My Worst Post, Ever.

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The worst post I have ever written is something nobody has ever called me out on. It’s the sort of thing that still gets something of a free pass in the circles I used to haunt. I could easily leave it alone, forget about it, and know that nobody really cares. It’s as easy as saying: “You can’t hold that against me, it’s not like I’ve done anything —ist recently.” But I think that an outstanding track record that says I’ve been on my best behavior never excuses the worst behavior I’ve ever had even if it was from years ago.

The thinking that underlies the post is that of someone who was raised in Christianity to believe certain things were unquestionably true – among them, the interpretation of Scripture as elaborated upon by the pastor of my church. That’s not to say that my pastor was the sort to say racist or sexist or whatever comments from the pulpit; but he wasn’t the sort of person to stress that one shouldn’t say such things either. I was taught that I was a righteous believer who would go to heaven when I die and anyone who wasn’t a believer would be eternally tormented in heaven. In order to save unbelievers from their fate, they would have confront the fact that they were sinners in need of salvation – anyone who doesn’t see themselves as a sinner will never understand the depth of their need for salvation.

This story was always punctuated by the story of the guy on the boat. You’ve probably heard it, but here it goes anyway: There’s this guy and his house is flooding. So his neighbor floats on by in his canoe and says, “Hey buddy, I’ve got a way out, come with me.” and the guy with the flooding house says: “No man, I’ve got this guy coming for me. You go on alone.” So the flood gets bad and the guy moves on up to the second story of his house. He’s sitting on his window ledge and this guy on a raft happens to float on by and says: “Dude, I’ve got plenty of room on this raft, hop on board and we’ll head for dry land.” The guy on the window shakes his head and says: “Thanks, but no thanks. My friend is coming for me and he promised that he won’t fail. Go help other people who really need it. I’ll be fine.” Things go downhill fast – and soon the guy is sitting on his roof, watching the water slowly rise. Finally, a boat comes by: “I’m your last chance, get on board if you want to live.” But the guy on his roof was adamant that he had help on the way. The guy on the boat didn’t stick around to see if he would change his mind. That night, the water rose and swept him away. As he approached the gates of heaven, he asked God: “Why didn’t you send me help?” To which God said: “I sent you the canoe, the raft, and the boat – it was you who refused to be saved and perished.

The point was that as Christians, we were the canoes, rafts, and boats that God was sending to the foolish sinners to tell them what they needed to know in order for them to be saved. Anyone who was so caught up in their own sin that they refused to see the obvious truth before them was deserving of the destruction that God had prepared for them. Now when I had written the worst post ever, it was during the height of the animosity against a group of sinning sinners who stood opposed to the plain truth of the scriptures. We were taught that love wasn’t to accept the sin that a person was up to, but to stage something like an intervention – make it clear that the behavior was unacceptable and harmful; after all, their eternal soul was at stake and a little discomfort here on the earthly plain was far better than eternal torture. In this way, equating the wrong behavior to an actual wrong behavior was much the same thing – we were taught that sin is lawlessness, and breaking the law – by a white lie or by premeditated murder were equal offenses in God’s law-book; and since both the smallest and greatest act of lawbreaking had the same punishment, then so would every sin in-between. So breaking God’s moral law was the same as breaking a regular law – particularly when the regular law was likely based from God’s moral law – so far as I was taught. It seems worth noting that these ideas weren’t elaborated as such, but more or less blanks that each believer was expected to fill on his or her own once they had been trained to think just the right way.
This is the worst post I have ever written.

it shows me how far I’ve come and how much further I have yet to go; but it worries me most knowing that there’s this strain of thinking that goes unchecked in Christianity because it acceptable. It’s not in just one church in just one town in just one state – but it’s like a little yeast that has been worked throughout the whole dough – bloating it. Because we think of sin and wrongness in these certain terms, then being holy and righteous becomes a free pass to take whatever measures are necessary to wipe the slate clean.

Since nobody has called me out on it, I choose to call myself out on it. I was wrong; I’m so very deeply sorry about the lies I used to believe and spread about people I had never met and had no way of knowing how many of them were kind, decent, honest people just like me and in some cases far better and more gracious than me. I was just parroting what I was taught. I wasn’t thinking for myself. A lot has changed in seven years – most notably the passage of the Marriage Equality Act – but long before then my perspective had begun to change. Even as I was being taught about how evil those unrepentant sinners were, I had begun to get to know one. From the first day I walked into school as the new kid, everybody told me that Brock was one of them. His friends were my friends, which sort of made him my friend. He was also very open about it, talking about guys the same way that the girls did. I remember listening as one boy told him: “When you first came out, all I wanted to do was to pound your face in … but now, I don’t feel that way anymore.” Brock would be about my age today – had he not committed suicide. He never saw the Marriage Equality Act passed.

