Tag Archives: #gender

Between Christianity and feminism: Where is a womans’ place now?

Continuing a theme from this week which started with Do we still need International Women’s Day and What are Christians to make of gender equity in the workplace, I wanted to explore this issue of where a woman’s “place” is. In my reading I’ve come across opinions that are pretty unequivocal in Christian writings on one hand and “Big F” Feminism on the other. A woman’s place is in the home, they say. Feminism has destroyed the family and puts pressure on women to be working when what they really want is to tend to a godly hearth and home. A woman’s place is wherever she wants, say others. Christianity has suppressed and oppressed a woman’s natural desire to do valuable work in the world.

Far out! What are we to make of that?

Well, OK, lets ask the question – is there a prohibition in the Bible on women working outside of the home? Not that I can see, although some would argue with that. Advocates of the “woman’s place is in the home” paradigm lean on Titus 2:1-5:

You, however, must teach what is appropriate to sound doctrine. Teach the older men to be temperate, worthy of respect, self-controlled, and sound in faith, in love and in endurance.

Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can urge the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God.

It’s important to see that this is not prescriptive – it is not a universal command but relates to the character of the people Paul is talking about. Why do I say that? Because scripture is littered with women who have a variety of occupations outside the home and Paul mentions no censure of them:

  • In the Old Testament, we see women with many jobs – not least of which is the famous Proverbs 31 woman who buys and sells land and goods ‘sees that her trading is good”
  • In the New Testament we see some women were servants (see Rhoda in Acts 12:13) and Lydia was a dealer in purple cloth (Acts 16:14-15)

In addition, in New Testament times, women worked in a variety of professions including artisanal work, shop keepers, fullers and dyers and many more. So women working was not at all uncommon and Paul is not talking to some Utopian ideal. He is speaking to character and a reverence for God’s created functional order (which can be observed in our occupations outside the home as I discussed here).

Women working has been a reality of life since the beginning. Women worked when there was a need. Through time, this has included many money making occupations within or associated with the home. For example, women were wool makers, carders and dyers, weavers, bakers, dressmakers – and yes OK, we might not find those terribly scintillating but theses were honest to goodness professions. As Dorothy L Sayers (who was a strong Christian and did not identify as a feminist) helpfully points out in her 1938 essay “Are Women Human?”:

“It is all very well to say that woman’s place is in the home – but modern civilisation has taken all these pleasant and profitable activities out of the home, where the woman looked after them, and handed them over to big industry, to be directed and organised by men.” She continues, “It is perfectly idiotic to take away woman’s traditional occupations and then complain because she looks for new ones

Part of the Christian focus on marriage is also a cultural hangover from the Reformation. The reformers (principally Martin Luther and Martin Bucer) exalted marriage to a status just below scripture itself. I am not exaggerating. They believed that the marriage relationship and family unit was where God’s work would be achieved and where culture would change. Bear in mind the culture they wished to change was built on the corruption of the Medieval church and which they felt needed to be revolutionised through a re-focus on scripture and the familial unit among other things.

As a Reformed Evangelical, I’m a mad fan of the reformers but this particular one created a hierarchy of purpose that echoes down to today. This exaltation of marriage has hangovers still in our churches, leaving many with the feeling that singleness is the entry level with progressive level-ups through “work”, and then “married-and-working” with the highest level at “married-with-kids-and-not-working” which is second only to paradise in the presence of God.

On the other hand, separate to the relentless onward march of progress, the women’s movement has opened doors to opportunities that were denied women for centuries. In so doing, women who would rather make their occupation in the home do feel under great pressure and can be made to feel as though they are wasting themselves, and somehow should be obligated to do “valuable” work outside the home.

This is a very poor outcome of feminism and I find that very disappointing. It is by no means an across-the-board reaction within the women’s movement but it can be a damaging by-product. Particularly because this leaves women in an impossible situation. Women already feel guilty if they leave their children to go back to work (even when they love their work and really want to). They also feel guilty when they don’t work and choose to support their children full time through the formative years.

The Bible does focus on the family to a certain extent. Partially this is cultural (the ancient near east was built on familial clans and tribes) and women’s work was more limited. But also God’s creation itself began with the man-woman relationship and their first command is to go do some procreating. God’s people is built on the idea of family.

In addition, God’s teaching comes through the parents. In Proverbs there is an exhortation to heed the teaching of both father and mother (see Proverbs 1:8 and 23:22 as examples). This is striking because in the rest of the ancient near east, the mother is absent from these kinds of wisdom exhortations. God sees this teaching in his ways as a joint effort – built through the family unit. So just as the Bible does not censure women who work outside the home, there is also a strong family component to biblical teaching – not at the exclusion of all else though. The Bible still illuminates the power and potential in young single people and widow(ers) and the church family to whom we are not biologically related, but to whom we are deeply spiritually related under Christ.

The point is that both/either is OK. The Bible does not censure women for working so if you want to (or for many of us, need to), then we should not feel guilty as Christians for doing so. And we can take advantage of the opportunities afforded us through the women’s movement – even more so now as flexible working conditions become more available to us so we can balance work and family far more readily (although this is not the norm yet). By the same token, a focus on the family is biblically good. We see this time and again in scripture. If you don’t have to work and would rather focus on home (which is a full time job in itself) and even volunteer in ministries at church, that is a great and wonderful thing – but there is no hierarchy of purpose and we should be clear on that, lest we fall into legalism. We know what pleases God and it isn’t the outward trappings of where we work and what we do – it is the demeanor of our hearts, curved towards Him.

So, as with many things, the reality lies somewhere in between the two extremes. Women being in the home is not prescriptive. Women being out in the world is not a command. What is important is how you build your house. A fall-back should always be Psalm 127:1 “Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labor in vain.” How do we build our home through the lens of God? How do we do our work through the lens of God? Do we keep a godly focus on the family even though we have/want to work? How do we build the work/home balance so we are still (to the best of our ability and among the realities of life) expressing obedience and humility to God?

Sometimes asking ourselves these questions might result in some changes being made so we can be more intentional in what we are doing. We also need to support the women around us who may be feeling the pressure both ways – whether they are working outside the home or within it. We should support women who – married or unmarried – don’t or can’t have children and so feel the extra pressure of not conforming to this “woman in the home” picture.

Both work and home can be done obediently and in humility. Both have value. Both can glorify God. And we should support each other to do this.

So the question as to where a woman’s place is needs to be shifted. We need to ask:

Whether at work, or in the home, or both, are we glorifying God in everything we do?

How are Christians to make sense of gender equity in the workplace?

The gender debate is everywhere these days and there are great discussions about many issues facing women. As Christians, many seem obvious to us in how we deal with them as the Bible provides us at least some guidance. Other areas are less clear though. What about gender equity in the workplace? Once we get outside of church and family, the Bible does not provide clear guidance, so how are we to apply godly wisdom here?

First, in the interests of full disclosure, I am a complementarian. That means I believe that men and women were created with equal value and dignity. Their complementarity is found in their functional difference – we complement each other. I believe this functional difference is expressed in male leadership and authority – but I do not believe that functional difference in any way diminishes woman. We are equal and different. I believe this functional difference is seen in the Trinity – the Father, Son and Holy Spirit are equal and ontologically the same (ie they are the same in their being) and yet have a functional difference.

I acknowledge that there are other views of the man-woman relationship and my declaration of complementarianism is in no way a slight to my egalitarian sisters. Because we are sisters in Christ and we will all be worshiping together in heaven.

As a complementarian though, believing in male leadership, how do we view the gender pay gap? How do we view female leadership in the workplace? Does that mean we can’t be project manager, team leaders, senior managers and CEOs?

Lets go first to the gender pay gap. The pay gap exists for a number of reasons and so is not easily explained or swept away. But lets take some of the reasons:

  1. If a woman is paid less than a man for doing the same work, that is not an expression of submission, it is an expression of outright sexism and is not just wrong, it is illegal under gender discrimination law. Women are called to submit to their husbands – not all men. There’s a lot in the submission issue alone and you can read more on it here in a previous blog.
  2. Women tend to drop back or out of the workforce after having children. Partially that’s by choice as our priorities change, but partially that’s because flexible working conditions don’t exist for many. Without the ability to work part time or work from home, women are left with lesser paying jobs. Again, while I fully support women’s changing priorities in support of the family (I’ve done it myself!), I find many workplace responses discriminatory – which is not biblical. Women tend to “submit” in this scenario because they have no choice.
  3. Women still carry the bulk of domestic work and primary care of the children even when working equal days to the partner. Again, this may be a choice and I fully support that. I also know many women who wanted to re-join the workforce after having their kids and found that their male colleagues could freely move around for work because they had wives to take care of the domestic scene. Women don’t have this fall-back, and so become restricted in their ability to contribute.

