Monthly Archives: August 2014

Marriage and Patriarchy: A Critical Analysis

This isn’t a normal blog post, but rather a response this article, which I saw shared on Facebook. The tone of what I wrote is a little bit different from a regular blog post because I originally started writing it as a comment on the Facebook link. But then it got longer and longer, and it also started to get fairly personal. So I thought it would be a better idea to share it on my blog.

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When I started reading this article I found it to be interesting and thought-provoking and I generally received it positively. I think that chastity is a good thing to pursue as an unmarried Christian, and I think it teaches you a lot about self control and to value sex as a physical expression of lifelong unity. The blogger, Dan Phillips, also had a good deal of positive things to say in his second point. It is very easy to succumb to the pressure to marry if it’s something your partner really wants. But if you’re not sure that you are ready to marry, you shouldn’t be getting married.

Then I got to Phillips’ third point, and it kinda crashed and burned from there.

Evangelicals have got to get over this notion that verses such as the ones he mentioned are universally prescriptive on marriage today. Paul’s letters were written in a time when misogyny and patriarchy reigned, and women were considered the “weaker partners” (1 Peter 3:7). They had precious few rights, and even Paul’s admonition to men to love and serve their wives was considered remarkably revolutionary for that day.

Phillips takes these cultural norms regarding women and applies the principle to a culture where the role and status of women is drastically different from Bible times. He writes about the ideal husband:

“You see, this man is going to be making the decisions for your family. If he’s wise and godly, you’ll get truckloads of input — but the final call will be his. You will need not only to accept his final decision, but to dive in and do your best to make it work.”

Let me state this once, for the record: I cannot, would not ever, be happy in a marriage like that. A marriage like that requires a compliant wife, and some women would thrive in that role. In fact my mother is one of those women. But I am not. I want to be able to work in sync with the man I am married to, and make decisions together without one of us having a trump card to hold over the other in cases of disagreement. And in some cases, where my talent and abilities exceed that of my husband’s, I want to know that he will trust me to take the lead.

We live in a different time today. I think it is a sign of the unfolding of God’s plan for the world that many Christians are beginning to realize that marriages based on mutuality – not patriarchy as this blogger advocates – are a truer reflection of a godly marriage.

Because let’s not kid ourselves. Any kind of marriage where the woman is obligated to submit to the man’s headship, where he makes all the major decisions and she is merely allowed input – even if it is “truckloads of input” – IS patriarchal.

I also found the second paragraph in his third point to be intensely patriarchal and oppressive of women. I cannot believe that God would mandate a woman to be subservient to a husband who turns out to be a “a fickle, surly, selfish, childish, uncaring, hypocritical jerk”. That is only one small step below believing that a woman is required to stay in an abusive marriage! Furthermore, I’m not sure I believe that God would bind me to a chronically destructive marriage, even if verbal or physical abuse were not a factor.

I know this was a really heavy-handed response to the article. And I understand that the blogger’s intentions are to convince single Christian women like me to raise our standards when choosing who to marry. But I believe the principles he discusses are destructive. If I were to marry a man like the one he describes: intent on assuming leadership of our marriage and family, extremely involved in his church, and committed to hyper-literal and universally prescriptive interpretations of the Bible passages on marriage, I would probably be miserable.

After criticizing patriarchal marriage for an entire blog post, I thought it might be helpful to share a lovely post written by Sarah Bessey, a blogger I follow occasionally whose gentle words are so often inspiring. She is married, and the way she describes marriage based on mutuality gives me so much hope that one day, when I have met a man who truly loves God, we can build a marriage together that is based on mutual respect, mutual sacrifice, mutual trust. No man leading the woman. No woman submitting to the man. But rather, both submitting to each other in a manner that glorifies God.

 

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My First Stop in a Search for a New Church Home: Harbor of Hope

Today I attended a new church: Harbor of Hope. Not only had I never been to this church on a Sunday morning, it was also a totally unfamiliar denomination for me: Assemblies of God, which falls under the Pentecostal umbrella. The atmosphere was unlike any other church I’d been in; it was very casual, and there was this heightened sense of camaraderie that is usually much more mellowed out in church settings. I must have seen about two dozen hugs given, and during a prolonged period of time after the praise and worship was over, the pastor asked that anyone who needed “prayer for a HUGE miracle” to raise their hands, then asked that members of the congregation wind their way towards those with raised hands and pray for them. In some cases, these people kept right on praying and talking after the pastor formally concluded the “prayer time.”

