Sometimes a problem is such a background hum that you forget it’s there.

Like the last house we lived in: the landlord wouldn’t fix the falling-apart drawers in the kitchen so I put masking tape {yes, masking tape} on them to temporarily keep them together. Or like the stained carpet in that same house that I didn’t want to think about so I threw an area rug over the affected places.

It’s like when we get used to the construction noise on the street at the entrance to our neighborhood or the dull pain that’s always there from an old injury in our elbow or knee.

It just IS and it’s not something you can fight against so you resign yourself that you will live with it and function as well as you can inside of it, despite it.

And then you forget it’s even an issue to begin with.

This past week there has been a lot of talk about women and men and church and culture. There has been conversations about voices and inclusion and the big T-Table that all women want a seat at, so to speak. Rachel Held Evans has been a voice and Sarah Bessey has released a book. And many other wise women and men have begun to talk.

And to be honest, I’ve lived with being a “woman-in-the-church” for so long that sometimes I forget it’s even an issue to begin with. It has become that low, dull hum that feels normal.

I truly forget sometimes that there are men in the world and in the church that really believe women are second-class to them. That most evangelical churches won’t hire a woman in a leadership role simply because she is female. That women get passed over daily for jobs, and not just in the Christian community, because of their gender. I actually forget that some people need to be reminded that women are people too.

And then something happens and it catalyzes the memory that this is a very. real. thing.

It is no longer a hum; it is a scream that hurts and feels all too real.

I accidentally bump into a guy’s bumper at a stop light and when we get out to exchange information, he is obviously put out that it’s a “woman driver” who’s hit him.

Or in a Bible-believing coed group, it is the man who is asked to pray to lead or close the meeting because, well, that’s what is normal.

Then the well-meaning (and amazing and open and inclusive) men in our world begin to ask the questions: We had no idea this was as big of a deal as it is. What can we do to open the conversation? How can we help? And in a way I’m glad, but it’s also a hard reminder that I’m not male, I’m a female, and that yes, the problem is still there at the entrance to my neighborhood.

Maybe the hum has become a roar because of John-the-Baptist types like Rachel and Sarah, snow-plowing the way for the rest of us women to say that they are done with it being “something they live with” forever.

Or maybe it has become a roar partly because there is an open round of discussion I am party to with these same men who are willing to listen, see and learn from the women in their lives. Maybe the hum is becoming deafening because with the voice that women have been given in the online space, we are finally realizing that that is who God has made us as well: we are people who speak and write and communicate because we are human, not simply women.

The hum is now a roar, in my own heart finally and I hope, now in the church.


  1. says

    This topic has me all tied up in knots lately. And I think, like you, it’s because I’m reading bits and pieces of stories that I never had access to before now. I deleted my first comment because I may have gone off on a tangent….but I didn’t want to leave your site without saying thank you for writing and opening the discussion.

  2. says

    Thank you for this! I agree – I tend to think, “I haven’t experienced sexism in the church… Why the continued conversation?” And yet, so many have, including my unrealizing self. We need the roar of these women to help me remember to not live in the status-quo.

    • Sarah Markley says

      yeah. and maybe it’s just such a part of our culture that we as women are also unknowing contributors? just a thought. and yes, we need each other!!

  3. Kristin Potler says

    I was just talking to a friend about this Saturday. She said, “I always forget it’s a thing.” But it is, often times the unspoken thing just avoided and not addressed. Love standing in that place of freedom knowing it’s okay to give voice, or roar, to that thing.

  4. Tracey says

    Someone from our church said she finds it disturbing that I like posts like yours. I told her that her perfume is disturbing to me at church so we’re equal. I’m tired of being in the back of the room holding the babies (that aren’t mine) because that’s where I’m ‘supposed’ to be. I say….Geronimo – with the enthusiasm of the Doctor – let’s wake this place up. Thankful for RHE and SB for taking the lead – I’m praying and trying to find my way and the waters are a bit rough.

  5. says

    I remember the first time I began to notice the the hum again. I have believed in equality as long as I can remember, but I just thought it was something that would change in time. It was best solved by patience and good Bible study. The idealist in me thought drawing people into the text would change everything, but I was missing the hum. I did not notice how the alternative voices were silenced and how much we had championed male leadership. They had become muscle memory and the assumed norm. This is much more than an issue. Often our speech and actions have been dehumanizing. Congregations must learn to listen to voices of dissent because it might be the Holy Spirit calling us into new territory. We have to hear the hum for what it is, the activity of God.

    • Sarah Markley says

      i love that kevin. and thank you for being a man who listens to both God and to women as well.
      sometimes i wonder how life would have been different for me if i had grown up now, the age of my daughters are now, with less of an assumed distinction between callings and giftings among gender.