There are many other reasons for the gender pay gap but what I think can be seen is that it exists because women are functionally and biologically different (we have children) and because we are emotionally and mentally different (even without children, we make different choices, have different values and respond emotionally differently to things).

That said, those differences should not result in a lesser financial value of the female workforce. And this goes for the secular workforce as well as in churches and Christian institutions. Paying women less, financially, in fringe benefits, opportunities or resources, de-values her work and de-values her person. It says she is not as valuable as her male colleagues. It says that her work is not as important. And this is not a biblical picture.

It does not overturn God’s created relationships if we seek equal pay and seek to close the gender pay gap. Equal pay is about equality of being, not her function. In fact, if we see this kind of discrimination, we should stand up for those women. This shows clearly that they are of equal creation, value and dignity.

How about women leading teams and being in management positions? Because this speaks more to function, this would seem less clear. The Bible only shows two categories for male-female relationships – father/daughter and husband/wife. There is no category for women and men in the workplace. However, in Carrie Sandom’s Different by Design, she helpfully reviews biblical wisdom that can be applied in the workplace. We are going to be lawyers and doctors and vice-principals and cafe owners and project managers. We are going to be team leaders and managers with men under our authority. We should not feel compelled to remove ourselves from these situations. However, how we conduct ourselves is key. We can apply the servant leadership that we see in Jesus. We can approach leadership with missional motherhood. We can interact with people with gentleness and humility that means we can fulfill our work obligations (and excel) but is supportive to God’s designed creation.

There are many ways I think we can apply this in the workplace. It takes some thought on our part to think through how it would apply in our context. It takes prayer and intentionality. We think often about how we are building God’s house in our homes. How are you building God’s house at your workplace?

This takes wisdom, humility and great strength on our part. But Jesus never promised that following him would be easy. At the same time, Jesus also never said we should be meek women without voices.

Many things occur because we think they might upset our biblical responsibilities. Many things occur because we have been told that they will. But this is where we need to be clear about what is biblical, and what is just discrimination.

Biblical wisdom and humility must be our baseline. God must be our guide. Supporting gender equity in the workplace does not subvert His created order. If we apply our godly obedience in the workplace, we can even amplify His created order. Because we will look different to the world. People will see Him in how we conduct ourselves.

We need more men (and women) to be outraged

This week, Hannah Baxter and her three children (aged 6, 4 and 3) were murdered by being burned alive in their car on what was supposed to be a routine school run. The murderer was Hannah’s ex-husband and father to the three children.

Something like this happens every week here in Australia. In other countries it is more often. Here in Australia, this is relatively ubiquitous news but every so often, as was the case with this one, the country is shocked. There is a conversation about why our domestic violence statistics are so high. There is a vigil. Then nothing happens. Until the next time a woman is murdered.

As I read the opinion pieces, I feel myself swinging between sadness over such a senseless tragedy, anger and outrage that nothing ever seems to happen and so nothing ever changes, and heart-soreness and despair over the lack of voice for women. Are we so dispensable? Are we just to accept that this just the kind of thing that can happen to us?

Is verbal abuse, put downs, physical, emotional, sexual abuse and possibly murder, just something we have to accept as being part of the female existence?

How can this be? How can we be OK with this as a status quo?

The opinion pieces are largely written by women who are expressing their outrage. Unfortunately, outraged women can be sidelined easily – they are banging on again. Of course they are outraged, they are always outraged by this kind of thing.

Women’s anger is seen as un-womanly. It’s screechy and inappropriate. It apparently shows we are overly emotional, irrational and out of control. But women’s outrage and anger has been, throughout history, channeled to effect enormous social change. Women’s outrage has awarded women the vote, it has changed legislation that is discriminatory and unprotective of the disadvantaged, it has started charities, it has opened orphanages and hospitals.

But when it comes to the protection of women in society, women’s outrage can only achieve so much. We need the men to be outraged too.

Where are all the outraged men?

Seriously, where are you?

I need to be clear here – there are many outraged men, and there are many men working tirelessly in the background to make a positive and lasting change, in individuals lives and in our culture. We won’t hear from these people necessarily, but they are there. And many face this issue head on every day in their jobs. I can’t even imagine what they go through and how they process those emotions.

What I mean by this is a call to action for men who could do something but might not be currently – for varied and valid reasons.

If anything is going to change, we need more men to be outraged by this status quo too. If its just women publicly outraged by the abuse and murder of other women, the whole debate can be put on one side as a “women’s issue”. By its very nature then, the issue can be largely ignored.

But this is an everybody issue. It’s a societal issue. It’s our sons and brothers and fathers and nephews and Bible study participants and co-workers and friends. This is not about women protecting women but everyone protecting women. It’s also about all of us together, and with men leading the charge, modelling and teaching other men what is acceptable and appropriate behaviour. It is about men calling out other men when they are saying words or displaying behaviour that is not OK. This is about men being real men.

This is even more so for Christian men. Let me explain.

The death of Hannah Baxter and her children, the death of those other women every week, the beating and violent oppression of women breaks God’s heart. It is contrary to everything He wants for us and it is an injustice that carries the full weight of God’s outrage.

God made men and women equal in dignity and value. This alone should make men feel equally responsible for their lives (and equally outraged at their murder). The Old Testament is full of God’s view of justice (Exodus 22:22 and Deuteronomy 10:18 are prime examples of God’s exhortation to care for the poor, disadvantaged, fatherless and alone). In the New Testament, men are to care for their women like Christ loved the church (Ephesians 5:25). Christ died for the church. That’s how sacrificial the love of woman is in God’s eyes.

Many of our men are absolutely trying to live to these principles. My words are are a plea to those who may not be, or may not be thinking about it.

God gives men a higher bar. He gives men the bar that Christ himself stretched to – sacrifice of total self.

That being the case, how can we support outraged Christian men to act and to speak publicly as many women are doing? Many aren’t, for many reasons. I wonder if partially it might be that the news is ubiquitous. It might be that feeling that it’s someone else’s story and doesn’t really have anything to do with them personally. It might be a sense of “What can I do?”. I get that. That’s understandable. For all of us.

But it is your story. It’s all of our story. It’s your responsibility because God has called you to be a leader and protector. We can’t do this on our own. We need you.

I don’t know what you can do but perhaps, you could talk about it with your Bible study – just raising awareness and the level of discussion among men (particularly Christian men) would be a great start. Talk about it with your spouse – how can you parent or be friends in a way that starts to correct culture?

Can you start raising your own voice? Can you, as a group of Christian men, talk to your ministers and ask, as a community of God’s men, what you can do? What can your church do? Can you, as a church and as individuals, write to your local member? Exercise your democratic voice? I am going to start writing to my State and Federal members and anyone else I can think of. It’s only me and it’s a start. But what if we all did it? And what if it wasn’t just women but hundreds of men raising their voices too?

What can you do in your workplace? Can you be the one to ask if there is a domestic violence policy? Can you champion it? Can you open the discussion with other men in your business to talk together about what you can do to be aware, protective and supportive of women?

What else can we do? Do you, or your business, have any influence or contacts that could support channels of change?

I don’t know what the answer is. But the more men that make themselves seen and heard being outraged by this issue and willing to stand up against it alongside women, the greater the waves of change will occur.

But I know that something needs to happen. If Hannah Baxter and her poor children’s death goes the way of all others, we’ll be upset for a bit but then nothing will happen until another woman is brutally murdered. The only way things change is to show that men will no longer tolerate this, and are wiling to stand up and do something about it.

Anger that leads to the kind of violence we are talking about is so wrong. But anger that is channeled through outrage to effect change is so positive. We need all of us to express outrage publicly that I’m sure so many have inside. We need you to show it publicly. We need you to feel compelled to stand and act.

We cannot do this alone. Please – let’s work together to change what breaks God’s heart.

Does the Bible oppress women or not?

I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately. A while back I wrote a blog on sexual coercion in marriage  followed by a live Q&A on the same subject with GuruNow  (you can watch it here). There were a lot of questions and a lot of discussion afterwards – it touched a nerve for a lot of women. What was apparent was many feelings of frustration, feelings of being treated differently – not in the “equal and different” sense but in the “equal but inferior” sense. What it brought up for me, was a tangle of doctrine and culture that had apparently become intertwined over the centuries and that desperately needed to be untangled.

Over the years, the church has been accused of oppressing women and allowing abuse to happen. There has been an equal push of denial from the other side. The result is each camp has been pushed to opposite extremes with one side pushed into an (apparently) increasingly conservative corner and the other pushed into feeling they actually have to fight for their corner. The result is women feeling further ignored, frustrated and oppressed. The result is also the church feeling under attack from within. Neither of these is a good outcome.

