Tuesday, March 04, 2008

Shut up, Woman! Aren't You a Christian?

Why Christian men despise women... And what you can do about it...

We were sitting on the couch, and Jer was leafing through a photo album of his trip to Florida. Heather, his wife, wasn't home. We were due back for class in an hour, but for now, we were content to chill and hang out. He showed me pictures of the beach, and I was nodding along until a picture of him and Heather made me sit up straight.

"You let her wear that?"


I was almost afraid to look at it.

"Dude, your wife is wearing a bikini!"

He looked at me and laughed, and despite the obvious consternation on my face, he didn't bother pursuing it. He knew better.

At the time, you couldn't have convinced me of anything other than the simple fact that my friend was being loose with his wife. That he should be checking to ensure she didn't act in an inappropriate manner like that. Wasn't he her husband? If I ever married, my wife would never act in that manner, I reassured myself. A bikini? What was this world coming to?

I was twenty-one years old.

14 Years Later
The lecture had finished, and I stood inside the little foyer at the retreat center, pouring myself a coffee and trying not to eat too many cookies. I approached Patricia (all the names have been changed in this blog, but the stories are true) to thank her for her openness in the last session. She'd been a minister for eleven years, and as we talked, she began to share some of her experiences as a woman in ministry.

As an associate pastor, her and her church had put together a joint service with another church. The other church was currently being served by an interim pastor. When they spoke and began to plan the service, it made sense that she would be the one to preach. When the board of the other church found out, however, that a woman would be preaching, they cancelled the service. Patricia, showing great humility, did not force her way into the pulpit. Instead, she demurred, but in every other facet ran the joint service. As she greeted the people in the foyer afterwards, the women were genuinely surprised that she was an actual woman minister. The men, however, did not disguise their disgust, snarling and making snide comments as they exited the building.

This is the environment she has worked in for the past eleven years. Funny, gentle, disarming, educated, Patricia has all the qualities you hope for in a minister. Except she isn't a man.
A friend down in Texas has three kids, and she wrote me recently, telling me how trapped she feels in her marriage. Her husband controls every aspect of her life, he never helps around the house, and he is unwilling to admit when he is wrong, insisting that as a woman her role is to simply forgive and move on. He is a prominent pastor, and whenever she has had the courage to mention it to someone, she is told that he 'is working for the Lord.' That she is to be his helpmate. That she is to deny herself and follow Jesus. She no longer knows who she is, and inside her soul is dying, but she sucks it up because she thinks that maybe this is what God wants for her.

She is a woman.

Another friend recently married. Her family life has been marred by a litany of emotional struggle and abuse, but this man, this Christian man, seemed like a dream. Until she got sick. He has decided that she is not positive enough, and he has walked away until she is more joyful for the Lord. He is commended within his community for being a strong, positive role model. Meanwhile, she faces an uphill battle with a life of unsurety, while he 'pursues the Lord'.

She is a woman.

Another friend recently wrote me about her situation. She has three kids, and hasn't worked since she and her husband married nine years ago. She asked him about work, but he has always discouraged her, reminding her that the first years are important. He also controls her life. She has no bank account of her own, because her husband claims that there should be no secrets within the marriage. When she spends money, he always wants to know why. When she calls or speaks with a man, he wants to know why. He is allowed to speak to whomever he chooses. However, openness is important to the Lord. She bravely tries to live on the compliments of the church. That she is such a wonderful role model, that her husband is very lucky. But lately these comments don't mean very much, because she realizes exactly what she is.

She is a woman.

Over and over, I am besieged this past year of stories from friends and coworkers and colleagues, of women trapped and frustrated by these seemingly loving Christian men they have chosen as their life mates. It is, in a word, heartbreaking.

Especially so because I have been there. That is, I too, once believed as these men believed. That women were designed for a different role. This past month, we were forced to read a textbook on leadership that gave two forms to fill out when examining some things we need for leadership. The form for women did not include any intellectual capacity, and filled with terms like 'loving your children'. It was a harrowing and distasteful read.

At what point did we decide that women were not equal to men? At what point did women simply start accepting it?

We know in our society that men dominate women. One in four women willed be sexually attacked by the time they are twenty, and that is the women who report it. But shouldn't the church be different? How have we turned the ministry of Jesus, who radically upended the view of how women should be treated, and reverted to this idea that everyone is equal... except for women? How have we turned the cultural letters of Paul into a doctrine for this continual, systematic abuse? Had William Wilberforce simply echoed the cry of the confederates, that slavery was in the Bible (the book of Philemon) without understanding the Biblical principle of equality for all, perhaps we would still have slavery today. Most Christians would agree slavery is wrong, but when it comes to women, well, Steve, don't you need to be more moderate?

This past semester, I have been pursued, sent angry emails, called out and castigated for my 'radical' views. I am followed, frowned at, and as I've recently found out, am talked about in churches outside the school. Most of the time, the people who are most upset are men. White males, specifically. But occasionally it is a woman. I don't say this because I am special, but because the nature of what I teach is so... mundane. Women are equal to men. Every person is deserving of our love. Doctrine can be dangerous. Mercy is always first. Isn't that what Jesus taught?

I ask this because, and as this blog is especially painful to write, I have not always thought that way. I, too, once believed that I was better than women. Better than quite a few people, actually. Better than the sinners and God-haters out there, I was always quick to delineate what made me special.

However, only one truth matters.

I am special because God loves me.

So are you.

It doesn't matter that I am a man, or that I am white, or that I am straight. What matters is that Jesus died for me, that there is now no longer black or white, Greek or Jew, male or female.
Except there is...

Because, I am a man.

The truth is that we have embraced this seeming bland form of inequality and hatred within our fold without challenging it. We use doctrine to keep people in place, without addressing the person. Didn't Jesus opppose that?

Dear woman, do you believe that you deserve to be happy? Do you deserve to be treated as an equal? How does God consider you? Has the Bible been used as a hammer to enforce your station? My prayer this week is that you will see yourself as God sees you. Fully equal to every other human on the planet. It is time to stop letting other Christians, especially men, walk over you because you are the 'lesser' of the sexes.

There are men, like myself, who needed to be completely shattered before God could slowly work on my heart. But maybe it starts with you. Maybe it's time we started asking questions and demanding some answers. Why is a man's ministry so much more important than you? Why is it okay that he has freedom to pursue life, when yours is locked into a corner of small expectations?

You are not less than a man. You are fully, deeply, and equally loved by the Creator of the universe, who sent His only Son (supported by women throughout his ministry) to remind you of that.

You are a woman.

May God help you see that this week and beyond, and to no longer take a back seat to anyone who says otherwise.