      • says

        Though it might be different now, it is no the foundation of people like you and Rachel and many other that they are able to live differently. I hope it is different because our society needs their voices. I do think you bring up an intersting question though. Would things be different for the world if no one’s gifts were suppressed?Has the suppression of gifted women’s voices hurt the Christian witness?

  6. Shawna says

    I attend a church where this isn’t an issue at all. We are all God’s children and who are we as humans to get in the way of the gifts the Holy Spirit has poured out whether it be on a man or a woman. I pray you and all women will know the freedom of Christ in your own churches and with all your fellow worshipers. We are all beloved. Male and female. We are the same. Blessings on you as you continue to write and share.

  7. chad markley says

    yes and amen! Sarah you have a way of bringing people into a hard conversation with such grace, dignity and elegance. In just the last few weeks have my eyes begun to be opened. I am not going to be daft and say I totally get it. But I can sure say I am on board 100% for understanding the issue and doing whatever I can to flip this thing upside down and see my sisters in Christ become FULLY utilized and leveraged for the cause of Christ. Not just relegated to the nursery, women’s ministry or the Benevolence ministry. Lets get this party started and see things CHANGED.

  8. says

    thanks for this…found you off your comment on my blog.

    I appreciate the guts it takes for you and other women to share your journey with vulnerability and conviction.

    I don’t know how or what it looks like, but if there’s a way I can be a part of helping this conversation continue to move from a hum to a roar, I’d love to help


    • Sarah Markley says

      yours was a great post, mike. I appreciated it very much!! i want to move this conversation forward and i’m sure we will welcome your help. =)

  9. says

    In the 13 years we’ve been at our church I’ve seen a slow change. When I first started attending, there was one female pastor (didn’t preach, led worship.) Today they’ve landed on soft complimentarianism. Although I am a feminist, I stay because I need this church and I can wait. I study, I write and I pray. But I do feel alone oftentimes. That’s why the internet is so amazing, for those of us who feel alone, we can find brothers and sisters, friends. Thanks for joining in the chorus.

  10. says

    Such a great post, Sarah and one that obviously takes some courage to write.

    I was a longtime member of Willow Creek Community Church, and one of the things that I enjoyed most about it was the fact that there were women in leadership.

    In fact, one of the teaching pastors there was a woman named Nancy Beach, who spoke frequently and was someone I connected with.

  11. Nicole says

    As a woman who grew up in a church that had a female (preaching) pastor, I have a slight different opinion on such things as women taking leadership roles in the church. It is a very biblical thing for women to not have leadership roles where they would be leading men spiritually. So I’m wondering what your thoughts are on that. Do you think that women should be in positions where they would be leading men spiritually? I fully agree that women should be pastors and/or hold other leadership positions in the church, but I think they should only be leaders who spiritually lead women. My church that I’m currently attending and the church I attended for 3 years before I moved both had women on staff. They were in positions such as women’s pastor, mission’s coordinator, preschool or middleschool pastor, worship leader, etc., but they never would have hired a woman to be one of the head pastors. Would you have issues with a church such as this? I’m sorry this is such a long comment, but I’m really trying to understand where you are coming from on this post. Thanks and have a blessed day! :)

    • Sarah Markley says

      i appreciate your perspective nicole! and thank you for sharing!

      to be honest, i’m in a place where i feel like I have just been given the go-ahead to expand my thinking about issues like this (result of growing up conservative evangelical) and what i’m learning is this:

      there are beautiful, God fearing and Bible believing people on all sides of this issue;
      that God is bigger than we think he is and often I believe that it means so is his Kingdom;
      that the Bible, while 100 percent true, has been interpreted for me by a certain set of people looking through a certain lens for as long as I can remember.
      God is not scared by my questions or by my struggle,
      i want to create a different world for my daughters than was handed to me.
      and that if God is who he says he is, and if we are all created in His image, our gifts and callings are not bound by gender.

      What does that look like in practicality? i really don’t know.

      • Nicole says

        Thank you for the response and for further explaining yourself. I’ve seen both sides of this debate in action, and I can say that my own experiences have brought me to believe that women should be under male authority. However, I also believe that a truly God following man will not take advantage of that and will actually listen to the women in his life. That’s one of the things I loved about my last pastor and his wife. When she had an opinion on something, he truly listened to her council because he knew that she, just as he, heard things from the Lord and that she had gifts that were different than his so she may see a problem from a different angle. At the end of the day, however, it was he who lead the church and had to take responsibility for that. That all being said, could my opinion be wrong? Of course! And I appreciate reading others’ thoughts on this debate. I don’t think there will ever be a consensus on the correct answer to this question of female roles in the church, but it’s definitely a worthwhile talk.

    • JuliaKate says

      Perhaps, if you are open to it, you should give the book Jesus Feminist a read. It may just give a biblical perspective you haven’t heard.

