Here's the next installment in our Immeasurably More blog series.
BY SHANNON WEISENFELS
I came of age in the Nineties. I remember when Marilyn Manson in his unusual makeup and dark music hit the scene. I never liked him. I was a good Christian girl, and his look and sound felt to me like something I should avoid. The Church warned about stars like this, and with good reason. Manson has been in the news recently for his horrific abuse of several women. He is just one of the latest names in the headlines of #metoo.
I was not listening to Marilyn Manson in part because I was listening to Christian radio. In May of this last year, KLOVE started sharing the sad news that evangelist Ravi Zacharias was dying and aired moving tributes to him. Everything about his looks and his sound drew us to him. No one warned me about a star like this, but Zacharias is in the news again. He is just one of the latest revered Christian leaders to be found guilty of sexual abuse of multiple women. I’ve seen the hashtag #churchtoo pop up on my Instagram feed.
One of Zacharias’s victims told Christianity Today that he used the pressure of his ministry as justification for his sexual need. She did not report it for so long because she did not want to jeopardize the spreading of the Gospel he preached.
Do you know what jeopardizes the Gospel? Men who proclaim it with their words and not their actions. We are all human. We are all sinners. We are not all harassers and abusers. These abuses do not happen in a vacuum. They happen amidst a church culture that has sought to keep men in power and women in their place. The truth coming out serves the Truth. The women in our churches deserve a Church that does not even consider covering up scandals as has happened so many times. The women in our churches deserve a Church that does not allow their bodies to be offered on the altar in service to some greater good.
I supervised a self defense training for young women preparing to go off to college. The training would be incomplete if they were not taught to defend themselves against sexual assault. As the trainers skillfully taught not only with the right moves but the right mindset, the male instructor said, “You need to know that you are worth something; you are worth defending.” I want to ask, “Do you know your worth?”
If you do, it is likely because you’ve been loved into it despite the messages you receive every day that say, “you are lesser.” The constant ads for diets and workouts would be enough, but to my sadness, the Church has been a loud voice in this messaging. Few come right out and say “you are lesser” with their words. They say it with their actions. The vast majority of men in Christian leadership are not taking advantage of their power in the ways Zacharias and too many others have, but their more easily justified actions like keeping women off of their platforms, out of their governing bodies, and in submission to their husbands belie the truth that while they may say we are equal in God’s eyes, we are not equal in theirs.
I have a calling and vocation from God. This month, I enter my 17th year of ordained ministry. I have no doubt this calling comes from God. God is not using me in spite of my gender, as I have heard suggested. God is simply using me.
I share an imperfect but thriving equal partnership with my husband of 19 years. As we have negotiated careers and nurturing children, it has been hard, but also life-giving. When we were getting married, I read a highly recommended book by an evangelical leader. A woman should not gain more than 10 pounds per decade of marriage because a man is more visual, it advised. But a man should not have unreasonable expectations as reflected in the one pound of grace allotted per year to the woman. This advice reflects an important perspective. As a woman, there is a limit to grace, and I am responsible not only for myself but for the men in my life.
I’m finished with this message. For many years, I studied authors I disagreed with on their views of women because of their popularity and their larger message. I have accepted ideas of complementarianism, though not my own, as a valid interpretation of Scripture. I have looked the other way as the churches I love sometimes embrace these ideas. No longer.
I hate cancel culture, but I believe in healthy boundaries. Is there a larger message or greater gain to be had by listening to those who speak directly against God’s voice in my life? I don’t think so.
I have not always known my worth. Like so many, I have absorbed and internalized the messages of society and the Church, all of which are motivated by power. And to be honest, I can forgive society a little easier. It’s the Church who invoked Jesus’ name and sold us a bill of goods under the guise of biblical truth. The Marilyn Mansons of the world never pretended to speak for God, at least.
We are in the season of Lent, a season when we remember that Jesus was tempted by power and desire but did not give in. Satan used the Bible against him, but Jesus fought back with words from the very same Scripture. The Bible has been used against us, but the Bible also comes to our defense. Here is just the beginning of our defense from the story of our beginning.
