First, if you are one of the more than 10,000 people that read my Junia Project post the other day, welcome! Thanks for reading that post, and thanks for checking out Challenging Tertullian. Feel free to grab some coffee and stay for awhile, and, to get the big idea, you can find this blog’s first post here.
For this blogger, last week was equal parts fun and overwhelming. Thousands of page views, who knows how many retweets, Facebook shares, blog comments…at one point, I canceled something I had planned in order to keep up with social media.
Add it all up, and one thing is clear:
The message of the post, that gender-based jokes from the pulpit are unhelpful, struck a chord.
Or perhaps we can go a step further? Maybe it says something deeper, that folks long for pastors and preachers who are careful with their words? That gender equality is something worth fighting for? Or maybe the response indicates that people are hungry for honest and real conversations about gender in the church.
Honestly, I hope it says each of these things.
One of my favorite things about last week’s experience was interacting with people who found the post to be life-giving and affirming. One comment in particular really grabbed me, in all of its heart-breaking vulnerability. In good part, the following words capture one main reason I’m doing what I’m doing on Challenging Tertullian and elsewhere:
May the Junia Project post, and more like it, catalyze a deeper conversation about gender in the church.
I’m honored today to be over at The Junia Project with a post about gender-based humor. You know what I mean, the quips and jokes that pastors tell during a sermon that revolve around gender. My argument is that the chuckles in the moment aren’t worth the potential damage to individuals, to our witness, and to our faith communities.
Find the post here, and an excerpt is below.
Recently, a friend mentioned his pastor’s habit of occasionally peppering his sermons with gender-based jokes.
You know what I mean, the quips about women shopping, or men hunting, or the woman “wearing the pants” in the marriage, or about blonde women being ditzy and men being emotionally distant. And maybe a million more.
My friend wanted to know my thoughts on this brand of humor. Here’s what I think:
If you’re in Christian leadership, and you find yourself with a microphone in hand in front of a room full of people waiting on your every word, do everything you can to avoid using stereotypical gender jokes.
Here are five reasons to steer clear of these kinds of jokes:
#1 It’s likely you’re alienating someone in the room.
Unless you know everyone in the room and their backstories, it’s likely you’re alienating someone every time you tell such a joke. You might offend someone who is like the stereotype but trying to change. Or you might offend someone who is not but wishes they were. Or you might offend someone, like me, who cares deeply about gender equality and finds such jokes distasteful. A church service should be a place of hospitality and welcome; alienating someone through an ill-advised joke thwarts that purpose.
#2. You’ll be perpetuating a culture of gender brokenness.
In all gender-based humor, someone is the punchline, and most gender-based jokes paint women in a negative light. My question is, why would you want to do that to a group that has historically been marginalized by the institutional church? Indeed, every time a pastor makes a crack about the stereotypical bossy/shrill/emotional/nagging/etc. woman, the status quo is reaffirmed and women are pushed back toward the edges of the church.
Read the rest of the post here.
Case in point. I’ve blogged before (here, and here) about the journey that the Church of England has been on regarding gender equality. In fact, I seem to post about said journey every year at this time.
And so I’m happy to report that yesterday was another milestone on their way, as Rev. Libby Lane was named as the first female Bishop in the 500 year history of the denomination.
Find the full story here.
I’ll just mark this latest (and greatest) chapter of the Church of England’s story with the new Bishop’s gracious and humble acknowledgment of the moment:
“On this historic day, as the Church of England announces the first woman nominated to be bishop, I am very conscious of all those who have gone before me, women and men, who for decades have looked forward to this moment. But most of all, I am thankful to God.”
Me too. Amen.
In our family culture, we have a tradition we call Family Fun Days. The only rules for FFDs are that we spend them together, that we do something fun and that we try to spend as little money as possible. Oh, and it’s always my goal to have us visit something random.
Basically, think Clark Griswold without the family truckster, Aunt Edna or Wallyworld.
Now, don’t you wish you were a Dixon?!?
