Back when I was a teenager, a girlfriend I love very much got pregnant. She was 16. Her daddy was a pastor. Her momma a Bible School teacher.
She told no one.
Not one soul.
She would lay on her bed and stuff her growing belly into her jeans.
These were the days of baby doll tops. When she could no longer get her pants buttoned, zipped, she wore her baby doll tops over them.
She was long-waisted, so it was easier to hide her pregnancy. Loved ones weren’t sure if she was gaining weight or if something else was the matter.
She was a good girl. She loved her parents. They loved her. But she was living in a denial only a girl who has been in that situation can understand. Sometimes growing up in a loving home can create an environment where it is all the more difficult to admit when you make a mistake because a child longs so much to please the parents who have loved them so well. In that kind of household, it can be very difficult to be the kid who makes the mistakes.
She felt a shame she had never known before. She had failed. Failed her family, the family she loved so wholeheartedly.
So she kept her secret until it could be kept no longer.
When it was clear there was a birth drawing nigh, she told them, her parents, that she had made a horrible mistake. That she was pregnant.
There were plenty of tears and prayers.
Her parents took charge. She would have the baby. She would adopt that baby out. They made the arrangements. They thought they were doing what was best. And who is to say that they didn’t?
But when it became known that she was pregnant and unmarried, she was ordered to appear before the elder board of the Conservative Church.
An all man board.
A board of Elders.
She was a teenage girl.
She would sit there at that table, surrounded by men whose sins she knew nothing about. Had they had affairs? Children out of wedlock? Had they viewed porn? Had they cheated their business partners? Did they beat their wives? Had they sexually molested children? Were they lewd with their co-workers?
She did not know.
But they dangled her sin out there like a pair of discarded panties, shaming her.
She had to speak her sin and ask their forgiveness.
Not the boy who impregnated her, mind you.
Few ever even knew his name.
I am not making this up.
She had to say she was sorry.
She had to ask for their forgiveness.
“I have sinned. I am sorry. Will you forgive me?”
This young girl before these elder men.
The Shamed before The Self-righteous.
This is how churches keep women beat down and men in power.
This is how governments do it, too.
Shame the women. Give the men all the power.
It’s the American way.
Why, oh, why, women do we continue to give our power away?
She was a good girl.
She felt she had brought dishonor to her daddy, to her mama.
She only wanted to make things right. So she did as she was told.
Men shame us. They shame us for the wrongs they do to us.
They shame us into silence.
Because they control our courts and our churches, our businesses and our educational institutions.
If we try and speak out, if we try and resist, they call us names, they parade us before the public, they hang our shame out there like discarded panties. Then they demand that we do the apologizing for their sins.
And as long as we keep electing them to run our courts and our churches and our Congress, that’s the way it will always be.
Isn’t it about time we quit apologizing for their wrongdoings?
Isn’t it about time we hung them out to dry?
Karen Spears Zacharias is author of CHRISTIAN BEND (A Novel, Mercer University Press).