What I want from church: the Jesus of the Gospels

Jesus – The Prince of Peace (Akiane Kramarik)

I find it ironic that in the midst of the conversation about the undervalued and misunderstood role of women in the church, the church is often still characterized by preaching a message which is packaged in a more “female” way, and thus undervalues and misunderstands the call of both men and women to discipleship. What do I mean by this?
Why “female”, and why in inverted commas?

Our evangelism is characterized by a presentation of our felt needs: we are sinners in need of a Savior, guilty ones in need of pardon, lost ones in need of a Shepherd. The gospel is marketed towards our emotions. Our worship songs sometimes sing declarations of God’s majesty, but can also often tend towards the “Jesus is my boyfriend” lyrics, calling for us to declare “I’m so in love with you” “in this intimate place” – right in the middle of our corporate worship services. These refrains are uncomfortable for me, but all the more awkward for my 6’2″ husband who won’t even whisper “I love you” on the phone when he’s at work. Our ministries appeal for service help in the more “feminine” categories: welcoming, working in the nursery, teaching children’s church, providing snacks. Hospitality, children and food are not traditionally the areas where men sign up in their droves.

Church may be a place where (for many) there is a “masculine feel” in leadership, but I find the message and ministry of the church often have a distinctly feminine feel. If you ain’t the preacher or an elder, the opportunities for men are limited. Of course, my husband can change a diaper with the best of them, but in some nurseries men are not permitted to serve, and the bevy of faithful bible teachers who serve in children’s ministry remain predominantly female.

I wonder, though, if the feminine “feel” of our ministries doesn’t take its cue from the felt-needs-based way in which we pitch our message. Jesus is a comforter, a healer, a Savior. “Gentle Jesus, meek and mild”, the suffering Servant, the loving rescuer.  That Jesus rightfully and perfectly holds all these titles is proof that those nurturing qualities do not belong exclusively to the female domain. Jesus IS the epitome of love, of care, of welcome.

However, as a woman who is a disciple myself, as a woman with a husband who wants to serve with the particular gifts God has given him, and as a woman who is raising sons and daughters: what I want from church is this – a robust preaching of the Jesus of the Gospels.

I want to hear about the Jesus who demanded loyalty, who commanded authority from storms, sinners and satanic forces, who said vexing and frustrating and wild things. I want to hear preaching which is not just faithful to His words but to His TONE: of comfort but also of rebuke, of welcome but also of warning. I want to hear His dares, His call to come and die, His challenge to make hard choices. I want the Jesus of the gospels who does not just meet our needs, but who calls us to bold and courageous adventure, to self-sacrifice, to taking risks. I want the Jesus who promises huge rewards for huge sacrifices, who embraces fiesty Peter and wayward Mary and touchy-feely John.

I want the Jesus who welcomed the little children, but also the Jesus with eyes like a flame of fire, with feet of burnished bronze and a sharp two-edged sword coming out of his mouth. Whatever that wild imagery means, I want to grapple with it. I want the Jesus who inspires my awe and calls forth my worship: a gospel from The Gospels. That’s the Jesus I want. That’s the Jesus I need: the one who is worthy of the honor, adoration and allegiance of men and women alike.

A few years back, Preston Yancey invited women to write guest posts on what they wanted from church. This was my post which ran on his blog. A reader recently asked me if I could help her find that piece, and it seems to have disappeared from the internet so I’m publishing it again here. And, just to say, since that time I’ve read Leslie Leyland Fields’ book Crossing the Waters, which is about as robust a dive into the wild, tender, authoritative, awesome Jesus of the gospels as I’ve ever come across (you can read an excerpt here). And it’s written by a woman 😉 

Roll Your Eyes, Brothers and Sisters

I love it when my phone updates its emojis. My favorite of the new bunch?

The face palm.

This perfectly capture my response when reading (yet another) profoundly unhelpful article by a Christian for other Christians with Rules For Men and Women To Avoid Immorality. This time, the culprit was texting. Apparently, married people should NOT text people of the opposite sex, because “affairs don’t start with sex.”