To find equal ground we have to strip away centuries of cultural barnacles and try and get to the truth. When I say “truth” I mean the truth as communicated to us by God Himself. What did God say? What did Jesus communicate? Are we equal and different? Or equal and inferior?

Much is made of Genesis 2:18 in which God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” For a long time, the assumption has been that as man was created first, he is more important. Women were created second and are merely helpers. What this ignores though is the ontological equality – that is, as image bearers, men and women are equal in being. One is not inferior to the other.

What it also ignores is the nature of the term “suitable helper”. The Hebrew word that has been translated as “helper” is ezer and it is used elsewhere in the Bible in a context that challenges our understanding. In Psalm 89:17 “For you [God] are their [the Israelites] glory and strength.” The last word here has been translated as “strength” but is ezer. God is Israel’s ezer.

John McKinley* notes that “the issue in ezer is neither equality nor subordination, but distinction and relatedness. She is to be for the man as an ally to benefit him in the work they were given to do. Just as ezer tells of God’s relatedness to Israel as the necessary support for survival and military perils, the woman is ally to the man, without which he cannot succeed or survive.”

For me, as a woman, that’s pretty huge. I am to man what God is to the Israelites. Someone without whom the other party can’t do what they need to do. So our function is ezer. How that is expressed in our lives is as unique and varied as our individual contexts (and there is is a lot to be said about this – perhaps a blog for another time!)

We are meant to be different so that what man is missing is supplied by woman, and vice versa. This is not oppressive. That feels liberating to me.

BUT – it also seems clear to me that this has become part of a cultural attitude to women that feeds the idea of inferiority. Even by Jesus’ time there was a large cultural divide between men and women. Some of this is (in every culture) based on our obvious differences – we are physically different, we (generally speaking) think differently, communicate differently, approach issues differently, respond differently (remember I said generally speaking!).

For the Jews, a biological difference (menstruation) created a ceremonial difference. A time of menstruation was niddah where a woman was considered un-clean and was not “clean” until menstruation was over and a ritual cleansing had occurred. What is important here is that “clean” and “unclean” have no moral judgement attached to them. It is not “good” or “evil”, it is solely a diagnostic for a person’s state and ability to be in the presence of God. Many things could cause a state of uncleanness and Leviticus is chockers full of how a person becomes clean again. What is key though is that, since people in a state of uncleanness couldn’t stand before God, and menstruation occurs regularly but in changeable cycles, the chances of being in a state of uncleanness regularly and unknowingly was too high. This meant that women could not take ceremonial roles in the tabernacle. By the time we get to temple, a biological difference has become entrenched in the cultural consciousness.

Of course there are many other factors at play but the entanglement of religion and culture is what can make things problematic. When we strip this away, what does God say? The story of the bleeding woman in Mark 5 gives us a clear window (there is a Bible study on this here). This woman had been ceremonially unclean for years. Jesus shouldn’t have gone near her let alone engage with her. What Jesus’ simple action does is remove the barriers of clean and unclean for women – women became liberated to be disciples in whatever physiological and biological state they were in at the time. By his actions, Jesus affirmed functional difference in a variety of settings, he freed them to follow him.**

So we are to men what God was to the Israelites. We are ontologically equal and functionally given a specific and different role as ally, but without which men cannot succeed. And Jesus up-ended any ceremonial barriers – while recognising biological difference, we are freed to be disciples and engage in religious and faith matters.

So lets turn to Paul’s letters which have caused much controversy and pain over the years. Firstly, he talks about women submitting to their husbands. This is uncomfortable and feels wrong. But again, we forget the context:

“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ. Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything.

Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word, and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless. In this same way, husbands ought to love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself.” (Ephesians 5:21-28)

There is whole books written on this subject (and rightly so) but here’s some takeaways:

  • Submission is mutual – we submit to each other. The emphasis is not on the woman alone.
  • Submission is voluntary – we submit to God willingly and voluntarily. Submission cannot be forced or coerced in any way. If it is, it is NOT submission and husbands cannot expect or demand it. God does not expect or demand it. Husbands must be the kind of person to whom submission is willing and voluntary.
  •  Submission is a response – The onus is actually on the husband. He must love his wife as he loves his own body and as Christ loved the church (Christ died for the church). Our submission to God is a response to this great truth. So it must be for women. Our submission can be faked to break an impasse, but the onus is not on us to forever be submitting to make things right. It should be a response to the love and sacrifice of the husband.

But sadly culture has not used this passage that way. It have been taken out of context and used by people who will use whatever tool will get them what they want, or feel they deserve. This is a gross misuse of scriptural truth.

We see this particularly in 1 Corinthians 7 – another passage that has become misused and even weaponized.

“The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife. Do not deprive each other except perhaps by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control.” (1 Corinthians 7:3-5)

Firstly, what is this “marital duty”? It sounds old fashioned, like we’re supposed to “lie back and think of England”. The original Greek that “duty” is translated from is opheilo. This word is usually used to translate a commercial debt and the only place it is used in a non-monetary sense is in Romans 13:8:

“Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law.”

This “duty” is love! The husband owes a debt of love to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. This is different to how we imagine it to be – and how it has unfortunately been used in the past.

What about bodily autonomy? In the women’s movement this has been such a key issue. As physically weaker (generally speaking) and culturally subordinated, there has been centuries of our bodies being used and abused without our consent or permission. Culture in fact, has perpetuated it. In Australia, marital rape was not made illegal until 1981 (and not in all States and Territories until 1992). As recently as 2018 in the UK, a study found that “more than a third of over-65s” do not consider forced marital sex rape, along with 16% of people aged 16 to 24. Overall, one in four Britons believed that non-consensual sex within marriage did not constitute rape.”***

In 1 Corinthians 7, it looks as though the Bible is saying that our husbands have authority over our bodies in just this kind of fashion. Except it doesn’t say that. Look again:

“The wife does not have authority over her own body but yields it to her husband. In the same way, the husband does not have authority over his own body but yields it to his wife.”

Neither person has authority over their own body but choose to yield it to each other in an act of mutual giving. It doesn’t say that the woman doesn’t have authority but her husband does. No. It says she doesn’t but yields it. So who does have authority? If we don’t, and the husband doesn’t – who does?

Just prior to our passage, in 1 Corinthians 6:19-20, Paul says “Do you not know that your bodies are temples of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your bodies.”

God has authority over our bodies.

This obviously will be hard teaching for some, especially because bodily autonomy is such a key pillar of the women’s movement. And I understand why. Issues of permission and consent are so profoundly significant for anyone, particularly women who, culturally, have been subordinated for so long. But Christianity has always been counter cultural and the comfort that I (or rather the Bible) gives, is that God deserves this authority because we were created as His image bearers, and He cares so deeply for us (body and soul) that He sacrificed His only son for us. What is also important – and so central to the reason for the fight for bodily autonomy – is the man/husband doesn’t have authority over it. And if they claim it, this is also a gross misuse of scripture.

Of course, Paul in various texts talks in ways that seems to diminish women. I’m not going to explain that away or pretend it doesn’t mean what we think it means. In various places, we are told to wear head coverings (1 Corinthians 11:2-6), we are told to be silent in church (1 Corinthians 14:34) and should be silent and not teach (1 Timothy 2:12). This is not the place to exegete all these passages, but what I will say is that these letters are responses to pastoral issues. These letters are the pastoral outworking of Jesus’ teaching in the context of what is. This teaching is descriptive, not prescriptive. That doesn’t mean that we should disregard it as being only relevant to Paul’s time, there are still biblical truths to abide by. So no, we don’t cover our hair, but there is still teaching on humility that is relevant.

Where does this leave us?

Well, there is an awful lot to unpack in here, but I hope this is a neat summary of some of the issues I think have been misused by our culture over centuries. The Bible places equal dignity and importance on men and women. It also shows that we have some key differences, and crucially a functional difference. But that functional difference does not diminish us. The Trinity shows the ontological equality of the godhead, and yet they can have functional differences that in no way makes one superior or inferior to the other.

Further, I hope we, as women, can have confidence in our standing before God. When scripture has, or is, used against women (and sadly even weaponized against women sometimes) it is a gross misuse. There is a reason for it (pride, greed, arrogance) but no excuse.

Culture has twisted what is God’s good creation. In a broken world, women have been treated as “equal” (in a theoretical sense) and inferior (in the practical sense). This is not what I see in scripture. What I see is a massive gap between what God intended for us, and what we have made. That will always be the case with everything until the last day. Until then, know that scripture, when stripped of culture and its use for personal gain, is pure and clear and beautiful. Until then, embrace that we have a God-made functional difference with a specific purpose – we are to men, what God is to the Israelites.