The worship was pretty typical; lots of appeals to the joy of the Lord and happiness and God’s presence in this place, etc., etc. What was unique about it – to me at least – was that the sanctuary was nearly empty when worship began, and people trickled in throughout the worship time. About half the congregation stood in the front of the sanctuary, and a lot of people had their hands raised. Kids were fooling around and enjoying themselves over in one section, and on the stage a very little girl – maybe two years old – was sometimes wandering the stage and sometimes standing and sort of singing.

When I was fishing around online for what kind of church I wanted to go to this morning, I was originally quite hesitant to attend Harbor of Hope, because I had heard that they spoke in tongues there on a regular basis, which is something that makes me uncomfortable. But I thought I’d make a go of it anyway and see what happened. Sure enough, after the worship and prayer time were over, one woman spoke in tongues. It was a bizarre thing to listen to, to be sure, but not the extraordinary experience I’d imagined. Afterward another member of the congregation prayed scripture (adding in something about the imminent end of the ages, but that the church is strong, not weak), and then the floor was passed back to the pastor.

The sermon was also rather a different experience. There was a whole lot of banging the pulpit and loud and confident declarations that Jesus is Lord. A couple times the pastor boldly declared that he didn’t care about offending people or being politically incorrect; he would speak the truth. In large part, the sermon was about baptism because there were to be several baptisms after the service. He dropped a couple subtle references to the belief that baptism is essential to salvation, and talked through all the ways it is extremely important, both literally and symbolically. He also claimed that Jesus commanded it, and used the Great Commission at the end of Matthew as a proof text.

The pastor was loud, and bold, and frequently invoked audience participation in the form of clapping and amens and appeals for agreement. He waxed eloquent about how we must be firm and confident in the gifts God has promised us for a propserous life, we must walk in the truth that God has BIG BIG BIG plans for our lives. We must be constantly filled with the abundant joy that comes only from Jesus.

I’m not sure it was really my cup of tea. The reality is that I’ve never, ever been the kind of person who feels bold and confident and assured about all the things of God. I am more of a cautious person, a doubtful person, a person who prefers to ask a lot of questions rather than boldly shout from the rooftops.

At the end of the service, the pastor led everyone in the typical Sinner’s Prayer. But it had a twist, as if the pastor was unapologetic about who he had to “scope out” as those in need of salvation. He began with asking everyone this question (paraphrased by me since I don’t remember it perfectly): “Who among you, if you were to walk outside right now and be hit with a car, know with firm certainly, with all the assurance you can have, that you will be welcomed in to heaven after you die?”

Though we were instructed to keep our eyes closed and our heads bowed (which I found to be humorously ironic after all that talk about being bold about your faith), I can imagine that almost every hand in the room went up.

Mine didn’t.

I’m not sure of the implications of this belief, but I don’t think it’s up to me to know what will happen in the afterlife—either to me or to anyone else. I think that is God’s choice, and I don’t want to be one to speak for God. Perhaps that doesn’t make me a very good Christian, or a very confident Christian, but at least I am honest, and I am submitting to God’s authority when it comes to salvation.

So anyway. That was my first experience in my search for a new church home. It was definitely different, and I learned a lot about how diverse church experiences can be. But I’m not really sure that church is for me, though I can see both strengths and faults in it. And I suppose I should be careful not to judge a church based on one Sunday morning service. I think, perhaps, in the future I’m going to continue to branch out, and attend churches that are very different from the little conservative one I grew up in. Maybe, sooner or later, I’ll find a community I can call home.

Facebook and Ferguson: When A Blog Share Goes Wrong

So, I follow a lot of blogs. More than a dozen. And a lot of the voices I read are beautiful, and I want them to be heard. So I also share a lot of blog links on Facebook. I am always careful to review these pieces, to look them over and confirm that they are words I’m sure I want to validate before I share them. Sometimes I share things knowing full well that they will be perceived negatively by most of my Facebook friends (such as this incredibly thought-provoking piece, which ignited a lively debate on my timeline).

Other times I recognize that a topic is heavy, and must be handled gently, so I do my best to share blog posts that are not controversial, blog posts that remind us all of something important.

