Category Archives: Gender

How Feminism Hurts Men

Micah J. Murray writes a blog called Redemption Pictures. A recent post was a parody on the way in which some conservative Christians think about the role of women leaders in the church. I thought it was a clever, and funny, take on a very important and serious issue – in the church, and in the world. You can read the original here, or below.

Yesterday somebody on Facebook told me that feminism elevates women at the expense of men, that its agenda to validate women emasculates us guys.

He was right.

For men, the rise of feminism has relegated us to second-class status. Inequality and discrimination have become part of our everyday lives.

Because of feminism, men can no longer walk down the street without fear of being catcalled, harassed, or even sexually assaulted by women. When he is assaulted, the man is blamed – the way he dressed he was “asking for it”.

Because of feminism, there are no major Christian conferences about how to act like men, where thousands of men can celebrate their manliness and Jesus (and perhaps poke fun at female stereotypes).

Because of feminism, church stages and spotlights are often dominated by women. Men are encouraged to just serve in the nursery or kitchen. Sometimes men are even told to stay silent in church.

Continue reading How Feminism Hurts Men

Letter to a Woman Called to Church Leadership

I used to think that women should not lead in the church. My (faulty) understanding of Scripture was to take Paul’s restrictions literally, without understanding cultural context, interpretation or the adaptations of our theological positions that the Holy Spirit leads us to over time. We should make these adaptations slowly and with due consultation and attention. The danger is that we can stray from God’s will, and that would be a tragedy.

But over the past century, more and more people have come to understand the Bible in different ways from our historical interpretations about the role of women. I now completely and fully support the role of women in church, across all levels of leadership and involvement, with no restrictions (at least, none related to their gender).

It breaks my heart to watch women who are called by God to lead and serve, having to spend most of their energy fighting for their right/privilege to do this, rather than just doing their ministry calling.

Earlier this month, I came across this letter, clearly written out of this space of concern and pain. It was written by Esther Emery, a freelance blogger. It is beautifully written, heartfelt, and rings of truth. Please pass it onto all women you know who are feeling called by God to ministry.

Letter to a Woman Called to Leadership

by Esther Emery, 14 Nov 2013

I don’t know exactly who you are. Maybe a young woman, just now stepping out into your life. Maybe a mother or a crone, entering a new phase of your authority. Maybe just my beautiful dominant four-year-old, who is ready right now to start setting the world to rights.

But I know something. I know this. You are called.

You are called to stand up, speak up, use your voice. You are called to the front of the room. You are named. And you are called.

Rise up.

The darkness does not want you to use your voice. You are so full of light. The darkness will tell you that you are too much.

Too loud.
Too greedy.
Too masculine.
Too angry.
Too emotional.

Sometimes you will believe this. Sometimes you will try to make yourself small, and quiet. Sometimes you will hurt yourself trying to be small and quiet.

Do this with me. Walk outside and look up to the sky. Reach your hands up to the wide, expansive sky, far above the crowdedness and the jostling. There is room for you up there. There is room for every bit of you up there.

That place is yours.

Continue reading Letter to a Woman Called to Church Leadership

Bad sermons: Blue is for boys and pink is for girls

One of my favourite websites is “Stuff Fundies Like” (Fundies, as in Fundamentalist Christians). This blog is an eclectic collection of videos, blog posts, pictures and posters that come from genuine fundamentalist churches (mainly in the US of A – no surprises, I suppose). My favourite category is the “bad sermons” where extracts from sermons preached by raving fundamentalists expose narrow mindedness, bigotry, misogyny, racism and almost always some serious abuses of the Bible.

Last week, they posted a short video from YouTube, “Pastor Tony Hutson preaching against sodomy!“. See the original post on SFL here.

Now, whatever you believe about homosexuality, this is not the way to make your point if you are trying to make your point from the Bible. Watch the clip for yourself – because I bet you won’t this at your church on Sunday:

Blue is for boys and pink is for girls. Only sissy boys wear pink. And he wouldn’t want to marry a woman who would wear boots and a hard hat (no female engineers, then, dears – stick to nursing, teaching or typing where you won’t get hurt, my darlings).

My point in this blog is not what he believes about homosexuality, but rather how he is using a pulpit and pretending to use the Bible to make a cultural point. And to make a cultural point that is in fact wrong.

