Wednesday, June 25, 2008

How Complementarians and Egalitarians can Grow

I've just read Christianity's Today article "Wounds of a Friend: Complementarian" by Dr. John Koessler, chair of the pastoral studies department at Moody Bible Institute, a self-described complementarian (he believes women cannot serve in certain roles because of their differences and/or God's commands in Scripture) who makes this point: "Adam's first sin was his silence in the garden when Eve was being tempted. His subsequent sin has been to silence the voice of his God-given partner."

While I do not believe Adam's first sin was his silence (God never judges or rebukes him for this) I do believe men are guilty of silencing their God-given partner. Koessler warns complementarians from using Scripture to push a certain social construct and control over women, one of which is manifest in calling stay-at-home mother's as those who are accepting "God's highest calling." As one woman friend tells him, "My children are grown and out of the house. So when I hear people say that a woman's 'highest calling' is to be a wife and mother, I find myself wondering if there isn't anything else for me to do for Christ."

This is precisely what some complementarians have done to women, in their eagerness to uphold the excellent work of mothering, they've allowed all other valuable, excellent jobs, vocations, ministries to pale in comparison. This is not what Christ teaches, which Koessler points out in detail in his article. I mention this here because of a recent post and long, dedicated discussion many of you contributed to the topic of stay-at-home mothering. To read this spirited, kind exchange go to "When Religion Hurts Women."

In a follow-up article, Dr. Sarah Sumner warns egalitarians (those who believe women and men should serve in any capacity in which they are gifted be it elder, deacon, pastor, teacher) in her article "Wounds from a Friend: Egalitarian" that egalitarians need to be careful to use carefully exegeted passages to defend their belief in women's public ministry, not political ideologies (and I'd add gut feelings like, "I feel very strongly that women should be permitted to preach.") Egalitarians must be careful about taking Scripture out of context, not slapping just one definition of "head" on I Cor 11, to be wary of a marriage where there is no mutuality, but only independent individuals operating without the other's input or love and to guard against a genderless church.

This last point is a problem I've noticed in the egalitarian movement. It is a problem that worked it's way into an answer in my first book, Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home. I'd like to share a short excerpt from chapter five, "A Natural Woman" the footnotes follow below.

Our bodies change the way our souls work. Our very experience of life is female. This difference goes beyond baby-birthing, nursing and menopause . . .

Women have dieted, tanned, styled, dyed, and even cut their bodies in order to get that one marketed look. Few women have observed and lived with their bodies intentionally enough to enjoy owning them, as they are, right now, not next month when I might be able to squeeze into my skinny jeans or after I have a baby when my breasts might swell a bit bigger. Not ten years ago when my stomach was a prepubescent flat washboard, but learning to be “in” my body and accept it right now. We don’t want our bodies, particularly not if they’re vulnerable vessels. This discontentment over our bodies’ vulnerability is the first place we need Christ’s help—to show us that women’s bodies are a good thing

My body is something I get to give over to my husband, a difficult task unless I actually believe that it is mine, part of me, and that my body is a good thing.
[1] I know women who smirk and grimace when their husbands praise their bodies—confident that he is misguided, blind or lying, or embarrassed to have attention called to their flesh. They don’t believe him or anyone else

Until my body and soul are really my own possessions, I cannot present them to anyone. Writer Virginia Stem Owens asks a grippingly good question, “Can I be friends with myself if I am not friends with my body?”
[2] To be friends with our bodies is a good form of self-possession, allowing us to own ourselves enough to be capable of giving ourselves away to God and others. What if we re-defined our bodies with Christ as our first consultant, not fashion, models or my own hurtful standards? What if I asked Christ what he thinks of thick thighs, thin calves, flabby arms and love handles? He may be more concerned at our attitudes towards our bodies than our bodies themselves. My body is something I get to steward, to love, to cherish, to be “in,” to give, until death do us part. After death, I get a new one and I’m not certain it will look all that drastically different from this one. Job says, “In my flesh, I will see God.”[3] It may be time to learn to like what I have been given.

[1] This is perhaps the most egalitarian statement in Scripture: “The wife does not have authority over her own body, but the husband does; and likewise also the husband does not have authority over his own body, but he wife does. Stop depriving one another” (1 Corinthians 7:4-5). We get to give our bodies to one another.

[2] Owens deftly illustrates and struggles with the identity she feels with her body. This short story covers her encounter with a lump in her breast, her mother’s Parkinson’s, and her daughter’s horror at old ladies’ bodies. In the end she refuses to surrender her questions to the TV commercials or her HMO. It is this kind of honest body attention that women need to practice together. “The Message in the Body,” Image: Art, Faith, Mystery 48 (Winter 2005): 90

[3] Job 19:25-26. A thought to ponder: Do you think your femininity is something about you that you keep, even when your body is gone? In other words, do you think you will interact with God in heaven as a woman, or as an androgynous soul? When Jesus says that our resurrected bodies will be like the angels neither marrying nor giving in marriage, does he mean we lose our soul’s gender or just the earthly institution of marriage? Perhaps he means to point out that the exclusivity of marriage will be superseded, even outdated in the kingdom of God. See Luke 20:34-38. Could Abraham be Abraham without being male? What about you—can you be you without being female? I cannot imagine otherwise. (quoted from pages 106-108).