This past weekend I finally had the opportunity to sit down with my laptop and a decent chunk of time and wind my way through all the news stories  and blog posts about the tragedy that happened in Ferguson. And I was shocked and dismayed and alarmed at what I read and the venomous opinions being slung around.

And I was also shocked and dismayed and alarmed because so few  of my Facebook friends shared anything remotely sympathetic toward the people of Ferguson, Michael Brown, or his family.

So I wanted to offer a voice; a voice that begged for empathy and to remember that what happened is a human issue first and foremost, before it is a race issue. I shared this voice on Facebook, because how could you possibly incite a storm of controversy with words like that?

Well, quite easily, it turns out.

I got a few negative comments – nothing horrible, but enough to leave me feeling disturbed and angry. We are Christians, aren’t we? Doesn’t that mean we react to Michael Brown’s death first and foremost with compassion for this young man’s family, and everyone else who has been so affected by this tragedy?

Doesn’t that mean we affirm their grief and anger? Are they not the oppressed in this situation? The ones whose voices are being met with military force and tear gas and rubber bullets?

There is something wrong with the world when I share a post reminding everyone that Michael Brown is someone’s beloved child, and that his death is a tragedy, and the first comment I receive after sharing that is a reminder that I don’t have all the facts, that Michael was tall, heavy, physically aggressive, and high on marijuana while the officer was just following protocol, was serving and protecting.

Yet the officer is not the one who died that day.

So part of me regretted sharing that post, even though I honestly thought it would be a gentle reminder to remember that this story is about a human being, and I didn’t imagine it would attract controversy. Perhaps, in that regard, I have too much faith in my Facebook friends. I don’t know.

But I won’t take it down, because sharing links like that on Facebook are one tiny way of standing in solidarity with those who are angry and grieving in Ferguson right now. It’s not enough; I know that. I know there is more that I and others can and should be doing to support the voices of those who are being drowned out. But it is something.

So let’s not turn a deaf ear to what is happening in Ferguson right now. And oh dear goodness, of the love of all that is good in this world, let us remember who the victims are.

My Reactionary Attitude

Just so you know, this is going to be a rambling, unfocused blog post because that’s how my relationship with God is right now.

The way I approach my faith and my theology has undergone so many shifts in the past few years, and I’ve realized that some of these shifts are unhealthy. I’ve written about the negative effects of having shed the little box of conservatism that I grew up in (see this post, and this one). But recently I’ve been mulling over how my attitude about Christianity has become largely reactive.

Christian people say things, or write things, or share them on Facebook, and I so often impulsively push back against what they say. You’re trying to tell me that the Bible is “clear” about this issue or that issue? Let me show you how incredibly ambiguous it is. You think that this is the way Christians should respond to such-and-such an issue? Let me show you how that person responded, and how I think it is a very Christian-like response despite looking nothing like what you’d think.

The list goes on. I resist the attempts of those around me to guide me to a place of agreement and mutual understanding, and instead dig for the flaws in their ways of thinking.

I think it’s because I’ve gotten used to being disappointed whenever I bring up my struggles with my faith to another Christian. Much more often than not, when I talk about my shifting ideas and my new ways of seeing God and believing in the Bible and interacting with other people as a follower of Christ, I am met with firm advice to remember that God is God, and I shouldn’t be reinventing His character to suit my conscience, or twisting his Word to make it believe what I want to believe.

So the conversation turns reactive. I push back against their ideas, trying to make them understand in my own naturally antagonistic, argumentative tone that there is more to experience in Jesus than the same old tropes we hear about time and again.

But then I feel like a hypocrite, because even as I try to convince the Christians around me that I have discovered something stronger, deeper, more lovely than what I was taught to believe growing up, I remember that I’ve lost that feeling and I’m in a spiritual dry spell right now. And if that is how I feel, who’s to say I am right about any of it?

But you know what?

It’s a good thing faith doesn’t depend on how I feel. Or on how distant God feels. Or on how much I am struggling with these strange new theologies I’m exploring, even as I see a ring of truth in them. Faith is more than that. It’s realizing that God is working in my life even when it doesn’t feel that way. It’s realizing he loves me deeply even though I alienate those around me with my rash opinions and my reactionary attitude.

I know that is all basic stuff; the kind of stuff people like me who have been a part of the Christian religion their whole lives should have nailed down and secure by now. Be kind and gentle, not argumentative. Know you are beloved anyway, don’t doubt it.

It is easier said than done, easier said than believed. But it’s true.