Saturday, May 26, 2012

sexism is an epic contradiction of God's way

God loved the people of this world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who has faith in him will have eternal life and never really die.  God did not send his Son into the world to condemn its people. He sent him to save them! (John 3:16-17)
Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. (Amos 5:24)
Live the truth of the Gospel of love!
SEXISM: This week I’ve been thinking about the progress our culture had made over the past few decades regarding justice, and in particular the role of women both inside and outside of the home.
In many ways there is a lot to cheer about. But at the same time I’m concerned because I still see so much chauvinism and inequality in places that hold the affections and guide the lives of people who really should know better.
  • First, I don’t believe the “glass ceiling” has been shattered or removed so much as adjusted – maybe raised a little in a few places.
  • Then, disturbingly, there’s an active moving backward in much of fundamentalist religion that isn’t content to simply devalue women at church; it reaches to the core of society via adherents’ influence in families, businesses, civic organizations and politics.
STORY: One reason this is on my mind is a story I’ve been working on this week. It’s about a woman called to ministry in her mid-40′s. She told me about an abusive church environment (she and her husband eventually left) that imposed subservience on women rather than inviting discipleship. Her experience laid the groundwork for a distorted image of God that was negative, restrictive, and chauvinistic.
Eventually she learned the truth about love and grace and was able to hear God’s call to ministry. One of her key motivations now is to serve Jesus in such a way that people are introduced to the God who is invitational and permission giving rather than the image presented in the trappings of chauvinism, condemnation, and fear.
Unfortunately, many churches still nurture an ethos that both marginalizes women and encourages men to stake out an authority (read “domination”) both at church and at home that is anything but equal or Christ-like.
LANGUAGE: As a writer, I pay attention to language. Recently I’ve been shocked to note what seems like a widespread reversion to the sexist phrasings of yesteryear. I hear it on television (commercials and shows), on the radio, in conversation, and especially in religion. Gender-exclusive language does exactly that – it excludes women. And exclusive language is so easy to avoid that there’s really no excuse for anyone to use it after all these years – unless they really do intend to make a point about women.
Here’s one example. I clicked on the website of one of the largest churches in town, and this is just a small sample of what you get under, “What we believe.”
  • The Bible… was written by MEN who were divinely inspired. It is God’s revelation of Himself to MAN
  • The Holy Spirit… He enables MEN to understand God’s truth…
  • Mankind… MAN was created by the special act of God… In the beginningMAN was innocent… By his free choice, MAN sinned against God…  By his nature MAN is sinful… Only the grace of God can bring MAN back into a relationship with God.
The words we listen to and the phrases we speak help to structure the way that we think; the way we think affects the content of our consciousness; the architecture of our consciousness/cognition plays out in the way that we formulate ideas…and believe… and act… and impact the world… and raise our children….
CULTURE: In these kinds of religious institutions a mindset has evolved (it’s the product of decades and in some cases centuries) that has somehow engrafted the values, priorities, prejudices, and closed-mindedness of a historically male-centric culture onto to the values and priorities of God. It has made the small-mindedness of just a few people interchangeable with the character of God.
  • Yet the Bible is full of examples of God using women to lead God’s people, from the judge Deborah to many of the key players in the early church (including Priscilla, Aquila, Lydia, Phoebe and Philip’s daughters…).
  • And the biblical narrative is the ongoing story of God demonstrating to human beings that God’s way – eventually Christ’s New and Living Way – invites everyone (slave and free, Greek and Jew, male and female) into a full expression of Kingdom life (in which gender has absolutely nothing to do with the way we experience grace and love and redemption and more)….
  • And the radical thrust of the ministry of Jesus was always to overturn the artificial barriers we like to create between ourselves – all of the “isms.”
GOD IS SO MUCH BIGGER THAN THIS: God has always surprised men and women by moving outside and beyond the restrictions and the limitations we chose to impose in order to protect our preferred order of things.
To proclaim Christ with one hand and to willfully restrict the role of women with the other is an epic contradiction! Yet such chauvinism is a central practice in both this nation’s largest protestant denomination (the Southern Baptist Church) and the world’s dominant Christian faith (Roman Catholic) – as well as many other denominations.
God is so much bigger than our limitations
THE RADICAL GOSPEL! If the church is going to position itself in this 21st Century as the conduit for the Gospel, speaking life-charged truth into this broken world, then it has got to move beyond these worn-out positions of exclusion and bigotry. God is so much more creative and life-affirming than a name used to prop up such small, intellectually stunted and culturally rooted inventions as, “We’re men, so we should be in charge.”
I mean really….

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