceived in a wifeís submission
to her husband, I showed that I had failed to understand that submission undergirds
the entire concept of Christianity. My greatest role model for submission is my
Lord himself whose obedient submission guaranteed my redemption. As Hebrews 5:7
says, "During the days of Jesusí life on earth, he offered up prayers and petitions
with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was
heard because of his reverent submission."
Over time, as I grew to know the Lord and his Word better, I realized that the
independence I had worked so hard to protect as an unbeliever was a complete
charade. As a helpless, finite creature, I was completely dependent on God for
my very life and breath. I had not been independent. Rather, I had been stiff-necked.
I came to realize that submission simply stripped me of my contentiousness, not my
dignity as one created in the very image of God.
Single and Fully Feminine
Once I embraced the sweet fruit of feminine submission, I still had to figure
out how to apply it to my every day life. One area in where I have struggled is
what femininity should look like for a single woman. Because the Lord made the
woman to be a helper, the contours of biblical femininity are usually sculpted
through relationships with others - as wife, mother, daughter, sister, aunt.
Though I am definitely a daughter, sister, and aunt, I am not (yet) a wife or
mother. But I know that God created me female in his own image, and that he has
given me this gift of singleness in this season of my life. These are not mutually
exclusive concepts, but sometimes I still wrestle with how to express them both to
the glory of God.
In late 1998, I moved to take a job as part of a church-planting ministry and to
serve in a local church pastured by the pastor I met in South Africa, C.J. Mahaney.
A year later, I attended a series of seminars on Titus 2 taught by his wife,
Carolyn Mahaney. Through her teaching, I realized that of the seven qualities Paul
urges Titus to have older women teach to younger women, only two are explicitly directed
at married women and one to mothers. That leaves at least four for all women,
married or single. Despite my marital status, I was to be self-controlled, pure,
busy at home, and kind. That is a tall order no matter how you look at it, but
it does not mean I can ignore the other three qualities. There are implications for
single women in the commands to love husbands and children as well as for wives to
be subject to their husbands. Based upon this passage, the following are some ways
in which God has given me the grace to apply the Titus 2 virtues in my life and
genuinely enjoy my femininity as a single woman.
"To love their husbands ..."
Because of all the worldly junk I had imbibed on the topics of feminism and
relationships, I initially read a number of books on Christian marriage. I have
continued to read widely on Christian marriage, and where appropriate, I have
attended seminars. I want to have a biblical view of marriage should the Lord
bring that gift. But there is a practical application for my life now. I believe
I can serve my married sisters best by shoring up their marriages. In our
conversations and with my observations of their lives, I want to be able to
help my married friends think biblically about their marriages and to think the best
of their husbands. To unbelievers, I want to be prepared to explain the mystery
of Christ and the church in the institution of marriage. While the world tells us
we have no valid knowledge to share unless we have experienced a particular aspect
of life, Godís Word equips us for wise discernment regardless of our experiences - or
perhaps, in spite of them! Finally, should God bring the gift of marriage, I want
to love my future husband now by developing a biblical perspective on love,
marriage, and a wifeís role well before our wedding. I realize that the "wife
of noble character" commended in Proverbs 31 brings her husband "good, not harm,
ALL the days of her life" -- days before and days after marriage. What I am
sowing now in these days of my life is part of Godís design in blessing my husband - not
to mention bringing glory to the Lord no matter my marital status.
"To love children ..."
Whether or not we actually give birth, women are called to nurture the new life
around us in various ways. Before I became a Christian, I was not very interested
in children. I assumed I might have children one day, but I was oblivious to the
children around me and did not care to spend any time with them. This is one area
where God has made a tremendous change in my life. Over the years, I have had rich
relationships with many children. The Lord has also given me evangelism opportunities
with children. I have even created an informal Veggie Tales club with about a half
dozen young boys in my neighborhood. They would stop by for sodas and videos,
and I would share the gospel and pray with them.
Even though I do not have children of my own, I have three nieces and one nephew
in whom to invest. It takes planning to be involved in their lives, but it is worth
it to cultivate those relationships. Because I have vicariously experienced the thrills
and sacrifices of motherhood as I have helped my sisters over the years, I have a
window into that aspect of femininity. Just as importantly though, through these times
together, I have developed one-on-one friendships with these small relatives of mine
that I hope will flourish through the changing seasons of life ahead of us. I want
to be a relevant relative of theirs, not a distant aunt. That means declining vacation
opportunities with my friends to spend my vacation with my far-away nieces. That means
declining social events on weekends to babysit my nearby niece and nephew or taking a
day off during summer to plan a special day of adventure with them. But that also
means I am the beneficiary of funny voicemail messages, elaborately drawn pictures,
special "treasures" wrapped in thick layers of tissue and tape, and excited hugs when
I arrive at their front doors. Somehow, it does not seem one bit like sacrifice.