Then, of course, there was that house. The one where the murder had taken place that had something to do with that sin or so the rumor went. Every day to and from school we’d glance over and see the ever-present “For Sale – Reduced Price!” sign. Even nearly two decades after the crime it haunted the community. I had to ask – how was it loving for a Christian’s first reaction to be to beat someone up? How was it loving to ostracize people who didn’t fit in or measure up to our expectations? How was it loving to spread rumors that others were one of them without ever really getting to know them in the first place?

Even as all this played it’s part, there was also the mounting tension in Christianity – watching Westboro Church march around the country using language even I would not use – derogatory words meant to insult and shame people … I couldn’t see that as being loving or working as an effort to scare people to stop sinning and sign up for heaven. The Boy Scouts had changed their policies, which resulted in a great many churches pulling out their support, kicking them out of their building, and creating an alternative that taught only the things that met with Christian approval. As well as the reverse on the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy. From what I could tell, the secular world was realizing that to some degree it had been participating in oppressing a group of people and were trying to make amends, the Church, on the other hand, were trying to keep their power intact at the expense of oppressing others.

Then there were Bible study books that my church elder lead – “Right Thinking in a World Gone Wrong” by John MacArthur’s ministry team and “Tipping the Scales” by Dr. James Kennedy’s ministry team. The former says: “It should be noted that I am using the descriptive term ‘Christian’ with qualification. I fully understand that a person who is homosexual or effeminate is not a true believer no matter how passionate their claim (cf. 1 Corinthians 6:9-11).” – the bulk of the chapter argues that the two are mutually exclusive identities. It advises: “Then bridges need to be burned in that person’s life to make the repetition of the sin difficult (cf. Mark 9:42-50). If the person has friends (even so-called Christians) who encourage this sin, those friendships must end immediately. If the bridge is a co-worker or the work environment, the person needs to change jobs. Any pipeline that fuels the sin of homosexuality must be severed. Of course, the counselee must then focus on friends, activities, and thinking that will facilitate righteousness (cf. Colossians 3:5-11).” Sure, Christianity could be interpreted to say that it applies to all sorts of sinners, liars, tax evaders, people who abuse their authority over others – all it would require is to isolate everyone on an island and cut off all human contact. It rounds out the chapter with the charge that sexual relationships are a matter of worship and not being complementarian is akin to idolatry. The latter features two chapters were former homosexual sinners and now fully heterosexual Christians spoke about their experiences and the efforts of the gay agenda as it relates to their actions in Washington D.C. affecting the laws and policies that were being made at the time the conference was given – when Bill Clinton was president.It’s almost a picture of us vs. them locked in a David vs. Goliath battle of saints trying to lovingly rescue sinners.

It took getting to know a few members of the LGBT community as friends and relatives for me to begin to see that my churches weren’t being entirely honest. They had interpreted scripture by twisting verses out of context and erasing any cultural or historical background from the Bible that allowed for other valid interpretations that they would rather ignore than admit the possibility that they have got it wrong. They made it a point not to say anything overtly racist or sexist or whatever, but they also made it a point not to call out anyone who did – as evidenced by nobody calling me out on my post that I had written years ago. They had so effectively poisoned the well that I almost didn’t give those sinners a chance to be my friend lest they contaminate me and cause me to lose my salvation – it’s a good thing that God foiled the church’s questionable teaching. The church has come a long way, but not long enough to stop itself from doing damage. It’s responsible for every child a parent kicks out of their home in the name of tough love, every time a kid beats up another kid because the saint wants to show his love for the sinner, for every broken relationship in the name of fixing a “counselee” – this and so much more hateful things have been done in the name of a sort of love that isn’t really love at all – because love does no harm and this love is nothing but harm.

There is one thing I did get right in my worst post ever, that there is a greater law that all of us are going to answer to. What I failed to understand back then that there’s no law involved – but grace as a result of true love – this kind of love: ” Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

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Odd Combination

When we first moved to the county and began to look for churches, we eagerly searched for contemporary worship services. Our last church, which was non-denominational, had been a refreshing change from the one before.