Several years ago, our FFD adventures took us to Lindsay, CA. You may never have heard of Lindsay, but you might well have eaten its primary export. You see, Lindsay is California’s olive capitol. In fact, Lindsay is home to the world’s largest olive.
Not kidding. Here’s photographic evidence:
Yesterday, in the paper, I noticed something else about Lindsay, CA:
The Lindsay City Council is majority women.
This is noteworthy on several levels.
First, because it could be a first here in the central valley. From this article: “it’s uncertain, but Lindsay’s council may have been the first in the central San Joaquin Valley to achieve the status of a majority of women.”
It’s also noteworthy more broadly. Again, according to the article, in our state, “until the November election, 12% of the 482 cities in California had city councils that have a majority of women members, according to the Women’s Caucus of the League of California Cities.”
Further, it’s also out of the norm nationwide. In my just submitted DMiss paper, I cited this fact sheet out of Rutgers University about women in government in 2014. It notes that women hold only 18.7% of the seats in the US congress, only 22.6% of statewide elective executive positions, and only 24.3% of state legislative seats.
Finally, from a global perspective, the Inter-Parlimenary Union notes that in 2014 the United States ranks 83rd in terms of women’s participation in parliament (data here). For those of you scoring at home, that puts us behind places like Rwanda (the leader), Cuba, Nicaragua and Serbia.
So, what’s the bottom line? Tragically, when it comes to U.S. politics, Tertullian continues to have his way in our country’s mayor’s offices, statehouses, and on capitol hill. It’s like he’s having his own perpetual Family Fun Day.
Except that evidently he doesn’t like olives…
Even as I continue to labor in the DMiss cave this week, I appreciated this post from Dr. Jeremiah Gibbs. I find it to be a concrete illustration of the reality of Tertullian’s continued influence. Dr. Gibbs is someone I respect on topics like these, and his full portfolio of articles on women in ministry can be found here.
Here are the first few paragraphs of Dr. Gibbs’ piece:
Until recently I was able to say that I had never had a single person mention the way that I was dressed in 14 years of church leadership. Recently, one of the older men has teased me a couple times that I should wear a tie more often. My streak is broken.
When I was in seminary I learned that many of my female colleagues hear comments about their clothing, hair, and make-up every week.
It’s easy to dismiss this as an odd reality of culture. Some of these remarks are compliments and aren’t meant to make a woman’s job harder. But consider how the constant discussion of physical appearance changes the way women pastors spend time preparing for Sunday morning:
Maybe a skirt? A skirt for preaching shouldn’t be too short or figure-hugging. So a long skirt. But it would still need to look current or it could communicate a kind of Puritanism, a disengagement from the culture which may cause members to disregard me as irrelevant. So a long but current skirt it is. But a skirt doesn’t have a pocket for the wireless mic pack. Oh, and there is a large window behind the pulpit. Sun behind a skirt is not good. How can a congregation focus on my words if they are treated to a view of my upper thighs?
Oh, thighs. Help me set aside the thought of thighs. My value is not found in how I compare to women in magazines. My value is not found in how I compare to women in magazines.
While there could be lots of reasons for doing so, this really excellent article in Christianity Today where this quote is found was submitted anonymously. She names the crazy dilemma that so many women pastors endure with a remarkable humor and subtlety, yet she doesn’t even take credit for doing so.
Few male pastors would select a wardrobe so carefully. Few would be concerned with reactions to this article such that they would write it anonymously.
When I prepare to preach I spend no more than 45 seconds thinking about what I will wear, and I never second guess that decision. I’m guessing that a majority of male preachers have a similar pattern. While my female colleagues are wrestling with the flats and the heels, I spend additional time rehearsing my sermon again, praying for the congregation, or simply resting in God’s presence. If you think I’m overstating my case at all, then read about this male news anchor that wore the same suit every day for a year without anyone noticing. Seriously.
While I’m praying over my sermon, she must try on her third pair of shoes.
Don’t stop! Read the rest here.
I came across this gender equality map the other day. It ranks every country in the world based on data obtained via the World Economic Forum. Take a look at the map itself here:
(Sorry, it’s supposed to magically appear in the post…grr.)
