by Andrew Stephens-Rennie
In my last post, responding to John Piper’s dehumanizing view of women, I mused about the benefits of subjecting myself to the authority of women for the next year. As I thought about what was in some ways a throwaway statement, the idea started to take shape and grab hold of me. The reality is that so much of what I read – especially theology – is written by men. And that has to change.
So I’m turning over a new leaf. I’m starting again. And to begin, I’ve picked up a copy of Rachel Held Evans‘ “Year of Biblical Womanhood.” I figure, if I’m to find out what it means to submit myself to female authority, I should start with the way in which one woman experienced that year of Biblical Womanhood, and then figure out a direction from there. I’ve been meaning to pick up Rachel’s book for some time, but this seems like as good a time as any.
I don’t know if this means I’ll end up calling my wife Master (Mistress?) or that I’ll end up sewing beauty queen sashes. What it does mean is that I’m going to start to see and hear the bible as seen and heard through the eyes and ears of a woman. And that’s a vital lens if I’m ever going to understand how this gospel is good news not just for whiteish, middle-classish, straightish men, but for women too. There are obviously a lot more perspective out there than this, but this seems like a very good start as I try to listen to perspectives beyond my own.
And while I can never fully understand – while I will never be able to fully embody biblical womanhood – I do have the opportunity to shut up and listen. I don’t need to wear women’s clothing (according to some, that might be abhorrent to the Lord, afterall), but I do need to listen, and learn, and then engage. And this engagement should lead on the path that Christine Smith identifies as weeping, confession and then resistance.
To redress the wrongs that men have continually done towards women in the church (and far, far beyond) requires these three movements. It requires us to be moved, to admit our complicity, and then to move forward in a new direction.
That’s not always easy. Especially for us whiteish, middle-classish straightish men. What will we do to change? A part of that resistance is to listen. Another part is to speak up when women are being marginalized.
Last fall, I was one member of an eight-week learning cohort talking about prostitution and trafficking in the city of Vancouver. One of two men in a classroom, filled with bright, incisive women, I struggled. I struggled to know what I could say or contribute to a conversation about women’s bodies (first mistake: assuming that the conversation about prostitution is only about women and their bodies).
It hadn’t yet registered that the conversation was about so much more. It hadn’t yet registered that the conversation was about Principalities and Powers. It hadn’t yet registered that the conversation was about Systemic Injustice. It hadn’t yet registered that the conversation was about patriarchy and the reality of male violence against women. And it hadn’t yet registered that as a part of that system, we all have a role to play in resisting the system’s exploitation.
John Piper’s comments and that whole line of scriptural interpretation affirm patriarchy and male violence against women by reducing women to their instrumental value:
Your role in church is determined by men.
Your role in marriage is only in relationship to your husband and other powerful men like your pastor.
You are subject to the same kinds of power, abuse and violence that is exercised by those other Johns who think it’s perfectly fine to buy women, and the pimps who do the selling.
If what St. Paul says in the first letter to the Corinthians is true – that we are all members of one body – then the harming of one member of that body harms us. It will do us no good to drone on and say “if one part suffers, every part suffers with it,” if we repeatedly insist on self-harm. In Christ we are all members of one body. What makes us think we can harm one part of our body without harming another? What makes us think that we can ignore or cut off or enslave one part of our body and still be whole?
In the end, the Good News is not about being “egalitarian” rather than “complementarian.” Rather, the Good News is that in Christ we are one.