The church before also offered a contemporary worship style, but it was dated – singing older new songs more frequently and newer songs much less frequently. But for the contemporary music it offered, it’s theology took a turn into complementarianism in a big way. What that meant was that as members of the youth group, the girls would be shamed into stop volunteering to lead prayers (because they shouldn’t) and the boys would be shamed into volunteering to lead prayers (because they should). Apparently, the adult classes would regularly go over Ephesians 5:22-33 where the women would be shamed into stop leading their families (because they shouldn’t) and the men would be shamed into starting to lead their families (because they should). You see, this teaching didn’t fit my family and we weren’t interested in trying to squeeze ourselves into such narrow rules trying to make ourselves fit them. The church had changed, or perhaps we had changed too much for the church to accept us or our beliefs. We were asking questions, dangerous questions, apparently. Was the pastor right in saying that the only way to be saved was to believe that every word he preached was true? That Creationism, Immersion Baptism, and whatever else he taught were nonnegotiable must-have rights of passage to be accepted into heaven? What about my Catholic friend? What if she didn’t believe as my friends and I had been taught all our lives? Would she burn in the fires of hell for having a different understanding of Jesus? Surely, if Jesus is all we need, then is it even necessary to believe in Creationism or Complementarianism? The last sermon we listened to the pastor, he referred to a popular drink among us members of the youth group – suicide. It’s when you can’t decide which kind of pop you want to drink so you mix a little bit of all of them all together. What he was saying that to mix together different theologies was the equivalent of spiritual suicide which would condemn us to Hell. Not only did we have to believe the right things the right way, any mixed up beliefs wouldn’t save us. It was then that I realized that from the start I never had pure beliefs. You see, my grandparents church belonged to another denomination that taught differently. After going through all this, we had begun to be wary of the Creationism/Complementarian theology. We thought that the non-denominational church would avoid having the same problem. Sadly, they also believed in it. Surely, we hoped, when we moved to the new state and county there wouldn’t be any of this toxic teaching.

We were wrong. We found a good contemporary church – but in our time there a deacon used his power to push for more complementarian teachings. When we asked some serious questions about it – they made their position clear. So we knew that the welcome mat would no longer be left out for us. The next church didn’t really push complementarianism, but it was a by-law, something that their actions revealed in the responsibilities and interactions of men and women.

So we tried another denomination – Methodism. For the first time in over a decade there was no complementarian teachings, but we also had to sacrifice contemporary worship.

I said all of that to think about the relationship between contemporary worship and complementarian teaching. It feels like a ‘bait and switch’ tactic, but I know that it goes deeper. Some of it might be fear – fear of being viewed as a church that’s too far to the left, a church that had no regard for sin. Why, a contemporary church with egalitarian teaching might hire a woman as a pastor, or let women teach men, or let men teach children, or let men cook. They might be okay with same-sex families or have no problem with polygamous families. The authority of the Bible would be questioned and all Hell would literally break lose. Many of the churches in this region that are contemporary and complementarian are also Southern Baptist, but they tend to directly indicate that is what they are. Their signs might say “community church” or “worship center”, they might belong to a church association or network that doesn’t clearly mention it’s an off-shoot of the Southern Baptists, but they’re as deeply entrenched and widely spread in this region as kudzu is.

In this county, a massive contemporary / complementarian church had an epic split not that long ago. Since I’ve visited the church only a few times, I’m more of an outsider than an insider. One would think that such a church, built on biblical inerrancy, a fledgling mega-church in and of itself would be tough on sin. But that could very well have been the thing that made the house of cards fall (along with word-of faith type prosperity gospel teaching and legalistic tithing requirements). Half of it’s elders (all men, by the way) left. It’s entire staff also quit. It’s youth pastor became the new lead pastor of the second church. Both churches are now shells of what they used to be – but both remain contemporary / complementarian churches. I don’t think that being contemporary or teaching complementarianism directly lead to the split – but were they a traditional church, fewer people would have been involved. Were the egalitarian then some of the underlying issues wouldn’t have been as likely to have happened.

We haven’t yet found a contemporary church that doesn’t teach complementarianism. So I have to wonder what the connection is that keeps them together. Contemporary worship is all about doing things differently as they were done before. Complementarian teaching is all about doing things exactly the same as they were done before. So on any given Sunday, the congregation might sing “Come as you are to worship …” and yet hear a sermon decrying the evils of non-traditional families. Somehow ‘new’ and ‘old’ together seem to be a common pattern for this region in the form of contemporary complementarian and traditional egalitarian churches. While odds are good that there are traditional complementarian churches; I wonder what explains the absence of contemporary egalitarian churches.

