The granddaughter of a famous televangelist shares how she lost her religion, but kept her faith.
The fundamental problem with faith and sexuality is religion. Religion, as a subset of culture, generally aims to control and objectify women. I would know. I am a woman whose upbringing provided a front row seat to the world’s religious stage.
My grandfather was the most watched televangelist from 1972 to 2006. He is Robert Schuller, founder of the Crystal Cathedral and international Hour of Power. My father and brother are his namesakes. The men in my family live under a spotlight of fame. I grew up in their shadow. Every spotlight has an operator behind the scene. As a child, I imagined God as the operator. This created a double bind for me: I felt called to ministry, but I didn’t see God highlighting a ministry opportunity for me.
I observed the women around me, and surmised that my only path was to marry, have kids, and work behind-the-scenes. But again, that wasn’t the life I desired. I wanted to be free of religious constraints on femininity—free to experience faith without dumbing down my humanity.
Anyone who knows me knows that I don’t have a live-in-the-shadows kind of personality. I sing, dance, talk loud, laugh louder, and almost always state my opinion. And so, I set out in search of alternatives to conventional religious femininity. I left California for the Midwest to start my career without nepotism. In hindsight, I find this ironic, hilarious even, given the conservative values prevalent in this part of the country. But, it worked.
I pursued degrees in theology and counseling; and then, opportunities started opening up. I became the youngest person and first woman to serve as Spiritual Director at a conservative Christian university. I was later recruited to work at a mega-church in Texas as an Associate Pastor. Along the way, I counseled hundreds of women who felt like me: excluded, misunderstood, undervalued, and abused by religion. Since I stood at the heart of Christianity and still felt like an outcast, it was not surprising to hear that women on the outskirts of faith also felt that their faith and sexuality were incompatible.
The Bible says, “In the image of God he created them, male and female.” God made it simple, creating just two categories of humanity. Religion unnecessarily complicates what it means to be male or female. It creates rules that dictate what women ought to enjoy and what men ought to enjoy, how women ought to behave and how men ought to behave, what women are capable of doing and what men are capable of doing. In constraining a woman’s full potential, religion sends a powerful message: Women are objects to control.
Religion also generally teaches that women are less like God than men. But that’s not what God said. He said that both men and women are created in the image of God. I like to add… boobs and all. If you hadn’t already guessed, the rationale behind the “men are more like God than women” teaching is the fact that Jesus is a man. But Jesus had to be a man.
Jesus was the first feminist in history, protesting for the rights of women. He was among the stronger majority fighting for the weaker minority. And according to Christian theology, Jesus is God. I worship and follow Jesus, the God-man. I know that I’m less like God than Jesus. But, Jesus’s masculinity doesn’t make me less like God than a normal man. In teaching women that they are less like God than men, religion sends a powerful message: Women are inferior objects, less than human.
The rules that religion creates for women are vast, and vary between specific sects of Christianity and other religions. However, a specific theme is prevalent. Most rules target the female body. A woman’s body is touted as too alluring, too tempting, too sensual, and therefore, bad. The rules range from self-pleasure to wardrobe, with what to wear garnering the most attention.
I was visiting a church when the pastor chided women for wearing V-necks that were too revealing. He said the women were responsible for wearing clothes that wouldn’t cause the men in the church to lust. I turned to my husband and said, “If people hadn’t noticed my boobs walking in the door, they are sure to notice as we leave.” This experience begs the questions: Who is the wardrobe monitor? Why are V-necks out, but tight fitting turtlenecks are OK? Where does one draw the line between sinner and saint?
I know women who spend hours in the mirror getting ready. And it’s not because they are worried about not feeling attractive. They are worried about being too attractive. They obsess about whether their outfits are too revealing. In believing they are responsible for a man’s behavior, religious women send a powerful message: I am an object.
The key to balancing both faith and sexuality is to rid oneself of a religious mindset. It’s not as easy as it might sound—to lose religion, but keep your faith. I know it can be done because this is how I live. I have helped hundreds of other women who had the same goal. Women can have faith, and still feel sexy, strong, and self-aware. Women can live to their greatest human potential, without limit and without constraint.
In fact, this is what God has wanted for us all along.
Angie Schuller Wyatt is a pastor, counselor, and author of the award-winning book, God and Boobs: Balancing Faith and Sexuality.