Mean Women in the Church

Qualification for an Elder: “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” 1 Timothy 3:5

Qualifications for a Deacon’s wife: “In the same way, their wives are to be women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers but temperate and trustworthy in everything.” 1 Tim 3:11

Recently my family and I were visiting a church. My daughter noticed that a woman I knew from a former Bible study group was on the church worship team. She turned to me and said, “Hey mommy, is that one of the mean girls?” At the age of seven, my daughter is exquisitely attuned to the realities of my life. She knows and understands quite well the meanness I have endured from women. As far as the mean behavior of women goes I have been subjected to every form known to man from an early age on.

Educators now are much more sensitively attuned to the reality of bullying since we now have child terrorists who plan and engage in murderous attacks against schools. But back when I was little no such awareness existed. So when I was in first and second grade I had the fun business of going to school only to be excluded from the group by the lead female bully. Every day the ring leader would give the “ok” signal in class to a girl sitting nearby. That girl in turn would return the signal to her and then turn and give the signal to another girl as the sign of inclusion. If you did not receive the signal and you tried giving it but did not receive it back from another girl, you were not “in” for the day, which meant you would be excluded at recess. I remember the sick feeling of anxiety that would settle in the pit of my stomach when I did not get the signal. My method for coping with this varied. I would alternate between attempting to placate the ring leader and trying to be in her good graces, to giving up in despair and going and playing soccer with the boys. One day I pushed the girl bully in the bathroom. She went back and reported to the teacher that she had a stomach ache because I pushed her and so I got in trouble. If I had known I was going to get in trouble I would have made it worth my while and punched her in the mouth. No teacher ever intervened in the situation and it went on unabated. In third grade I called her up on the phone and told her to “go to hell.” Pretty bold for a third grader but I had had enough of her and no one else was coming to my defense. She was a sociopath in the making. She was a schemer and a pathological liar from an early age and this continued until her untimely death at age thirty six by cancer. Psalm 55:23 says that “bloodthirsty and deceitful” men will not live out half their days.

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As I have previously stated, educators are now much more aware of bullying because our schools have turned into war zones. But how about our churches? Are they war zones too? They can be. Women wage war very differently than men, but they wage it just the same. They mostly wage war by murdering people with their tongues and using the medium of relationship to destroy. Psychologists have now come up with a name for this type of warfare: “relational aggression” and women specialize in it. Relational aggression is also known as “covert aggression” or “covert bullying.” It is a type of aggression in which harm is caused to one’s relationships or social status.

Men have been given power and authority to lead the church. A part of that power and authority is supposed to be used to “protect the flock.” Yet male leaders in the church are often either woefully unaware or purposefully blind to aggression perpetrated by women. According to one article on relational aggression there are three main types: 1. Excluding others from social activities 2. Damaging the victim’s reputation with others by spreading rumors, gossiping about the victim or humiliating him in front of others. 3. Withdrawing attention and friendship. Psychological manipulation and coercion can also be a type of relational aggression. What are some of the consequences in general for women who experience relational aggression from other women? Regularly experiencing aggression can cause many short term and long term consequences such as depression, behavior problems, poor social skills, lack of close peer relationships, difficulty in academic performance, low school engagement, undermined feelings of competence, low self-esteem, and physical symptoms of distress. These are some pretty profound consequences which would obviously affect our ability to have authentic fellowship with others in the church as well as affect our ability to serve using our gifts.

Though there are no “qualifications” listed for elders wives, one of the qualifications listed in 1 Timothy is that an elder is to be hospitable. He also must be able to manage his own family well. It specifically outlines qualifications for deacon’s wives: women worthy of respect, not malicious talkers, temperate and trustworthy in everything. Certainly if you are a woman who engages in any form of relational aggression you most definitely are not trustworthy and not acting in a manner worthy of respect. Nor are you showing respect for other people You also most likely are using your tongue in a manner which harms others. Elders, which include the pastor, need to take seriously whether they meet the qualifications to lead the church, but also take seriously whether their wives meet them as well. A part of leading one’s family well is knowing one’s wife. Does she meet the description above? Temperate? Not a malicious talker? Trustworthy? How does SHE personally treat ALL women in the church? Does she speak well of them? Treat them with kindness? Is she inclusive? Do you know? The church is supposed to be a family of believers reaching out to a lost world not a social club where members sit around and congratulate each other on their righteousness. Churches should be places where ALL women can find acceptance and belonging and be loved by their sisters in Christ. It should not be a place of favoritism where some women are welcomed into the exclusive clique and others rejected. The church belongs to Christ, and it is a great honor but also a great responsibility to oversee it. It’s a difficult task and one not to be undertaken lightly.

Let’s look a little closer at the qualifications listed for a Deacon’s wife.

What does it mean to be a woman worthy of respect? Well certainly it means to be a person of integrity. In other words someone who is consistent in character. Women who are worthy of respect are women who fear God and thus are women who have respect for what God has made. So it would mean a woman who shows respect for other people in general. In particular she would treat other women with honor, with kindness, with compassion and care. She would consider other women above herself and look out for their interests. (Philippians 2:4) She would be a woman who welcomes other women into the church and embraces them. She would be an encourager to other women and treat them with dignity and respect. She would support other women in the church as they use their gifts. These kinds of actions cannot take place if we harbor pride, bitter envy and selfish ambition in our hearts (James 3:14). We will not act as women worthy of respect if we see other women as our competitors. Barnabas, whose name means “son of encouragement” showed this kind of honorable conduct to the Apostle Paul. He embraced Paul and took him to meet the other disciples who were afraid of him. He also encouraged and supported Paul in his missionary journeys. He took the attitude that “Paul’s success is my success” since we are working toward the same goal.

What does it mean to be a woman who is not a malicious talker? The Greek word here for “malicious” is “diabolos” and means slanderer. It is not hard to see the reference to the devil who is diabolical and the “accuser of the brethren.” We are told he accuses them night and day before the throne. We act like the devil when we accuse others and judge them falsely and render false reports of them. It is not honorable behavior to talk badly of others. Yet women often engage in gossip and have eager and receptive listeners. Proverbs says that the words of a gossip are “like choice morsels” that “go down to a man’s inmost parts.” (Proverbs 18:8) But even though hearing gossip initially is akin to eating a tasty treat, it’s ultimate effect is not so pleasant. Gossip effects the gossip, the listener as well as the victim of the gossip. We cannot listen to gossip without having our opinion about another person be changed, even if it is very subtly. The next thing we know our actions toward that person have also changed. We are treating them slightly different because of what someone has told us about them. And what if that report was false? Proverbs says “A gossip separates close friends.” (Proverbs 16:28). It does not say that a gossip separates friends. It says close friends. Thus the effect of gossip is to cause division among people who were once dear to one another. To gossip is also to destroy another woman’s reputation. Proverbs states that a person’s reputation is very important: “A good name is more desirable than great riches, to be esteemed better than silver or gold.” (Proverbs 22:1) So to be a part of destroying someone’s good name then is a serious matter. It is akin to murder. Proverbs 18:21 says that the tongue has the power of life and death and that those who love it shall eat it’s fruit.” To use our tongue to slander others is to murder them. It creates the destruction of lives and relationships. The word malicious means “having or showing the desire to cause harm to another person.” If we are women who are worthy of respect we will be by the grace of God trying to live out the two great commands of loving God and loving others. We cannot love others with a tongue fueled by hate and set on fire by hell (James 3:6).

What does it mean to be a woman who is temperate? The Greek word for temperate used here translates to “sober minded, circumspect.” To be circumspect means to carefully consider all circumstances and possible consequences. The business of the church often calls for discreetness. The elders and deacons are privy to many private matters which occur in people’s lives. I am sure they share many of these matters with their wives. Knowing such private information about people requires that women be able to be discreet. It requires them to have wisdom which involves knowing the right thing to do in the right situation. It is also about knowing what not to do in certain circumstances. Wisdom is forward thinking. It thinks ahead to what the consequences for an action or a word will be and weighs that consequence. Thus a woman who is sober will be a woman who gives thought to her ways and particularly to how her actions may affect her husband and the church. Positions of leadership require this ability of circumspection. The foolish actions of a woman can cost both her husband and the church a great deal.

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What does it mean to be a woman who is trustworthy? The Greek word here is “pistos.” It means to be sure, to be true. Some translations say “faithful in all things.” There are many days in my cynicism where I am not sure any trustworthy women can be found. People in general are good at presenting fronts, but women in particular have honed this into an art. I have a name for this, I call it the “smiling assassin.” Women can smile to your face, speak pleasantly and seem genuinely concerned about you. However, as soon as you are out of earshot they are speaking about you in the most critical manner, assassinating your character. The only person we are lying to is ourselves when we act this way as women. The truth of the matter is that we are little more than hypocrites and liars when we act as if we love someone to their face when in fact we hate them in our hearts. Do we really believe God is fooled? Jeremiah in his prayer in Jeremiah 20:12 describes God as “the Almighty, You who examine the righteous and probe the heart and mind.” God is never fooled by our hypocrisy and eventually and usually unwittingly we give ourselves away by word or action. Those moments when I’ve been with another woman and they’ve just revealed themselves to me is never pleasant. However I will say it is helpful for me when women play their hand, and they always do. I’ve told my husband many times “I really have to stop having lunch with my enemies.” But it’s dang tough sometimes to know who your enemies are until they play their Ace of Hearts. It is impossible to trust any such woman who acts like this. A woman who is trustworthy is someone who truly loves God and shows her love for Him by her genuine love for people. She is someone you know has your best interest at heart and she is able to keep a confidence. If I were to devise a single test to determine the trustworthiness of a woman it would be this: can she keep a confidence. That test alone would leave a heck of a whole lot of women in the dust, because it requires self-restraint of the tongue.

One can see why these characteristics, being worthy of respect, not given to slander, temperate and trustworthy would be very important as the wife of a leader in the church. Women who think they are submissive to their husbands often show that they truly are not by engaging in the types of relational aggression previously discussed. They may “behave” while around their husbands, but if they are engaging in behaviors which cut down and destroy other women, they are undermining the leadership of the church just as much as any man. Men, including leaders of the church, walk around impervious to this kind of aggression which is going on. I have seen it happen right in front of male leaders and they are completely oblivious to what is unfolding in front of them. I am not sure what it is going to take to get male leadership in the church to both understand and take seriously the aggressive behavior of women. There have been several stories which have made national news of female teens who have committed suicide due to the bullying of female peers. Is it going to take this kind of tragedy for the church to wake up? If we have a zero tolerance policy for bullying in the workplace and the schools, should we tolerate bullying in the church? Should we tolerate a climate of rudeness, disrespect and incivility? If we have had to wise up to violence in the workplace and in the schools, should we not wise up to it in the church? One of the ways we need to “wise up” in the church is understanding and dealing effectively with the hidden aggression of women. Men need to be courageous and man enough to stand up to women and deal with their poor behavior, even if it is their own wives. Anyone who has seen Shakespeare’s play Othello knows the devastating effect one unrestrained liar can have.In the same way, one unrestrained sinful woman can bring down an entire church. If there is one thing the last five years has taught me it is that the Christian life is serious business and so is the leading of the church. Male leaders need to “wise up” and take the behavior of women seriously and deal with it just as soberly as they do men. When we treat the wound of sin lightly we make the church a dangerous place for all.

Feature Box Photo credit: Public Domain / CC 1.0

Photo Credit: Public Domain / CC 1.0

Photo credit: Public Domain / CC 1.0

Photo credit: By Tiago Lima from Lisboa, Portugal (WhisperUploaded by tm) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons