This past weekend, I had the opportunity to attend the Christians for Biblical Equality international conference in Los Angeles. Picture a hotel ballroom full of passionate, committed egalitarians, gathering for a time of learning, community, and focusing on the Biblical theme of gender equality, and you’ve got yourself quite a meeting.
Hey Tertullian, watch your back!
I thought I would offer a selection of reflections from my experience at the conference, my first ever CBE event:
First, overall, I was proud to simply be present. Don’t get me wrong…I hope that, one day, a group dedicated to the earnest and thoughtful promotion of Biblical gender equality will be flat out unnecessary, because that would reflect a church that has embraced the full and equal participation of women and men in ministry. Until that day, however, I’m proud to be a part of a community of believers who is committed to challenging the status quo in this area.
Second, I loved the culture of the group. For instance, right off the bat the emcee exhorted us to charity and grace with those with whom we might disagree. May it be so! Next, before every plenary speaker, a brother or sister from around the world would pray for us, both in English and in their native tongue. I found it to be a beautiful reflection of God’s Kingdom (and CBE’s international scope). And then there was the high value for Scripture. As one example, I spent an hour in a seminar on Paul’s letters led by Philip Payne, and while I left with my head spinning, I also left more convinced than ever that Paul preaches a message of gender equality. In fact, perhaps the only thing missing was a bit more space to chew on what was delivered in community. Every session was screaming for processing conversation that came only through my own initiative.
Third, I was helped to think about gender equality through the lens of justice. Because the truth of the matter is that gender inequality is indeed an issue of injustice. And so I straightened up in my chair when plenary speaker Eugene Cho, referencing the global scourge of human trafficking, called gender justice “a matter of life and death.” Strong words, but, in my heart, true ones.
Fourth, the age demographics of the room were fascinating to me, as it looked to me like the majority of the conference was 45+. On one hand, this is terrific; I love that an older generation of believers is all-in on behalf of gender equality. On the other hand, the cause also needs a younger generation to take it on. And so I was challenged to think about my role as a campus minister; how can I mobilize the young ministers that I am privileged to lead, as well as students, to advocate for gender equality in their contexts?
Finally–and this was perhaps my strongest impression from the weekend–it was great to network with like minded (and hearted) folks. Because, to be honest, sometimes all of this blogging, reading, writing, studying and speaking feels pretty isolating. Being at CBE, then, was a powerful experience in community, for which I was grateful.
So, who’s with me?!? To join up with CBE, go here.
PPS…one final highlight. Here’s a shot of me and two of my staff friends with CBE President Dr. Mimi Haddad:
Perhaps it’s a bit like rushing river, where unless you’re a super strong paddler, ideally with a raft full of comrades, you just get carried along wherever the river takes you. On the world’s mighty rivers, when you’re in it’s grasp, it can be tough, even impossible, to get to the bank. Culture can be that way.
Let me illustrate.
The other day, a good friend and I were working on our house. Specifically, we were installing doors. That meant a decent amount of planing, chiseling and sanding.
It also meant Hurricane Lucy.
Our daughter Lucy, almost 11, was our junior carpenter. And to say she was fired up for the job understates it. Question after question, idea after idea, wanting to get a closer look…you get the picture.
You see, Lucy fancies herself a DIY queen. My wife Amy likes the tell the story of how Lucy wandered into a room in our house recently and proclaimed that the space would look better with a tray ceiling.
And then she went on to detail exactly what it would take in order to create such a ceiling.
What’s her source of home renovation confidence? She is a devoted Rehab Addict fan. When she’s around the job site, she’s the micro version of Nicole Curtis.
Just ask her.
So there we were, out in the garage, sanding the edge of the door, when our 13 year old son Joshua appears. Joshua surveys the situation, takes one look at Lucy, sand paper in hand, and says:
“Lucy, that’s a man’s job.”
Whoa. Back up. Slow your roll.
My first thought: “TERTULLIAN IS BEHIND ENEMY LINES!”
To be honest, it was a disturbing comment for me. Here’s why.
Let the reader understand that Joshua has spent each of the 13 years of his life around a marriage that strives hard to be fully egalitarian. From our decision-making to how we divide up the house chores to our co-parenting, Amy and I work hard to live out a marriage of equals.
Next, let’s understand that I work in a job where men and women share power, and so all of his life Joshua has been around powerful women. I’ve lost count of how many “honorary aunts” he has. Josh has seen women preaching, women directing conferences, and women leading meetings. In short, Josh has never lacked for examples of women in roles that have traditionally been in the hands of men.
Still further, Josh has lived in a house where gender equality has been not just been modeled, it’s been taught. For instance, Josh has sat in a room of 200 college students while his father, in partnership with a female colleague and friend, taught on the topic of gender reconciliation. On a smaller scale, as we watch sports together, Josh has had me interpret more Old Spice commercials than he cares to remember.
In sum, while I am sure that in our house I/we could be doing more to both model and proclaim a model of egalitarian partnership between the genders, of any kid I know Josh should be the last one to make a statement like that.
