Daddy’s Little Feminist

This guest post comes from a friend of Empire Remixed, and emerges out of an extensive dialogue regarding faith, gender and feminism, especially as these relate to the scarcity of female church planters. We’re grateful for the author’s generosity, thoughtfulness and vulnerability, even as we keep her identity anonymous.


Confessions of a Church-Planter’s Daughter

“In the practice of many religions, girls’ and women’s relationship to the divine are mediated, in strictly binary terms, by men: their speech, their ways of being and their judgments.”

– Sara Chemaly, media critic and feminist writer, in response to the Hobby Lobby decision (from

Original Image by Flickr User Quinn Dombrowski used under a CC BY-SA 2.0 license

It’s been a heck of a few weeks for us religious feminists. The US Supreme Court ruled that corporations like Hobby Lobby (with an Evangelical male CEO) could deny women access to birth control for religious reasons. In addition, the Mormon Church ex-communicated Mormon feminist Kate Kelly for calling for the ordination of women.

These events are sad reminders of how religious institutions, who have all the tools needed to be agents of liberation and justice, are so much further behind their secular counterparts when it comes to recognizing and fighting against gender oppression.

Personally, they are also reminders of a world I grew up in, and the effects that linger in my adult life.

The day after Kate Kelly’s excommunication, I was instantly all over the Mormon blogosphere, painfully enthralled with the case. Being a feminist, Christian seminarian, and the daughter of a conservative, Evangelical, church-planter, I felt deeply connected to her struggle.

Though I’m not Mormon and have never faced the threat of ex-communication, I have experienced the effects of a subtler yet equally damaging patriarchy that existed subconsciously in my family, school, and faith communities I have loved and called home.

I was never able to clearly pinpoint these effects, until this week when a Facebook friend of mine posted an article from The Atlantic covering the gender confidence gap study. According to years of research, women are less self-assured than men, and to achieve one’s goals, confidence matters as much as competence.

Katty Kay and Clair Shipman write:

“There is a particular crisis for women—a vast confidence gap that separates the sexes. Compared with men, women don’t consider themselves as ready for promotions, they predict they’ll do worse on tests, and they generally underestimate their abilities. This disparity stems from factors ranging from upbringing to biology.”

This was a major Aha! moment for me. After taking their confidence test and, not surprisingly, being diagnosed with low confidence, I started revisiting events in my upbringing with new eyes. I was able to see for the first time how the beloved men in my life — my father, my male pastors and male bible professors – shaped my imagination of who God was, what was possible and what was expected for my life.

Being a strong-willed, independent, and intelligent woman growing up in conservative Evangelical churches that my father planted with a handful of other men, I was treated much differently than my male counterparts, even those who possessed less “typically masculine” traits and giftings than I did.

Despite my passion for theology and the church, I was not encouraged in these pursuits: my ideas were easily dismissed, I was regularly interrupted, I was ridiculed, and fewer doors were opened (Metaphorically, at least. Many doors were opened chivalrously!) and more barriers were put up.

Though I always felt loved by my father, he treated me differently than my brother. Not in obvious ways (we played catch and went camping), but in the way he related to me and taught me about how I could relate to God and myself.

I was always “daddy’s little princess” – despite my aversion of the “super girly” and my independent, strong-willed, and free-thinking personality. My brother, on the other hand, an introvert, was his “buddy”, his equal, who had limitless possibilities and potential, and who held his undivided attention while working for long hours on projects together.

My mother, who was naturally the Sunday School superintendent or a ladies Bible study leader, believed that her purpose in life was to support my father. She had few ambitions or goals of her own other than to be a wife and mother, while my father had plenty.

One of these was to plant churches, which he did every ten or so years, despite his lack of theological training or pastoral experience. He was a wealthy corporate trainer though, so he knew how to “launch successful projects.” He and the other men would get together and brainstorm. The pastors they would hire were always men, the elders’ board all men. I, on the other hand, was asked every summer to co-ordinate the Vacation Bible School program for children.