This is pretty much what my face looked like:

So, let this sister just explain herself a second here, attached to my formal appeal to please Stop The Madness. This article prohibiting texting is a variation on a well-worn theme of Men And Women Should Just Stay The Heck Away From Each Other Unless They’re Married, and has as its underpinning two terrible and insulting beliefs. It is insulting to women because it fears that they are temptresses and seductresses (see Jen Wilkin’s excellent article here on this), and it is insulting to men because it treats men as helpless victims of their sex drives. Unless you’re married, then, you should have as little contact as possible with the opposite sex: no driving in cars with them (the “Billy Graham Rule”), no private conversations in offices, no dancing, and lately: no texting. Unless you’re copying your spouse on the text thread, warns the author.

This kind of thing drives me nuts, because it shows that believers in the church have bought into the widespread (and WRONG) belief that all male and female interaction is inherently SEXUAL in nature. I hear griping and moaning about the sexualization and objectification of women and the terrible eroticization of all relationships (why can’t guys be friends who love each other without people accusing them of being gay? why do all tv sitcoms have a friendship where one of the part have feelings for the other, which almost always ends in a season finale of THE KISS (or sex) to relieve the tension?) But when we treat men and women in the church as if they can’t reasonably relate to each other without being in constant, grave, and unavoidable danger of illicit sex… we are falling into the same trap.

We need to reclaim the space for GENDERED and NON-SEXUAL relationships.

Yes, the Bible has much to say about gendered, sexual relationships – marriage being foremost among these.

But the Bible has SO MUCH to say about gendered, non-sexual relationships, and we desperately need healthy role models and better conversation about what maleness and femaleness look like without anyone imagining anyone else naked. And, Scripture has language for how we do this. It’s the family language of brother and sister: gendered, warm, intimate, familiar, and totally clothed.

I live in a church community and have friendships with men and women. Yes, I am a married woman and I am friends with men: both married and single. And my husband has both male and female friends. And, when we were single, we both had married and single friends of both sexes. As far as I understand it, this is the beautiful pattern of community within the FAMILY of God: filled with brothers and sisters who sometimes squabble, sometimes disagree, but who really, really love each other and are on the SAME team. We desperately need to reset our default setting and learn to see the men and women around us primarily as brothers and sisters, rather than potential sexual partners.

This is not to say, however, that affairs don’t happen, or that we can say anything or do anything with anyone, male or female. But, so much more than rules about how close you should stand to a guy, or whether or not you can give your phone number to a married man, what this calls for is MATURITY and WISDOM. The question is always one of the heart: am I seeking other people’s BEST in this relationship? That’s what love requires. To follow this standard requires so much more than keeping your contact list limited to same-sex-friendships: it requires us being willing to search our hearts and lay our intentions bare before God. Asking hard questions of ourselves (like “why am I wanting this person’s attention?”) requires more diligent self-scrutiny. For me, one check is knowing that I’d be willing to show my husband any of my text exchanges with other men and women (which is an internal caveat for me), rather than simply ruling out any texting at all.

It may well be that, giving yourself a sober self-assessment of your habits and vices, that it may be better for you not to text Dude X or arrange a regular carpool ride with Miss Y because you know you’ll be vulnerable to crossing lines that brothers and sisters shouldn’t cross. But it shouldn’t mean writing half our family off complete as dangerous and deceptive.

Surely, we need to do better than that. We can do better than that. Yes, we all need to take care that we aren’t making choices that will lead us into temptation (of bad spending, bad gossiping, selfishness, and yes, sexual temptation too)… but surely to accomplish this we need is HEALTHY relationships guarded by wisdom, not ZERO relationships regulated by fear and suspicion.

 

 

 

Is The ‘Women in Ministry’ Question A Gospel Issue?

Salt Shaker

It’s been a couple of weeks since I sat down at the virtual table at the Passing the Saltshaker blog, where some online friends and I write about Christianity, the church and gender. This week we’re talking about where and how women belong in complementation churches and parachurch organizations.

Here’s a snippet from today’s post:

It was St. Augustine who wrote “in essentials, unity; in non-essentials, liberty; in all things, charity.” It seems to me that Christians in church and para-church alike all agree with Augustine. We all want unity on the essentials, and liberty on the non-essentials. The underlying issue, then, is whether we consider the question of roles and relationships of men and women in the church to be an essential, or non-essential doctrine.

In other words: is the issue of women in the church a ‘gospel issue’?

I believe that the amount of liberty we are willing to extend in gender applications is directly proportional to how firmly we believe our theology of gender to be an essential to the Christian faith.

Pull up a seat at the table and read the rest here….