Perhaps these things contributed to a recent decision by one of my sisters and her
husband to name me as guardian for their two daughters should they die in a mutual
accident. Despite my being single, they thought I would rear their girls as close as
possible to their values. Words cannot express how much that act of trust encouraged me!
"To be self-controlled ..."
My greatest challenge to self-control as a single woman is in the area of
speculation about men and marriage. I do not think I am alone in this. I know
I am called to wait and trust, but it is so easy for me to do the opposite - to
either attempt to manipulate circumstances in my favor or to complain when others
are blessed in courtship or marriage. Over the years, the Lord has done much to
kill the sin of self-pity in me regarding deferred hopes for marriage, and one fruit
of that is that I now joyfully serve many couples as a wedding planner. But
contentment can seem to come and go in my life like waves lapping the shore.
Sometimes joy cascades over my soul like waves breaking on the beach. Other times
joy seems to seep out of my life like the undertow of receding water. This is
not the result of anything other than changing my focus: when the joy seems to
be receding, I find myself critically regarding my circumstances rather than beholding
the glory of God.
One specific way I do this is by "trying on" men in my mind. Judging from the
conversations I have had with many single women, this is a common temptation.
We tend to meet godly, attractive single men and immediately head down the
path toward marriage, imagining what it would be like to court and wed this man.
Having convinced ourselves that this is a possibility, we then read into
his every move while hashing and re-hashing each scenario with the "girlfriend
network." A good friend of mine calls this "dating in my mind" - a priceless
phrase! To exercise self-control in this area as single women is to put reasonable
limits on the journaling and girlfriend conversations we have about our romantic
interests. Talk has a way of making a desire an expectation, which eventually
becomes a demand. In my life, I have found that I head into trouble when I record
at length in my journal every interaction I have with a single man or when I am
discussing this man with a broad range of friends. For me, self-control is to limit
these detailed conversations to my accountability partners and to those over me
in the Lord, such as my small group leader and his wife or my pastor and his wife.
They know how I am weak, and they prayerfully encourage me to keep my focus where
"To be busy at home ..."
This one has been a challenge for me as a single woman since I work outside the
home to support myself. I have to be intentional about scheduling time to actually
be at home one or two evenings a week. That is hard in my busy church, but
this Titus 2 virtue gives me a vision for the priority of it.
Then there are the domestic arts. In my twenties, I lived with piles of dirty
clothes and newspapers. My house was the crash pad between outside engagements. I
had no vision for domesticity. My family had a nickname for my cooking in this
period: Fish wads and pudding lumps. However, after I saw a love for the
home arts modeled by the women of the church, I desired to change. I practiced
cooking, began hosting dinner parties, started buying home dťcor, and even picked out
my own china pattern. That was actually a big step for me because it was hard to
visit china departments without being forced to admit you donít have a wedding
date. Now God has blessed me with my own house, and I am so happy to nest there
that I should check for twigs in my hair before I leave for work!
Though single women are not afforded the blessing of being busy with our families
at home, we can be busy with kingdom business at home. Our homes provide
places where we can pray with others, counsel others, evangelize others, and
serve through hospitality. Romans 12:13 clearly says to practice hospitality - and
praise God, this command does not differentiate between married and singles!
No matter how our households are structured, our homes can be beacons of hope and
hospitality in our neighborhoods. Just for this reason, I love to take pictures
of those who have been in my home and display them with that Scripture from Romans.
The Freedom of Christ
Paul urged the Galatians to remember that "it is for freedom that Christ has set
us free." Prior to my conversion, I saw Christianity as being a burden, a confining
religion with many rules and regulations. I was not equipped to see that my own
sin was the greatest yoke of slavery. As we have all done since Adam and Eve,
I blamed others for the oppression of sin in my life. I thought I needed to be
set free from men who belittled women, from jobs that were "stuck" in the "pink
ghetto" of womenís work, and from the "burdens" of traditional sexual morals.
I could not see that my own self-righteousness, pride, anger, and willfulness caused
greater damage to real joy than any perceived curtailment to my freedom.
When Christ ushered in his kingdom, he surprised everyone - including his own
disciples - with the "opposite world" that he introduced. Everything was "backward"
to the natural thinking of human beings. The greatest among us were servants. Our
enemies were to be prayed for and even loved. What makes us unclean comes from
inside of us, in our hearts, not from what we put on or in us. To have life
everlasting, we must be born again.
It does not make sense on first reading, but the Bible promises us that Godís
wisdom is foolishness to a perishing world (1 Corinthians 1:18-21). I am just
most grateful that he liberated me from my futile thinking and the bondage of
sin, and led me into the way everlasting.
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