On Changing One’s Mind…

I was recently engaged me in a personal and face-to-face conversation about a previous blog post (see Misogyny, Masculinity and Violence). I used to experience mild perturbation when people would choose to disregard my requests for this blog to be a space of dialogue rather than a bulletin board that people would discuss with me as they had a chance. However, I recognize this as inconsistent with my desire for dialogue. For dialogue can be much more real and lively in a face-to-face setting. What came out of that dialogue was a lively discussion about mental illness (which the reader in question seemed to think was the primary subject of the original post), feminism, equal pay (which he unsuccessfully described as an “opportunity” for his female employees to demonstrate their competence in order to rise to the level of pay initially offered his male employees. In his defense, I believe this illegal practice is no longer being perpetuated in his business), and my use of the word “pussy,” which (was actually used as a quoted statement that was said at/to me, not by me). My primary partner in dialogue (although we were in a group of 5) believed that post to be about mental illness, completely missing the messages about masculinity and violence and misogyny at the core (and the title) of the post. Within the post, I even wrote:

“This is not about mental illness. This is about misogyny, masculinity, and violence.”

Sigh.

This seems to happen a lot. A reader will attend to one specific word or phrase and miss the meaning of the whole text. My readers do this with my blog. News/media agencies do it with sound-bytes they get out of news conferences and press releases. And Christians do it with the Bible. In some ways, we can’t help it. We grow up in a context and with teachers that teach us to attend to certain things and to disregard others. We look at texts (books, blogs, reports, data, non-verbal cues, people, events) with certain goggles or contact lenses that tremendously impact our perceptions of those texts… often not even aware of the hermeneutic (lens) in use.

I have been wrestling for at least a couple of years, with my own engagement of the Church, the South, the culture in which I live, and the way it views women. Within the (big C) Church there has been tremendous debate over the appropriate view of masculinity and femininity, with wide-ranging and diverse opinions/mandates defining what is viewed as appropriate and applicable to either gender. While I am a feminist, I am also a Texan. and I am deeply influenced, whether I like it or not, by my culture. I wrote in an earlier post that husbands do not and should not have to earn their wives’ respect. I took some heat (again, in private conversations) for the stance I took in that post. While I stand by my experience and the narrative of what happened for me, I admit that stance feels binding and too narrow for my expanding view of what it means to live into the Kingdom of God. I have decided I can no longer argue that this is the “right” approach to male/female relationships. It is a valid approach, and many don’t find it as binding as I do, but I choose to live out of a wider Gospel than that approach allows.

First, it assumes complementarian views of men and women, which I do not ascribe to. (See this description of differences in the complimentarian/egalitarian arguments as presented by the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood, but please read it with awareness that it is written and presented from a complimentarian perspective.) Second, it provides too restrictive of a view of what it means to be masculine or feminine. Some women experience and receive love when it is communicated through respectful engagement. Others want romance. Others still, want a dependable partner for a reading date or a nightly chess game… and everything in between. I imagine mens’ desires and needs are equally as varied. Complimentarians tend to plot gender roles and behavior in a dichotomous way, using “either/or” masculine/feminine language, and manliness or appropriate femininity becomes a issue of heirarchy. Consider locker room shenanigans designed to determine pecking order in the emerging-man world, or gossip-wars designed to shame young women for being “less lady-like” than so-and-so. I got called a terrible name for a lesbian throughout my senior year of high school, simply due to the fact that I cut my hair very short, notwithstanding my long term (in high-school terms) boyfriend. Complimentarians may to allow some room for gray-space and flexibility about roles, so long as you maintain some position on your birth-gender assigned side of the masculine/feminine dichotomy. By viewing masculine/feminine in a dichotomous way, we cannot help but impose a hierarchy, comparing one to another to determine who is performing more or less according to their prescribed masculine/feminine ideals. I cannot operate in this way. I feel bound by any systematic comparison. I think comparison is the root of much unhappiness, and inherently unfair. (More on that in another post.. maybe.)

Acceptance of an egalitarian, and I believe a feminist perspective allows one to hold space for those who align with the popularly accepted (whatever that means) behaviors, activities, occupations, and attitudes commonly associated with either masculinity or feminity, but also allows for the existence of appropriate and acceptable space in which the lines are blurred, and men may take on tasks/attitudes/views more commonly identified as feminine and vice versa. There is not the inherent need to judge/compare, and room for acceptance in a new and inviting way. There is no need to compete for acceptance or love. There is no need to prove your place in the heirarchy, because it doesn’t exist.

So, I have changed my mind about the “respect your husbands,” thing? Not exactly. Women need to offer respect to the men around them, all men. All women, too, for they (we) are the bearers of God’s image in the world, and we should not tarnish it. Men, you are to offer love and dignity to all women in your life. All men, too, for we are the bearer’s of God’s heart for the world, and we should not crush it.