But because of our cultural advance, so many cultural icons and views are embedded to such a degree that there is still a subconscious bias, sometimes even a conscious decision, to view women as inferior. It’s not just the views on marital rape. Until the 1980s in Australia, a woman couldn’t get a passport without her husbands permission. In the last 40 years, a woman was still sacked if she got married and/or got pregnant – and it was an expectation. To fight it as unfairness got you a soft smack on the butt and a wink at best. In 1997 in the UK, new Labour leader Tony Blair presided over a new government that included over 100 female politicians. They were called for a group photo and the headline was “Blair’s Babes”. If that wasn’t patronizing enough, in 2014, new Conservative leader David Cameron was photographed with his 80 female politicians and they were tagged “Cameron’s cuties”. And that’s just in first world countries. Our culture is so far behind treating women as equal.

Of course, in response, we can run the risk of swinging the pendulum too far the other way. This is understandable from a group of people who feel they have been silenced for hundreds of years. We must be guided by scripture though – not what our gut says. Our gut will send us into freeze, flight or fight. We need to train our instincts to send us to God’s word.

So, until the last day, know that God did not create you to be, nor does he see you as “someone’s babe”. Until then, know that if you see a misuse of scripture, or an injustice in the name of scripture, have confidence to use your voice. Speak to your pastor. Speak to a Christian friend. Speak up. Don’t be guided by hurt, be guided by scripture. If we hold fast to that, we will avoid pushing the pendulum too far the other way in reaction and will hopefully, under God, find the truth again expressed in our culture.

The gospel is not the issue. Sadly, as with everything, people are. Let us equip ourselves with the truth and build our confidence and our identity in that.

 

* John McKinley, “Necessary Allies: God as Ezer, Woman as Ezer,” lecture, HIlton Atlanta, November 17, 2015, mp3 download, 38:35, http://www.wordmp3.com/details.aspx?id=20759 quoted in Aimee Byrd, No Little Women, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2016, p25-26

** Ben Witherington III, Women in the Ministry of Jesus, Cambridge University Press, 1998, p117

***https://www.theweek.co.uk/98330/when-did-marital-rape-become-a-crime

 

 

 

Do we still need International Women’s Day?

Until recently I didn’t know whether I was a feminist or not. Mostly because I don’t really know what it means these days. I mean, back in the 1910s it was about identity and political recognition – the vote (and so much more!). Back in the 1960s it was personal freedom and social and cultural recognition (and so much more!). But I don’t really know what it means today. Surely we’re doing OK? Do we really need a day if we’re all basically doing alright?

The women’s movement that I see on the telly and social media seems angry, bitter, screechy and just downright unpleasant sometimes. It can even seem like its not about equality any more but superiority. And I’m not down with any of that. BUT we still seem to be in a cultural mess when it comes to attitudes to women. (This includes how “the screechy feminists” are reported on in the media and portrayed in opposition on social media as it turns out).

Time to spend too much money at Book Depository and read up about women and decide once and for all if I am a feminist, I thought.

The good news is, Goal #1 (Spend too much money at Book Depository) was achieved v v quickly. Goal #2 (Decide if am a feminist) has taken a few months of reading and thinking.

It turns out I am one. Just not one of the angry screechy ones.

Walk through my thinking with me because this involves the guys too.

I read quite a bit about the history of the women’s movement and was reminded just how “new” the women’s movement really is. We’ve had the vote for only 100 years. It became illegal to sack us for getting pregnant only 40 years ago. It took 20 years in the US to ensure marital rape was a crime in 50 states – it was achieved in only 1993, just one year after marital rape became a crime in all States in Australia. That’s right. A husband could rape his wife less than 30 years ago, and it was not a crime.

In terms of large scale movements, this is a fledgling one. So it shouldn’t be a surprise that we still have a long way to go. This feels weird to write because comparatively, I’m doing fine. I went to university, I have risen gradually through my profession, I work now in a firm that has excellent attitudes to gender equity.

I have also seen men defend, support and protect women. I’ve seen them go into bat for them, put them forward, lift them up. I’ve seen women not have to fight the fight on their own. I’ve seen it work as a team effort. And it is amazing.

