Advent is a time for stillness, frailty and expectation. It is also a time when change is possible, when our hearts become tender to the truth.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer put it this way in God Is in the Manger: Reflections on Advent and Christmas:
…And then, just when everything is bearing down on us to such an extent that we can scarcely withstand it, the Christmas message comes to tell us that all our ideas are wrong, and that what we take to be evil and dark is really good and light because it comes from God. Our eyes are at fault, that is all. God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment. No evil can befall us; whatever men may do to us, they cannot but serve the God who is secretly revealed as love and rules the world and our lives.
This last week, some friends and I have been talking about our theology and how black lives matter and how the racial divide in this country is something we are called to enter into. We are listening and lamenting that we participate in sinning against brothers and sisters in our midst whose skin color does not match ours, and we are acknowledging that we are the ones appointed by Jesus to be healing agents of reconciliation in this world.
What an appropriate time for this conversation. Because if Advent is for anticipation, it is also for lament. It is for listening. It is for bending down to be with Jesus, the One born in poverty, the One who experienced marginalization himself, the one who came to proclaim liberty to the captives. The Great Reconciler, God-become-man via a wriggling infant lying in a manger.
In 2014, my heart has especially been split open by the gender divide in our churches; by the marginalization of women in our church pews and around the world. My heart is heavy because of the sheer lies we often believe about Eve and her daughters. I am sad and sickened that our perceptions and theology often color girls and women as those who are easily deceived, dangerous and inferior. For I believe that the insidious nature of this deception lies not in a “women are called to a different sphere but are still equal” mentality, but instead reflects a denial of the image-bearing power and potential of every girl and woman made to reflect God and represent his interests.
I am tired of hearing that this issue is “secondary” when my simple observations suggest otherwise:
- 1 in 3 women have been or will be abused by their significant others. (National Council on Domestic Violence) Women come to me who are in abusive marriages and feel powerless to get help, partly because their church or pastor teaches them otherwise. This is a sad denial of the image-bearing dignity every woman possesses, and it must stop.
- Women write me or speak to me about the terrible feelings of oppression and marginalization they experience when they enter the doors of the church. “I chose a secular career because I knew there would never be a place for me in the church.” “I lie awake at night because I’m so upset that the secular world values my leadership gifts, but the church doesn’t.” “I learned that I was supposed to be subservient to my husband, and I told the Lord I could do this if he required it—but I simply could not raise my daughters this way.” Many speak of feeling for all their lives as if they are the “leftovers,” unessential to God’s mission.
- As we value the women in the Church (and Youth With A Mission reports that 2/3 of believers around the world are women), so we communicate and express the value of girls and women around the world. According to the International Justice Mission, at least 27 million slaves are currently in captivity around the world, many of them women and girls, many who are being brutally trafficked for sex. The World Health Organization reports that more than 125 million girls and women today have been victims of female genital mutilation. In 2000, the United States estimated that 5,000 women were killed worldwide in “honor killings” each year, though that number is probably quite low.
Violence against women worldwide (and in our own neighborhoods) is so pervasive that statistics cite either 1 in 3 or 1 in 6 women are or will be raped in the US, depending on which numbers you trust. Of course, women are taken advantage of because they are physical weaker than men; yet this disadvantage starts with mental and emotional disparagement. I believe it begins with an inferiority complex. And for this, the Church of Jesus is partly to blame.
I have heard a few prominent female evangelical leaders say that we shouldn’t be so concerned about women leading in the Church of Jesus when we have women around the world suffering from squalor and abuse. Who are we to insist that women should serve based on their giftedness, not their gender, when sisters worldwide endure poverty and violence? Shouldn’t the abuse of women globally be our front-line justice issue?
Allow me to state my growing conviction clearly:
I believe the value, dignity and rescue of girls and women around the world is intricately linked to women being valued and released to preach the gospel and to activate the Church to responsibility for all of God’s daughters.
This is not an either/or proposition. It can’t be. We know that God’s Kingdom is like a little bit of yeast that works its way through the whole dough, but as I sit here, I believe we haven’t yet activated the yeast.
You know that process where you put yeast in warm water and it “blooms”? We haven’t dignified, prepared, released, or strengthened God’s daughters to join with their brothers to build the Kingdom. We haven’t allowed them to bloom. For this, the woman in the Church pew suffers, feeling unused, unacknowledged and nonessential. When daughters of the King aren’t activated, the mistreatment of women in our neighborhoods, community and world can’t be fully embraced as an essential issue to which we are compelled to respond. Women are dying (literally and figuratively) around the world because they are female—and the way I see it, we are largely sitting on our hands.
Let us listen, lament and acknowledge the “inferiority complex” we’ve passed on to women by elevating the sin of Eve above her redemption. Let us provide safe spaces for women to share their unedited stories of marginalization. Then let’s do the hard but necessary thing and study our theology, repent where we have been wrong and move forward to unleash women to offer their full giftedness alongside their brothers.
Yes, Advent is for anticipation, but it is also for lament. As we lament for our sisters and daughters around the world in this season, we also acknowledge the power of the Incarnation to heal our wounds and to bring about gender reconciliation where we need it most: “God is in the manger, wealth in poverty, light in darkness, succor in abandonment.”
The women of the world are not forgotten by a God of justice and light; let them not be forgotten by us.
— [Image by Mitya Ku, CC via Flickr]