Note: As you read this, I’m in Costa Rica leading a team of college students on a 2 week service project. So enjoy this flashback post; it’s the #1 most shared post of all time on Challenging Tertullian.
In case you missed it, and I’m not sure how you could have, yesterday was the Super Bowl. Every year the Super Bowl is a lot of things: championship football game, excuse to throw a big party, must-see commercial watching, a great time to shop in normally busy stores, etc.
Unfortunately, the Super Bowl also represents an annual crescendo in our culture’s habitual exploitation of women.
The folks behind the A21 Campaign are dedicated to abolishing sex trafficking and human slavery in the 21st century, and according to their website, the Super Bowl is “the single largest human trafficking incident in the United States.” Indeed, according to this Christian Post article, the 2010 Super Bowl saw an estimated 10,000 sex workers brought into Miami ahead of Super Bowl XLIV.
Sadly, in this the Super Bowl is not alone. I recently saw this report that describes how prostitutes in Brazil are taking English classes ahead of the 2014 soccer World Cup, in order to be able to service the clientele arriving for the tournament.
Clearly, we have a problem when the world’s greatest sporting events are linked with the exploitation of women though prostitution and sex trafficking.
But it’s not just prostitution that makes the Super Bowl so tragic in this regard. It’s also those famous commercials. You know, the ones where the women dress in skimpy frocks to essentially serve as the object of male desire. Yesterday, the people behind the Miss Representation film encouraged twitter users to call out sexism in the media by slapping the twitter hashtag #notbuyingit on on Super Bowl ads that they found to be offensive.
Whether it’s through pornography, prostitution or the more subtle influence of advertising, the objectification of women is endemic in our culture, and it’s a key way that male privilege is propagated. Heck, while I’m at it, how these ads depict men isn’t so great either!
In John 8, Jesus faced a situation where a woman was being exploited. And I mean really exploited. The kind of exploitation that involves having her sexual sin publicly exposed in order to serve as a pawn in someone’s personal vendetta. Here’s the story:
2 At dawn he appeared again in the temple courts, where all the people gathered around him, and he sat down to teach them. 3 The teachers of the law and the Pharisees brought in a woman caught in adultery. They made her stand before the group 4 and said to Jesus, “Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. 5 In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do you say?” 6 They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing him.
But Jesus bent down and started to write on the ground with his finger.7 When they kept on questioning him, he straightened up and said to them, “Let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.”8 Again he stooped down and wrote on the ground.
9 At this, those who heard began to go away one at a time, the older ones first, until only Jesus was left, with the woman still standing there. 10 Jesus straightened up and asked her, “Woman,where are they? Has no one condemned you?”
11 “No one, sir,” she said.
“Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
Don’t you just love how Jesus turns this situation on its head?
The accusers become indicted. The accused becomes pardoned. The objectified becomes free.
It’s beautiful, isn’t it? When we talk about how Jesus treated women in his day, we have to talk about how he respected them, how he resisted allowing them to become objects, and how he defended their honor and removed their shame.
May it be so with us.
What about you? What did you think about the Super Bowl commercials?
In a world desperate for a savior, here’s a description of Jesus that’ll fire you up and give you some hope. It comes from Christopher Wright’s book The Mission of God:
Speaking of Jewish assumptions of his day…
“Jesus dissolved some of these, abolished some, ignored others and deliberately challenged a few of them.
He turned the clean-unclean distinction inside out. He chose to heal on the sabbath day and to redefine its significance around himself. He reached out to those who were excluded by the taboos of society: women, children, the sick, the unclean, even the dead. He declared forgiveness to people on his own authority, completely bypassing the normal route for such benefit, namely, the official sacrificial cult at the temple. He ate with tax collectors, prostitutes and ‘sinners’ (by official designation). Furthermore, he told stories that gave the ‘official’ story of Israel a very different ending in its damning effect on those in power in society, and they know he was talking about them. And as he stood on trial before the highest political-religious authority in all Jewish society, he calmly took to himself the identity of the Danielic Son of Man, whose authority would ultimately overthrow the beasts of oppressive and persecuting powers (Dan 7). No wonder the chief priest tore his robes and cried blasphemy. It just won’t do when the chief priest is cast in the role of chief beast. Jesus’ radical claims and teaching were not just bursting old wineskins; they were enough to burst some political blood vessels.”
…and then I realized that I’d already written it! So, enjoy this post from the archives, from Easter 2013.
Turns out we have a little candy thief in our house. I won’t identify this person, but her name may or may not rhyme with “juicy.”
At any rate, time and again we’ll catch our little sneak with a mouth full of Starburst, or with hands full of Snickers wrappers.
And what follows is the trust conversation. You know, the one that says “mommy and daddy want to be able to trust you, and when we catch you sneaking candy like this, it makes it difficult for us.” And then what follows that are a few tears accompanied by heart-felt promises of that it won’t happen again. Until the next time. All of this illustrates something important:
Trust is at once vital and fragile.
After all, what’s more important that trust? And yet what’s more tender? You and I know the joy of being entrusted with something important, and we also know the pain of trust trampled and broken.
Jesus was born into a world where women were not trusted with much. In fact, outside the narrow confines of their domestic roles, women basically weren’t entrusted with anything. In particular, in Jesus’ day, women were not allowed to be witnesses in the court. Why? You couldn’t trust their testimony. Here’s how commentator and theologian Craig Keener puts it:
“Jesus’ Jewish contemporaries held little esteem for the testimony of women; this reflects the broader Mediterranean culture’s limited trust of women’s testimony, a mistrust enshrined in Roman law.”
With this in mind, we have no choice but to describe Jesus’ decision to entrust two women with the first news of his miraculous resurrection as utterly, spectacularly:
In Matthew 28:8-10, Gospel writer Matthew records the story this way:
8 So the women hurried away from the tomb, afraid yet filled with joy, and ran to tell his disciples. 9 Suddenly Jesus met them. “Greetings,” he said. They came to him, clasped his feet and worshiped him. 10 Then Jesus said to them, “Do not be afraid. Go and tell my brothers to go to Galilee; there they will see me.”
Let’s be clear on this: in a culture where women weren’t entrusted with anything outside the home, much less serving as witnesses in a court of law, Jesus entrusted the first message of the resurrection to two women.
Yep, Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were the first humans to bear witness to the most pivotal event in human history.
It’s revolutionary, but it’s also a pattern. Just ask the woman at the well inJohn 4, entrusted not only with the Messiah’s revealed identity but with bringing the good news to her town. Just ask Susanna, Mary and Joanna the wife of Chuza, entrusted in Luke 8 with bearing the financial burden of supporting Jesus’ work. Or just ask the unnamed woman from Mark 14, entrusted with the task of anointing Jesus’ body for burial.
One of the effects of male privilege is that as a culture we are slow to place our trust in women. Need a plane flown right? Get a man to do it. Need an important decision made? Find a man. Need a sermon preached right? Hopefully there’s a male pastor nearby.
Our bias is to trust men more than women.
This morning I’m thankful (and challenged) that Jesus had a different bias.
Noemi Vega is a dear friend and ministry partner. Truly, my life is richer because of Noemi’s influence. Recently, I noticed Noemi deploying the “@” symbol in (to me) a novel way, using the term “Latin@” when referring to a mixed gender group of Latinos and Latinas. I haven’t done much with male privilege and ethnicity on the blog, so I’m glad to have Noemi’s thinking in this space today. Noemi’s a blogger too, and you can find her here.
One of my favorite stories about Jesus is his encounter with a woman who suffered from continuous bleeding (Mk 5:21-34). Mark’s careful attention to the fact that Jesus allowed this woman to tell her whole truth highlights for me two qualities of Jesus that I admire.
First, he stops and sees. Jesus stopped to see this woman. She could have gone unnoticed after receiving her physical healing, but Jesus wanted one more healing for her – relational healing, so he stopped in order to engage this woman.
Second, Jesus models for us what it truly looks like to see somebody. When we sincerely look into the eyes of the person we are speaking with, we are sincerely confirming her/his worth, beauty, and identity as a sacred image bearer of our sacred God. Jesus models the significance of listening to and looking @ one another.
Jesus sees the worth of a person and he challenges us to do likewise. You may imagine my great delight when I felt “seen” for the first time in the male-dominated language of my heart – Spanish. I remember the exact place and time I saw the @ symbol after the word Latin.
In 2011 I was on a service trip to one of Mexico’s garbage villages and our Mexican student leader was writing on an easel board some Latin@ demographics. For five minutes after first encountering the @ symbol my mind wandered to new questions and possibilities: Why am I barely seeing this for the first time?!? How wonderful to have a written symbol to include all of the people in the room! Can I bring this back to my community? Would they understand?
As I pursue my Masters in Theology I have witnessed how far we in the Christian community still have to go to see one another. My heart is breaking for gender reconciliation. Querido (dear) Spanish is my first language, my heart language. Yet, it is a male privileged language . We do not have a neutral word for speaking to a gathering of men and women, so we default to the male form of the word. The word Latino can be used to speak of a man as well as a group of people. Latina can only be used to speak of women.
So when I saw that @ symbol after Latin, I felt seen.
Since then, I have cautiously introduced the @ symbol in my own use of the word Latin@. It often sparks confusion and conversation, but it’s a conversation worth having – how can we better include and seeone another in language?
When I use the @ symbol, it is a declaration that I am trying to truly see the entire room – men and women who bear the image of our Creator.
There I was, reading author and pastor John Ortberg’s recent book Who is this Man?, and I came across this quote, from Tertullian, describing how early Christians became known for their love and compassion:
“It is our care of the helpless, our practice of loving kindness that brands us in the eyes of our opponents.”
Pretty good right? I mean, may it be so today!
Don’t get me wrong. I wish Tertullian had applied the thought to the women in his day, that his vision for the “brand” was not gender specific. But as a stand alone quote, it’s pretty solid.
And it’s certainly true of Jesus.
In chapter 4, Ortberg puts Jesus’ treatment of women under the microscope. As he does, it’s clear that Jesus not only treats women with compassion, but also with dignity, respect and trust. In many ways, Jesus turns the prevailing culture regarding women on its head.
For instance, here’s Ortberg’s take on how Jesus empowered women to serve alongside men in his ministry, from Luke 8:1-3:
“Jesus offered women a new community.
‘After this, Jesus traveled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women…: Mary (called Magdalene)…; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.’
We can overlook how shocking this arrangement would have been in the ancient world. Women did not travel with men. They often were encouraged to simply remain indoors…
Jesus had women and men travel and study and learn and do ministry together. Imagine what kind of rumors flew around.”
As I’ve begun engaging issues of male privilege in particular and gender equality and partnership more broadly, sometimes I find myself primarily speaking the language of sociology. After all, there’s culture to critique, social interactions to reconsider and language to challenge.
So, now and then, it’s important to remember that this is all about Jesus.
Fully engaged as the incarnate God.
Free with power.
Friend to women.
There’s Mary. Unwed mother-to-be, at the very center of the messy drama of the Incarnation. I love Mary’s faithfulness. Don’t get me started on her beautiful worship hymn (here). Come to think of it, perhaps Mary is the first in a long line of gifted women worship leaders?!? Or, with a nod to Miriam, maybe Mary is one more link in a glorious chain that extends to today.
But as with much of the Christmas story, Mary is a strange choice as the protagonist. After all, shouldn’t the Messiah come through a couple–through a woman–blessed with power and means?!?
Like perhaps a Roman big wig? Luke mentions Tiberius the emperor and Pilate the governor. What about them? Wouldn’t it be wise to have the savior born as a citizen of the occupying nation? Heck, wouldn’t it be better just from a PR standpoint? I mean, really, shouldn’t the Messiah be born in a palace instead of a manger?
Or how about Herod, King of Judah? Surely, having Jesus born into the Judean king’s household makes far more sense. He’d be safe. He’d have resources. And, ultimately, he’d have a platform from which to influence, for as we know from Mathew’s Gospel (here), Herod’s son Archelaus succeeded his father to the throne.
Or the Jewish high priests would be sensible candidates. Luke identifies these men as Annas and Caiaphas (here). Most scholars think that Caiaphas was Annas’ son-in-law. What if that was Jesus instead?!? To rule the Temple was to have spiritual, judicial, economic and cultural influence. Surely having the baby Jesus born into the Temple elite would communicate the right message about his messianic mission?
Or, come to think of it, even Mary’s cousin makes more sense than Mary herself, married as she was to the priest Zechariah. What if Jesus had been born in place of John, with access to the religious establishment through his father?
Sensible? Wise? Strategic?
Instead, we have the manger, marginalization…..and Mary.
On Christmas, heaven was made manifest in the nitty gritty. And in choosing to have Jesus born unto a poor, unwed mother, the message of Christmas seems to be that:
Privilege is powerless in the economy of the incarnate God.
On Christmas Eve, our pastor quoted Luke 2:19, an interesting verse right in the middle of Jesus’ birth narrative:
“Mary kept all these things in her heart and thought about them often.”
I wonder if one of the things Mary pondered was why her, and what did that tell her about her God?!?
Over the last 3 weeks, I’ve been thinking about Jesus and how he treated women in his day. Jesus was/is a gamechanger. He really saw women, he trusted them, he taught them as disciples, he respected them, he valued their stories and he mourned with them.
And here’s the kicker…he did it all publicly.
What I mean is that there was a public dimension to each of the stories. It’s not like Jesus was going around empowering women behind locked doors; he was engaging with women on the streets, in house meetings and surrounded by crowds.
This blog has been up and running for about 5 months now. And of course it’s public. In fact, I like to think that in some way, writing this content in this type of setting is me following Jesus. To go one step further, it’s me publicly surrendering privilege in pursuit of Jesus.
So if you’ll indulge me today, I want to offer a couple of reflections on what it’s felt like to be challenging Tertullian:
First, it’s been wildly encouraging. Because the vast majority of comments, on the blog, on facebook, in my inbox and in person have gone something like this: “thank you so much for taking these issues on and for encouraging me to wrestle with them.” When it’s Wednesday night and I’m not sure I’ll make my Thursday morning deadline, these comments push me onward.
Next, it’s been personally enriching. If I’m honest, there’s a sense in which if no one else ever read this, it would still be worth the effort. Because the process of writing gives me life. And the process of writing about male privilege teaches me. I’m being shaped as I write. And, believe me, I’ve got blog fodder for years to come. So get ready Mr. Tertullian.
Finally, it’s been horribly intimidating. After all, the more I write the less I feel like I know. This is learn by doing stuff for sure. In addition, public equals vulnerable for me and so putting my thoughts out there has been a sobering experience. I’m someone who is allergic to self promotion, so the trick is to remember that it’s the ideas that are being promoted. It’s the cause. Ultimately, it’s Jesus.
At any rate, let me offer a hearty “thank you” for journeying with me in this process. I’m grateful.