Category Archives: Gender

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.

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The logical and theological gymnastics of those who oppose women leaders in church

As the culture wars in conservative evangelical Christianity continue to rumble along, the pronouncements of some its key leaders are getting more and more disconcerting. I am seriously concerned about the rising “alpha male” type approach to church, embodied mainly by Mark Driscoll and his acolytes. In my home town, Johannesburg, a few churches led by young men have gone this route: denying women any role in leadership or public teaching in their churches. The theological leaders of this movement include John Piper, James Dobson and Wayne Grudem (see more at their ‘Council for Biblical Manhood and Womanhood‘), and to a lesser extent Don Carlson and Tim Keller (see their ‘Gospel Coalition’).

Rachel Held Evans is running a great series on her blog, calling out the strange, illogical and unbiblical pronouncement coming from this corner of evangelicalism. They’re really getting themselves into a tangle over this issue (something that often happens when Scripture is misinterpreted, misrepresented or misunderstood).

I wrote about this a while ago, when I expressed my concerns about a video put out by the Gospel Coalition. They are using views on the role of women as a test for Biblical orthodoxy, and also claiming that it is not correct to attempt to understand the cultural and historical context in which a Biblical book was written (this completely contradicts the approach Carson has taken in his many excellent commentaries of Biblical books – but it seems that the issue of women leaders trumps his previous work as a Biblical scholar. One wonders why?).

But Rachel has found a few ‘exhibits’ of key statements made by those who oppose women leaders in church – not isolated, out-of-context statements, but key pronouncements and position statements – that just make no sense at all. Take some time to read the links below. You’ll be amazed, and stunned. And you’ll realise fairly quickly that the approach of those who want to keep women ‘barefoot, pregnant and in the home’ (my words, but typically the intention of those who take the so-called ‘complementarian’ view) is more a harking back to some idyllic (but completely inaccurate) picture of 1950s suburban America, rather than anything you can find in the Bible.

Continue reading The logical and theological gymnastics of those who oppose women leaders in church

There IS place for rich people in heaven (thank goodness)

The Bible has dire warnings for rich people. More than any other people (including all forms of vile criminals), the Bible warns rich people that their souls are in danger and the eternal destiny put at risk by their riches. Some rich people are told that they should give their money away – not as a form of communism, but rather as a test of their real motivations and allegiances. And yet, throughout the Bible, personal wealth is seen as a gift from God and a blessing. There are many rich people in the Bible, from Abraham to David, and Job to Paul.

In an excellent guest post on Rachel Held Evans’ blog this past weekend, Sara Barton wrote a wonderful piece about Joanna. She was one of Jesus’ female disciples. And she was rich. Her story is superb – and superbly told by Sara. Read it here, or an extract below.

Thank goodness we have models of how rich people should follow Jesus. What a difference the wealthy can make in the world if they develop a Jesus-worldview.

Continue reading There IS place for rich people in heaven (thank goodness)

How popular culture continues to feed incorrect visions of womanhood

Here’s something you should hear about at church: Women are strong, and brave, and leaders and often overlooked in Christian circles. No more!

I recently found two movie reviews very insightful. And, as the father of three daughters, I took them quite seriously, because both of them suggested that young girls were being fed an incorrect view of what it means to be a woman. These were two big movies of 2012: ‘Brave’ introduced Disney’s newest princess, and the ‘Twilight’ saga roared to its conclusion.

Rachel Held Evans wrote about Brave. I really enjoyed the movie, bought the DVD for my youngest daughter for Christmas, and have encouraged her to add Merida to the full set of Disney princesses she already has. I like Merida, and for the same reasons Rachel did: Merida is a flawed princess, with deep complexity, she stands up for herself and her life is not defined by her relationship to men.

But I also agree with Rachel’s main concern about the movie: the men in the story are portrayed as buffoons. It is not necessary that for women to be strong, men must be weak. But this is often how it is portrayed in movies: women only step up when the men fail.

Which leads to the second review that caught my attention. In fact, it was a response to a review. Mark Driscoll is a Christian pastor based in Seattle, Washington who has been making quite a name for himself in his views of men and women. He believes that men must lead, and women be submissive; and he has a vision of Christian marriage that feels a lot more like an idealised American suburb in the 1950s (possibly Stepford?) than the Bible. He spends a lot of time dealing with issues of sexuality, too. And he didn’t like Twilight – he described it as sick, twisted, evil and dangerous and to teenage girls what porn is for teenage boys.