For those who would criticize my willingness to change my mind publicly with Ephesians 4:14, please note, the context of this verse is a call to unity in the Body of Christ, and a description of the ideal treatment plan for humanity. It refers to an ideal state of being mature in the knowledge of God… whom I believe to be too big a mystery to claim full and mature knowledge of on this side of life.

For those who would criticize my willingness to be swayed or convinced of a different perspective using James 1:6, well… I’m not even going to engage that one beyond to note that verse has no direct bearing on or connection to one changing her mind. It is specifically referring to one’s prayers, and faith in God.

For those who would criticize, using the curse, specifically claiming that God cursed women to desire to control their husbands, and for him to rule over her (Genesis 3:16), or for those who would argue that Ephesians 5:21-33 indicates heirarchy is God’s will for the relationships between men and women, I must say, I used to fleetingly agree. But I cannot rest into this. Not because I am a man-hater, or a power-hungry or controlling woman. I can be controlling, ask my husband! But when I am controlling, I am living into the curse and the flesh, rather than living into the fullness of Christ, who wrecks these binding and false prescriptions for differentiation in identity. For living into the fullness of life as a witness of Christ’s work in the world means that:

For you are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus. And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. And now that you belong to Christ, you are the true children of Abraham. You are his heirs, and God’s promise to Abraham belongs to you. (Galatians 3:26-28)

And…

Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God. And when Christ, who is your life, is revealed to the whole world, you will share in all his glory…. you have stripped off your old sinful nature and all its wicked deeds. Put on your new nature, and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. In this new life, it doesn’t matter if you are a Jew or a Gentile, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbaric, uncivilized, slave, or free. Christ is all that matters, and he lives in all of us.Since God chose you to be the holy people he loves, you must clothe yourselves with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience. Make allowance for each other’s faults, and forgive anyone who offends you. Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you must forgive others. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds us all together in perfect harmony. And let the peace that comes from Christ rule in your hearts. For as members of one body you are called to live in peace. And always be thankful. Let the message about Christ, in all its richness, fill your lives. Teach and counsel each other with all the wisdom he gives. Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs to God with thankful hearts. And whatever you do or say, do it as a representative of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks through him to God the Father. (Colossians 3:1-4, 9b-17). 

I believe this is a call to live into the Kingdom of God, something that Jesus spoke of often (see “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of heaven“). Note that living into the fullness above calls all believers to embrace and clothe ourselves with with tenderhearted mercy, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience — all characteristics that are often places into the complimentarians’ “feminine” list? I believe that as Christians, we should be living into the fullness of the body of Christ, not handicapping half of it. I believe the Church will be a more desirable community, and less confusing for both men and women, if we stopped calling women to shut up, subdue, ignore, or neglect their gifts and callings when they walk into the church. As it is, western culture is egalitarian-leaning in practice, although women still do not have the same protections and opportunities many men take for granted. Yet, in the church, we often ask/expect that women will shed or silence or shut-down their strengths, and step into line behind their male counterparts and leaders. Church! This makes us a foul-smelling, and ill-fitting, and unattractive as a Bride! This is one of the things that kept me from the church initially, and then caused me to leave the church for a time in my life! If you don’t allow full functionality to a body part, It will get weak, and become useless. It may die. This is what I believe the Church’s historical approach to women has done. Let us welcome our women into the fullness of the Kingdom of God here on earth. And let us demonstrate to those outside of the Church what unity and full functionality can look like in the body of Christ!

 

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Feminism and the stumbling block

Suggested by Daily Prompt: Mad as a Hatter

Tell us about a time when you flew into a rage. What is it that made you so incredibly angry?

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Perhaps the phrase “flew into a rage” is overkill for this particular response, but I recently came across a young woman’s blog that I couldn’t help but rant about to the next closest human. (Thank you G, for humoring me!) In it, she used a well-known and oft-touted biblical reference to proliferate one of the more offensive hermeneutics that has been pushed by and to women in the Church. At the root of her argument is that (young Christian) women need to be cognizant of the effects their choices of apparel have on men. To support this argument, she used the often referenced “men are just more visual creatures” argument and referenced the story of David and Bathsheeba  (from 2 Samuel 11) to support said argument.

I find the use of the biblical reference here ill-suited to the initial argument, even a bit ironic. I find the presumption behind this particular use of this biblical analogy troubling. I prefer to discuss the two issues separately. 

First – the stumbling block argument:

I have heard the argument that women need to use more care to not place stumbling blocks in front of men for more than a decade, from well-meaning women, mostly. I believe this argument is harmful to men, women, God and the Church as a whole. 

