Fifth article in Secular Woman's Women's History Month Series.
by Vyckie Garrison, No Longer Quivering
Life without choices is simple. As a young woman, when faced with what seemed to me to be an overwhelming question: What am I going to do with my life? — although I knew that the possibilities were practically unlimited, I made the choice to narrow my options by devoting my life to Jesus as an evangelical Christian. Why? Because it was the simple thing to do. Notice I didn't say it was easy. In fact, my 25+ years as a fundamentalist Christian woman were exceedingly demanding and I paid a high price for my "free gift" of eternal life. That “gift” cost me everything.
From the moment I accepted the bible's claim of ultimate authority over my life, the big question changed from, "What am I going to do with my life?" to "What is the Lord's will for me?" The answer was simple: die to self – serve others, submit to God's chosen authorities, procreate, build His Kingdom, spread the Good News. The most beloved verse for evangelical Christians, John 3:16, tells us that God so loved the world that He gave … and I was convinced that true love, God-like love, was by definition, martyrdom. Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for a friend … just like Jesus did … just as I must do. The longer I remained in the "biblical family values" headspace, the more regimented and regulated my choices became. I learned to loathe everything that feminism stands for: equality, choice, self-governance; I was convinced that such values were the embodiment of narcissistic selfishness.
I threw myself wholeheartedly into living out what I believed was my all-wise, all-loving Creator's perfect will for women, patriarchy with a capital P. I may not have liked the subjugation and subservience, but considering that in the biblical paradigm the phrase "choose life" means take your pick: obey and receive everlasting life, or go your own way and suffer eternal separation from God … what choice did I have, really? I equated love with self-sacrifice, so it made sense to be submissive, to risk my life in childbearing, to home school, home birth, home church, work from home. I joke now about how I was a "home-ier-than-thou" Christian, but, at the time, I simply obeyed, chapter and verse, what I found in the bible regarding godly roles for women.
The more I searched the scriptures, the more convinced I became that feminism – particularly the "freedom to choose" – was the root cause of every societal evil in modern times. I studied "pro-life" literature and I rejected all forms of birth control even though I knew that with my health history, pregnancy was actually a life-threatening condition for me. I started a local "pro-family" newspaper and wrote for Christian magazines in the hope that my "testimony" of how God kept me alive – through several high-risk deliveries that nearly killed me and my babies – would give other women the courage to swim against the rising tide of "women's rights" and "empowerment." I decried the "tyranny of choice." My message was simple: Throw away the Pill! To save your life, you must lose it. (I borrowed that line from Jesus.)
I thought I had it all figured out. As True Believers™ are apt to claim, God said it, that settles it!
By the time the reality of my abdication of choice caught up with me, I had seven children – five of them girls – and none of them flourishing due to the ignorance, isolation, negligence, dysfunction and outright abuse of my fundamentalist belief system. As hard as I had tried to deny my own self-determination, I could not escape my personal responsibility when faced with the obvious toll the imposition of absolute, non-negotiable gender roles was taking on my kids.
When I finally understood how wrong I had been about everything, I found myself back at square one, facing the big question: What am I going to do with my life? Only this time, the possibilities did not seem overwhelming – instead, I got excited for myself and for my children. I realized that, despite all my protests to the contrary, I had been making choices all along, and I was deciding to let "the will of God", or, as most people know it, life, happen to me at random.
It's common to hear women who self-identify as "pro-life" say something like this, “Yes, it is my body, but it's not up to me to decide whether an eternal being will come into existence – that is God's prerogative alone – it's not my place to play God.”
And by "play God" they mean: evaluate, judge, determine … in other words, Choose.
Passivity is a choice. Choosing not to choose is simple, but the relinquishment of power does not mitigate the harsh and inescapable consequences of indecision. Now that I am taking ownership of my life, I am finding that although most decisions are complicated and some are even painful, having many options – rather than being limited by religious tradition and hierarchical authority – ensures that I have real choices which I will never again surrender for the semblance of simplicity.