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Being a witness to grace: Louie Giglio, homosexuality, a prayer, persecution and a storm of protest

One of the current themes of conservative evangelical Christianity is a persecution complex. They look for opportunities to be offended by popular culture (take the phony ‘war on Christmas’ in America, for example). And when something happens that could in any way be taken as an attack on Christians, they fall over themselves to proclaim how persecuted they are. This happened again this past week, as Louie Giglio, well known pastor of Passion City Church in Atlanta, was withdrawn from praying the benediction at President Obama’s inauguration. The reason was pressure from LGBT groups because of a sermon Giglio had preached in the 1990s about homosexuality.

The Gospel Coalition immediately jumped on this as a sign of an anti-Christian bias in society, of President Obama’s campaign of religious intolerance and (of course) of the fact that the conservative evangelicals must be right because Jesus said that people would hate them. Read their statement here.

It’s amazing how John 15:19 is taken so out of context it is made to say exactly the opposite of what Jesus intended. Go and read John 15 for yourself quickly. The immediate context is about love. It’s about proving our commitment to God, our devotion to each other and our service to the world by how much we love. And not the “tough love” advocated by James Dobson (so called “love” that would reject a child because of their sexual orientation, or cut off ties with a friend because of their divorce) but the sacrificial love of Jesus, who “while we were yet sinners”, gave up his life for us. Keep reading into John 16. The people that Jesus was warning his disciples about – those that would “hate them” – were the religious leaders. Jesus was hated by Pharisees and Saducees, not by the people. This is the tragic irony of the persecution complex: it’s actually conservative evangelical church leaders that Jesus was warning us about. They are actually the persecutors, not the persecuted.

Anyway, back to Louie Giglio, who I actually believe has done something different. He has provided a wonderful example of the grace and love we are supposed to be showing to the world.

It seems as if he withdrew his acceptance to pray at the inauguration (rather than being “disinvited” as the Gospel Coalition said). Read his statement here, and the Inaugural Committee’s statement here. In the light of a growing backlash to the invitation, Giglio – maybe under pressure from the White House – chose grace and peace and love. Rachel Held Evans has stated beautifully the value of this move by Giglio:
“I applaud Giglio’s decision to do as much as he could to ensure that something as sacred as a prayer did not become overly politicized or divisive. He made grace and peace higher priorities than his own celebrity. To me, that’s the essence of what Paul meant when he said, ‘As much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all people.’ We would do well to follow Giglio’s lead in this regard and discuss this situation with civility, not making more of it than necessary.”

I’d suggest, by the way, we should discuss the whole issue of homosexuality in the same way, too.

By the way, Rachel’s blog post on the issue is masterful. She explains that there is no denial of freedom of speech in Giglio’s removal from the Inauguration, nor are evangelical Christians being persecuted in America. Read her thoughts here.

It’s becoming too predictable, and a bad witness, that every little issue is seen as a storm, a denial of rights and a persecution by evangelical Christians – especially in America.

Thank you, Louie Giglio for your grace and wisdom.
Thank you, Rachel Held Evans for your insights and analysis.
Thank you, LGBT community for your continued concern and advocacy for people broken and wounded by a society and a church that does not know how to engage with you in love.
Thank you, God, for your patience with your creation and for helping us to inch forward – however slowly – towards the type of world that is truly “your Kingdom come on earth as it is in heaven”.

New heights – or depths – in the debate about women leaders

Here’s something some churches really need to hear: there is no male and female in God’s Kingdom; men and women are equal in status, gifting and functioning in the church.

I grew up in churches that demanded that women submit to men, were not able to lead and could not teach men. As a young adult, I felt so strongly about this that I even left a church that changed their view on the issue, allowing men and women to minister as equals. My view has long since changed (that’s another story for another day, but was based on a detailed study of Scripture and personal experience with some of the most gifted and obviously called people I ever met – who happened to be women).

I don’t see this issue is a core theology, and, although I comment on it every now and again on this blog, it is not one that exercises me much. There are many superb thinkers, writers and teachers who are leading the cause of egalitarianism (the view that men and women are equals; as opposed to complementarianism, which argues that men should be in charge, and women should be their “help meets”) around the world, and I am happy to leave it to them. The very few verses in the Bible that deal with different roles of men and women are easily understood and explained in the light of the cultural context of the day, and the literary contexts in which they are found in the Bible itself.

But yesterday, I picked up a video from the Gospel Coalition, with a conversation between three of their top people, Tim Keller, John Piper and Don Carlson. It horrified me. All three are amazing men, great writers and teachers, but in recent days have made some strange statements about the issue of women. Piper in particular. Last year, he stated that the problem with culture and Christianity is that we have lost our understanding that Christianity is at essence a masculine religion.