When I talk about this problem, people constantly tell me the same thing, if you don’t like McDonalds, go eat at Burger King. That’s easier said than done when the only restaurants in town are all McDonalds and the nearest Burger King is a few hours away – just far enough to be too long of a drive and too difficult to become a member to participate in events and parties. Some who live in cities don’t understand why there aren’t at least one of each McDonald, Burger King, Sonic, Rally’s, Steak’n’Shakes, Hardee’s, A&W, White Castle, Five Guys Burger and Fries, and Culver’s in each and every community. Truth is, most of them are far too small to support such a varied array of burger joints. Same goes for churches, almost all of the churches in my county belong to the same denomination, they offer the same music and the same teaching from one to the next. The only thing that varies are the people you’ll meet when you go there. This is to illustrate that there is usually very little choice one has as to which church to join. Most of the denominations don’t exist out here – and the ones that do exist out here aren’t very different from one church to the next.

It’s a miserable reality – to have known something that was good in contemporary worship, but to have experienced a lot of frustration with complementarian teaching. To have known something that was good in egalitarian teaching but the same frustration with traditional worship. I thought that the solution was to just bring along my MP3 player, but getting an opportunity to listen to my music is never easy. So we’ve discovered something of a compromise; to continue attending the traditional egalitarian church in the morning and to stream through the internet a contemporary egalitarian church service in the evening.

That Time When She Prayed

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Mum’s the Word – or is it?

I almost didn’t hear the pastor calling my name, but it finally registered. Since the hall was a little loud, he directed me to follow him into the back of the sanctuary where the noise of the crowd was less distracting. He showed me a piece of paper with the parts that were to be read to the audience during the lighting of the advent candle – he asked for me to read the last part – the prayer: “Let us pray: Thank you God for the love you give us. We ask that as we wait for all your promises to come true, and for Christ to come again, that you would remain present with us. Help us today and everyday to worship you, to hear your word, and to do your will by sharing your love with each other. We ask it in the name of the one who was born in Bethlehem. Amen.

Such a thing would be considered unbiblical at my old church; these sorts of things were usually done by families – only under the headship (a.k.a. authority) of a father or husband would a daughter or wife be allowed to read from the pulpit and he had to be physically present and visible for it to count. I remember that even in youth group the youth pastor would always tell us girls that God really wanted to hear from the boys, which was his way of saying “No, girls can’t lead prayer when there are boys in the room, too.” It sort of gave me the impression that talking to God was a solemn matter that women just weren’t made for. Which was why men were the ones who prayed and taught out of the Bible, telling us what the Bible says that women and men can and cannot do. For the most part, they were right that the Bible said what they said it said, but it seemed as if they were teaching it in ways to say things that the Bible doesn’t say. Which is why we couldn’t stay under that teaching and eventually left the denomination.

So it was a big thing to me to be asked to read a part and even bigger for it to be the prayer. I read it swimmingly and nothing terrible happened – I wasn’t turned into a pillar of salt, smote by lightening, or afflicted by a disease. It makes me wonder, just what was my old church afraid of? That I would get a taste, decide it was good, and sign up for a seminary to become a preacher? That I might be really good at it? That my ministry would draw people to hear the Word the God and through hearing, have faith in Him? Or do they fear the worst case scenario: a woman preacher who misinterprets scripture and deceives the droves of people with itching ears? (As if men hadn’t been doing that from the very start!) Is the Word of God so fragile, so ineffective that the same sentence that a man says has less power, less truth, less effect when spoken from the lips of a woman?

My old church’s denomination is big on inerrancy, it’s part of the foundation they used to pull the rug out from under moderate and liberal Christians who taught in their seminaries, they used it to vote in like-minded leaders to control and shape the teachings coming from the seminaries, and they used it to dis-fellowship churches that defied their interpretation – particularly, they would kick out all churches who called upon women to serve as pastors out of their denomination. This was the last straw that caused a few hundred churches to voluntarily leave the denomination and form their own where they could and would be allowed to hire women as pastors.