In addition, at a one-year Bible college, despite having the highest grades, I was made the butt of dumb blonde jokes by my male Bible professor (in front of the class). My guy friends who laughed the loudest, and had Bs and Cs, were all encouraged and later supported to become pastors.

Despite this, when I announced to my parents that I wanted to go to a four-year Bible College instead of university, my father (then a trained pastor) discouraged it, saying there were “no jobs for women in ministry.”

Two years earlier he personally drove my brother to his Bible College and had become very emotional while dropping him off. He was so proud.

I grudgingly went instead to a liberal arts university, where I – rather ironically – met amazing Christian feminists who read the Scriptures differently. Which caused me to start questioning the practices at my church, and why I, as a woman who loved God, loved the church, couldn’t use my God-given gifts and passions to serve God and the church more. 

When I questioned my male youth pastor about what Paul really meant by referring to women as the “weaker sex,” the 20-something-year-old simply challenged me to an arm wrestle. 

Later while living overseas, I had to cloak a sermon that was burning inside of me in the language of “personal testimony” because I wasn’t allowed to preach, even though I had more theological training (and more badass preaching skills) than most of the men at the ex-pat church I attended. 

And then there were the women – friends, mentors, pastors’ wives – who ingrained in me that my primary role was to find a husband, to throw my support behind him, and to birth his children. As a result, my entire twenties were spent trying to fight the panic of not finding the right person.

Oh the time that could have been spent focusing on my writing, teaching, reading, and artwork!

It’s been over 5 years since I left these patriarchal communities behind, and I’m now happily part of a gender-inclusive church community. In this place it is recognized that our understanding of God is mediated by language and culture, and thus we need all the voices we can get to dechiper what this means for us here and now.

But the path towards healing and increasing confidence is long and continuous. It has taken the counselling, spiritual direction, and mentorship of incredible women pastors to start me on this path, and I’ve got far to go.

Kate Kelly, my heart goes out to you. Please know that there are faith communities who value women’s voices, gifts, and skills as significant contributions. I think you are kickass and inspiring. You are always welcome here with us!


16 Responses to “Daddy’s Little Feminist”

  1. Catherine

    Thank you. Too many of us with similar stories.

    • the author

      I’m glad it resonated with you. You are not alone, and neither am I! Comforting to know.

  2. Greg Williams

    This is a great article and describes really well the kind of micro-aggression that women (as well as people of color and LGBT people) are submitted to in mainline denominations as well as in nondenominational congregations. Those of us who experience privilege as men, as white folks and/or as straight and cisgendered people need to really pay attention to our comrades as they describe these experiences to us, first of all out of basic justice, but also because we will not have a Church that is liberating or hear a Gospel that is true to the person of the one in whom we have placed our trust if we continue to be a space that functions on the basis of exclusion and oppression.

    • Andrew Stephens-Rennie

      Greg – I wish that this wasn’t as pervasive as you suggest (it would be nice to just demonize one group), but I’m afraid you’re right. None of us can escape the reality of these micro-agressions and assertions of power over others. It’s hard to reconfigure our stance/posture, especially for those whose birth puts us in a de facto position of power.

      Lots of unlearning and relearning to do. May we have ears to hear!

  3. Tom

    Heaetbreaking and hopeful. Thanks for this.

  4. Binny

    Love this! God gave us our gifts for a reason – to be used to serve the world and him! Let’s let go and make full use of our powers!

  5. Jen Reeves

    Great article; I relate to deeply to this story. I never wanted to go into ministry, but I have always been very interested in theology and the church. I, too, felt that my participation in such topics was only acceptable until a certain point. And after that point, I was told I “could learn a thing or two about submission.”

    Interestingly, I always believed people when they said it. For years, I thought I had a rebellious spirit and that God didn’t like me — loved me, maybe, but always in spite of me being a “loud” woman. It hadn’t occurred to me until last year that not only did God like me, but he might actually rejoice in the very qualities that patriarchal Christianity tries to silence.

