When I hear Jesus and the New Testament writers describe the Kingdom of God, I clearly see that God has always had a way of working through women, even if it didn’t fit into the broader culture.
There are scriptures that describe the role of women in a unique place and time. Then there are the grand pronouncements of the new world order that is the Kingdom of God. Ideals are found in the Sermon on the Mount, and new realities are illuminated in that obliterate any racial or gender boundaries in the Kingdom are laid out in Ephesians 2, Galatians 3 and so many other places.
So I’m happy to be a part of a church and a broader conversation that is rethinking the role of gender in the church.
But I’m afraid.
There’s a cliche that goes something like, “You’re like a dog chasing a fire truck. You wouldn’t even know what to do if you caught it.”
I’m afraid that men like me are the dog.
The fire truck? The proper understanding of gender in the church.
How #YesAllWomen Destroyed Egalitarianism
You may remember the hashtag sensation #YesAllWomen a few months back.
The outcry was launched in response to a killing spree of women in Isla Vista, CA. For days, social media was awash with exclamations about the differences between being a man and a woman in our society. Some of them were humorous. Many of them were just plain scary.
As I read through my Twitter feed, two things became very clear:
First, the problems we face when it comes to gender are buried deeper than we realize in the structure of our society.
Second, I have absolutely no idea what it is like to be a woman.
The end result of this was that it destroyed any hope I had for being egalitarian. It’s nice to say women and men should be equal. But #YesAllWomen made it clear that things weren’t going to be that easy. There are layers of well deserved anger and mistrust that had to be addressed. Just saying you’re egalitarian, or handing a woman a mic on Sunday or having a woman elder wasn’t enough.
Which is good. Because it wasn’t enough for Paul either.
Gender in the Kingdom of God
Christians spent most of the last few centuries baptizing institutions and ideas. We had Christian schools, Christian music, Christian breathmints. Many of these ideas are proving themselves to be unviable, unscriptural or even dangerous.
The 21st Century Post-Christian Church in the West has an amazing opportunity ahead of it: Becoming a community that looks more like the Kingdom of God than the world around it. Which is exactly what the first century Church had to do.
As Paul the Apostle traveled the world telling people about Jesus, they responded my creating the Ecclesia: a new assembly of people, not bound by their societal, racial or gender boundaries. In Ephesians 2, Paul describes this assembly as a new household. In the centuries that followed, they were referred to as the third race.
Read the rest of Paul’s letters, and you’ll see that this isn’t just about race. The Ecclesia is redefining what it means to be married or single, what it means to be a slave-owner or a slave and even what it means to be a man or a woman.
With the teachings of the Kingdom, Jesus as example and chief cornerstone and the empowering Holy Spirit, the first century Church redefined what it meant to be a community. Our goal should be no less.
Trading the Firetruck for Listening Skills
All of which brings me back to the dog chasing the fire truck.
When we look at gender in the churches around us they seem to be chasing after something. For some, it is a long lost traditional gender role. For others, it is a more egalitarian organization.
In both cases, we men in the church are chasing after the fire truck of he right way to handle gender. The basic assumption of this fire truck is that there is a right way and if we can just run fast enough, we’ll catch it.
What if we traded our fire truck for listening skills?
If we’re going to become the kind of community that provides a picture of the Kingdom of God, we must face up to the reality of who we are today.
We need to take a hard look at what it means to be a woman and a man in the West. We need to create safe and peaceful spaces to tell these stories. Then we must prayerfully discern together who we will become.
When #YesAllWomen hit, I posted the following questions on my blog, and I share them here in hopes of providing a framework for an extended conversation:
1. What does it mean to be made in the image of God, both male and female?
2. Do our church structures automatically demote women?
3. What words do we use, both existing church language and common =
societal language, that promote sexist or hurtful behavior?
4. How do we teach boys in church to respect women?
5. What jokes do we have to stop making?
6. Are there events, organizations or types of entertainment that we should avoid because of how they portray women?
7. How can men better handle their struggles with shame, rather than turn it into hatred towards women?
8. Why are large sections of the church behind culture in this?
9. What lies does the church propagated about women?
10. What opportunities should the churches create to empower and equip women?
What questions would you add?
—[Image by John Hurd, CC via Flickr]