I always thought that it was in-congruent to say that the Bible was infallible and inerrant as if it were indestructible and also suggest that women who read it aloud in public are violating it’s commandments and women who preach it from a pulpit are destroying the very fabric of space-time which will result in an implosion or an extinction level event. I know that it’s a serious thing because I’ve read story after story – how some women who step up to the pulpit watch the men get up, turn their chairs around, and sit back down with their backs facing her so they don’t have to look at her talk. Some women watch the men just get up and leave the room. Sometimes women are allowed to speak (not preach) from the front (not on the stage) or on the stage from a music stand (not a pulpit). I saw one woman speak about an upcoming adoption while her husband stood beside her on the stage, giving an occasional “that’s right” to the points that his wife was giving letting her do 95% of the talking. Of course, this tends to lead to a bias. If men are better at preaching and teaching then women, then women’s ministries taught by other women must be inferior by comparison to mixed gender ministries taught by men. Which really doesn’t explain the popularity of many women’s ministries from which both men and women learn from and teach from. I wonder what impression this gives little girls? Does it show them that they might correctly understand the Bible at home but incorrectly understand it in public? Does it tell them that they can only go so far and do so much as other women do? Will they come to believe that on their own they cannot get the most out of scripture, but under the authority of a man, a teacher, they will learn more than they possibly could otherwise?

In all this, there’s remarkably little opportunity for single women to serve the church in these capacities; since a husband is required to speak from the music stand on the stage, I know that the things I have to say will probably go unsaid. At least for the people who aren’t ready for change will get to have their way awhile longer, but it won’t always be this way; and I look forward to seeing what the future holds when there are no limits on what anyone can do. At least there’s something for me in this other church and that’s what gives me hope that Christianity will one day look back at our rules and realize that we used to love them a lot more than we loved people, but that’s not so anymore.

By the way, If you’re from a church that’s not like my old one, please don’t take it for granted; also feel free to speak up and suggest that you have more women speaking if it’s been awhile since the last one did – in the whole year I’ve attended my new church, we’ve only had one woman preach the message, and she did it twice. That’s just not often enough to make it normal and when it’s not normal then it’s not normally done.

No Change

Christianity is supposed to be announcing good news to the poor, proclaiming freedom to the prisoners, recovery of sight for the blind, and setting the oppressed free (Luke 4:18). Sometimes though – it doesn’t really seem to change much of anything.

One Christian group was so eager to bring back an old custom, that they failed to realize that were creating a binding rule that didn’t change things for women converting from Islam to Christianity; instead they brought Christian practice more in accordance with Islam by requiring women to wear head coverings. Thankfully, it’s a small movement with very little traction.

Likewise, gender roles teachings reinforces the cultural norms of many societies and does not challenge them to improve or change the reality in which many people live in. Today, we had guest speakers from Uganda. The ministry serving a particular village is working hard by making fresh, clean water more available, making children’s education a priority, and helping to empower women by teaching them crafts that they can sell in order to support their families. Last month, I discussed complementarianism with a woman from Malawi. I happened to look at the statistics for her country and realized that African women live in a context that’s vastly different than the 1950s gender role standards that American Christians tends to emphasize.

The brochure the speaker left us says: “Women and children were expected to provide for the family, and men did very little but drink. Men would eat first and the women and children would get what was left over.” (As a result, malnutrition was rampant.) Complementarianism says that men are the head of the family. That means they make the decisions – if the man wants to be the one that works so that his wife and children do not have to work then that’s acceptable. But if the man wants to be the one that doesn’t work, then his wife and children have little choice but to work and that’s acceptable too, all that matters is that the husband made the decision and the wife has to obey it and deal with the consequences as best she can no matter what decision was made. Some American Christians actually emphasize that men should go to seminary and that their wives ought to have the burden of both earning money and raising the children. Do Christianity’s gender role teachings improve the lot of women? It doesn’t seem to really change anything, it just requests that everyone be nicer about it.

Can you imagine an episode of ‘Leave it to Beaver’ or any other 1950s family sit-com set in an African context? If you can’t, it’s probably because in general, we know very little about the typical African’s day – how early they wake up, how long they have to walk to get water or to school (6-12 miles), how dangerous the journey is because bad guys are lying in wait to ambush vulnerable people, how sickness and disease meant that daily somebody in your life would be dead before the end of the day, if not your neighbor, possibly a family member. Gender role teachings only reinforce the cultural norms that they already know – that women bear and raise children, keep the house, and do everything in their power to keep everyone clothed, fed, and alive until the next day while their husbands are supposed to do something equally important and different from what the women do. With teaching such as headship, it will only give a divine stamp of approval on the basic framework of what exists and only ask for minor changes that may not amount very much change at all. You see, around a certain age (13), young women drop out of school because they’re all grown up. Or, more precisely, they’re grown up enough to get married, start a family, and do what their mothers have done since they were the same age. Because she can expect to spend the rest of her life in that context, then education beyond that age is a dream that will never be fulfilled, a child’s fantasy that will never be realized. From that time on, her days are numbered. Without health care, having children is risky enough. Being a young widow or a widow with children or having married into a family that has four children from the previous two wives (who both died in childbirth) just underscores the reality of the danger that gender role teachings pressures women to comply with cultural expectations because God said as much millennia ago.

