Tuesday, April 29, 2008

What Mothers Tell Us About God

Last week as I was responding to comments on my last post "How Religion Hurts Women" (which did, by the way produce a provocative, respectful interchange in the comment. I want to applaud all the women who contributed--thank you!) I was also juggling another blog assignment for Zondervan, in honor of mother's for Mother's Day. I had already titled it, "What Mothers Tell Us About God." I think it's worth posting that blog here as well, to sort of clear the air and buoy up moms that I love and respect. I want to be very clear that mothers in all their various, creative ways of mothering, are part of the way we understand God better.

Syndicated from Zondervan Blog:

I’ve always liked the way God involved mothers in his clean-up program for planet Earth. It’s rather inspiring to me to read that when Eve failed, God didn’t shove her out of the way. Instead God treated her as if she was capable to handle her own judgment and responsibility. Embedded in God’s words to the snake and to Eve, we find both pain and hope that a mother, I’m sure Eve hoped it would be her, would bear someone capable of crushing the evil one.

of years later, many disappointed mothers later, God chose a young, girl, probably no older than a seventh
grader, as the chosen one to bear the Messiah in her womb. We don’t know that much about Mary. She was young. She was engaged. She was untried in her mothering skills. She probably never went to a class on what to expect in labor or how to prepare for a baby’s first year. She was relatively poor, a second-class citizen to the Romans, a refugee by the time she gets to Bethlehem. She was, in the eyes of many of us today, a gamble. But God chose her.

God continues to choose women to birth new life into this world and that itself feels like a gamble. (Are you sure you want more people on this earth, God? I mean, things don’t seem to be getting better.) But I believe God knows that there’s something to women, something in our strength and our image-bearing capacities that we don’t always see.

In the beginning, God created Eve for reasons we often miss. God thought planet Earth needed a woman, not to do the laundry or to give Adam another dependent, but because all his creation needed a female human image-bearer, another way of being human. It’s almost like God knew, later on, we might doubt men and women are the same species (ahem, Mars/Venus) and so purposively makes Adam from earth and Eve from his body signaling how interconnected men and women are, from the start. He thought we could both make it on the same planet.

I love how God was not ashamed of creating Eve to reflect him on earth. God is not afraid of being identified with femininity. Even in the stereotypical “mothering” tasks of laundry, home-making, cooking and sheltering, God is the first one we find doing each of these. God was the first tailor, clothing Adam and Eve with skins. God cleans up the mess of Noah’s neighbor’s wickedness by putting the earth on what could be called, and I don’t want to sound flippant, a rinse cycle. God makes earth fit for life, giving water to every animal, providing food right on time (Ps. 104: 10-13 and 27-28). God is a great housekeeper of this planet, as the Psalmist says, he spreads out the heavens like a tent, covering the deeps with water as with a garment (Ps 104: 2 and 6). These pictures have awakened me to the many mothers in my life, women who are living cameos of God.

I have two grandmothers, one tall and one short. When my short grandmother . . . (to read the rest visit Zondervan's Blog)

Saturday, April 19, 2008

When Religion Hurts Women- Yearning for Zion Ranch and Mars Hill Church

I've noticed something about Christians' response to the recent child custody case over Yearning for Zion Ranch (YFZ) read more. We don't really know how to come down on all this.

We could just say Mormons are not identical to Christians. The Fundamentalist Church of Latter-Day Saints (FLDS) believes in things beyond our Scripture, their founder Joseph Smith originally taught polygamy, increased heavenly rewards for multiple children, God used to be a man and man can one day become a god and strict and somewhat weird rules have followed: no caffeine, stockpiles for a year, year long mandatory mission trips for males.

But don't Christians also have seemingly weird (to the world) rules, too (no gays in our clergy, prohibitionist residue, no sex before marriage, shame about divorce, males in charge of church and home)? If we harp too loudly against the FLDS, what might the state's newly flexed muscles do to Christians?