Pink has only recently become a girls’ colour (within the last century). Throughout history, blue was the colour of purity, femininity and girls. Think of what colour Mary wears in almost all historical paintings. In fact, until about a century ago the preferred colour for boys was a light shade of red (i.e. pink). Red was the manly colour of strength (favoured by the British army in particular), and the light shade of pink was the boyish version of this.

If you want to read a very documented history of the colours used for children through history, click here.

This is one of the major weaknesses of fundamentalism: it believes itself to be sticking to the purity of the Bible but most often is doing nothing more than imposing a set of man-made, culturally-connected, un-Biblical rules.

It gets even worse when they venture into the realm of sex (which they do very, very often). As one of the comments on the SFL website put it: “I think these fundamentalist preachers spend more time thinking about gay sex than most gay men. However, I still think Mark Driscoll thinks about straight ‘back door’ sex more than they think about gay sex, for what [little] it’s worth.” I couldn’t agree more.

It’s funny that the Pope has recently said the church needs to move away from this fixation.

I am not saying that you shouldn’t have informed, rational, Biblical views about sexual issues. We must. But they must be precisely that: informed, rational and Biblical. Not like this nonsense from Tony Hutson.

Women in the church: the vital importance of understanding household codes

I spent the first 25 years of my life at a church where women were not allowed to be pastors, elders or leaders in any way. I spent nearly a decade of that time passionately defending this position, and even left the church of my childhood in protest when they changed their constitution to remove all gender references in leadership appointments. I felt strongly about it. I acted on my beliefs and convictions.

But I was wrong.

During the course of nearly nine years of formal theological training, including a degree and two post graduate qualifications, I came to realise that my interpretation and application of Scripture did not stack up. I changed my position completely.

I therefore have deep connection to both sides of this issue, and have spent many years considering it. One of the people who has most recently made an impact is someone I quote quite a bit on this blog (only because I think she’s (1) right, (2) smart and (3) articulate) is Rachel Held Evans. Rachel spent a year living “Biblically” as a woman as part of a grand experiment to see if the Bible’s instructions to and about women can be taken literally (as many insist they should be). Her wonderful book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood” traces her monthly focus areas, and both humorous and poignant attempts to understand the Bible. It’s well worth a read.

Women in churchRachel’s blog continually returns to this topic, as it remains a key area of division and confusion in many churches today. In the past few weeks she has focused her attention (again) on the so-called “household codes” as a key to interpreting what the New Testament has to say about women and their role in spiritual communities. I think she is spot on about this – once you see the context in which Paul and others were writing, and understand how their instructions match up against what was being said in society at the time, I think there is only one answer, and that is to let women lead – as equals with men. Of course, this also has implications for how Christian homes are structured and the relationship between husband and wife as man and woman.

But why don’t you read what she’s written and make up your own mind:

If you have the time, check out the additional resources she has suggested this past week – see her list here.

And then also look at the archives on her blog on the issue of mutuality.

These are amazing resources and deserve serious attention.

A ‘gag reflex’ to ‘gay lifestyles’ is not any way to judge morality

Recently, Thabiti Anyabwile (Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Grand Cayman and a Council member with The Gospel Coalition) wrote an article which the Gospel Coalition posted on their website: “The Importance of Your Gag Reflex When Discussing Homosexuality and ‘Gay Marriage’“. I have heard this argument before: that the disgust many conservative Christians feel towards homosexuality is a sign of the Holy Spirit working in their consciences and a clear indication that it is wrong.

Whatever your belief about homosexuality and gay marriage, this is an entirely spurious supposition.

Here’s something you won’t hear at your church this Sunday: your conscience isn’t working!

I travel all over the world for my work, and have very often had a gag reflex in response to some of the food I have been offered. Is that my conscience telling me that the food is morally bad for me? Or is it possibly more likely to be some deep seated cultural conditioning telling me not to eat this food which is unknown or unappetising to me? I have learnt not to trust my gag reflex in many situations.

But I have also experienced the ‘gag reflex’ Pastor Anyabwile speaks of in a church context. The first time (and a few more, sad to say) that I heard a female worship leader (sorry, Darlene Zschech) and a woman preacher I had literal bad physical reactions. I had been brought up to believe with all my heart that women should not be leaders or teachers. I don’t believe that anymore. But the gag reflex had nothing to do with it – either way. I also had a ‘gag reflex’ the first time I saw a black man and a white woman kissing. I grew up in Apartheid era South Africa where this was illegal, and also considered immoral on the basis of the Bible. Although I remember my church being vaguely opposed to apartheid, we never had any black kids in our Sunday School or youth programmes (it was technically illegal to do so, but some churches didn’t bother obeying that particular law, while mine did). And there were certainly no cross cultural couples around. I had a deep cultural conditioning against such things. I don’t anymore (my family has even adopted a Zulu daughter). But a few years ago, on an international youth pastor’s forum, I asked participants to list their top three biggest youth group issues. Many pastors from the southern states of the USA listed cross cultural dating as their number one issue (and they were opposed to it!).

So, I don’t trust my gag reflex to be my moral guide. I really honestly don’t. And I find it horrific that a person in the position that Pastor Anyabwile is can publicly put forward the level of homophobic attitudes he does in his article.

As I was wondering how to respond, I was delighted to see that one of my favourite Christian bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, had also picked up the story and provided a thoughtful and useful response. You can read it on her blog, or an extended extract below.

God forgive us for these attitudes, and rescue us from the pit from which they come.

Continue reading A ‘gag reflex’ to ‘gay lifestyles’ is not any way to judge morality

Exodus International – a “gay recovery” ministry – shuts down and apologises

One of the arguments against homosexuality by many conservative Christians is that homosexuality is an aberration of what is “normal”. As such, they believe that homosexuality can be “cured”, and there are many churches and ministries that run so-called “ex gay” programmes to help gays go straight. These are hugely controversial, flying in the face of medical science, research and a growing pile of anecdotal evidence.

So, it must be hugely notable then that today the head of one of the most high profile ex-gay ministries is not only shutting Exodus International down, but also issuing a very public and strongly worded apology for all the hurt and damage his ministry has done over the years. You can read Alan Chambers’ full press release here, or an extract below.

There are obviously people who have had interesting journeys as their sexuality has developed and grown. Sexuality is not a binary state – it is a spectrum. And different people find themselves in different places on this spectrum. I am sure people can move along this spectrum too. And people experiment as well. The Bible has quite a lot to say about all of this, instructing people not to experiment sexually and giving lots of case studies of what can go wrong when you don’t. And people shouldn’t go “against their nature” either.

The apology is well worth reading – it’s from someone “on the inside”. This is not how the church should approach homosexuality.

I Am Sorry

by Alan Chambers, Exodus International
19 June 2013

To Members of the LGBTQ Community:

Continue reading Exodus International – a “gay recovery” ministry – shuts down and apologises

Southern Baptists, Gay Scouts and how churches treat homosexuals

A few weeks ago, the Boy Scouts of America voted to allow openly gay scouts to be part of Scout troops across the country. The ban on sexual activity (heterosexual and homosexual) remains, which means that all the Scouts have done is to indicate that they will not take someone’s sexual orientation into account when engaging with them.

Whatever your beliefs about homosexuality, this surely can’t be a bad thing. Christians who are “against” homosexuality have an issue with the sexual act, and not the “orientation”, since these Christians also believe in “original sin” which means we are all born sinners and have a naturally sinful orientation. It’s not an orientation that is the ongoing problem before God (this is what Christ died for), but the fruits thereof: the sinful actions. Even if you are against homosexuality, your issue is with homosexual activity, and not with same sex attraction (the message from conservative Christians to gays is to remain celibate and not act out on their feelings). Otherwise, you’re simply homophobic rather than Biblical (at least, your version of “Biblical”, but I am trying to be charitable and make a point).

So, someone needs to explain to me why the Southern Baptist Convention voted this past week to recommend to their member churches that they cut all ties with the Boy Scouts of America (as Baptists each church will make its own decision). This is a problem for many Scouts troops, as they use church facilities as meeting venues.

But the bigger issue is surely a question for SBC churches about the message they’re sending to people – especially young people. Will all the other groups who use SBC churches be subjected to this mindset? Will the many Alcoholics Anonymous groups who use SBC churches as venues be required to check the sexual orientation of their attendees? And the Weight Watchers groups? And if not, why not? Will children who go to Sunday School or attend holiday clubs at these churches be asked about their sexual orientations? All the Scouts are doing is removing reference to sexual orientation from their charter (except that they continue to ban openly gay leaders, for now), so why target them in this way?

A bigger issue is what message this sends particularly to young people. It tells them that the church is the wrong place to be anything other than an “alpha male”, “totally hetero” guy, or a “traditional woman”. I can’t believe this would be what Jesus would want us to do.