This leads me to draw the conclusion that complementarianism is just wrong. It’s off. It’s not right. If Christianity doesn’t change things for the better, then what is it good for? Perhaps it’s just easier to see why gender roles teachings do more harm than good in a society where cultural gender roles aren’t that great. In our context, women have greater freedoms in our culture to have dreams and to fulfill them, women’s education continues past the age of thirteen and we have the option of delaying marriage and motherhood as women can support themselves on their own. But I submit that if gender roles teachings don’t work in an African or Indian or Asian or Chinese context, then it must not really work in an American context either. Somewhere or other, these unwritten rules about who can do what because of the gender they were born as has caused no end of frustration and problems. When God came to free the oppressed, as Jesus he set the example of treating women with the utmost respect and he ignored the protocols of gender roles in his own first century Jewish context. I don’t think that God’s sole purpose is to ensure marriage and motherhood (or fatherhood) but to get us to see that what matters is loving our neighbor. That’s something all of us can and should do. If we do that, we will change everything.

Unequal Positions

Harold Finch: (On chess.) “It’s a useful mental exercise. Through the years, many thinkers have been fascinated by it. But I don’t enjoy playing… Because it was a game that was born during a brutal age when life counted for little. Everyone believed that some people were worth more than others. Kings. Pawns. I don’t think that anyone is worth more than anyone else… Chess is just a game. Real people are not pieces. You can’t assign more value to some of them and not others. Not to me. Not to anyone. People are not a thing that you can sacrifice. The lesson is, if anyone who looks on to the world as if it is a game of chess, deserves to lose. “

Queen Isabella once noted that the queen was the weakest piece in the game of chess – only able to move once and only diagonally. She asked her advisers if they thought her that feeble. Their response was to make her one of the most powerful pieces in the game. In the last several centuries, we have seen how queens can rule their nation, go to war, and win the hearts and minds of her subjects just as capably as kings can. But the game of chess also represents a time when people thought that some people had greater value than others, and some people could be sacrificed while others could not. Thankfully, it is only a game.

But Christianity has a problem in that while it teaches that everyone should be equal and should be treated the same, it doesn’t always happen because there are some who believe that the role of women was different and secondary to that of men. They go on to say that men and women are equal, but women are subordinate to men in position.

Position is one of those words that has lots of possible meanings – (1) A situation or set of circumstances, especially one that affects one’s power to act. (2) The state of being placed where one has an advantage over one’s rivals in a competitive situation. (3) A person’s place or rank in relation to others, especially in a competitive situation. And (4) a high rank or social standing. Position doesn’t seem to suggest equality, now does it?

But that’s from our modern point of view. If we’re to argue for the Biblical use of position, we have to understand how that plays out. In those days, the ‘position’ of men was always over women. The ‘position’ of the wealthy was always over the poor. The ‘position’ of the elders was always over the youth. The ‘position’ of the free was always over the ‘position’ of the slaves. The ‘position’ of the citizen was always over the foreigner. The ‘position’ of adults was always over children. Not only that, but they represented concentric circles, the ‘position’ of a free woman was over the enslaved man. The ‘position’ of the citizen woman was over the foreigner woman. In practice, the only thing ‘equal’ was that there were two human beings being compared, everything about their life could be weighed to decide which one was ‘more equal’ than the other. ‘Position’ doesn’t suggest equality, it screams inequality.

‘But …’, as some often argue, ‘just as the son submitted to the father, he is equally God and yet subordinate in position; so are women to be submit to men, as equal persons and yet subordinate in position.’ That is reminiscent of an ancient heresy called the Eternal Subordination of the Son (E.S.S.) it was the one that represented the school of thought of Arianism and is the whole reason why Athanasius fought for the creation of trinitarian doctrine. The Athanasian Creed is named for him and includes this line: “And in this Trinity none is before, or after another; none is greater, or less than another. But the whole three Persons are coeternal, and coequal.” We fail to understand what Jesus meant when he said that “I and the father are one” (John 10:30) when we permanently divide the two we call Jesus something of a liar. After all, how can He and the Father be one, of He is to be subordinate to the Father forever? They must be different people in different positions. But this isn’t so much about the trinity, it’s about men and women and being ‘equal but different’, it’s about position. A subordinate is (1) lower in rank or position, (2) usually a person who is under the authority or control of another within an organization, and (3) as a verb it means to treat or regard as of lesser importance than something else. Like the word ‘position’ there’s an inherent inequality in it.

