The Huffington Post published an article By Carol Kuruvilla on how 1,400 evangelicals joined forces to urge protection of Dreamers. The list of signees was a who’s who in the Christian evangelical world. Men and women of great influence lent their name to the protection of DACA. I was thrilled but also disrupted. Why weren’t those men’s names listed alongside the 300 female evangelical leaders who launched the #silenceisnotspiritual movement? It seems like when it comes to the sexual exploitation of women our brothers are disturbingly quiet.
Why the silence?
Why are male evangelical leaders so quiet on the current issues our world is facing when it comes to women? Is it because men don’t like to identify with something so vile? Is it fear of the sexual sin hidden in their own lives? Is it because they are people of privilege and therefore do not see the issue as it really is? Is it because they can’t go after one of their own?
I’ve seriously tried to understand why men in Christian leadership speak so little of the #MeToo, #Timesup, and #silenceisnotspiritual movements?
More so, I’ve prayed about how I am supposed to respond to their silence. I want to be a woman who works with my brothers in Christ, not against. I don’t want to be divisive or do harm to a brother or the church. I wonder if my silence makes me complicit? I am not sure where the line is. I am disrupted.
So I share my thoughts here with trepidation because I’m about to comment about some words spoken by my brothers, words that confuse the narrative and worse yet, cause women harm. I doubt that is my brothers’ intention but none the less it is the reality.
Recently, I heard a sermon on why a particular church did not have female elders. The sermon opened with the idea that just as in biblical times so too, we the Church, find ourselves in a culture that rejects Jesus as Lord. Note, names are not used here as I believe this is not an individual silence but more specifically an institutional silence.
The preacher continued by asking two questions:
1. “How do we conduct ourselves in a culture that rejects biblical authority?”
2. “How should we live in a culture that views the roles and relationship between men and women very differently than what the Bible teaches?”
First let me say, just because someone holds a different view on the role of women does not mean that person has rejected the authority of Scripture. Great scholarly theologians within the conservative faith community disagree on this issue. It’s helpful for a congregation to know that fact. It deserves to be repeated, just because someone holds a different view on the role of women does not mean that person has rejected the authority of Scripture. But that’s not what caused me angst – rather it was the illustrations used to prove his point, that I found disturbing. The words “tone deaf”, were said by my husband.
The preacher said, “It seems like every day we hear another report of men behaving badly. This past week we were treated to yet another sex abuse scandal involving the Dallas Mavericks. But if you listen closely to what is being said, it’s obvious our culture is deeply confused about gender and sexuality. There are a lot of inconsistencies and selective outrage in what we are hearing.”
And then the preachers proceeded with some examples such as:
- “Sex trafficking is condemned but the sexualization of children through media and fashion is considered harmless.”
- “University campuses now promote a neo-Victorian movement condemning the “rape culture” while simultaneously promoting ‘sex week,’ seven days packed with events devoted to anything and everything sensual and erotic.”
He went on to list several other examples and then presented the reasons why Scripture prohibits women from eldership. But I’ll stop here because I want our brothers to hear how we women, hear what they just said.
First, when I hear a man say “men behaving badly” it makes me feel like sexism and sexual exploitation isn’t being taken all that seriously. I hear that phrase and I imagine my boys, when they were little, stealing Halloween candy and hiding under the table to eat it, faces covered in chocolate and happy guilt. The imagery doesn’t align with the stories women have shared in the #MeToo movement or what the 160 women who testified against Dr. Larry Nassar, former USA Gymnastics doctor. A woman being forced to give a blowjob or watch a man masturbate, or having a man rub his genitals on her or rape her is more than “men behaving badly”. And yes, I recognize I used very descriptive graphic words. I did so to envoke the gut level reality of what’s happening to women. This isn’t some light matter it’s outright violence against women.
You see women do not confuse sexual violence and “men behaving badly, we have endured it for centuries. We know how widespread it is. We’ve experienced people overlooking it, making light of it and even blaming it on women. We, your sisters in Christ, are not whining nor are we nitpicking, we need for you to get that sexism is a systemic sin that does great damage to us, you, the church and to the reputation of Jesus Christ himself.