But I have personally experienced attitudes that range from casual sexism to downright misogyny. Unfortunately this goes for inside the church as well as in the world. I’ve seen women hurt and damaged, I’ve seen them held back and put down. I’ve seen attitudes to women that are old fashioned, unhelpful and just plain damaging. I’ve even seen these attitudes smuggled in under the guise of biblical male headship. (For anyone struggling with this, I alluded to the “inferior-and-different” attitude in a previous blog. You can read it here. Just know there’ll be future pieces exploring and re-dressing the equal-and-different paradigm that is cleansed of those damaging elements.)

I also know that in our broken world, there are nearly 25 million slaves today and 71% of them are women and girls. In fact, sex trafficking is one of the fastest growing “trades” in the world. There are also an estimated 15 million women and girls forced into marriage every year. There are still countries where a woman, if she is raped, will be flogged or executed for adultery.

So yes. I am fine. And the Bible tells me who I am in God’s eyes and it is beautiful. But we also live in this awful broken world and so if one woman is held back, hurt, enslaved or executed on the basis of her gender then I am NOT fine.

Yes, I am fine. But that means that I must speak up and become mobilised. Its the price for being alive and OK both at the same time. I have been blessed by God in my situation and my home and my finances. It is incumbent on me then, to use them in support of others who’s blessings have been removed from them.

Yes, I am fine, but we still need International Women’s Day to shine a light on inequality of respect – even casual sexism feeds a culture that is numb to rubbish attitudes to women. We need International Women’s Day to help people understand that at current rates, women will achieve parity in the workplace in 202 years. We still need International Women’s Day to come together to look at how we can use our “fine-ness” to support other women.

When it works best though, is when the men get involved too. “Male feminist” is not an oxymoron or a joke. I know many of them. They are secure in themselves as men and as Christian men. They are confident enough to stand up for women without being jerks or being patronising or hypocritical. They are just good guys with good attitudes and who feel compelled to call out crap when they see it.

There is so much more to be said about a lot of this, but for now, let’s keep the spotlight on why we need days like International Women’s Day, on using our “fine-ness” in support of others, in fighting – shoulder to shoulder with men – against basic terrible attitudes to women that provide fertile ground for even more terrible behaviour.

 

Julie Bishop’s Shoes Made Me Stop and Think

Yesterday, foreign minister and long serving liberal politician Julie Bishop, resigned after over 20 years in politics. As I watched the news this morning, the most consistent comment has been around her shoes. Now, I am not averse to a Jimmy Choo or a cheeky Blahnik (not to buy or wear, obvs. Because why Miu Miu when you can Kmart?).

But it made me stop in my tracks. I felt embarrassed for her. It made me feel sad for women.

Bear with me – this is not going to be a “Big F” Feminist rant – this is observations from a very ordinary woman who’s probably representative of a lot of women.

I don’t know Julie Bishop. I sense I might quite like her, even if our politics don’t agree. But I think I would like her grit and resolve. I think I would respond well to her reserve, with a little hint of sass. I respect her as a woman working in a brutal male-dominated arena. Like her politics or not, she represents what women can and should be able to achieve.

So to see her public service boiled down to “sparkly red shoes” makes me feel deeply saddened and embarrassed for all women. It makes a mockery of her achievements but also, I ask myself “Is this the best that women have been taught to expect and accept?”

As a Christian woman I believe that God created men and women equal and different. Different doesn’t mean “inferior” though. Now before everyone starts reaching for their Bibles to argue which way and the other about #thishastag and #thathashtag – let me be clear. This is not about who can do what in church. This is about women being proud of who and what God created us to be. God created us to be different. He didn’t create us to be inferior. But much of the messages our culture perpetuates gives exactly that message. Julie Bishop’s shoes is a case in point.

Here’s what I think is the most important point though. Being a good and faithful servant does not mean that we can’t speak up about being treated as inferior when it happens. Being faithful to the “equal-and-different” paradigm doesn’t prevent us from using our voices when we are treated as “inferior-and-different” – because that is not what God created us for.

Obviously, we need to use our voices wisely and lovingly. To do otherwise would be to subvert the very functional difference that God so lovingly created.

But it should be OK to say that if we live in a world where my life’s work is summarised in my fashion choices then we live in a world that does not value or respect women – and women have been taught that that’s OK. And if this is happening in our churches, then our churches are more like the world than should make any of us comfortable.

My world is broken. But my God fearfully and wonderfully made me. I don’t want to be superior to men. I want to see a genuine expression of God’s created order so that we are all enriched by it. That’s the beauty in God’s creation. Striving for the unity in his purposes makes us all richer, and glorifies God in living in a way that points to him, and not the world.