We didn’t record the Sunday morning message at the Summit. Many of you
have asked for it so we’re blogging it instead. Not the same as hearing but for those of you who heard it you can imagine the wind blowing, noise at the table, smell of the grass and the cadence of my voice as these words were heralded. Mostly, upon reading this, I hope you are reminded of what the Spirit said to you that weekend. May you be ennobled, equipped and emboldened to respond. There’s no time for shrinking back, we need every one of us fully deployed. Fully deployed.
When I was 38 I broke my back in two places. Wish I could tell you some fancy story like I was doing a flip while skiing on the Alps, but the truth is I was on the floor using my legs to move around big armoires in my bedroom.
While recovering that summer, I read every book on women in the church. I was irritated by one author’s accusation that women were priestesses in the early church. I set out to prove her wrong. Not that I was ever going to tell her that, I just needed it for my own clarification. That’s when I stumbled upon the fact that there were conservative evangelical theologians who believed in Jesus and bible, and also they were orthodox Christians who upon study had concluded something different about the role of women in the Church.
I came to Dallas Theological Seminary as a new Christian, and I didn’t know there was an issue. I was focused on figuring out how Jesus walked on water. But without knowing it, I had breathed in their complementarian position. While I was so grateful for my training at DTS, I was becoming aware that there was something else to consider. Suddenly I was reading smart theologians and mostly those writing for Christians for Biblical Equality, (CBE) and they believed the same orthodoxy as those at DTS yet concluded something different about the text surrounding the role of women issue. I had cognitive dissonance. Unsteady. What happened? What if I’m being led astray? Like Sue Russell mentioned earlier, we’re in a state of liminality. We are separated from what was before, but we haven’t arrived at our new destination yet. It is an uncomfortable place to be; however, it is also a scary place for some of us. If our theology shifts, we could lose our jobs. People may disrespect us. We may be called liberals. We may be accused of throwing the bible out.
Some of you may have experienced that this weekend. I think Nicodemus experienced this when he questioned the idea of being reborn. And Paul. On the road to Damascus, the apostle Paul, better known as Saul at the time, was asked why he was persecuting Jesus. What about the disciples when Jesus hung on the cross? That was a scratch on the head.
Christians have had to go back to the scriptures again and again, saying, “Wait a minute. Did I miss something?” and then re-examine, re-examine, re-examine. I don’t think it’s easy when Jesus challenges us to re-examine and reconsider what we thought we knew.
I’ve always loved imagining the Galatians 3:28 dinner table. Jew/gentile, slave/free, male/female. Body language, confusion, prejudice, suspicion, power inequity, social status being challenged. Even deciding what food could be served must have been a hoot. Meat? No, not that meat! Bread? No, not that bread! Boy I’m glad I wasn’t the woman in the kitchen at that meal.
The point I’m trying to make is the first century church had to do some deconstructing of what they thought they knew about God and about themselves. They had to go back and rethink, re examine the life and death of Jesus. And through the power of the Holy Spirit, they had to allow him to reconstruct something new. Something not of this world. That’s what Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world.” (John 18:36)
That’s what we’ve done this weekend. Ask questions, learn, engage, and ponder. Invite the Spirit to deconstruct and reconstruct our thinking about what he said around this kingdom partnership between men and women in Scripture. (That it is not of this world) We need to deal with the Scriptures, dig in, and exercise due diligence with the text. It’s right and good.
But what I’ve learned is even those who have dealt with the text and have taken a position that women are welcome at the table still struggle to have a voice in the conversation. Women are sitting at the table but their voice is still silent. Assemblies of God pastors ask me, “We allow women in leadership but it’s not happening. Why?”
I would argue, not only do we have to examine the Scriptures but we also have to examine some of the gender constructs we’ve created in the Church (and culture). These constructs are not directly related to 1 Tim. 2 or 1 Cor. 11, or 14; they are ones that we have embraced as truth but in reality they cause the Bride of Christ to limp.
The first gender construct we’ve created that causes division within the body is our teachings on “the ideal biblical man or ideal biblical woman.”
I grew up in a pagan family, didn’t know another Christian, and didn’t go to church, nothing. I met Jesus in college, married Steve and together we decided to move to Texas to get to know Jesus better. Our first church home was in North Dallas and that’s when I realized women in Texas are real women. High heels, pocketbook to match, nails done and always well dressed.