  12. JuliaKate says

    Sarah, thank you for adding your voice to this. I’ve yet to find a community of Faith that doesn’t somehow lessen & somewhat suppress the potential & importance of women. Sometimes I think I’m placed in these environments to push them a bit. My heart lepped when I saw ads for Jesus Feminist. I pray that the Church will listen & learn & not just assume that the way they have been doing things is quite alright with God.

  13. Bernalee says

    I alone hear my roar these days, so it was nice to hear the echo of yours! I roar with you… thank you for sharing.

  14. says

    As a man who spent 10 years in pastoral ministry and has lived in very much a woman’s world the past couple years, I appreciate you keeping this issue in front of us. I am guilty of unthinkingly excluding women in the church at times. I’ve asked men to pray for no good reason. I remember a conversation in seminary with a female classmate. She was frustrated that, while receiving the same education as us men, she did not and would not receive the same hearing in the church. I told her I understood (I didn’t), but that I just didn’t give it a lot of thought. After all, opinions are divided in the church over certain key passages and I wanted to be on the “safe side” of the issue. I’ll never forget her response, “What if the ‘safe’ position is wrong? What about women in the church who are gifted and trained to speak and teach and lead, but excluded because of their gender? Is that the safe side of the issue?” I didn’t know what to say or even to think. But the exchange comes to mind periodically even 13 years later. What I have learned since then is that it was the Pharisees who played it safe doctrinally in Jesus’ own day–and he rebuked them for it. Scripture and Jesus himself dignify women and their role in the church far more than we often recognize. We men, sitting cozy in our culturally privileged position, need reminders like this to challenge us and prod us to continually evaluate not only our actions, but especially our hearts, toward our sisters in the church.

    • Sarah Markley says

      Wow, Steve. Just wow. Thank you for saying this.
      You have no idea how much these words mean to women. I kinda feel a little giddy with this (like I felt when I saw Chad “getting it” these last few weeks). I love the story you told about your seminary classmate – the safe side of things. Chad keeps saying over and over: what would the Kingdom look like if we let women do what they were created to do? things like that get me excited and scared and fired up.
      so thank you Steve, for being honest and open. you have no idea how much it is appreciated.

  15. says

    wow…such good stuff from you & from your readers, Sarah!
    Scot McKnight, in his excellent book on how we read the Bible, “The Blue Parakeet”
    devotes an entire section (consisting of 5 chapters, several afterwords & 5 appendices)
    to discussing this.
    interestingly enough, the more i read & study & pray, the more
    i am becoming convinced that…in the church of Jesus,
    women should only be limited by their calling & their gifting.
    another thot regarding spiritual authority & teaching…
    Jesus spoke of true authority among His band as not so much “being in charge of”
    as it is to be “responsible for & in service to”…
    Jesus is BOTH Lord & Head of the church…
    two different roles…we husbands are called by scriptures to be
    “head” of our own wife, NOT her Lord…
    she should have only ONE LORD…
    no one other than Jesus Christ, Himself!
    to me, in marriage…our role as “head” is more of a stewardship role…
    Jesus holds me as a husband accountable for the family
    i shape with my wife.
    this is a spiritual stewardship for my life-friend (your mother) regarding which…
    i believe
    i will have to answer directly to Jesus Christ!
    i believe that in my “exit interview” Jesus will ask me something like,
    “so, what did you do with My little sister, Hannah?
    let’s talk a bit about how you helped & hindered her life…your kids, too…”
    that is where the heart of our Lord focuses…
    my “headship” is a huge responsibility…
    i am not your mom’s CEO…in some cases, she becomes my CEO…
    Jesus tends to see almost everything upside down to the way we see things.
    in several different settings,
    Jesus told His guys things like
    “the Gentiles like to lord it over others”…BUT…
    He then went on to say, “it shall not be so among you…”
    “whoever wants to be your leader must become your servant…
    the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve…
    and to give His life as a ransom for many!”
    this last phrase that Jesus adds is STILL a very counter-cultural view
    of leadership…
    we have MANY lessons on servant-leaders…BUT…
    we still treat our leaders as kings & lords….
    this is not a Christlike response.
    i wonder if we men
    are ready to quit reading books & articles by women…
    if we insist on them “not teaching men” in the church!
    a number of really great (male) Bible scholars like
    Gordon Fee & Scot McKnight
    give compelling Biblical reasons for us to rethink things.
    i know there are also many on the other side…
    i wonder at
    how much we have missed over the years from the 50+% of the church
    who are women…
    at the amazing grace of our Lord!
    love you,

