Freed to flourish

My soul yearned to value the parts of myself I had suppressed

Alfcermed/Pixabay Alfcermed/Pixabay

I’ve tried to love and serve God for as long as I can remember, but it’s only in the last eight years that I have acknowledged the harmful effects of a patriarchal understanding of God. 

Patriarchy instilled a deep sense of lack in myself and in anything not defined as masculine. When God is only gendered as male, and the dominant understanding of scripture prioritizes males and the characteristics associated with masculinity, I doubt my own value and sense of knowing. 

Giving myself permission to understand God differently took courage and faith. My soul yearned to value the parts of myself that I began suppressing around 9 years old. Even then I recognized life would be easier if I aligned with gender norms and a patriarchal understanding of faith and of God. I worked diligently to fit into the mold of a good Christian girl: compliant, supportive, small. 

I began to see life in a new way in 2016 when I became aware of systemic racism while visiting my daughter in Philadelphia. Reading womanist theologians’ interpretations of scripture, I saw how racism, sexism and other forms of oppression grew from a system that values men above others.  

I was drawn to the idea of the divine feminine: a sense of knowing that registers in the body before the mind. It honors characteristics often defined as feminine — collaboration, leading in a way that makes space for others, exercising power with instead of power over. 

Understanding God as genderless and affirming God’s feminine aspects — nurturing, gentleness, collaboration — grounds me. It helps me to be self-aware, authentic, connected to my values. I am able to speak and act with confidence while also making space for others. I learn from others while honoring my own knowing.

When I am grounded, I am better able to interact with others as I intend. I can be nonjudgmental, transparent and vulnerable. When I live authentically, without posturing or pretending, people can trust me. 

Trust builds connections. Connections lay the foundation for change. As the People’s Supper organization says, “Social change moves at the speed of relationships. Relationships move at the speed of trust.” 

Resisting patriarchy strengthens my desire for racial justice. I don’t want to conform to a culture that benefits some and oppresses others. I want to live in a world where healing, rather than shame, is centered.

Setting aside patriarchal understandings of God — logical, rational, linear, unemotional — allows me to honor my own sense of knowing, based on intuition and an embodied, real-world perspective. It frees me to be curious and to listen to others while seeking the Spirit’s presence and guidance. It makes space for creativity and wonder. It invites me to be open to new ideas for sticky situations. 

Moving beyond patriarchal understandings of God helps us see new ways of addressing problems such as systemic oppression, climate catastrophe and war. Freeing our faith from patriarchy is key to creating a world where everyone can flourish.

Jill Heine of New Holland, Pa., is a member of Ridgeview Mennonite Church in Gordonville, Pa. After working in business and education for over 25 years, she created On The Journey Consulting, which helps people and organizations build cultures that work for everyone through support and by promoting accountability using restorative practices.

Sign up to our newsletter for important updates and news!