Many of you have likely seen the old online rants that have surfaced recently from Pastor Mark Driscoll, posted under a movie character’s name (telling that he chose to hide his identity at the time) on a Christian message board when he was a young pastor. In them, he viciously attacks and degrades women and men he considers effeminate as un-Christian, a tactic he has continued throughout his career, though, with slightly less vulgar language in recent years. If you aren’t familiar with Driscoll and his message, Rachel Held Evans has a new post giving you an idea about who he is and what he’s about. While Driscoll is the subject of this particular controversy, this post isn’t really about him. He is just one face of a certain brand of “macho man” Christianity that has far-reaching influence in churches throughout the U.S., and that’s incredibly troubling.
Reading the messages that have surfaced and listening to those who subscribe to this idea that the “feminization of the church” is one of it’s greatest problems, I’m stunned at the red flags flying all over the place. I can’t help but think of the classic profile of an abuser easily recognizable to psychologists, social workers, and volunteers who interact with survivors and perpetrators of domestic violence. For those of you who may be unfamiliar, here is an example:
One of the hallmarks of the churches represented by Driscoll’s brand of Christianity is also one of the hallmarks of domestic violence: rigid understanding of and adherence to “traditional gender roles.” This message of the subjugation of women to men, paired with intimidation, glorification of violence, and completely absolving men of responsibility for others’ feelings (note that “feelings” is a word that Driscoll uses only with derision, as if “real men” [his definition of Christians] don’t bother with such things; as if Jesus didn’t weep and God didn’t have a broken heart filled with love and compassion and the Spirit didn’t groan in anguish with feelings of God’s own), all taught under the banner of “the Bible says so, so there!” can create a very dangerous kind of disciple. Domestic violence is already all too common in our country, and the Church already has trouble recognizing and responding to it well. We simply cannot afford to teach these traits and these roles and to sow more violence that our children will reap later. This is not just about protecting women and children from potential abuse (a worthy enough cause in itself); it is also about protecting men from abuse both as victims and perpetrators. It’s not good for anyone’s soul to be the perpetrator of abuse anymore than it is to be the victim of it. Everyone suffers in this situation, and nothing about that kind of life looks like life the Church is commanded to, one of mutual submission to one another regardless of gender.
God has chosen to work through children, women, and men in remarkable ways throughout history regardless of whether they fit the standards of masculinity or influential leadership for their day. Tellingly, God chose to reveal Emmanuel, God with us, to women first. God did this not once, but twice. God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary, a young Jewish girl engaged to be married, told her about the coming of the Messiah through her, and had her bravely share the news with her betrothed before ever breathing a word of it to Joseph directly. The first announcement that God would be born as a baby–about as un-macho as it gets–was to a teenage girl. Interestingly “junior high girls” is the metaphor Driscoll used to belittle those who disagreed with him. Thankfully God doesn’t seem to share his disdain for this particular demographic or we’d have a very different Christmas story, not to mention the young leaders and disciples we’d be missing out on today! And later at Easter, the first people to see the risen Christ and to preach the Gospel, “He is Risen!”, to the other followers of Christ were women. In between those two incredible moments of grace and empowerment when God used women, made in God’s image every bit as much as the men of their day and today, to minister to the world, God also affirmed the place of women among their brothers as students and ministers when Jesus literally refused to send another Mary back to the kitchen but rather encouraged her and her sister Martha to stay with him and his other students to talk theology.
There is no conspiracy here. There is no emasculation or degradation of men. Instead there is a simple return of balance, placing women once again as equals among our brothers in the Church and the world.
This is an old discussion, but it’s worth revisiting and remembering that what we believe about men and women in relation to God is reflected in how men and women behave in relationship to one another, as friends, colleagues, partners, brothers, sisters, parents, children… It matters deeply to our everyday interactions with each other if we really and truly believe that we are interacting with equals as opposed to superiors or inferiors. It matters if we think God is equally as present in the person we are speaking to as in ourselves.
It matters for us and for those watching us, trying to figure out what it means to be a child of God, whatever their gender.
I’ll leave you with some words of wisdom spoken almost 60 years ago but still relevant and enlightening today:
The “proper” place of women in the church is an age-old debate and from all appearances, it seems that it perhaps will be an eternal one–for most mortals at least. This is because too often humanity has looked to the misty heights of theory rather than the lowly foothills of practice and necessary human service… Christianity has defined women to be persons. In so doing, Christianity has insisted that women are not commodities or an inferior breed, or something like ‘factory rejects’ of the human race, conceptions which held (and hold) sway wherever humanity has lived in the era of B.C. (before Christ). FOR PERSONS FOR WHOM CHRIST DIED any incidental physical condition is no longer a barrier to freedom, or dignity, or value as a person whether that physical condition be social distinction, be race (‘Jew or Gentile’), class (‘bond or free’), or sex (‘male or female’). They all share one spiritual destiny and nature and value in Christ. They are all ‘fellow heirs’ in the promise of Christ.
-Bishop Orzo T. Jones, 1957