I had just gotten off the boat, so to speak, from NY. Sarcasm, swear words as punctuation, wild hair, and backpack. I kept thinking that if I was going to be a good Christian woman I need to be quieter, dress better, and carry a pocketbook.
After hanging around a while, I realized the church teaches women what it means to be the ideal biblical woman. The IBW is married with kids; they stay at home and create a warm, hospitable space for others. She serves at church in the nursery, children’s church, or on a hospitality team. Pastors and theologians attribute characteristics to the IBW: by God’s design she should be more tender, nurturing, charming, sweet, delicate and quiet. Light pink.
Problem is I’m not light pink. And neither are a whole lot of women in America. 51% of women are not married. 71%-83% of women with children under the age of 18 works. 27% of young professional women are leaving the church, and my demographic of women (mid life) are the largest exodus. They are not leaving Jesus; they are just done with the local church. One of the main reasons cited is the Church doesn’t have anything to say to their lives. Why? Because they are not light pink.
This kind of teaching, IBW, hinders women, limits women and creates competition and comparison. Instead of “she for she” oneness, it promotes conflict among us.
We women who loves Jesus so want to do this thing right for him. Be a good woman, wife, mother, friend, employee or employer. But we’re afraid we aren’t good enough. We don’t measure up to the standard. And this kind of teaching creates further insecurity in us. We look at her and think to ourselves, “If she is what the Church imagines as godly, then who am I?”
And to stay safe we begin to police each other making sure each one of the women “stay in their place” to ensure the standard party lines is known and adhered to. “She for she” isn’t happening when women compare and compete, and the bride of Christ limps when women are hindered and limited.
Here’s why I think this is so important. My husband works in South Sudan, where war is always just around the corner. Recently insurgents came into a village, and the villagers ran to the river. They waded in that river all day with hippos and crocodiles. At night when the villagers came out, 9 kids didn’t! Look around us. The world can’t afford for the Church to be policing and limiting. The mission we’ve been given is massive, evil is roaring, and we’re limping.
On the flip side when men are raised with a view of the ideal biblical woman (and man) and a woman within the congregation (or in their workplace, or home) is not light pink, men become confused and even threatened. Let’s say this woman is more assertive or decisive than sweet – attributes the conservative faith community tend to attribute to maleness, or a woman is an excellent leader or preacher, gifting’s we tend to attribute to men –men become confused and even threaten their masculinity. And women are told to be less, to be quiet. They are held back, sidelined.
For several years I held the title of Teaching Pastor to Women at a mega church in the Dallas area. During my time there, we had reached a height of almost 1,000 women attending our bible study, and we had seven women a year being trained to preach the Bible. We wrote our own bible study curriculum and trained other women to write, too. Women from around the country inquired about our ministry strategies, etc. At one point we started to have men ask if they too could attend our women’s study.
Men started harassing the men’s minister asking why they didn’t have a ministry as successful as the women. That’s not good for the CHURCH. We raise men to be successful and to win; and if they do lose, don’t lose to a girl. There’s nothing more humiliating. We shouldn’t do that to men. and we shouldn’t expect women to be less so men feel like more.
Mein is what is at stake. She’s a 4-year-old girl who was sex trafficked in Cambodia. She was put into a dingy dirty pink room to wait until the highest bidder pays to have sex with a virgin – 4 year old. The mission is massive, the enemy is roaring, and we have got to stop viewing women as a threat. I want to say to my brothers, on behalf of Mein, MY EMBODIED SELF IS NOT TO BE FEARED: I’m not here to affront your masculinity; I’M YOUR ALLY.
If we are going to be about God’s massive mission, we’ve got to go back and confront some of the gender constructs we’ve built that keep us divided and Bride of Christ limping. Like the sex thing. We’ve got to talk about the sex thing. Right now in the conservative church we have one narrative, that relationships between men and women are romantic or dangerous. That’s our story, and I get why it’s our story. Because when one of us falls, it’s painful. It causes deep pain within the body of Christ. I want to acknowledge that. However, the problem is that it is not the only story God gives about us in the Scriptures. In fact Paul used the metaphor of family more than any other when referring to you and me, the Church. Family is used 122 times, only 2 of those were of people from the same bloodline. 122 times. Paul said we have the same Holy Spirit in us, and we are all to become more and more like Jesus. I believe Matt. 22:30 tells us we won’t be married in the new heavens new earth. The relationship that lasts into eternity is brother sister.