I cannot see how anyone gains by minimizing the obvious differences in the bodies and souls of men and women. And even if egalitarians assert that men and women are not exactly the same, if we fail to talk about it, explain and understand these differences, then our differences are not permitted to make a real impression on our lives, our marriage, and our churches.

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Ciara's "Like a Boy"

Last Spring I went to the Steamboat Springs Dance Theater and watched a troupe of women dance to Ciara's R&B number "Like a Boy" (watch the music video). As the song begins she looks at the audience, covered in tatoos and bling diamond rings, chains looping her skinny neck and spits out, "It's 2007, ladies, I think it's time to switch roles." Some of her lyrics stood out to me,

Wish we could switch up the roles
Tell you I love you
But when you call I never get back
Would you ask them questions like me?...
Like where you be at?
Cause I'm out 4 in the morning
On the corner rolling
Doing my own thing

What if I?...
Had a thing on the side?
Made ya cry?
Would the rules change up?...
Or would they still apply?...
If I played you like a toy?...
Sometimes I wish I could act like a boy
What if I made ya cry!
Would they still apply!
What if I...
If I played you like a toy
Sometimes I wish I could act like a boy!

Of course, boys wouldn't have license to cheat (something Ciara makes sounds like freedom but it is really a cheap substitute for the freedom of faithfulness, freedom of sexual history with the same person, freedom of not being manipulated by a new young thing) if there were not two permissive parties, namely the girlfriend who puts up with it and the girl he's cheating with. I mean for every guy who's out having a "thing on the side" there are two girls giving him a chance to have it.

I don't want to get too high and mighty as a girl.

For all the stereotypes of how women don't cheat like guys, I don't buy it. There's a willing girl behind all men's affairs, willing to cheat with him against the bond and history of intimacy he had with his wife. Unless there's one hyper-active sexual female out there (a Superwoman of affairs), every time a man cheats on his wife, a woman is making it possible.

Both genders have fault lines running through their souls.

If women were to take Ciara's ideas and apply them, really become like arrogant, cheating boys, we would not have anything new. Thousands of years ago Solomon painted a picture of what Ciara fantasizes about, the woman who wanders the streets late at night, who lurks waiting for prey, who is defiant and unkind, who perfumes her sheets, waits until her husband's out of town on one long business trip and then "like a boy" or rather "like a girl", she takes hold of a young man, kisses him full on the mouth and says,

"I came out to meet you; I looked for you and have found you. I have covered my bed with colored linens from Egypt (think Egyptian cotton). I have perfumed my bed with myrrh, aloes and cinnamon. Come, let's drink deep of love till morning." (Proverbs 7:15-18).

This is the way a girl (and Ciara's song proves a boy, too) persuade. Seduction with smooth words.

I think upon watching and reading Ciara's lyrics several times that she is saying more than it appears. Most the boys I know are as hurt by infidelity, unreturned phone calls, and wives showing up at 4 in the morning as girls would be. I think that's Ciara's point. She's given us a good picture of what it means to "do unto others as you would have them do to you" but she's taken the opposite approach. If you don't want a taste of something, don't dish it out to others.

If I act like you Walk A mile off in yo shoes (Would Ya Like That?) I'm mess'n with your head again Dose of your own medicine.

Ciara doesn't want to be like a boy, not really, and I think she's showing guys that perhaps they don't want to be like these boys either. Perhaps she doesn't want girls or guys to act so un-human. If so I agree with her.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Are Women Natural Lovers?

This article was written for Christianity Today's Marriage Partnership and can be viewed in a slightly different version online and in the summer issue under a different title, "What We Need."

I grew up believing, like most females bred on 20th century evangelical Christianity, that women naturally love their husbands. It’s preached from pulpits, written in bestselling books, and seems to be a convenient explanation for Ephesians 5:21-33, that mini-manifesto on marriage: “Women are commanded to respect, not love, because God made women to love, loving comes naturally to them.”

Well, with a whopping six years of marriage under my belt, I’ve unearthed two rather inconvenient truths.

The first is that, despite my womanhood, I am not a naturally loving person. I act with impatience, stonewalled silence and selfishness just as quickly as a man. I wish I naturally unconditionally loved my husband, Dale, but I do not. Perhaps I could fool myself into thinking that moments of nurture, sensitivity and compassion, the sweet notes, anniversary surprises and home cooked meals prove otherwise, but really now! Love is more vigorous and hearty than romance and sweetness. Love takes the harder road, the more personalized approach than the one-size-fits-all technique that assumes sexy lingerie, warm dinners and a commitment to stay-at-home with the kids are what every husband needs. Despite the free advice at bridal showers, “Men want a Martha in the kitchen, a Mary in the living room and a Delilah in the bedroom” love requires much, much more attention to who my husband is.