Regardless of where you stand on the issue and politics of gay marriage, or the morality and sinfulness of same sex relationships, the message that a person has to become straight before becoming a part of God’s Kingdom is dangerous, damaging, untrue and contrary to the Gospel.

I really hope that individual SBC churches do not take the advice of their denominational leaders, and instead continue to support the excellent work that the Boy Scouts do in preparing young men and women to contribute to society and be good human beings.

The church, sex and yummy mummies

Driven mainly, it seems, by the alpha-male approach to church coming from Mark Driscoll’s accolytes, churches around the world are talking more and more about sex from their pulpit and lecturns. While there is nothing wrong with this per se, there is a dangerous edge to the message these alpha-male types convey. It’s mainly a message to the wife: stay sexy, satisfy your husband, or else…

As the father of three daughters, I am uncomfortable with this version of sexuality being promoted by the church. Just as much as porn, it objectifies a specific version of womanhood – one that is ultimately unhealthy. It’s not good. It’s not healthy. It’s not right.

And then, I discovered a great post on the her.meneutics blog that helped me understand why: Stay Sexy or Else? Well, Please Forgive These Mommy Hips, When the joy of sex gets replaced by the fear of not being sexy enough, by Janelle Aijian. This is definitely worth reading.

The church really is very messed up in the way it deals with sexual issues. Maybe it’s time to replace the alpha-dawgs who run these types of churches. Just saying…

Redeeming the woman at the well

In John 4, we read the story of Jesus’ encounter with a Samaritan woman at midday at a well. This woman is almost always thought of as a prostitute. There is nothing in Scripture that indicates this. Rather, it is a product of a male-dominated culture and reading of the Bible that sees her as a sinner and not a victim.

This woman had had multiple husbands. Is it possible that in a small community/village that the local prostitute would have had multiple husbands? One maybe. Two at a stretch. But not five. Seriously: pause to consider this. Even in our modern permissive society, prostitutes do not get married five times. This is an impossibility in the rural community Jesus encountered.

No, the very much more likely scenario (I’d say 100% only possible scenario) is that she was a widow five times over. For some reason, her five husbands had died. (These could not have been divorces, for the same reason of logic – but also because the religious law prohibited more than two divorces for a woman). Of course no-one would marry her now. Would you?

Jesus amazes this woman by not only showing knowledge of her five husbands, but also her current living arrangements. The man she was staying with was most likely a benevolent uncle or family member who was giving her shelter in some back room, and acting as her protector. In no way does Jesus suggest this arrangement was anything untoward. There is no hint of condemnation and no mention of sin in this passage. Jesus never condemns her for anything. In fact, for us to think of her as anything other than a tragic victim to whom Jesus showed compassion and love illustrates how badly screwed up our view of women, sexuality and culture has become.

This was a woman who had faced tragedy and horror in her life. Now ostracised from her community, she encounters Jesus. He knows her. He loves her anyway. And he gives her the dignity and honour of being the one to announce the coming of the Messiah to her people. What a story.

That should be a lesson to all who think that their views of Scripture and what is going on in the Bible are completely without fault or need of updating or questioning. What else have you misunderstood because of your cultural conditioning?

Jimmy Carter on how the church treats women

Famously a staunch, conservative Christian, US President Jimmy Carter has recently publicly distanced himself from the Southern Baptist Convention over the stance on women in leadership in the church. His statement is very interesting. Read it in full here, or an extract below.

Losing my religion for equality… by Jimmy Carter

25 January 2013

Women and girls have been discriminated against for too long in a twisted interpretation of the word of God.

I HAVE been a practicing Christian all my life and a deacon and Bible teacher for many years. My faith is a source of strength and comfort to me, as religious beliefs are to hundreds of millions of people around the world. So my decision to sever my ties with the Southern Baptist Convention, after six decades, was painful and difficult. It was, however, an unavoidable decision when the convention’s leaders, quoting a few carefully selected Bible verses and claiming that Eve was created second to Adam and was responsible for original sin, ordained that women must be “subservient” to their husbands and prohibited from serving as deacons, pastors or chaplains in the military service.

This view that women are somehow inferior to men is not restricted to one religion or belief. Women are prevented from playing a full and equal role in many faiths. Nor, tragically, does its influence stop at the walls of the church, mosque, synagogue or temple. This discrimination, unjustifiably attributed to a Higher Authority, has provided a reason or excuse for the deprivation of women’s equal rights across the world for centuries.

Continue reading Jimmy Carter on how the church treats women