by Cindy Foster cross posted from her blog Finding Fundamental
In the first act of “Girls Interrupted” found here, I wrote about one level of competition among the women that arose as a consequence of the belief that women were afflicted with some ‘spirit of misbehavior’ for which the men were obliged to control and correct.
This indoctrination produced impulse-driven needs for mothers to present worthier-daughters-than-the-rest to attract ministry-ambitious, bachelors. It is no exaggeration to call it an all-out competition.
The winners were the mothers whose daughters snagged the sharpest ‘God-called, daddy/preacher-approved prize… a godly husband.
In addition to the Mothers With The Godliest, Available Daughters’ competition, more divisions of female competitiveness arose.
The most notable of which was the Most Humbly Spiritual.
There were certain of the women whose backgrounds were marred by divorce, non-Christian upbringing, promiscuity, non-Christian husbands and various other maligned liberal Christian and ‘unChristian’ behaviors and associations.
Some exhibited a general lack of Independent, fundamental Baptist knowledge of the Bible which also contributed to their assumed inferiority.
These women were discreetly treated as inauspicious ‘lesser-thans’. No matter how carefully camouflaged, the stigma was acutely felt compelling these ‘lesser-thans’ to seek significance through hyper-spirituality.
But spiritual aspirations didn’t always make for enthusiasm in all the right places.
Perhaps as a subversive effort to preserve some semblance of self-respect, a few of these countered by pardoning themselves from attending some, if not all, the ladies’ events.
So, in order to remain in the race for Most Humbly Spiritual these would arm themselves with ‘spiritual’ reasons for their reluctance.
Some examples were:
* I need to be home for my husband
* I don’t want to be away from my children
* Women’s activities are frivolous
* My husband won’t let me go
* Women’s activities tend to provoke gossip
* Women’s activities promote cliques
* Too many responsibilities at home
Anytime there was an activity planned for the women, all were expected to participate if they were to avoid being confronted by The Elite Inner Circle (comprised exclusively of the preacher’s wife, her best friend and myself) as to why they were absent or wanted to be absent.
Women who were not actively, enthusiastically involved in everything would also not be considered part of The Inner Circle ( the queen bee workers and typically unquestioning, dedicated followers ).
These are the women given (rather token) leadership roles since women were only ‘scripturally’ sanctioned to be Sunday school teachers, nursery workers, women’s leaders or musicians.
Women were not even permitted to pray aloud in the presence of a man or men nor to witness to men on visitation. Oh, yeah, and that became another rule: women could not go door to door visiting unless a man escorted them so that if a male answered the door, a man would be there to do the witnessing.
Women were also not considered scripturally qualified in this church to teach boys over the age of 12!
So, it just followed that the women who were always present, always conforming, always working and always committed, ( The Elite Inner Circle and The Inner Circle ) would resent those who weren’t always so willing and present.
This meant, the Not So Willing women had to find some ‘claim to fame’ lest they be considered insignificant, rebellious, contentious, spiritually weak, immature or… God forbid… even LOST! Therefore, they would also feel the need to be identified as among The Most Humbly Spiritual class.
At this point, one has to wonder how anyone could be so emotionally invested in such a dysfunctional mess!
I still wonder…
Baffling as it is though, even the brightest held on in degrees ranging from the deeply invested to the terminally entrenched!
What’s more, criticism of the Not So Willing and Most Humbly Spiritual bunch was most always acceptable and even welcomed. That’s how truly spiritual ladies showed love and loyalty for their church family as well as for Christ. So blaring a contradiction, it is almost laughable if not so pathological…
Interestingly, there were others who were not so easily maneuvered.
Some were considered The Rejects. These were the ones who just…weren’t liked. There didn’t have to be a legitimate reason. I liken these to the school girls who didn’t latch on, were socially awkward, weren’t pretty enough, weren’t charismatic enough….you get the picture…
Grown, immature women of The Inner Circle tended only to tolerate The Rejects, unless some skill the church could benefit from surfaced.
Such childish female behavior will continue unmasked and usually unchecked in high-demand, spiritually abusive environments.
But, that is just what would be expected of silly women, right? Perhaps pious men are getting just what they expect?
Granted, some were not liked because they were contentious people who just liked to cause trouble. Of course, no one really cared to find out why a woman like this might be so contentious. Reasons didn’t matter….
But there were some who were strong enough to resist being pushed to do things for which they did not agree. These presented a whole different problem. They were The Thinkers.
It was difficult knowing how to handle the ones who wouldn’t follow because they were savvy enough to question. On one hand they could be church’s greatest strengths for their intelligence but on the other, they could be the most obstinate ‘rabble-rousers’.
The leaders in a church like this were terrified of The Thinkers for fear that they would attract followers.
The Outsiders were those who mainly attended on Sundays, didn’t really conform to all the church beliefs, but didn’t really challenge them either. They were always there on Sundays, but didn’t make waves.
There were the Not-a-Clues who just went along with whatever they were told. They accepted things at face-value because they didn’t know enough about what to believe to question anything. These women were given sufficient grace until such a time as was determined they had enough time to ‘get with the program’. At that time, they were prodded enough that they either ‘got with the program’ or left altogether–depending on just how clueless they really were….
The Rebels were the ones who liked to question everything, even if there was nothing to question. They would rebel just for the sake of rebelling. I am not even sure why these women would want to stay in such a church. Could it be because there was so much to stimulate their rebellion?
For ALL classes who were not among The Inner Elite and to some degree, The Inner Circle women, there were many behind-scene-secrets of which they were not privy. We were the ones who believed that it was perfectly within our ‘realm of discernment’ to discuss all the people problems of the church (code for gossip). Gossip was preached against regularly as among the most evil of evils, but it was the ‘duty’ of the leadership to discuss (gossip) about the problem people in the church.
And there was plenty of problem people in every class to talk about.
That church thrived on drama. Maybe, it was because there was little else for the home-bound women to do that made them feel alive.
Of course, there was no actual categorizing of women into the classes. I just made up these categories as I observed the various ways these women were affected by such high demands and according to their individual personalities. This solely for the sake of better understanding for those interested but who have never experienced a church dynamic like this.
I want to point out also that there was some over-lap between the classes and those I’ve placed in one category often advanced to another the more entrenched they became and the more the demands increased. Some became more ‘ambitious’. Others left altogether.
So, a sketchy order from top down would look like this: (just for fun)
1. The Inner Elite Circle
2. The Inner Circle
3. The Most Humbly Spiritual
4. The Outsiders
5. The Rebels
6. The Not-A-Clues
7. The Rejects
The Inner Elite Circle was impenetrable, but one could appear in more than one category and one could always graduate to The Inner Circle once ambition was born and cunningness bloomed.
As I wrote before, the worst of it was the trickle-down effect it had on the younger girls—particularly the daughters. The daughters would naturally take up the cause of their mothers, whether they agreed with their mothers or not, which naturally caused a great deal of tension between them.
It is such a shame.
I believe these girls really wanted to have meaningful, lasting friendships and they should have but with their mothers always at odds, how could they?
No wonder so many have walked away…..
Cindy Foster is “Mom” to eight gorgeous, talented, temperamental, noisy, opinionated, alike-but very different kids. She has been married to their daddy, Paul, for 36 years.
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