If you’d like to just skip to the bottom line, here’s the article’s conclusion:
Despite the vast discrepancies between, say, Iceland (the #1 country) and Pakistan (bottom of the list), the WEF stresses that no country has fully closed the gender gap. It has been publishing these rankings since 2006.
The report’s authors say that gender equality is improving worldwide, overall, boosted by growing numbers of women being allowed access to jobs and building a stake in their country’s political life. “Much of the progress on gender equality over the last 10 years has come from more women entering politics and the workforce,” the report’s lead author, Saadia Zahidi, told the Associated Press.
But more regressive realities remain — with women struggling for access to education and adequate health care in a host of developing countries, and wage inequities persisting virtually everywhere.
The United States improved a few spots this year, ranking 20th, ahead of fellow Anglophone countries such as Australia and Britain. But it still lags behind far poorer nations such as Nicaragua and Rwanda.
“Both rich countries and poor countries can afford gender equality,” Zahidi told Fortune magazine. “Gender equality doesn’t have to only come along once a country is fully developed.”
Not to be crass, but, come on, that name just invites sophomoric comments. Right? According to the company website, the founder was a gentleman named Dick Stack. Isn’t “Stacks” a better name? Or, the current CEO is Stack’s son Ed. How about “Eds”?!?
Perhaps we should borrow a page from J.K. Rowling, and go with The Sporting Goods Store that Shall Not Be Named?!?
Yeah, I like that one.
But I digress, because I want to tell you about McKenna Peterson.
Meet McKenna. She’s a 12-year old from Arizona, and she’s got an issue with TSGSTSNBN. What’s McKenna’s issue? Well, she picked up the latest edition of the TSGSTSNBN catalog, only to find that all of the women were relegated to the background.
In her own words, from a letter that her father posted on twitter:
There are NO girls in the catalog! Oh, wait, sorry. There IS a girl in the catalog on page 6. SITTING in the STANDS. Women are only mentioned once in the catalog on page 5 for some shoes. And there are cheerleaders on some coupons.
Why is this a problem for McKenna?
It’s hard enough for girls to break through in this sport as it is, without you guys excluding us from your catalog. Girls buy stuff from your store. In fact, my last two pairs of basketball shoes were purchased at Dicks, as well as my hoop and practice equipment.
And her parting shot?
Maybe my dad will take me to some other store that supports girls to actually PLAY basketball and follow their dreams and not sit on the sidelines and watch the game to get my next pair of shoes and equipment.
That she ends her letter with “Sincerely, McKenna Peterson, The Fabulous Basketball Player” is just icing on the gender equality cake.
Because here’s the thing. Tertullian would have us believe that athletics is the domain of men. That it’s only Lebron James, or Leo Messi, or Peyton Manning, that deserves our attention, adoration, and emulation.
So good for McKenna for not believing Tertullian’s lie, for being perceptive enough to see the subtle, almost hidden message she was being fed, and for speaking out against it.
According to the CNN article, at first TSGSTSNBN responded with a disappointing form letter. Later, they called, and McKenna’s father reports that:
They said that they liked her letter and that in future publications they will consider putting more women in the catalog. They also pointed us to a commercial that they are running that apparently has a girl in it. It was a very nice conversation that McKenna re-stated her opinion that there needs to be more girls represented.
McKenna, don’t let them off the hook.
Let’s hope that someday, thanks to McKenna, more than “the season” will start with TSGSTSNBN.
Want a better slogan? How about
“Gender parity in sports starts with TSGSTSNBN.”
In case you missed it, that’s what Fox News (Host? Panelist? Pundit? In-House Misogynist?!? I’m not really sure what to call him, though I’ll offer one suggestion later on…) Eric Bolling had to say about the story of Major Mariam al-Mansouri.
If you can stomach it, the clip containing Bolling’s comment is here.
Major al-Mansouri’s story is fascinating. She’s a fighter pilot in the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force. And, last week, she participated in a bombing raid against ISIS terrorist targets in Syria. For Major al-Mansouri, flying is the fulfillment of a dream, one that has seen her become the first woman to fly an F-16 in the UAE Air Force. And yet pursuing her dream has also come at a cost. According to this article, Major al-Mansouri’s family has disowned her since her mission.