In this video, the most disturbing thing is that all three men raise the issue of complementarianism to the level of a litmus test for orthodoxy, for ones willingness to take the Bible seriously, and for having a “loose approach to Scripture”. Sadly, this is the age-old conservative, evangelical approach that uses the Bible as a blood-stained baseball bat to beat opponents with, while blindly ignoring accepted hermeneutical principles, and also raising themselves to the level of infallible arbiters of truth.

Scarily, for example in the video, Carson specifically states that doing the work to understand the first century cultural context behind the books of the New Testament is an incorrect way of reading the Bible. I could not believe I had just heard that from such an influential Bible teacher, so I had to rewind and watch it again. But, indeed that’s what he said.

And worse, although they start by saying that in the Gospel Coalition they do not see complementarianism as a core doctrine, the closing comments were: “Let them compromise, we cannot!” They make the headship of men in the leadership of the church a matter of Dogma and not a doctrine or opinion that can have different positions held.

Piper has lost all credibility in my books over the past year, and in this video continued to do so. His views of masculinity are so distorted I really can’t believe what I am hearing. He provides the theological fuel to all the Wild at Heart men trying to find princesses to rescue, and the Mark Driscoll marriages turning women into Stepford wives from the 1950s, that are so dangerous to Christianity at the moment.

But you decide for yourself: watch the video and read the excellent response from Krish Kandiah here.

This scared me.

A picture of women: from the Bible? or from 1950s American suburbs?

Earlier this year, Rachel Held Evans hosted a series of posts on her blog that looked at a variety of issues related to the role of women in the church. You can see links to the full series here. So there’s no confusion about my position, I believe that women and men are equal before God, and that all the gifts are available to everyone to use for God. Everyone is under some authority, and ultimately under God’s but gender is no issue in this.

The post I enjoyed the most in this series was one that looked at whether a conservative position on women is Biblical or cultural, and whether the roles of women laid out by those who do not allow women to lead or teach in church are from the Bible or from 1950s Western culture.

You can read the full post here, or an extract below.

There is one more myth regarding “biblical womanhood” that we really need to address as part of our series—and that is the myth that a true woman of God is defined by her roles as a wife, mother, and homemaker. I spend quite a bit of time exploring this in my book, A Year of Biblical Womanhood, but it’s so important to the conversation surrounding gender equality in the Church, it’s worth discussing in an abbreviated format here. 

Continue reading A picture of women: from the Bible? or from 1950s American suburbs?

Child-like interpretations of the Bible

Over the past few days, I’ve been engaged in some interesting conversations that all began with a simple picture I posted on my Facebook status. It’s largely about same sex marriage, but the 60+ comments in the thread get very quickly to issues of how we interpret the Bible. If either topic interests you, I think you’ll enjoy the interactions on my Facebook timeline.

Then, this morning, the preacher at the church I attended made some excellent comments about how we understand the Bible. The basic message of the Gospel is so simple that a child can understand it. In fact, in order to understand it you need to approach it with child-like (not childish!) faith and trust. But there are parts of the Bible that are very complicated and complex, because they are talking about God. If they were easy to understand it would make a mockery of who God actually is: above and beyond us.

Our preacher was much more eloquent than this. And it’s a wonderful point to make. The simple parts of the Bible are simple enough for a child to understand and accept. And we need help with some of the other parts that are difficult to understand.

But it struck me that there is a corollary to this thought – and that is about what children might believe about God before we impose our doctrines on them.

In the Facebook conversation during the week, one of the common themes of those people arguing that homosexuality is wrong is that this is “the plain reading of the texts” on this topic. This sounds like a strong argument, but it is not – for many reasons. But here’s one more reason.

If you asked a 7 year old child if they thought that God hated two men just because they loved each other and wanted to be together, almost every innocent child in the world would say, “No”. Surely God doesn’t hate them just because they love each other? (By the way, this test applies to many self-evident truths: does God like it when people lie or steal? Is God happy when Daddies and Mommies divorce? I think children would provide the right answer to almost all “self evident” sins).

So, if children would not understand why homosexuality would be considered wrong by God, then it must be the case that this issue is one of the “difficult to interpret” parts of the Bible.

It’s a simple point, really, but an important one. The seven verses/passages that talk against homosexuality are definitely in the category of “difficult” and need careful interpretation. They cannot just be taken at “face value”. And they do NOT say what they seem to say at first reading.

The same, by the way, is true of Genesis 1-11 and the age of the earth, the sections on slavery, the instructions about nobody with disabilities being allowed to serve in church leadership, tattoos, levirate marriage, polygamy, war, sacrifices, and many other issues. It’s an interesting test, this child-like understanding of God. I like it.

So here’s something your church should be teaching: listen to the children BEFORE you teach them your bigotry.