A Letter to Men

LetterToMen

Dear Men,

A few months ago, a conversation on Twitter got my attention. Using the hashtag #YesAllWomen, women shared incredible and awful stories of ways in which they had been harassed, marginalized, ridiculed, leered at and exploited by men.

Yes, all women.

Soon the conversation changed, and people began to respond with #NotAllMen hashtags. Not all men are rapists. Not all men are addicted to pornography. Not all men pay for sex. Not all men disrespect and degrade women.

No, not all men.

This letter is for you: the not all men. And I’m writing to say We Need You. And, Please Help.

I am just beginning to uncover how close to home some very dark things are. Vulnerable women and children are being trafficked in our neighborhoods: they are preyed on and prostituted, and I didn’t know that so many of those who seem to be prostitutes are, in fact, victims who are drugged, manipulated and abused to be there.

Economics 101 teaches us that supply meets demand. This is true in the sex industry too. I didn’t know (and maybe you didn’t either) that the primary demographic of those buying sex are white, middle-class, well-educated, white-collar workers. Women and children are being trafficked to supply the demands of the very people society deems to be the most respectable.

But not all men are like that, which is why we need your help.

If you are a man who is white, or middle-class, or well-educated, or white-collar (or any combination of those descriptions), then you have a voice with these men that we don’t. You may not know who they are, exactly, but they’re among the every day guys at work, in class, at the gym, at the game. They’re the guys on the golf green, and at your business conference.

Women talk differently around women than when men are around, and men talk differently around men than when women are around. When women are around, men are less likely to suggest a couple of hours of entertainment at a strip club, or to make lewd remarks about how they’d like to “see her naked”.

Perhaps you hear men around you talk like that, and you find it uncomfortable. It might be funny, but it’s not who you are – so you say nothing. You let it go, finish your drink, and make your way home. I want you to know first of all that I really respect you not taking them up on the invitation.

But I am writing to ask you to do more. I’m asking you to please speak up and take a stand that it’s not okay to speak to women or about women like that. To point out that the massage parlor or gentlemen’s club they’re suggesting probably has trafficked women or children working there – did they know that? To say that prostitution may not mean what they think it means. To say you’ve heard some stories from women who worked the streets and it has changed your opinion on what was really going on there.

But maybe you don’t even need to say that much. A man saying something like “hey, that’s not cool,” in response to a “guy’s joke” might not seem like much, but it means so much.

If you stay silent, you may have protected your own character in that situation, but your silence is interpreted as indifference. “All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing,” wrote Bonhoeffer. The sex trafficking industry relies on secrecy to thrive, and when we fail to say something, we allow it to keep its secrets. Our silence become complicity.

Art by Corrie Haffly.

Art by Corrie Haffly

Please, don’t let the sexist joke go unchallenged.

Please, don’t let the guy next to you jest about “showing her who’s boss” without speaking up.

Please, don’t stay silent when someone makes a “movie suggestion”. The line between pornography and trafficking is a very thin on.

Please, if you are on a business trip and are invited out for an evening of entertainment, don’t just say “no thanks” and walk away. Say, “You shouldn’t go either.” Perhaps even invite them to do something else.

There are men in our communities who are predators and pedophiles. But not all men are like that. You are not like that. So I’m asking you: will you please be our protectors? Would you be a voice of conscience to the men around you?

For my sake. For my daughters sake. For all the #YesAllWomen,

Please, speak up.

We need you.


End-New-3DChris and Beth Bruno have written a FREE E-BOOK entitled End: Engaging Men to End Sex Trafficking. Download your copy today.

I am grateful to the Brunos for offering this resource as part of the #ACourageousOne project.


This #ACourageousOne project is a 5-day series of blog posts to raise awareness, money and hope about the reality of sex trafficking right around us. There are tens of thousands of invisible women and children – courageous ones – in need of rescue and restoration.

We can help. This week, support a courageous one by giving #ACourageousOne of your own:

  • Donate ONE DOLLAR to fight sex trafficking (here, here, or here, if you need a suggestion.)
  • Pray for ONE MINUTE for God to rescue victims, and give courage to women and men to speak and act as we ought. (Here is a Psalm to meditate on, as a suggestion)
  • Share ONE POST on social media to raise awareness about this issue. This is happening in our communities, so if we speak up within our communities, someone directly involved is going to hear.

Thank you for supporting the thousands of courageous ones with your Courageous One. We can make a difference!