God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die. God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! (John 3:16-17)
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)
SEXISM: This week I’ve been thinking about the progress our culture had made over the past few decades regarding justice, and in particular the role of women both inside and outside of the home.
In many ways there is a lot to cheer about. But at the same time I’m concerned because I still see so much chauvinism and inequality in places that hold the affections and guide the lives of people who really should know better.
- First, I don’t believe the “glass ceiling” has been shattered or removed so much as adjusted – maybe raised a little in a few places.
- Then, disturbingly, there’s an active moving backward in much of fundamentalist religion that isn’t content to simply devalue women at church; it reaches to the core of society via adherents’ influence in families, businesses, civic organizations and politics.
STORY: One reason this is on my mind is a story I’ve been working on this week. It’s about a woman called to ministry in her mid-40’s. She told me about an abusive church environment (she and her husband eventually left) that imposed subservience on women rather than inviting discipleship. Her experience laid the groundwork for a distorted image of God that was negative, restrictive, and chauvinistic.
Eventually she learned the truth about love and grace and was able to hear God’s call to ministry. One of her key motivations now is to serve Jesus in such a way that people are introduced to the God who is invitational and permission giving rather than the image presented in the trappings of chauvinism, condemnation, and fear.
Unfortunately, many churches still nurture an ethos that both marginalizes women and encourages men to stake out an authority (read “domination”) both at church and at home that is anything but equal or Christ-like.
LANGUAGE: As a writer, I pay attention to language. Recently I’ve been shocked to note what seems like a widespread reversion to the sexist phrasings of yesteryear. I hear it on television (commercials and shows), on the radio, in conversation, and especially in religion. Gender-exclusive language does exactly that – it excludes women. And exclusive language is so easy to avoid that there’s really no excuse for anyone to use it after all these years – unless they really do intend to make a point about women.
Here’s one example. I clicked on the website of one of the largest churches in town, and this is just a small sample of what you get under, “What we believe” (boldface added so you can easily see):
- The Bible… was written by MEN who were divinely inspired. It is God’s revelation of Himself to MAN…
- The Holy Spirit… He enables MEN to understand God’s truth…
- Mankind… MAN was created by the special act of God… In the beginning MAN was innocent… By his free choice, MAN sinned against God… By his nature MAN is sinful… Only the grace of God can bring MAN back into a relationship with God.
The words we listen to and the phrases we speak help to structure the way that we think; the way we think affects the content of our consciousness; the architecture of our consciousness/cognition plays out in the way that we formulate ideas…and believe… and act… and impact the world… and raise our children….
CULTURE: In these kinds of religious institutions a mindset has evolved (it’s the product of decades and in some cases centuries) that has somehow engrafted the values, priorities, prejudices, and closed-mindedness of a historically male-centric culture onto the values and priorities of God. It has tried to establish the small-mindedness of just a few people as interchangeable with the character of God.
- Yet the Bible is full of examples of God using women to lead God’s people – from the judge Deborah to many of the key players in the early church (including Priscilla, Aquila, Lydia, Phoebe and Philip’s daughters…).
- And the biblical narrative is the ongoing story of God demonstrating to human beings that God’s way – eventually Christ’s New and Living Way – invites everyone (slave and free, Greek and Jew, male and female) into a full expression of Kingdom life (in which gender has absolutely nothing to do with the way we experience grace and love and redemption and more)….
- And the radical thrust of the ministry of Jesus was (and is) always to overturn the artificial barriers we like to create to separate ourselves – all of the “isms.”
GOD IS SO MUCH BIGGER THAN THIS: God has always surprised men and women by moving outside and beyond the restrictions and the limitations we chose to impose in order to protect our preferred order of things.
To proclaim Christ with one hand and to willfully restrict the role of women with the other is an epic contradiction! Yet such chauvinism is a central practice in both this nation’s largest protestant denomination (the Southern Baptist Church) and the world’s dominant Christian faith (Roman Catholic) – as well as many other denominations.
THE RADICAL GOSPEL! If the church is going to position itself in this 21st Century as the conduit for the Gospel, speaking life-charged truth into this broken world, then it has got to move beyond these worn-out positions of exclusion and bigotry. God is so much more creative and life-affirming than a name used to prop up such small, intellectually stunted and culturally rooted inventions as, “We’re men, so we should be in charge.”
I mean really….
Well said Derek,Women have a wonderful ministry in the church.Love John Clements.John
Good post. If you look around at who is doing the physical work in many churches, it would be the women – married, single, single moms, married mothers, grandmothers, aunts, nieces, granddaughters, and daughters. If the women decide to take a break, what happens? Thankfully today there is also another trend – and it seems to be happening in the younger 20s-40s age group. Men are rising up to help the women pull the load of caring for the children, teaching the Connection Hour classes, cook/clean/set-up in the church kitchen, regularly attend a prayer group and so on. It’s been a delight to watch this happening in our church.
Good comment, Cheryl – thanks much
You did not highlight “Himself” used for God. God is not a man. Jesus was a man. The Holt Spirit may be refered ti as a woman. God is so much more.. I try to avoid language that refers to God as being male.
Interesting post. Very controversial…you wrote that “Bible is full of examples of God using women to lead God’s people”. Oh so very true.
I’ve often said I am a believer of the bible right up to the part where I get into its details and explore it too deeply. Then, for me, things begin to skew and not make sense. The Bible has many many examples of God telling men (God fearing and believing men), what to do with the women they capture, or kidnap, or just take against their will from other settlements. Like wise, their are the untold thousands of babies and children, and women, and animals that God inspired men to kill, but that’s for another time. I often think about that when we sing “Jesus loves the little children of the world”. Evidently, not so much, only judging by what is written.
All I can say is that at one point in time, in some situations, It certainly reads as if God approved of rape, murder and other atrocities, including the suppression/oppression of women. Else why would he have told his followers to do it? Is it because Gods ways are so far above our simplistic thinking we are not able to understand when rape and murder and enslavement, and slaughter of animals would be ok? After all, those are man-made terms…Or, maybe it didn’t really happen. I just don’t know. All I have to go on is a book that others claim to be infallible.
There are many parts of the bible that are incredibly violent, abhorrent, pornographic even. This Good Book…why don’t those parts ever come up in church?
Anyways…contradictions? You bet…Bible’s full of them.
I know you love it when I write to you…you probably just groan…
Human language is so incredibly fragile and in some cases is frightfully and absolutely inadequate to the task of describing the limitlessness of God. Try to describe, in mere huiman words of ANY language, the true incomprehensibility of the Trinity or of Jesus’s Resurrection or Ascension or the Virgin Birth or the Immaculate Conception. All of these utterly defy our ability to comprehend the mysteries of faith, the mysteria fide, in any form of language. And that’s the rub, isn’t it Thats how we have contradictions In the Pentateuch among the J, E, D, and P sources and the contradictions about the behaviors of the two thieves crucified with Jesus, especially the ultraromanticised account of the penitent thief in Luke who is absolutely not described as such in Matthew, Mark, or John. So the discussions go on and on ad infinitum. Peace and Blessings, Henry