As one FLDS mother of two boys (ages 11 and 14) said (quoted by CBS, April 19, 2008), "We are all Heavenly Father's children. You have your religion. I have mine. You choose to live how you want. I choose how I live mine. Is this not freedom? Can't we choose?"

We get to see how unclear the line between freedom of religion and the powers of the state really is. For some our freedom ends when we harm another. As one person, identified as "joyous88", wrote on CBS comment line,
"We can say with certainity {sic} that any group that isolates human beings from the outside world, be it the catholics, the christian sects and cults that abound, or small little husbands that want to enslave their wives, any group or person that isolates human beings is up to no good, they are hiding their dirty little secret and need to be found out."

Do you agree? I believe that when religion enforces a belief that hurts another image bearer of God we should at least pause.

But here's where it gets sticky. In America there are few things more sacred than the love of mother for child. So when I see the worried faces of the mothers on The Today Show (watch the video here and see for yourself), asking to be reunited with their children in order to love their children, to protect them from the world, I see their argument. Who are we to remove the children from their mothers?

The state responds: These mothers were not able to love their children. They were accomplices in illegal marriages between minors (as young as 13) and men their senior. No woman can be truly free when their concept of freedom is mediated through their male leaders. No teen is capable of freely choosing marriage when all her mentors advocate polygamy and perpetual child-bearing as the means for godliness.

These accusations have yet to be seen, however, I've noticed a growing discomfort in me as I've read both sides of the argument.

The debate hits very close to conservative Christian understandings of womanhood, motherhood and gender roles.

Traditional Motherhood

Our cultural conception of motherhood (and this is especially strong among Bible-believing Christians) is that women have a sacred office as primary child-care giver. We justify this with Scripture (though I have found no single verse that exhorts women to spend more time mothering than any other activity, the mandates for childrearing are usually given to parents or just to fathers). We write books linking the uniqueness of women to bear children as the proof that it is "natural" (by which we actually mean common) for women to stay home with their children. We go so far to write essays on the proper and godly vocation of mothers at home. We've dubbed this "Biblical Womanhood" (see Piper and Grudem's Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood with chapters like "The Church as Family: Why Male Leadership in the Family Requires Male Leadership in the Church" and "The High Calling of Wife and Mother in Biblical Perspective").
There are journals, blogs, letters, organizations and manifestos all intent upon preserving "traditional" (by which we mean the last 100 years) gender roles, baptizing these ideas in every Scripture imaginable. As a side-note, before the Industrial Revolution there was no such thing as a "stay-at-home" mother, both parents worked together, children as young as 6 participating by caring for younger siblings and learning the family business (for more see Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen's Gender and Grace: Love, Work and Parenting in a Changing World and My Brother's Keeper: What the Social Sciences do and don't Tell us About Masculinity, and Sharon Hays' The Cultural Contradictions of Motherhood).

In scouring most Christian literature (Van Leeuwan's books offer refreshing exceptions to the rule) I've found few questioning the sacred love between mother and child. But Jesus does.

Mother's Sacred Love?

"Large crowds were traveling with Jesus, and turning to them he said: "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even life itself—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple." (Luke 14:25-27)

How could a mother's love for her children get in the way of her love for Jesus?

There exist certain desires, we often call them instincts, that are more common and more convenient than others. Mother's love for their children, for instance, is much more convenient and helpful to society than the desire for vengeance, so we tend to think that mother love is a better, more natural, even a sacred instinct. We rarely have to discourage mother love. And yet, Jesus does.

C.S. Lewis does a good job explaining why,
It is a mistake to think that some of our impulses--say mother love or patriotism--are good, and others, like sex or the fighting instinct, are bad. All we mean is that the occasions on which the fighting instinct or the sexual desire need to be restrained are rather more frequent than those for restraining mother love or patriotism. But there are situations in which it is the duty of a married man to encourage his sexual impulse . . there are also occasions on which a mother's love for her children have to be suppressed . . . Strictly speaking, there are no such things as good and bad impulses" (Mere Christianity, 23).