So, if you’re scoring at home, this spat pits a heroic, sacrificial female fighter pilot versus a bombastic, misogynistic talk show contributor.
Who do you think wins that one?!?
Now, on one hand it’s easy to dismiss Bolling’s “Tertullianic” comments. After all, they’re clearly sexist. They’re misogynistic. They’re ridiculous. They make Bolling look like an ass. And don’t get me started on Bolling’s non-specific, all-too-brief apology (here).
Yes to all of the above.
On the other hand, we shouldn’t be too hasty to dismiss Bolling’s comment. Why? Because it reveals something about this male privilege-steeped culture we live in.
Specifically, I think Bolling’s comment reveals at least two false narratives embedded in our culture. If we’re not careful, we buy into these, in subtle ways, every day. Let me break them down here.
The first is this: Women are objects for male gratification.
Women are more than their bodies, but too often you wouldn’t know it from observing culture. As just one example, watching sports with my kids is a constant exercise in changing the channel during commercials. I mean, I feel like I have to use the bathroom during the game! Because almost every ad has a scantily-clad young woman selling beer. Or cars. Or deodorant. Or, God help us, domain names.
In her book, Equal to the Task, Ruth Haley Barton has a helpful chapter entitled “The Discipline of Honoring Sexuality.” Writing about the struggles men face with regard to their sexuality, she says:
“Many men I spoke with experienced sexuality primarily in terms of pain and struggle, guilt and fear rather than joy…they acknowledged that they have been conditioned to view women almost exclusively as sex objects, and so relating with women as multidimensional human beings requires conscious discipline.”
Honestly, it’s a miserable and painful reality for both genders. And when we buy into this false narrative, we only perpetuate the problem. So, let it be said: a woman is more than her body. Indeed, to quote Psalm 139, she is “fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The second false narrative revealed in Bolling’s ill-advised quip is this: Women are inferior to men.
For Bolling, it’s preposterous that a woman would be piloting an F-16. It makes no sense in his worldview. So much so that it’s laughable, worthy of being the object of an ill-advised joke. Why? Because, deep down, he believes that piloting a 15 million dollar aircraft capable of destroying a small city is the surely a job that only men are qualified for.
You know who does NOT believe that? The military.
In this open letter to Bolling, a collection of soldiers refute the suggestion that women are inferior to men, in this specific area:
As it turns out, women have been flying combat aircraft since before either of you were born. Over 1,000 Women Airforce Service Pilots (WASPs) flew during World War II. Seeing as U.S. Army Air Forces Commander “Hap” Arnold said “Now in 1944, it is on the record that women can fly as well as men,” we can probably guess he thought their parking was adequate. The WASP legacy reaches into the present day; on 9/11, then Lt. Heather “Lucky” Penney scrambled her F-16. Completely unarmed, she was ready to lay down her own life to prevent further devastating attacks on American soil.
According to Genesis 1:26-27, women and men are both made in the very image of God. One is not better than the other. It’s not as if Adam was blessed with 51% of the divine DNA and Eve 49%. In fact, the emphasis in the Genesis account is on mutuality and equality.
Here’s what writer Gilbert Bilezikian has to say about this passage:
“In other words, the male/female sexual differentiation reflects realities contained within the very being of God and derived from Him as His image. Femaleness pertains to the image of God as fully as maleness. God is neither male nor female. He transcends both genders since they are both comprehended within His being.” (emphasis mine)
Friends, both women and men bear the image of God in equal measure. Neither gender is inferior. Neither is superior. As Paul says in Galatians 3:28, “all of you are one in Christ Jesus.”
In the end, let’s be clear. Eric Bolling’s unfortunate, sexist comment reveals the brokenness systematized in our culture. It demonstrates Tertullain’s effect.
That he did it on TV, in front of millions of people, reveals something else:
The only “boob” deserving of comment in this situation is the guy wearing the microphone.