It is harmful to men because it degrades a man’s ability to develop and act out of self-control. It excuses men for their failures and implicitly blames the woman for not being more mindful of his weakness. How emasculating is it to set the bar so low? And how am I, as a woman, to respect a man (for that is what I am called to do) for whom the bar is set so low?
It is harmful to women because it demands that women work harder to maintain the moral righteousness of men than it asks of the men. This is a patronizing idea from a patriarchal time when women had very little voice in the church and fewer rights as human beings: women were blamed for men’s failures and it is still happening. I cannot realistically be expected to accurately assess the potential weakness of every person I could interact with on a daily basis. If a man stumbles because I happen to be wearing a fitted shirt on any given day, that’s on him. That’s between him and God. I also happen to believe that Christ’s sacrifice is enough to appropriately deal with that.
Consider the effort it would take for a woman to evaluate every issue/article of clothing, make-up, accessories, manner of movement, emotional availability… the list could go on ad infinitum. Where do we draw the line about what is ridiculous and too much? It’s all gray-space. And what is a stumbling block for one man or woman may not cause another to stumble. We are not all psychics. Alternatively, each and every man knows when he is tempted. He knows his triggers. Why is it that we feel comfortable asking a woman to be aware of and respond appropriately to the potential triggers for all men, but we are uncomfortable asking one man to be responsible and aware of his own triggers and to respond appropriately by averting his eyes or exhibiting self control?
It harms God. Consider what kind of God would hold women responsible for every questionable thought or action that arose in the untempered mind/body of anyone she had contact with. That is not a God I would want, not a God of mercy or even reason. That is a vengeful, punitive, unreasonable God.
It harms the Church. Excusing men or women for not growing in self control cannot benefit the Body of Christ at large. Instead, it encourages weak men and the ever-mindful caretaker woman to be the norm in both our culture and our churches.

Second – the misappropriation of David and Bathsheba’s narrative:

Besides the above feminist response to the stumbling block argument/plea, there is the mishandling of the David and Bathsheba narrative. You see, this is a commonly (in Judeo-Christian cultures) known story about the most famous king of Israel, who is said to have authored significant portions of the Bible, especially the Psalms, and his mistress-turned-most-famous-wife.  When I was in college, and admittedly zealous and equipped with just enough biblical knowledge and more-than-enough-narcissism to do some damage, I often heard Bathsheba referenced with similar disdain as Jezebel. For years, I believed Bathsheba’s story to depict a woman who was not careful about how tempting she was. But this is a wholly inaccurate understanding of the story as it is offered. My misunderstanding was likely fed by the generally conservative  and generally patriarchal culture within which I live(d).

The use of the David story to support an argument that women ought consider the possibility of becoming a stumbling block for men when they get dressed in the morning “because men are just visual creatures” (a quote I have heard from many Christian leaders) is just, in my opinion, a leap. Bathsheba was naked, bathing in her courtyard (or on the roof, depending on interpretation) in the heat of the day, which was an appropriate place and time for a woman to be naked and bathing. The soldiers and wealthy folks generally lived closest to the center of town or palace: think inverted sub-urbia.  There was no plumbing. No hot water heaters. No electricity. David saw her. David failed to avert his eyes. David pursued her. What choice did she have? This was tantamount to a most egregious case of sexual harassment possible. He is the king! She is a (marginalized) woman. David was her king, and her husband’s boss. If she says no, he is shamed, and she could be killed, or otherwise see her husband lose his job, be imprisoned, or be set up to be killed in battle (sound familiar?). When she comes up pregnant, she makes a bold move contacting David. But again – what choice does she have? If Uriah finds out, she will likely be divorced, shunned, and quite likely be killed or forced into prostitution as a result of her “adultery.” Do you see the similarities between this dynamic and the ongoing slut-shaming that happens in our culture? This is why I call it ironic that this passage be referenced in this context. The blogger mentioned above is young and zealous, but in her zeal to teach Christian young women how to dress appropriately, she promotes slut-shaming ideology and simultaneously asks her reader to ignore the context and culture of the biblical story that depicts a bold, courageous, and wise woman who was raped and appropriately shamed her rapist.

P.S. The morality issue: for Christians only.

The last thing I want to note here is specifically directed towards Christians. I think it is important to remember that not all people around us, or all of our readers are Christians. Great harm is done when we come off as judgmental because we mistakenly expect people who do not follow our God to abide by his laws.

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The reality is that we wouldn’t be Christians if we did not admit and come to terms with our inherent inability to abide by God’s laws. If we are miserable failures in need of a savior, then why do we expect others who have not yet seen or reckoned with their brokenness to act any better. For you to judge someone that you see in a restaurant or on the street for what they look like on the outside is reminiscent of the failure of Jesus’ earlier disciples to recognize the inward beauty of the woman in Luke 7. Live your life by whatever standards you must, but please stop alienating the people Jesus would invite and pursue.