Lately, Twitter has been exploding with the hashtag #YesAllWomen, marking stories of gender discrimination, exploitation, and abuse. The purpose is to show how widespread these evils are, and hopefully to cause people to think about how they might be ignoring or contributing to the problem.
Okay, let’s get controversial, now: if there were a #AllChristianWomen hashtag, I think it would be really interesting to see what stories women of faith would tell and how the church would react. For example, here are a few of mine:
- A popular Christian blog for teens I read in high school informed me that reapplying lipstick while in the presence of males will cause them to stumble because it brings undo attention to your lips. And ever after, I snuck into the bathroom any time I needed more Chapstick.
- One of my co-workers prefers to work with charismatic pastors on books rather than traditional evangelical leaders because the charismatic pastors are more likely to respect her opinion and authority.
- A friend once told me that it would be hard for me to find someone to marry because I my intelligence and spiritual maturity would be “intimidating.”
- One time I went to a pool party of all Christians where I was the only girl not wearing a bikini…and suddenly I felt extremely guilty, like I needed to blurt out my entire theology of gender and swimwear.
- My junior year of college, I was recorded on our quote board as saying, “What happens if I don’t have a quiet and gentle spirit? Mine is more like loud and feisty.”
I’ve sat through a few saccharine Proverbs 31 sermons and more than a few awkward silences after someone brings up the passages about gender roles in the New Testament. I’ve read some stiflingly legalistic approaches to modesty and some rants about how any mention of modesty contributes to rape culture. I’ve wondered if the list things I can’t do in the church is a way to die to self or a misinterpretation of Scripture.
I know that there are Christian women who are laughing at the mildness of my list, some who have faced woman-make-me-a-sandwich theology or pastors blaming their husband’s affair on their lack of attention to their appearance.
Listening to stories like this and the ones on Twitter can help us develop empathy. They can add to the discussion of how we treat women by raising awareness and making others think, in some cases, “Something isn’t quite right here.” So I think there’s value in this.
But I think there can be danger too.
Guys have informed me just how difficult it is to enter gender role discussions because they can’t tell stories like the ones I just described. And sometimes, women often make them feel that, as a result, they are not entitled to have an opinion; they are allowed to stay silent, nod, or make incoherent grunting noises. And that’s it.
Women, let’s not use our stories for that purpose. We shouldn’t make a bold declaration of, “This is what I’ve been through, so don’t you start talking about exegesis to me! You’ll never understand!” (And this is easy to do.)
Let’s tell our stories, but do it in a spirit of humility that recognizes that for every time we’ve been wronged or slighted or underestimated, we’ve done the same to someone else. Let’s state our theological views, but without misrepresenting the other side. Let’s defend our position from the Bible, but be willing to admit that, whichever side we fall on, this is a difficult subject and we could be wrong.
And men, let me just say, it’s hard for us too. It’s hard for me, as a woman, to ask, “What if women are called to sacrifice leadership roles for the good of the church, even though we are spiritually equally to men?” I have to give up something personally—it impacts how I serve in the church. I also take a risk—a lot of Christians could get angry at that statement. (You’re welcome to discuss that question with me, but know that it’s still in the hmm-this-might-be-a-thing stage.)
Listen to others’ stories. Don’t assume that they are irrelevant to the theological conclusions you make. No, we don’t want to decide that the Bible teaches something just because we feel a certain way. But assuming the Bible has no context in real life, that ethics are mysterious things floating separate from us, is another unhealthy extreme.
We talk a lot about how our hearts are corrupted; we want the wrong things. So the assumption is that we have to separate our emotions from our theology to get rid of that influence, that we should strive to be unbiased and objective
Except our minds have been corrupted too—dare I say it—just as much as our hearts.
It’s not a matter of relying on logic instead of emotion. It’s a matter of submitting both to God.
Opinion poll time! On a scale from 1-10 (1 being please-shoot-me-now and 10 being this-topic-comes-up-right-after-the-weather), how comfortable are you discussing gender roles in a group of both men and women?