Jesus was saying that mother's role as mother can get in the way of a woman's love for her God. Women, especially American, Christian women have a very hard time believing that a mother does not know what is best for children. And we, rightly so, get nervous when the state moves in claiming to know better.

The YZR case is difficult because we are watching the real possibility of a mother not knowing what is best for her children. We are seeing that women influenced by her gods or her devils can actually harm herself and her children. If we believed mother love is sacred, this is a heavy blow.

Here's where I believe we need to make some distinctions between Mormonism and Christianity. But both are controversial and both show that some forms of Christianity do, in fact, harm women.

First, the God of the Bible has not mandated that women be primary care-givers. If we choose to stay home with our children, well and good, but doing so is our choice, not more biblical, not more godly, not more honoring to Jesus than working full-time, hiring a nanny, using day care, or inviting a relative to care for our children. So the idea of a woman/mother having more wisdom for parenting than a man is not Biblical.

One Mediator Between God and Woman: Husband

The second distinction between Mormonism and Christianity is even more controversial. It is about a man's role of leadership. Can a woman trust God to lead her through her husband? Many Christians say yes.

I'm afraid I'm going to have to step on more toes. While I'm not saying it is impossible for God to lead through another person, it is not necessary to expect that "spiritual leader" should be an exclusively male role. I would argue that it is un-Biblical to believe that any spiritual leader should mediate my ideas of Jesus, God's will, motherhood, womanhood, identity, salvation, grace, truth. This is not what Jesus teaches.

Here's where patriarchy (literally "male-rule" also called complementarianism) slides down a slippery slope. Patriarchy can produce places (in churches or in Texas ranches) where women see their godliness hinging on approval from the male leaders. I believe this is a flaw in patriarchy, not just an abuse by cultic leaders.

Priesthood of All Believers

I'm a firm advocate of the Protestant belief and Quaker practice of the priesthood of all believers (I Peter 2:9-10). Which means that males are not the only priests, women are, too. We are each equipped with a mind, will and emotions and these are gifts for the equipping of the entire body, our entire families, not just in being a wonderful mother and homemaker

"So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ" (Eph 4:11-13).

By golly, yes, women need to mother, but not more than fathers need to father. Sure women need to be in the nursery but not more than men need to be in the nursery. Absolutely men need to be in the pulpit, but women need to be in the pulpit as well. For a further explanation of women and authority including Biblical passages, read the Soulation article Dale and I co-wrote "Unmuted: The Welcome Colors of a Woman's Voice".

We need one another's differences all over, in our churches, our homes, our parenting, our organizations, our manifestos, our government. So in this way I am a complementarian, I believe men and women need to compliment one another all the way up and all the way down the chain of command.

So can men be spiritual leaders, without removing responsibility that women cultivate their own leadership in their own lives? Let me be quick to assert that I do believe men should be spiritual leaders, but I believe women should be spiritual leaders along-side them. Women and men will lead differently and this is precisely why we need one another in leadership (for more see my first book Ruby Slippers: How the Soul of a Woman Brings Her Home).

Imagine if women had been given an equal portion of authority over families as men at the Yearning for Zion Ranch? Do you think they would have dressed as they do? Do you think they would sit as they do? Do you think they would practice polygamy? Do you think they would have chosen to marry so early? To have as many children as they did? We will never know. The fact of the FLDS is that women's authority was severely curbed because of their womanhood. I'd invite you to watch the women's demeanor, tone of voice, eyes, posture and their reticent spirits in the Today Show interview. Judge for yourself.

One of my favorite apologetics for Jesus is the way he treated women. Compare him to Joseph Smith. Notice how Jesus was the first to claim that women had a place: alongside his disciples to learn (Mary leaving the woman's place in the kitchen for the disciples' company at his feet), to decide to obey (Mary Magdalene at the tomb), to evangelize (Samaritan woman at the well), to know him (Martha at Lazarus' tomb). Nowhere does Jesus even hint that women must rely on their spiritual leaders (both men and women are called to mutual submission, Eph 5:21), nowhere does Jesus suggest that women's primary glory and responsibility is in mothering her children, nowhere does Jesus teach that women are anything less than co-image bearers of God deserving of equal dignity and rights of decision-making.