“So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.
God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply, and fill the earth and subdue it; and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the air and over every living thing that moves upon the earth.”
In this first account of creation, there is no hierarchy, only men and women together reflecting the image of God and sharing dominion over the earth.
Genesis 2:18 Then the Lord God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”
In this second account, Adam is created first and out of all the creatures on the earth, not one suitable helper is found, so God creates Eve from his rib. When Adam sees Eve, he says,
“This at last is bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
this one shall be called Woman,
for out of Man this one was taken.”
Therefore a man leaves his father and his mother and clings to his wife, and they become one flesh. (Genesis 2:24-25)
Still no hierarchy unless you read the word for “helper” to mean something like “assistant” or “servant.” But here’s the rub. This same Hebrew word, ezer, is a word used many other places in the Old Testament for God. Psalm 33:20 “My soul waits for the Lord; He is my help (ezer) and shield.” God is a servant. God assists us, but we would never describe God as subordinate because of this, but for centuries men have done exactly this to women.
Hierarchy is not introduced until The Fall. When God pronounces the consequences of Adam’s and Eve’s disobedience, God says to the woman,
“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
and he shall rule over you.” (Genesis 3:16)
Men ruling over women was a curse of the fall, a result of our sin. An important theological question arises here. Did Jesus’ death and resurrection remove the curse of our sin?
The answer is yes. Romans 5:17 says, “If, because of the one man’s trespass [Adam’s], death exercised dominion through that one, much more surely will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ.” The Apostle Paul makes the case in many places that Jesus is the new Adam, ushering in a new creation. If creation has been born anew in Jesus’ resurrection, then we are back at the beginning - before the fall, before the curse, before the hierarchy among sexes.
I know there are other troubling scriptures that have been used to hold women back. I encourage you to research those. But the big picture, the vision of God’s kingdom, is one where proud divisions cease, where we are all children of God, all gifted with the same Spirit of God, not for clearly defined roles but for wherever the wind of the Spirit blows us.
I know I am likely preaching to the choir, but knowing something with our minds is not the same as knowing it in our hearts and living it out. Do you know your worth? Are the hours you spend in the gym or the calories you count really about your health? Is it possible that if you dig under the surface you might find the belief that you have to earn your worth and being as close as possible to our society's unrealistic standards of beauty is one way to do it? Do you ever ignore your intuition because “it’s just a feeling” or because what the men in the room say does not match what your gut tells you? It can be hard to speak up and difficult to trust your inner voice, but it’s made harder when we believe that it is less valuable than reason instead of a powerful gift from God. Have you judged another woman for using her voice or rising to power? Merely being a woman does not make us right, so disagreeing with another woman is one thing. Have you criticized her appearance, her tone, questioned her commitment to her family? Would you make the same judgements if she were a man? Is it possible that somewhere inside you believe she does not deserve to be there and neither do you?
I am not asking these questions to judge or shame. I am only asking what I have asked myself over the years. Even though I grew up in a mainline church that endorsed women as equals in marriage and ministry, I had a hard time shutting out the voices of other Christians with opposite ideas, some promoted right in the very same church. Even though I embraced my call to ministry, I had a hard time letting go of our society’s stereotype of what a good woman should be. It has resulted in a lot of shame and a lot of tiptoeing along an impossibly narrow tight rope. In the quiet listening, I am finding freedom. God’s grace is not limited. There is an ocean in which to splash and play and be free.
This raises for me one last critical question:
"Is a Gospel that limits the freedom of the Holy Spirit in half the world’s population really the Gospel at all?"
It’s at best incomplete. Is the Church brave enough to preach a full Gospel to everyone? Does the Church believe what the self defense teacher does, that women are worth defending? Of all the things on which the Church has not been willing to compromise, we are not among them, sisters. It’s a heartbreaking truth. It will change when we know our worth, when we know we are worth defending and we stand up for each other.