I have to get know him, not what I think he should want, but what he really wants. From day one Dale surprised me. He wanted my body and soul, not just a flimsy bit of chiffon in bed. He’d rather me not cook, preferring to eat out so as to have my undivided attention as a conversationalist. He wanted my interests to guide my career path; and when he saw I could teach, made space in his life for me as a partner to travel and speak and write alongside. His wants came as a surprise to me; he wanted my love. Loving my husband, not my idea of a husband, didn’t come naturally to me, the good church girl prepared to maintain an arsenal of slinky unmentionables, Martha Stewart meals and a brood of children.

The second surprising truth upset me even more profoundly. I discovered I could respect my husband beautifully, but fail to love him completely. According to Dr. Emerson Eggerich’s popular Love and Respect: The Love She Most Desires, The Respect He Desperately Needs, disrespect means to “hold in contempt.” I had followed Eggerich’s formula to perfection, I avoided contempt of Dale, I honored him, I treated him as my hero, but until I studied him and his needs, I was deficient in love.

Respect devoid of love is not the Biblical goal. The mother in My Big Fat Greek Wedding had one without the other, “The husband is the head, but the wife is the neck. And the neck can turn the head any way she wants.” It’s easy to do exactly what my husband wishes, revere his decisions, go out to eat with him, but fail to engage with him as a person, as an equal, as a wife who wills his good. I can keep my love safe and locked away, my wishes unrevealed; my vulnerabilities protected and yet shine as a stellar respecter of my husband. (Respect without love may be acceptable in the military, but it is not acceptable in a marriage where two are working to become one). Loving him means I unlock my opinions to him. I discover what I uniquely bring to our relationship. Love of the 1 Corinthians 13 variety requires I bring my whole self to engage with Dale’s whole self. Love is open-faced and open-hearted, it only rejoices in the truth, refusing to passive-aggressively steer men behind the scenes.

It’s too easy to magnify the gender specific commands in Ephesians 5:33 to ‘love’ and ‘respect’ forgetting the first verse of this passage, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 5:21, TNIV). Despite the English translators' sub-titles, verse 21 is the starting point, not verse 22. The apostle Paul gave us a strong hint to start with mutual submission when he placed the key verb "submit" in verse 21 but not in verse 22 (it's there in the English translations, but not in the original Greek). The two verses belong together. Paul is showing us that submission has various ways of showing up, including the submission of love and the submission of respect.

Submission is not an event following a disagreement when my husband uses his 51% vote to break the stalemate. Submission, according to Paul, is a life-long orientation towards all people I love, my husband topping the list. It’s a command for all women and all men, a major theme of the good life in Christ threaded throughout Scripture.

Respect is a way of submission. It is one way I alter my own life for the sake of another. Respect involves a sort of bowing, honoring, revering another as worthy. Respect, as a way of submission, is God’s will for both men and women. We are to have this sort of respect for those who don’t know Christ (1 Pet 3:15). We are told to give respect to all to whom respect is due (Rom 13:7). We are told to honor all people (Rom 12:10). If we read the whole of Scripture, wives, no less than husbands, are worthy of and want respect. Respect will always be significant in any enterprise where we want to preserve the spirit of unity and the bonds of peace.

Love is also a way of submission. Love requires that I bow my will to know and value another. Ultimate love is sacrifice, giving up my life, bending, re-ordering my wishes under those of another. Love means I lay down my life, offering my life for yours in the mundane moments of toothpaste, parenting and money management squabbles. Love is one way husbands submit to their wives, but Paul is not excusing wives from loving in the same way. Laying down our lives for another is a command for all Christians (1 John 3:16). Paul writes that love is one of the fruits of the Spirit in us, evidence in all believers, male or female, husband or wife, of the life of God coursing through our souls.

In re-distributing the commands of love and respect equally among men and women I don’t mean to advocate an androgyny of the sexes. I’ve spent the last 4 years speaking and writing on the uniqueness of women. My job and passion as a female apologist is to defend the ways God made women different and vital in reflecting his image on earth. There are plenty of differences between men and women but the commands to love and respect are not among them. If we limit love to husbands and respect to wives, we’re not being consistent with the whole biblical picture. Both sexes need love. Both sexes need respect. And we all have much work to do.

Now here’s my caveat to women: I’ve come across an interesting trend in my study of women’s uniqueness. Women, especially Christian women, have a proclivity toward list-making. We love to know the requirements, to write them down and fulfill them to the letter. So if we come to believe that respect is our husband’s main needs, and our number one priority in marriage, we risk forgetting that we must work on unconditional (agape) love as well. For loving another does not come naturally to any of us.

Perhaps in light the book, Love and Respect's popularity, men’s love and women’s respect is a first step in marriage, but it cannot be the last. Love and respect are the mortar and the stone in the path of all relationships. They are the way modeled by Christ and the road for all women and men to walk.

I was re-watching BBC’s version of Pride and Prejudice recently when a line from Jane Bennet sounded like a clarion call. “A marriage where either partner cannot love and respect the other . . . cannot be agreeable to either party.” I cannot help but believe that Paul the apostle would have heartily agreed.