  16. Bethany says

    I struggle with this every single day at work. I work in a place where women are told they aren’t allowed to have an opinion (this was specifically said to me), they are treated at lesser than, personal assistants to men who they don’t work under or for, required to follow an overly strict dresscode including not showing shoulders because “it’s not appropriate for a woman to show her arms and shoulders” (the dresscode is significantly more lax for the men), and woman are subject to excessive amounts of gender slurs and inappropriate comments because the men are “joking”. It’s beyond frustrating for someone like me who has always kinda bucked the system and feels like she is being victimized and silenced because of her gender. My boss is a woman and she herself has spouted the company line to me. Honestly, I wouldn’t stay if I didn’t need the paycheck; I’ve been looking for months to find a new workplace, but have been told by authority figures in my life that “God has put [me] here to learn something” and that I possible need to “be tamed and tone down the feminism.” My hands feel tied and I feel like I’m drowning. The church I’ve been a part of for the last two years takes no significant stance on women in leadership, although there are several women leaders (including myself), although most are considered leaders because they are coupled with their husbands (I am one of two single women). Both the pastor and his wife have made comments that it is a nonissue to them. A family from our church stopped attending because the wife was pursuing this concept of the voice women have in the church and she felt like it wasn’t a place where her questions would be welcomed or supported (along with some other lesser reasons including distance). I simply feel as though I have no voice anywhere I turn.
    Your blog resonated with something inside me. I grew up in a community of believers that vocally support women in leadership, but as I progressed in life (attending a college within that denomination), I realized that was mostly lip service. Women, especially single women, were not the norm in leadership roles, definitely not even close to the partnership and equality for which I feel both genders were originally created. It breaks my heart. And has broken my spirit to some degree. And I don’t know how to be fixed.

  17. Sara Carmichael says

    It looks like I may be a lone dissenting opinion. Although I have been one of those women who was told, “No, you can’t teach that philosophy class on the existence of God unless you and your husband teach it together” — and I honestly was both astonished and hurt at the comment — I have since come to understand scripturally where this point of view was coming from. I’m learning to stop and see what God has to say about it before I react with my own gut, and from what I can tell, He thinks it’s imperative that women are under the authority of men, whether husbands or pastors/elders (I Corinthians 14, Ephesians 5, I Timothy 2, Titus 2). That doesn’t mean that women can’t teach within the church; it means they should be under the umbrella of their husband or pastor/elder (Philippians 4:3 – Paul talks about women promoting the gospel alongside him). If her husband or pastor are aware of what she is teaching, she is still under that headship umbrella. I don’t think this is just for women; it also applies to men who are not elders or who are new believers. I know of plenty of men in the church who are not in a position to be standing behind a podium and teaching anyone (male or female). I think the spirit of I Corinthians 14, I Timothy 2, and Titus 2 are that of order within the church context, and we should read it with that context.

    Also, it’s important to move with all humility, whether male or female. We should submit ourselves first to Him and then to one another (men to women and women to men), which is what Ephesians 5:21 says: “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ,” and not have a desire to assert ourselves over anyone, but rather to speak/act according to what the Holy Spirit guides, which of course is going to be guided with gentleness and respect. Be quick to listen (both to each other and to what the Holy Spirit has to say) and then slow to speak, and slow to get angry (James 1:19). Being led by the Spirit is key, especially as it aligns with Scripture.

    Just my two cents.

    • Sarah Markley says

      i hear you sara and welcome your feedback! at the base of it, i know we love and serve the same God and want the Kingdom to be advanced. And there is room for everyone, I believe.

      Also, how are you? We haven’t chatted in so long! =)

      • Sara Carmichael says

        We are well! I’m homeschooling my oldest at the moment, while my middle one is in her daddy’s class at school. My youngest is a busy 4-year-old. How fast the time flies by! Good to keep tabs on you via Facebook and your Web site. :)

  18. Bj Hickman says

    Oh Sarah…thank you, thank you, thank you. I grew up in the same kind of environment you did, and I felt this shift in me many years ago but the church has been so slow to move in this direction. And can I just add – God forbid if you are an attractive woman. I’ve been treated like a pariah – not by the women in church but the men. Specifically pastors. They won’t look you in the eye, they won’t engage in conversation with you in the hall. It’s like there’s this secret code that’s passed out at men’s retreats that tells men to just avoid all pretty women. I’m grateful for our young pastor who celebrates women and is ready to piss some people off in order to honor the wisdom and strength that so many women bring to our congregation. I’m especially grateful to your husband for carrying the torch (and what a precious note from your dad). THANK YOU!

  19. says

    Thank you. I left faith and came back in part due to this, and then let it fade to a hum because I couldn’t live without God, without faith, without His being. Six years later, I realize it’s still a wound, and I long for truth that’s not culturally defined. But it will rock my family’s world back in the Bible belt to know some of the things I believe, almost more than if I said I had lost faith altogether. And that is part of the problem…

    I stand with you.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *