Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D.

Our Church Break-up, Part II: Love Isn’t Blind Anymore (Featuring U2 and Pearl Jam)

This is Part II of a three-part series. Read Part I here.


“You don’t want to find yourself on Mickey’s table…” our pastor said from the pulpit on a Sunday morning.  We were “in” – my husband was being referenced during a sermon.

My husband is a trauma surgeon.  His patients are people who start their day normally and don’t anticipate the fall from a ladder, the roll-over car accident, the drive-by shooting.  So because you really don’t want to find yourself on his table, his work lends itself well to references about the frailty and uncertainty of our lives.

I am an Emergency Medicine physician.  My patients have asthma attacks, heart attacks and strokes (as well as colds, cuts and ear-aches). That week, however, I had lined/tubed/coded three people.  One was in his early twenties, one was in his fifties and one was in his eighties.  They all died. 

And from the bottom-est part of my subconscious a tiny voice began to speak.

It asked, “Why hasn’t he referenced the stretcher in your ER?”

And then another voice asked, “Is it because you’re not supposed to have this kind of job?

Another Sunday, when our pastor was away, his replacement was an eager 20-something guy with limited scholarly Bible training, but a desire to lead.  This was the second time such a young man had been chosen to fill-in.  Sometimes the opportunity to speak is more for the growth of the speaker than the enlightenment of the congregants (and that’s okay), but my subconscious was speaking to me again.

It said, “Look over your shoulder.”

And I did.

Behind me was a woman and seminary graduate with four (four!) published Christian books.

Look to your right,” the voice said.

And to my right was another woman with a masters from seminary.

One of these subconscious voices was getting louder, bolder, “Um, excuse me,” it said.  “Why haven’t they been asked to speak?  Is it because they’re supposed to be silent in church?”

And then (out of nowhere) Bono started to sing.

Love is blindness,

I don’t wanna see

Won’t you wrap the night

Around me

Love is blindness

I kept silent about these voices (I didn’t want to scare anyone or anything).

Mickey and I loved these people and so we sped towards official commitment.  We were ready to “DTR” (define the relationship).  We went to a membership class and although we had a few, “Oh…you think that?” moments, it wasn’t crazy alarming.

Months passed and then we “proposed,” we asked for the official “covenant” paperwork.  It was a thick stack and it took us a while to find the time to read it together.  We took it with us on vacation to the Dominican Republic.  We read it out loud together on a balcony overlooking the ocean at a resort literally called Sanctuary.

We read the contract with an open Bible and open hearts.  We looked up every scripture reference.  And at the end, as our mouths spoke “we believe” statements that we did not, in fact, believe, our dashed hope rolled down our cheeks.  We could not sign our names to this document.  Same Bible, different conclusions.  That moment when you realize someone is not who you thought they were?  That.

I’ll bet almost all of us have, at one point or another, stayed with someone other than the kind of person we’d hoped to share our life with.  You see, I grew up in this kind of church.  I didn’t even have the hope to believe that something else existed.  So we kept showing up.

I spent my week leading resuscitation teams in the ER and my evenings enjoying the comforts of an equal partnership with my feminist husband.  And then, on Sundays I walked into church and became the helper to my husband, the mother of our children, and another woman to serve in children’s ministry and at potlucks.  I love serving my husband, adore my children, and really enjoy cooking, but that’s not all of me.  That’s not my whole self.

The voices didn’t stop.  Now Eddie Vedder was singing to me:

Talkin’; to herself, there’s no one else who needs to know

She tells herself, oh

Memories back when she was bold and strong

And waiting for the world to come along

Swears she knew it, now she swears he’s gone

She lies and says she’s in love with him, can’t find a better man

I was starting to feel like Ally McBeal!

I was also growing increasingly uncomfortable with the incongruousness of my “real life” and “church life.”  It’s not supposed to be like that.

And then I learned about a woman in the church who had stepped forward to lead a Bible study with her husband; she was told that she could not, but that her husband could.

I learned about an ambitious woman, who was essentially leading a committee related to the use of the church building, being reminded that she was just the horse; the reigns were held by the male elders (they didn’t actually call her a horse, but the message was clear: you work, we steer).

I couldn’t take it anymore.  I had to say something.  We scheduled a dinner with our pastor and his wife and after a lovely meal, I voiced some of my concerns.  I asked him about the restrictions being put on women in our church.

His first attempt at explaining his position didn’t help me very much.  “I am a complementarian,” he said.

“I’m a complementarian,” I replied because I thought it meant what it sounded like.  (It doesn’t, but that’s for Part III.)  Despite being wrong about the meaning of the word, my point was still apparent:  his answer didn’t really justify the marginalization of women in the church for me.  After a little back-and-forth, I finally asked, “Do you really believe women can’t teach men anything about the Bible?”

His voice strained when he asked rhetorically, “You don’t think I learned from [so-and-so’s] book?”  But when pressed, he sat on my couch, in my house, in 2014 and said that women couldn’t have authority over men or teach them anything about the Bible. 

Those voices in my head?  They were pretty smart. And now Bono was singing again.

You say, “Love is a temple, love a higher law.  Love is a temple, love the higher law.”

You asked me to enter, and then you made me crawl,

But I can’t keep holding on, to what you got,

When all you got is hurt.

Trying to be something other than what God made me to be was exhausting.  You may not relate with my story exactly, but I know some of you will relate to the feeling that you can be more real, more yourself, outside the church than in it.  It’s not supposed to be that way.

In her new book, Searching for Sunday, Rachel Held Evans recounts being invited to speak to 3000 evangelical youth workers about why people are leaving the church, why they’ve stopped showing up:

I told them we’re tired of the culture wars, tired of Christianity getting entangled with party politics and power.  [We] want to be known for what we’re for… not just what we’re against. We don’t want to choose between science and religion or between our intellectual integrity and our faith. Instead, we long for our churches to be safe places to doubt, to ask questions, and to tell the truth, even when it’s uncomfortable. We want to talk about the tough stuff—biblical interpretation, religious pluralism, sexuality, racial reconciliation, and social justice—but without predetermined conclusions or simplistic answers. We want to bring our whole selves through the church doors, without leaving our hearts and minds behind, without wearing a mask.

I realized that by showing up on Sundays we were silently condoning stances we fundamentally disagreed with.

We were giving money to support a value system that not only differed from ours, but actually opposed it.

We were part of the problem.

In the end, I told Mickey, “If you really want to stay, I’ll stay.”  And I meant it.

And he said, “If you feel this way, I would never want to stay.”  And he really meant it.

Submitting to one another out of love…it’s a beautiful thing.

And so we left a church.  A church where we had made friends.  A good church doing good things.  We may not agree with them about what “good” is sometimes, but their marginalization of women doesn’t come from a bad place.  They really believe this is the only way to interpret the Bible.  Their policies (while undeniably restrictive), are an outward expression of them trying to do the right thing and they are not alone in this.  Traditional views of, and roles for, women are the prevailing culture in evangelicalism.

When Mickey finally sent the official “break-up” email, all of us had realized we just weren’t right for each other.  It reminds me of the break-up between Frank and Kathleen in the movie You’ve Got Mail.  They are relieved.  Then Frank asks Kathleen if there is someone else and she says, “No, but there is the dream of someone.”

The Bible is like a giant love story, and for me, to give up on church, would be to give up on love.  The day Mickey and I sent that email, we joked that we might have to start our own church (there aren’t a lot of liberal, feminist Christians in southern Georgia).  But we had a dream of the kind of church we thought Jesus would want to marry.  We left out of love for Him.  We left with hope.

Those who sow with tears will reap with songs of joy. –Psalm 126:5


CONTINUE to Part III.

Facebook Comments

Follow:

Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D.

Author of the viral post: 10 Things to Know Before Your Next Visit to the Emergency Department. Board certified emergency medicine physician, wife, mother, aspiring novelist.
Follow:

Latest posts by Kristin Prentiss Ott, M.D. (see all)

27 Comments

  1. Jason McNicoll

    Thank you for sharing your story. I found it very entertaining an insightful. I think its important that we have these conversations as believers. Too many times we draw the line and say “you shall not pass”. I have people that I love and respect that I completely disagree with on the issue of women leadership in a church body. Sometimes you have to agree to disagree, and sometimes its a deal breaker and its time to “date” somebody else. If your identity is in Christ than your church membership or lack of one ATM should not change that. I pray that God is keeping you close and you are keeping close to him. I think we as failed humans have screwed up plenty what community and church and corporate worship should be. In my life I have been led to stay committed to a church for a season and for a purpose I believe even though I had many problems and disagreements. Did you God check your decision to leave? Sometime God wants us to stay in a place we disagree with for a purpose unseen. (ex.. Hosea and Gomer). And sometimes we are given a green light to move on, and on the other hand sometimes we just run away cause its hard. If you Heart checked your decision … (you don’t have to answer btw) than your o.k. by God and me as far As I would say. Anyway… You showed me much kindness in a very dark time in my life. I miss seeing you guys and I’m sorry for not reaching out sooner. You opened your home to me as a stranger and I left as friend. I love your family more in Christ because of that. I pray that God can use your families intellect and service attitude to better the kingdom. peace JM

  2. Anna

    A friend sent me a link to this post, and it is spot on. You described why I left my church exactly.
    I was tired of acting like I believed all the things they did, just so I could stay part of the family.
    I’m in the same boat as you: living in the South and longing for a more progressive, more like the Jesus I know kind of church.
    Thank you for putting my emotions and sorrow into words. This is such a balm to my soul.

  3. Chewing Crayons

    This was very well written. I read so many posts that just- aren’t. And yours was excellent.

    I’ve been where you described.
    My heart still hurts a little. I’m a little more broken.
    Sometimes I run into former fellow-church goers, and…it’s awkward. Polite, but awkward.
    But really, I’m relieved. We just couldn’t stay.
    So we carry on. Heads up, shoulders back- pressing forward.
    Toward Jesus.

    Blessings as you carry on.

    Ps I love the movie reference. That’s one of my favorites.

    1. Kristin (Post author)

      Thank you for reading. I knew we would be kindred spirits when I found you on Twitter:) Hope you’ll be able to read part III, because there is so much hope and love coming!

  4. Stacy Pandya

    PS. By “open book close” friends, I mean we were opening the same book and closing it simultaneously, and we remain friends through the experience. I am a great admirer of Kristin.

  5. Stacy Pandya

    “Say what you wanna say, and let the words fall out. Honestly, I wanna see you be brave!” -Sara Bareiles. Great work, Merida! (Brave). I was there with Kristin, and we were open book close friends during this experience. We still are. I want to thank her and support her for starting a conversation on this important women’s issue. APPLAUSE, my friend! As she mentioned, the men in leadership are good, well intentioned people with a desire to do what is right—unfortunately they are wrong and are disparaging the hearts of many, women and men alike, with certain philosophies. It is also worth noting that the international figure head of this church network, Mark Driscoll, deemed one of Time Mag’s Most Influential, has recently been dethroned and reprimanded for his tactics. One of Driscoll’s most famous lines and themes, that thousands of modern men were called to rage against, is “the pussification of the church.” -and I quote. The elders of our last church embraced this so called “pussification” phenomenon and openly agreed. I first heard the term from their mouths. I still love and respect these men and have enough depth perception in the human experience to understand they stand for so much more than just this, but I can’t thrive or raise my 1 year old daughter to accomplish world domination in a place that’s experiencing a “pussification.” Signing off, a Christian feminist thanks to Dr. Ott!!!!!!!

    1. Kristin (Post author)

      Ahh, my friend – I love you because you can’t help but be exactly who you are and that is disarming and refreshing and funny and well, a LOT – all at once! You are one in a million (billion?)

  6. Sarah

    this is so beautiful. Pointed, yet kind. Honest, yet full of grace. I love your description of mutual submission. I’m looking forward to part lll!

  7. Kassi

    Kristin, you knew…your instinct right in the beginning was so powerful, and such a human response to keep trying to quiet those voices.
    Thank you for sharing what true Christ Like yearning looks like. It’s truly a beautiful journey.
    …I had to look up ‘complementarian’ and laughed out loud thinking about how much we ALL would have laughed listening to that part of your story while sitting around your mom’s kitchen table. This just warms my heart. Thank you again…
    P.s. I will not post this 2 or 3 times!

    1. Kristin (Post author)

      There is so much to both laugh and cry about in all of this, but the ending is coming (the beginning?) – – and FYI – – I have a spam filter on for comments because you wouldn’t believe how much spam is directed at website comment spots (weird). Anyway – for whatever reason yours keep getting tagged as spam and so they don’t show up until I manually approve them. Most people’s comments are automatic – I get the pleasure of reading yours and saying, “Yes!” before I “approve” it for posting.

  8. Gail

    Kristin, you’ve put into words what so many women are experiencing today. You had the courage to leave, and I think more and more men and women are making that same choice. I wonder how many people are sitting in complementarian churches who don’t buy the theology but just “put up with it” because there are other things they do like. Quite a few, judging from the stories and emails we hear at http://www.juniaprojet.com. Thanks for sharing your story!

    1. Gail
      1. Kristin (Post author)

        Gail – I am so excited you actually read my blog! I am a huge fan of what you’re doing and having been thinking about referencing it in Part III (the last part of this story).

  9. Eric Weiss

    I’m walkin’ down that long, lonesome road, babe
    Where I’m bound, I can’t tell
    But goodbye’s too good a word, gal
    So I’ll just say fare thee well
    I ain’t sayin’ you treated me unkind
    You could have done better but I don’t mind
    You just kinda wasted my precious time
    But don’t think twice, it’s all right

    1. Eric Weiss

      FYI – Those words are about the “complementarian” church, not about you! Thanks for writing these blog posts.

    2. Kristin (Post author)

      Did you write this? It’s fantastic!

      1. Whit
      2. Eric Weiss

        No, I didn’t write it, but you were quoting popular songs, so I quoted one of my favorite musicians. I assumed you would recognize it, so I didn’t put Bob Dylan’s name at the end. 🙂

        1. Kristin (Post author)

          Ahhh – Bob Dylan – one of the greatest poets of all time;) – great reference/song choice!

  10. Diana

    Hard to believe, but oh so real. Still have not found my place in a church. But by the Grace of God I’m okay.
    Thank you Kristin for sharing, I know so many can relate. Be Blessed

    1. Kristin (Post author)

      I wish I could give you a big hug right now! Part III is coming – I hope it is affirming of all that you are, and a blessing to you.

  11. Natalie Simmons

    OH! oh! 0h! This is so my story, it gives me goosebumps!

    1. Kristin (Post author)

      It makes me so happy to know you can relate! I felt so alone when I went through this and was so thankful to find an online community of fellow-sojourners – smart egalitarians with big hearts! I hope your journey has led you to a good place. Grace & Peace

      1. Sue

        Oh, how I wish you lived in NJ. We DO have such a church, but struggle with helping people find it.

        1. Kristin (Post author)

          the right seekers will find you… I think part III of this story is going to include something about how we find each other because I spent a lot of time thinking about that

      2. Natalie Simmons

        I was so alone too, and unfortunately my story does not yet have a happy ending as you have indicated yours does. I haven’t been to church for a year now. A small part of my story is at http://nataliesimmons-peanutbutterandhoney.blogspot.com/

        1. Kristin (Post author)

          Read your blog post and commented there. Keep HOPING!

Comments are closed.

Share-on!