The ancient world, I think, would have taken it all in stride. Aristotle wrote in Politics book 2 that some men were born to be slaves out of their very nature. He also noted that some people are made slaves, despite having the nature of a free person because they were warriors captured on the field of battle or they were children of slaves who were not necessarily born with the slave nature. Aristotle wrote that husbands had the ‘rule’ of their household, that as masters, they absolute control over their living tools (slaves), that as father’s they have absolute control over their children no matter how old they were, and that as husbands they had absolute control of their wives. Wives, apparently, had the same sort of nature as their husbands, being free citizens, but they lacked the authority of their husbands. Which is why they could ‘borrow’ the authority of their husbands to carry out his wishes when he was away from home – to order the slaves around, to give commands to the servants, and tell the children what to do. Their world could not have conceived of the unprecedented equality that we live in every day. So when Christians aim to live in a ‘Biblical’ way of thinking, they have to accept inequality as a way of life. To do that, they have to commit heresy against the trinity. Athanasius’ solution would be to expel the whole lot of people who would think of Jesus as less than God in any way, shape, or form. But I suspect we can take solace in that such drastic measures are ‘too little, too late’ to be worth the trouble. The best we can do is to understand what we believe and why we believe it – as well as the implications of what those beliefs lead to when taken to their fullest extreme.

Which Christianity is right?

These days I’m feeling lost between two Christianities. There’s the Christianity where I know that Jesus wants us to treat everyone with respect, put the needs of others before ourselves – and what that looks like is visiting the ill, imprisoned, feeding the hungry, providing clothes, caring for the widows and orphans – which are the down-and-out and under-represented people who are often over-looked or forgotten. There’s this other Christianity where I know that the most important thing is going to church, listening to the teachings, obeying the pastors, elders, and deacons, and easing their burden by making it a delight for them to serve us by living according to our roles –  men as men doing the things that men do and women as women doing the things that women do.

On Sunday, we were discussing one of the passages where a woman of the night walks into the dining room of a powerful Pharisee where Jesus is feasting and anoints his feet. The question came up: “Isn’t that trespassing?” To which I pointed out that our concept of public and private space isn’t analogous to the Biblical reality. Communal spaces – living rooms, dining rooms, and courtyards, for instance were more like public spaces. That’s why in Matthew 9, Jesus could have dinner with Matthew and his disciples, many more tax collectors and sinners could sit down to eat with them without raising alarm, and the Pharisees, who could see this going on, could stop and ask the disciples what Jesus was up to. Same thing happens at Levi’s house in Mark 2. Could you imagine such a thing in your dining room? (If you really want to learn something, look up a triclinium – the ancient Israelites of this era ate while lying down on them while balancing on their left arms and reaching for food with their right.) At the end of class, many of the people there were saying that I should be a teacher because I know so much.

Now I know that the first Christianity would have no problem with that – Jesus didn’t specify that only a certain kind of person can fulfill the great commission, be teachers, be helpers, be givers, be visitors – anyone and everyone is expected to do whatever they can in according with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But the second Christianity would consider it unbiblical. I really wouldn’t want to be a teacher if it was limited to pushing the play button on the DVD Player or doing it according to the step-by-step instructions in most Bible Studies. But I guess I shouldn’t worry because spiritual instruction and insight can only come from men.

That’s the one thing about these two Christianities that has me most confused. What is it about being a woman that makes my knowledge of lesser quality, my insights worthy of less consideration, or contributions limited to only ‘out of sight’ ministries in one Christianity but not the other? What is it about men being men makes them better at visiting the ill or the imprisoned, donating to charities, providing coats, feeding the hungry, or championing the causes of the oppressed in all of the ‘visible’ ministries? Which Christianity is the right one? The one that is all about works backing up one’s faith, or faith without works? I don’t know. Perhaps the division is half the problem – we need a Christianity that is united and has erased these and other dividing lines – not one that continues to separate, subtract, and divide.

On Men (meaning men and women)

According to C.S. Lewis, when society believed in an objective truth, it crafted an educational system that consisted of older men teaching manhood to younger men. However, now that society believes that truth is subjective, it creates men who are conditioned to exacting standards in much the same way animals are raised to exacting standards so that they can be processed as food. The result is ‘men without chests’, or a generation of adults who have no heart, no sentiment, and no morality.