We need to fight to bring back the biblical narrative of brother sister. This means we need to check ourselves when we say things like ”men can’t control themselves”. Yes, they can. They have the same Holy Spirit in them as women do. I had a male pastor tell me, “Men think of sex every 60 seconds.” To which I asked, “Dan (not his real name), if a woman came to you and said they thought of purchasing a blouse every 60 seconds or a man said he thought of golfing every 60 seconds, we would tell them that’s called addiction or idolatry. By the way, studies show men don’t think about sex every 60 seconds. The point is we need to stop talking about our brothers as if they are animals. They are NOT. They are image-bearers and able to be more and more like Jesus.
I applied from my doctorate in preaching at Gordon Conwell Seminary. The class – 26 senior pastors and me. During my first year, not a soul asked me out to lunch. I ate alone on campus. The offline learning I missed. Housing for my second year residency was a continued reminder that my female body was “a problem.” As the only woman in our doctoral program I would have to be housed in a separate place from the other pastors (26 male pastors). I stayed in a big, old, musty-smelling inn with dark hallways just outside of the Boston city limits – alone, all by myself. The rest of the students stayed together in the yellow house adjacent to the inn. To attend class, we had to drive about fifteen minutes into the city to a building located in an area of town deemed not “all that safe.” At least that was the warning given by the seminary, which turned out to be warranted – a man was murdered outside our building during our residency.
When I arrived at the inn, I made up my mind to catch a ride with one of the guys, at least on the first day or until I felt secure driving by myself. The next morning I walked into the breakfast area where all the guys were eating and immediately noticed Lou (not his real name), one of my cohorts, sitting a few tables back and to my right. The fear of feeling unsafe must have been building, because while standing at the entrance I blurted, “Lou, can you give me a ride to class?” Suddenly the room was like a movie where everyone stops mid motion, guys with spoons and coffee cups just suspended in midair. I stood there thinking, “Oh brother, you’ve got to be kidding me!” Once again I was facing down that damn romantic danger narrative. You know that narrative that says, “Women tempt men, whether they intend it or not, and men by nature are lascivious.”
I had it. I wasn’t going to let it dominate the landscape anymore. I wanted more for me – and them. So I did what I learned to do growing up – I called it out. Don’t we teach that communication is key to relationships? I decided it was time to communicate a new narrative. Hopefully my narrative would put them at ease, and we could get to learning homiletics (the art of preaching) together. Standing there overlooking the room, I loudly proclaimed, “I don’t want to have sex with you. I just want a ride. As your sister in Christ, I want a ride because I’m afraid. I don’t want to get raped.” Not only were there some nervous chuckles but also some awkward relief. We finished eating breakfast, and I caught a ride to class with Lou.
Our mission is massive, evil is roaring, and we are limping. So I want to say to my brothers, I am not a threat to your morality. MY EMBODIED SELF IS NOT TO BE FEARED. I’M YOUR ALLY. I want to fight with you.
Recently, Forbes magazine ran an article stating, “Companies with higher female participation at the board level exhibit higher returns and payout ratios.”
The World Bank said women are the best investment for an economy.
As Secretary of State, Hilary Clinton said women are our best foreign policy.
The world is starting to notice that families and cultures are healthier when women’s voices are heard. The same is true for the family of God.
Recently a male elder shared how prior to his church having elders they had leadership teams. Men and women were on those teams. Once the church grew, they established roles and titles. Women were no longer at the table. He said now they have a meeting, come to a conclusion, and later that night at home their wives ask questions that make the men realize they “missed” some things. (By the way, every church has females present at their elder meetings. The wives may not have been voted in, but be assured their voice is at the table.) The elder continued to say that now they must have another meeting to deal with the issues their wives raised the night before. He said that if they had women at the table, they’d only have to meet once. His conclusion? “We were better when women were on the team.”
And I think of those 9 children who didn’t come out of the river, of Mein in the pink room. Of Gracie the welfare kid who wore the same pants every day to school and who was bullied on the bus… our school bus. I think of my extended family, and how sin has ravaged them. And I think of me and my own brokenness.
I’m broken. You’re broken. There are people in our churches living in hell on earth and heading there for eternity.
When will we comprehend and take hold of the massive mission God gave us realizing that evil is chewing people up and spitting them out for a snack? We can’t afford to have one person, not one person on the bench. We need everyone; using everything God’s given them. We need each other; we need #sheforshe and #heforshe in the Church. It’s time. It starts here.