While the state may have inappropriately torn children from parents, perhaps they moved too soon, perhaps they were too harsh (removing cell phones from children and mothers). I am glad, however, the state is concerned with protecting women and children from men who mediate truth from God. Anytime a prophet prevents an image-bearer of God from using her own mind, will, emotions, I'm concerned. This is why some have called the YZR a brain-washing cult. (Picture is aerial photograph of FLDS temple and cabin-style barracks).

In some of our churches we have advocated similar things, the sacredness of motherhood over all other vocations for women. If you doubt it, I invite you to read something from Mars Hill Church, the fastest growing church in Seattle, pastored by Mark Driscoll. Read this blog for and by women "Reforming the Feminine". Here you will find a post of a housewife sharing her "sin of idolatry" for wanting more than a life of motherhood "A Desperate Housewife Comes Clean" (June 29, 2007). A long list of affirming comments reveal the prevalence of women at Mars Hill who feel ashamed of their desires for a career, believing this desire is both sinful and idolatrous. One wife, mother and blog contributor, Shelly Ossinger,wrote:

(Almost) every Sunday for the last 7 years since I officially ended my ‘career’, I ferret the Seattle Times Job Classified section to find all the jobs in the legal field I ‘could’ have. For some reason (that I quit analyzing or agonizing or guilting myself over many editions ago), this is comforting, to think there are jobs out there that I could pursue. Then Mark shakes his head and winks at me as he hands me the stinky kitchen rag that really should have went in the laundry yesterday, I wipe Jack’s oatmeal off the floor and last nights dirt from Henry’s nose before I sound my last holler alarm to the teenagers to GET UP NOW. (As a sidenote, occasionally, I still get cold feet when I think of my marriage, but that’s another story.) God is faithful and good to conform us into the image of His Son (that’s what this whole gig is about).

Is this the image that God had in mind? If we are to be like Jesus then we are to use all our powers and gifts for all the body whether at home or in an office. Being a full-time mother may be the best place for you or me, but we must decide this. To be a mother because we feel this is the only place a woman can be "in God's will" sounds uncomfortably similar to a ranch in Texas. I hear echoes of mind-control, abusive ideas and harm to women. Others have weighed in with concern over Mark Driscoll's teaching on women (see Faith and Gender: A Necessary Conversation). I want to add my voice to this concern. This idolatry of the home, idolatry of our husbands is not what Jesus brought.

"But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy" (I Peter 2:9-10).

Monday, April 14, 2008

How Can a Woman Lead with Power and Wisdom?

At the National Pastor's Convention a few months back I was honored to sit on a panel of female speakers and writers to discuss women and the church. The idea of femininity and power came up, along with the Iron Lady motif, a term used to describe strong-willed female heads of state (see "The Myth of the Iron Lady"). This title conjures up a female trying to protect herself, putting on armor, not open-minded, open-hearted, definitely not vulnerable.

My next book project, Walking in Her Shoes, delves into the human (yes guys do this, too) tendency to distance ourselves from anyone who threatens us. This could include anyone with more power than we have. I've come across (thanks to Katherine Routenberg) a fascinating discovery of a word to describe females in power. I think it covers the ambivalence better than "Iron Lady." The word is virago\vuh-RAY-go\, noun;

1. A woman of extraordinary stature, strength, and courage.
2. A woman regarded as loud, scolding, ill-tempered, quarrelsome, or overbearing.