I couldn’t help but wonder – what of the women? Perhaps C.S. Lewis was using ‘men’ in the general sense – in which case it would include women. Perhaps he wasn’t thinking of women at all because the illustrated suggested that wisdom was personified as a woman who was usually wearing a wedding dress. It’s odd, isn’t it; that a woman is the personification of women and yet no thought is given to the education of daughters. When traditional education is men teaching manhood to men, then women are either learning manhood or they’re not learning anything at all.

One thing to consider is that C.S. Lewis is the product of his education – starting with boarding schools and culminating with his career as a professor. His academic world was one of men who thought up, talked about, wrote about, and read the work of other men. In his world, there were only a few women who had manged to reach that glass ceiling and even then they weren’t on the same level as him and his fellow men. As an academic, he would have been in a world that frequently used ‘man’ in the general sense of ‘human.’ He wouldn’t have given proverbs like: ‘No man is an island.’ or ‘One man’s trash is another man’s treasure.’ or ‘You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make him drink.’ a second thought because while ‘man’ can be used in a general sense for ‘human’ it’s hardly ever done in English.

In my second language, whenever a group of men and women are being referred to, the plural masculine word is used: “los niños” could mean “the boys” or “the children (including girls)” and “los maestros” could mean “the male teachers” or “the teachers (including women).” I often find that when I see such words, I almost automatically think of it as “the boys” or “the male teachers” before I think of them as “the children” or “the teachers (both men and women)”. In English, we hardly use ‘men’ to refer to a group of men and women. If we mean ‘men and women’ we say ‘men and women’ or ‘ladies and gentlemen’. This is a peculiarity to our society. So too, when I see words such as “man”, “men”, “he”, “his”, or “him” I think of guys first and foremost. Take a look at the Bible. It’s largely androcentric – written by men, to men, using masculine pronouns except in the few instances where women are specifically referred to in ways differing from the way that men are addressed. This created a problem, one group of translators decided to adhere to the cultural tendency to use masculine terms in a general sense, so they used ‘brothers’ or ‘brethren’ where the other group of translators opted to say ‘brothers and sisters’ or ‘people’. The former group decried the efforts of the latter as sacrilege and managed to get the companies to pull the gender neutral language Bibles off of the shelves from the major stores. What message does that send?

Which got me into trouble with my youth pastor who preached on the brothers of the early church and emphasized the brotherhood of all believers. He was not amused when I asked, “What about the sisters?” Remember that illustration about wisdom being a woman? If it’s a natural and righteous relationship for a man to pursue and marry a woman (wisdom), then what is to be said of the relationship between a woman and the woman (wisdom)? If the purpose of education is for men to teach manhood to men, then why bother educating women to the same level? Would that not be teaching a woman the nature of manhood, which is contrary to design? After all, there is this objective truth that does not change and would have it be so.

Which is to use a lot words to say that: “The nature of manhood is an objective truth.” Meaning that whatever generations of fathers taught their sons and teachers taught their students is that which should continue to be taught as long as humans exist. There’s just a slight problem with that. Not all aspects of traditional masculinity were ideals that ought to be enshrined. After all, it’s a system of beliefs that inherently exclude women (for being feminine) and men that are unable to measure up. It seems to me that the whole argument isn’t just about educating children to prepare them for a future, but using a theory to indoctrinate children to grow up to be adults who believe certain things about what it is to be men or women. The odd thing is that C.S. Lewis argued that it would be nonsensical to compare the educational level of a student from the past to the present. Shouldn’t it be the same for masculinity? Sure, an 1880s cowboy might be inherently masculine, but is he ‘more’ or ‘less’ masculine than a 1930s factory worker? What about compared to a 2010 computer programmer? The question becomes what the measure of masculinity is and how to measure up different people to it.

But what if the nature of the world contains both objective truth and subjective truth – the objective truth that morality is necessary for a healthy society, but a subjective truth about what the nature of masculinity and femininity is? A subjective truth that changes with the times and the people who mold it. If we continue to live in a ‘one or the other’ world, then we will continue to exist in a place that divides men and women, truth and falsehood, wisdom and folly into two opposing camps where one is right and the other wrong, one is good and the other is evil. That’s the sort of thinking that got us into this mess. We need to accept the subjective thinking that allows the lines to be blurred where they need be to give us the freedom to change when and where we need to so that each person can be empowered and not indoctrinated.