Sexism defiles God’s image bearers and defames the name of Jesus Christ.
What you say or don’t say or even how you say it matters. Your teachings impact how people view women, and even how we view ourselves, and ultimately how we are treated.
As I watched this sermon, I was in agreement, “yes”, “yes”, we are confused about gender and sexuality and yes there seems to be a lot of inconsistencies, including selective outrage. So, pastor, I’m shaking my head in agreement along with your congregation and then I hear these words:
“Sex trafficking is condemned but the sexualization of children through media and fashion is considered harmless.”
Now let’s be honest, something in this statement seems right, right? There’s something good in it and yet there’s also something a bit off. Yes, we don’t want to sexualize children through the media and fashion models may go too far in how much they show but…
Should we be putting scantily dressed fashion models in the same category as sex trafficked girls?
Is not the same as this.
Furthermore, how did this statement impact the thousands who heard it? Did they leave that day thinking, “Yes, there are selective narratives being presented! Why don’t we talk about fashion models like we do sex trafficking?” Did they leave thinking a girl whose mom drives her to the photo shoot is as evil an act as the 10-year-old girl who is sold for her virginity? One of the examples is a choice, a bad choice perhaps, but still a choice, the other is not. It’s forced violence against one of God’s image bearers.
And make no mistake about it, a girl who’s trafficked is not confused about her gender or sexuality. Having a female body is the reason she’s being trafficked, period.
And the second example: University campuses now promote a neo-Victorian movement condemning the “rape culture” while simultaneously promoting “sex week”, seven days packed with events devoted to anything and everything sensual and erotic.
Again, there’s something right in this. I agree it’s immoral to host sex week on a college campus. But again I must ask what’s being communicated when we put that in the same category as rape. One is consensual sex, the other is not. One is sexual immorality, the other is violence. Rape isn’t about sex it’s about power. I love what my son says, “There’s sex and there is rape. There is no such thing as non-consensual sex. There’s sex and there’s rape.”
And make no mistake about it a woman who’s raped is not confused about her gender or sexuality. She’s clear. Very clear.
What’s so disturbing to me is how my brothers speak or don’t speak about this issue. Their silence or their attempt to address it indicates a lack of understanding and concern. I would even venture to say, a lack of committing to do the hard work of study and engagement. Women comprise 50-60% of congregations. Therefore we have to ask why so little work is done on behalf of this large population?
When Jesus came he launched the kingdom of God on earth. We do not yet experience the full kingdom yet, but oh yes, the kingdom on earth has begun. And in Luke 4:18-19 he laid out some of the eschatological (the part of theology concerned with death, judgment, and the final destiny of the soul and of humankind) kingdom realities, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
In verse 20 Jesus said those kingdom realities start now. “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” As his followers, we are called to join Jesus in his resistance to sin. We are called to bring forth a taste of those kingdom realities in this age, now, into the world that we live in NOW!
So, I ask again, if this is our calling, then where are you my brothers when it comes to the systemic sin of sexism?
And as your sister, how am I supposed to respond to your silence? If I had your ear I’d tell you we women want our male leaders to:
- Grasp the magnitude of what’s happening to us women and girls in your pews and around the world.
- Identify and expose sexism.
- Take sexual assault seriously.
- Use words that communicate you take sexism seriously.
- Apply your resources, your influence, your training and years of experience to bring change.
- Teach those biblical stories that point out sexual assault and sexism for the grave sin it is. Basheba, Tamar, Esther…
- Intentionally reshape your view of women (and men)
- INVITE WOMEN TO HELP YOU! IE: run your thoughts and sermons by biblically trained women before you speak.
For me, this person’s sermon was oxymoronic because as he made the argument for why women shouldn’t be in leadership, he, in fact, proved why women should be.
Women need to be at the table, and if you can’t call her elder, then call her something else, but she needs to be there BECAUSE of the types of statements male pastors make. Because she sees things in the Scriptures that men don’t. Because she can bring her female voice and experience to your congregation. Because her presence will make your teachings more accurate, holistic and restorative. #blessedalliance