Now, you might think that Billy Graham’s daughter might be an exception to the rule on this. That, somehow, the old evangelist’s unction, aura and mantle would ease the way for his rhetorically gifted children.
In a post from last March, Billy Graham’s daughter, Anne Graham Lotz, talked about her experience with discrimination in the pulpit (and beyond). The whole post (here) is worth reading, but here’s an excerpt:
I have experienced this discrimination firsthand. I am a woman. And I am a preacher. That combination has cost me privileges and position in the man’s world in which I have moved. I have stood up to speak and had men turn their backs on me. I have been offered a seminary professorship, only to have the offer revoked when I refused to sign a statement that said women were to submit to men. I have had invitations withdrawn because of the threatened furor my presence on the platform would create. Multiple times, I have been directed to speak from a microphone positioned on the sanctuary floor of a church because I was not allowed into the pulpit.
Further, Lotz identifies human sin as the root cause of this discrimination:
The hardness, hatred, anger, cruelty, arrogance and meanness that erupt in rejection and discrimination of women are sin. While various religions may justify discriminating against women, and even defend and promote it, religion is not the cause. Sin is.
And sin is not confined to religion. It is found in agnostics and atheists as well as in priests and imams. It is in every nation and every culture and every generation. Because sin resides in the human heart. The only solution is to have sin removed and our hearts made clean, then filled with God’s love and compassion for others.
If you doubt that sin is the root of the discrimination of women, look at Jesus. He was raised in a religious culture where people were taught that women, at the very least, were much less then men. As a rabbi (as his disciples called him), he should have discriminated against women as every other man did. But there was a significant difference between Jesus and everyone else. He had no sin in his heart.
As a result, we see him. . .
honoring women as he did when Mary anointed him with oil during a dinner in Simon’s home,
singling women out for praise as he did the widow who placed her “mite” in the temple treasury,
caring for women as he did the desperately ill woman who reached out to touch the hem of his garment,
protecting women as he did the one caught in adultery who was in danger of being stoned to death,
giving women new purpose and elevated status as he did the ones who were the first to encounter him after his resurrection and were commissioned by him to go tell the men what they had seen and experienced.
The solution to discrimination against women is to be like Jesus. And to be like Jesus, the sinful condition of the human heart has to be acknowledged and dealt with according to the way God has prescribed.
Strong words. Hard words.
Case in point, this article, which tells the story of three women now leading three prominent churches, Rev. Shannon Johnson Kershner in Chicago, Rev. Amy Butler in New York and Rev. Ginger Gaines-Cirelli in Washington D.C.
As the article recounts, and as you would expect, each of these women have faced significant hurdles in arriving in their current roles:
In June, Butler used the hashtag “nevergetsold” when she tweeted about how a funeral director didn’t believe she was a minister. She once had to get an emergency room security guard to log on to her former church’s website to show him her photo there so she could pay a late-night visit to a sick congregant.
“Look, I know you’re his girlfriend,” the guard told her before she convinced him otherwise.
Kershner said that early in her ministry when she was a hospital chaplain, she often entered rooms where she was rebuffed because she wasn’t a “real minister.”
In every place she’s served as the first woman pastor, Gaines-Cirelli has heard a variation on this theme: “I was so worried that we were getting a woman, but I think that you’re going to be just fine.”
In light of the obstacles, I say good for these three for overcoming Tertullian.
As you might expect, the article also sounds a down note. After all, three pastors is good, but they represent the proverbial drop in the bucket.
Sociologist of religion Cynthia Woolever said the movement of first-career women to these significant sanctuaries is occurring in the isolated realm of mainline Protestantism, where about 20 percent of congregations are led by clergywomen.
“If you look at conservative Protestant churches you find very few; in the Catholic church: zero,” said Woolever, editor of The Parish Paper, a newsletter for regional offices of mainline denominations.
“It’s wonderful that women are being given those kinds of opportunities to serve in those very large churches, but it’s a very small slice of the pie.”
To be sure, there remains plenty of work to be done.
Yet on this Labor Day, let’s acknowledge that at least in pockets of the church, we seem to be moving in the right direction.