How's that for a narrow line to walk? Virago comes from the Latin meaning "a man-like woman, a female warrior, a heroine" from vir, "a man." Here it is used in literature.
This virago, this madwoman, finally got to me, and I was subjected to the most rude, the most shocking violence I can remember.
-- José Limón, An Unfinished Memoir
To arms! to arms! the fierce virago cries.
Virago . . . serpent under femininity.
I want to be a woman of extraordinary stature and courage, a woman of spirit. In fact, in reading through books like Wild at Heart, or Expeditionary Man, I find myself wanting the adventure, the wildness, too. But the virago in me is cautious, because she is rarely simply admired and thanked for her extraordinary spirit. Be a heroine and you risk becoming scolding, quarrelsome, ill-tempered, everything awful about women in Proverbs.
  1. Proverbs 21:9
    It is better to live in a corner of a roof / Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.
  2. Proverbs 21:19
    It is better to live in a desert land / Than with a contentious and vexing woman.
  3. Proverbs 25:24
    It is better to live in a corner of the roof/ Than in a house shared with a contentious woman.
And I want people to want to be with me. I don't want those I love to prefer roof or desert or corners rather than me. In the words of Colorado's Congresswoman, one-time Democrat Presidential Candidate, Patricia Schroeder, "Women have more power than they recognize, and they're very hesitant to use it, for they fear they won't be loved."

That's what holds me back.

I'm wondering, can a woman lead powerfully, beautifully, masterfully, wisely? Can a woman be a virago without being manly, ill-tempered and cold?

The problem surfaces when we assume that femininity must mean softer. How can you be "soft" and a leader? Perhaps our definition of a leader must change, or our definition of femininity. I have to admit that I assume a leader will be impartial, sort of rational, somewhat cool and calculating. I'm envisioning Solomon with the two women fighting over the one live baby, cool as a cucumber while asking for a sword to slice the infant in half, I Kings 3:16-28. Could a woman, would a woman do that? I actually think she could. But what would we call her afterwards? wise? or cold, unfeeling, an Iron Lady? For a good leader must be both wise and shrewd, careful and bold. A good leader must be able to put themselves into their subject's shoes, enough so to judge justly. And women are often very good at that, feeling what other's feel, seeing what other's see. Well, why doesn't this leadership trait get recognized as a strength rather than a weakness?

I don't know enough female leaders to point to one and use her as an example(Can anyone recommend excellent biographies of women in power?). So for fear of overstepping my bounds I'm going to stick with Jesus. Was Jesus a good leader? I'm reading through Mark right now, taking notes on Jesus and have found him to be more shrewd than I have hence remembered. He's bold, even sounds sort of bossy at times and he's very empathetic, quick to listen, even to pause and be re-directed in his plans (think of the women who bled for years and interrupted Jesus' resurrection miracle for Jarius' daughter). Of all leaders I've seen, I'd like to be like this one. Under Jesus' banner, women can lead.

Women can lead with power and wisdom, if they are acting like Jesus. So here's the follow-up question. Have you ever seen a woman lead like Jesus? What was that like?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

How Harsh Environments Hurt Men and Women

Syndicated from my post for Gifted for Leadership.

The snow whipped around my home in the Rocky Mountains. The night wind howled and woke me. My husband, Dale, heard it too but in our sturdy home, reliable furnace, and warm comforter we just snuggled closer.

Yet, put me back before electricity, fuel, and birth control and a storm like that could shake me up. I’d be more dependent on Dale for food and warmth, possibly pregnant, definitely cold. And I sincerely doubt I would be a writer/speaker working alongside my husband. This world without our modern inventions affects how men and women interact. Without protection a harsher environment actually segregates women from men.

Let me explain. As David Gilmore of the State University of New York has observed (Manhood in the Making: Cultural Concepts of Masculinity), in most cultures men must earn and maintain their masculinity through stressful testing. Women are granted safer jobs that allow for the bearing and nursing of children. Therefore, in case of danger, the men may be sacrificed first and are easily replaced. So our biological distributions predispose women for safety and men for risk. Women are essential; men are expendable, as practices in the animal kingdom (one male with a harem) and polygamy indicate. But, Gilmore is quick to assert, men are not naturally noble, nor more eager for the job. Men must be pushed into risk. Boys are coerced, and when required, shamed, into manhood making obstacles and male rites of passage, to prove they are real men.

To continue reading visit: Gifted for Leadership (April 4, 2008).