    Anyway. Solidarity.

    • Andrew Stephens-Rennie

      Jen – I’m so grateful for you sharing your reflections here. I am convinced that God does rejoice in the qualities that the patriarchal church tries, at every turn, to silence.

      I am thankful for the women and men who have taught me the error of my ways, who have been (and continue to be) patient with me in my own blindness, as we seek a fuller picture and embodiment of God’s kingdom together.

      It’s good to know we’re all in this together.

    • the author

      Jen, thanks for this! And wow do I ever relate your experience of feeling that God loves you despite you being a “loud woman.” Never thought about it like that before but you hit the nail on the head. It even affected my dating life, I felt like all the Christian men didn’t want a woman interested in theology and politics and debating, like I was too much of a loudmouth tomboy and should learn how to stay out of those discussions like all the other “nice Christian girls.” Now it kinda makes me physically ill. Be loud and proud, sista!

  6. Becky

    I wish you had been a pastor in my life when I was young. I was so passionate and inquisitive about God, the bible and the role of the church in the world, but after years of being shut down, and pushed to the sidelines again and again, all that passion just turned to bitterness.
    I always felt so confused how in church I was constantly being reminded that God had a plan and a place for me, yet I felt so out of place, like a puzzle piece the congregation was trying to awkwardly cut to size. For most of my adult life it has left me with a weird complex about the church, disillusioned with the structure yet secretly, and painfully hopeful.

    The kind of warmth and inclusion you talk about, and you live “author” ;), is what I had always thought the spirit of the church should be. Instead of a hierarchical, cold weekly ritual, it should be something alive, filled with acceptance and celebration of the diverse gifts we have been gifted with, full stop. Thank you for not letting your light get snuffed out and thank you for being brave and writing this.

    • the author

      Thanks Becky for your too kind words. I’m sorry this was your experience of church and I feel your pain. It should be a community of support and encouragement, and a safe place to question and doubt and challenge and cry and yell. I thank God that I part of a community now that, though far from perfect, seeks more often than not to embody these things. And now I’m just trying to be the change I wish to see in the church, despite the times when I too have excluded and hurt others. Lord have mercy on us all. 🙂 Peace to you.

  7. Sharolyn

    This was a really timely read for me. Thank you for sharing your experiences. I recently read ‘Dance of the Dissident Daughter: A Woman’s Journey from Christian Tradition to the Sacred Feminine’ by Sue Monk Kidd (are you at all familiar with it?). What particularly struck me was her research in to our view of God as a man and its roots in scriptures and tradition which have been interpreted by men to support a patriarchal view. ‘Sophia’ came up as well as many other mentions of very womanly aspects of God. Though God is neither man nor woman, the author found great solace and healing in feminine images of God to counter the dominance of masculine imagery. I am intrigued by this.

    I have also in recent years come to appreciate the value which Catholic and Orthodox churches place on Mary – a strong woman with a huge role in God’s saving plan – something that seemed a little dangerous and taboo in my own evangelical upbringing.

    While I am thankful that I can’t necessarily relate to a great deal of hurt (I am sure there are small subtle things) at the hands of patriarchy, or even the confidence gap you mentioned, both the book and your article have really encouraged me to think more critically about this stuff. I think you are spot on about subtlety. I have always had good male role models in my life, but I can also see how our church, though technically very open to women in pastoral roles, tends to favour men – especially married men. I really think that if I call men on this – the ones I particularly know and love – they will be fairly unaware of it (ignorantly blissful?), and (I really hope) open to change.

    Grace and Peace to you on your journey! xo

  8. Jane

    I am just getting to reading this today and am so glad I bookmarked it. Yes yes yes! In my work as a coach I have found time and time (and time) again that Christian womens’ confidence is unfortunately so often tied to their upbringing in the church. Sometimes it is subtle but most of the time is so blatantly obvious that it comes from this evangelical baggage. People sharing their stories like yours helps us all become more aware and together with God we can blow up the baggage! Thanks!


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