One of the things we like to do from time to time is to share interesting articles written by our followers. Today’s guest post was written by Charity Johnson, a linguist and TESOL professional living in Indonesia.
I take care of my own tech problems but occasionally I call tech support. Once I’m outed as a middle-aged woman, I’m always pigeon-holed. Invariably I dash tech support’s preconceived ideas about middle-aged women.
Jesus has perpetual appeal in this; he always dashes preconceived notions of who he should be and how he should act.
The Pharisees embroiled him in debate but it took a sharp turn when Jesus responded with a category-smashing, liberating statement for humanity: “… are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well? Do not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment.” (John 7:23b, 24).
When asked “where I am” on the complementarian/egalitarian debate in the church, though I’m weary of the topic, my conscience won’t let me ignore it. Through my brushes with male chauvinistic attitudes (from both genders) and with the power-hungry, I’m aware that churches persist in judging by appearances and not with right judgment. I’m convinced the church needs every adult, male or female, who is willing and qualified as teacher or church leader.
This reawakens me to the urgency of “smashing categories”.
Why now? The problem is the numbers don’t lie. Young women and men believe church is irrelevant to the world they occupy. They are right. Women are allowed to do anything, until they walk into church (granted, not all churches). Young women tell me they see the flaws in the “Christian womanhood” model. You’d have to be blind not to: no one can live up to it because it is a fabricated ideal.
Galatians 3:28 says “There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” The church has dealt with the Jewish/ Gentile rift, and it no longer supports slavery. Yet, females are still barred from particular church roles (even though the Bible is shot through with women leaders such as judges, prophets, apostles, and more). The consequence of barring women is that churches are anachronisms when it comes to women.
Two main currents move women away from leadership in the church.
Neither is a Christian injunction. The health of the church is not benefited when either current is promoted. The currents are often promoted in ignorance, or on a kind of unthinking “auto-pilot,” or a combination of both.
The first current is emphasizing gender tendencies as the preferred “way to be”.
Churches which make gender tendencies prominent submerge individual distinctions. There is nothing in scripture to support the idea that God has delegated gifts, vocation, and talents according to gender. More women than men like to cook: this is a tendency. (It happens to be a tendency I lack.) There is nothing scriptural about a church encouraging people to conform to “typical” gender types. Beyond that, there are also gifts and abilities unique to people. A male chef may be extremely talented: that’s his gifting. It’s how God made him. There is nothing holy or humble about keeping your gifts hidden or repressed. Repression takes on expressions—one of which is depression. If your love is teaching, you should be able to teach (male or female). Doing what you’re outfitted to do well is a form of worship: don’t shoehorn yourself in—or stay away from— what you do best.
Whatever your strengths, they should be encouraged by the church. But if not, don’t wait—you just may need to blaze a trail.
The second current is fusing (and consequently confusing) the early Christian era with the current one.
It’s unfair that in some cultures I’m not called by my first name, but by my husband’s first name. It’s also unfair that my husband is treated better than I am. But in a foreign culture, this becomes my cultural reality. I must accept the non-western culture in its own context, on its own terms, and accommodate it outside the home. However, when I return to my own culture, it would be extremely weird to insist on retaining the foreign culture out of some twisted sense of loyalty.
Similarly, the culture of the 1st century was different from current Western culture; different, not better. The point is simple: To force the culture of a different time and place into our culture is unnecessary and strange. And, it’s lethal for a church to ignore the “local” cultural reality.
People don’t change, times do. My grandmother could kill and pluck a chicken, I never have. That doesn’t make me a better (or worse) person. Schooling (literacy) and a middle class is relatively new historically. For women, universal schooling is even newer. Today, more American women than men have graduate degrees.
Little wonder we lose our way when we drag standard practices of the early church (which was very superstitious and mainly unschooled) into this century. A different era requires different (and changing) demands.
What the Church needs most…
Everyone is unique, and uniqueness defies stereotyping. Creating a categorical rule from a few highly contested biblical passages relegates women to non-people—an anti-Christian perspective. It’s not only wrong but in practice, it is harmful.
People rightly sense that the dominant message of the church regarding women isn’t applicable; to reverse the clock is to live in a fantasy world. Customs are time/ place-specific, and serve society. While customs change, truth doesn’t.
Complementarianism is not a truth of Christ’s message.
Excluding women from leadership has no basis in truth: and this custom no longer fits our society. Christians are tired of bridging opposing worlds—to commend one custom outside of church but to uphold its opposite inside the church. Happily, if the church navigates our cultural current appropriately, the incongruity can be easily put right. It’s a win-win for the church: which will only be strengthened with the addition of good, godly collaborators of any gender.
When we bring out the best in each other, male, female, young and old, in the resultant “rising tide, all boats are lifted.”
I have long since finished with making anyone an idol. My life is in Christ, the Head of the Body, the Eternal Lord. Only Christ is life-invigorating, liberating and category-smashing.
Your Turn: What are some practical ways to help the church-at-large escape the currents Charity mentions (over-emphasis on gender roles and ignoring cultural realities)?
For more on how views of gender tendencies and roles develop, read this recent post on Perception and Gender Roles.
Latest posts by Charity Johnson (see all)
- Phebe Willets: (Woman) Preacher of the 1700s - July 21, 2014
- Don’t Be Like Tech Support to Me: On Smashing Categories - November 15, 2013