So what’s going on here? How does a 13 year old boy, the scion of committed egalitarians, come to the conclusion that if power tools are involved, it’s a man’s job?
The answer is culture.
Like the rest of us, our son lives in a culture tainted by male privilege. And the older he gets, the more engaged with culture he is, and thus the more influenced by it he becomes.
If I’m honest, it’s at this point in the story where I’m tempted to feel hopeless, to throw up my egalitarian hands and say, “how can we possibly compete with the patriarchal river of culture?”
Perhaps some hope comes from Andy Crouch’s book Culture Making. Crouch’s assertion is that it is indeed possible to change, to shape, culture. For Crouch, the river can indeed be re-routed. He writes:
“The only way to change culture is to create more of it…if culture is to change, it will be because some new tangible (or audible or visible or olfactory) thing is presented to a wide enough public that it begins to reshape their world…So if we seek to change culture, we will have to create something new, something that will persuade our neighbors to set aside some existing set of cultural goods for our new proposal.” (p. 67)
Want to move a river? Tell (and live) a better story.
So, more of the same in the Dixon house. Amy and I will keep making decisions in partnership. I’ll keep preaching and teaching on this stuff. And, for the love of Nicole Curtis, Lucy will keep sanding the doors.
And, gradually, over time, we’ll kick Tertullian out of our house. And then out of our community. And beyond.
May it be so.
At the time the senior project requirement felt like a doctoral dissertation; now that I’m looking ahead at an actual dissertation, the senior project feels like more of a glorified book report!
Anyhow, as an undergraduate history major, I had a lot of options for what I could study for my senior project. After all, history is a pretty broad discipline! But since I was taking a bunch of women’s studies courses at the time, and because I had long had an interest in colonial American history, I decided to ask one of my professors for a topic that would encompass those two topics.
Rob Dixon, meet Mercy Otis Warren.
At the risk of dragging you back to your 5th grade history class, Mercy Otis Warren was an American patriot during the Revolutionary War. Using her sarcastic wit, keen intelligence and her writing skills, she published a number of plays and pamphlets lampooning the British. Then, after the war, she turned her focus to telling the story of the new nation, ultimately becoming the first woman to write a history of the American Revolution.
Through it all, Warren’s concern was for the rights of the individual. She was a classic (and ardent) anti-Federalist. In fact, she refused to publish her history until Jefferson’s presidency, since they were ideological soulmates.
For my senior project, I wrote a paper on Mercy Otis Warren’s views on politics and gender, and the intersection thereof. And I had the chance to read it through the other day. Here’s my thesis:
“Liberty pervades Warren’s writings. It is no accident that Warren’s concern for the status of women in her society shows in those writings. Her advocacy of their accomplishments and her sympathetic portrayal of their struggles is concordant with her concern for the individual amid the constraints of a tyrannical oppressor. As she championed the cause of the individual in the face of a potentially controlling government, so she desired to celebrate the role of the woman in the midst of a male-dominated society. Mercy Otis Warren’s acclaim for the role of women in the Revolutionary era was consistent with her unfailing belief in liberty, as illustrated by her strong anti-federalist views.”
What do you think? Sound like me?
A couple of closing reflections…
First, it’s a bit surreal to read something you wrote 20 years ago. On one hand, my writing voice still sounds the same, at least to me. On the other hand, I don’t think I would’ve passed that paper, knowing what I know now. Or at least I would’ve had a lot of ideas for revisions!
Next, it’s a cool thing to read something you wrote 20 years ago and see how it lines up with your current passions. I guess you could say that I was challenging Tertullian even as a college senior.
Third, it’s always good to identify historical mentors, and Mercy Otis Warren has been that for me. In particular, I love Warren’s use of the pen as a weapon for social change, as well as her prophetic advocacy for what she believed in. Those are two things I aspire to as well.
I’ll close this post with the same words I closed my senior project:
“In sum, in actively proclaiming both her firm anti-federalist conviction in the inalienable rights of the individual and her conviction regarding the equality of the sexes, Mercy Otis Warren explained her ultimate belief in liberty. Her conviction was disciplined, consistent and pervading. Nothing should inhibit liberty: liberty for her children, liberty for a young nation, or liberty for women.”
As parents to four grade schoolers who are into all manner of sports, we travel around with a the equivalent of a Big 5 Sporting Goods store in the back of our minivan.
I’m talking a collapsible bench for the team to sit on, cones and practice jerseys, pop-up goals, frisbees, basketballs, softballs and a massive bag of soccer balls. I mean, if I’m not careful, when I open the back gate, all of a sudden it’s a yard sale…
And, in and amongst the pile of gear is a lawnchair or two.
Such as this one:
This particular baby is sweet. Its a Tommy Bahama, and I got it for my birthday last month. It’s got all of the amenities you could want, including side bags, a neck pillow, backpack straps for an easy carry and about 5 different reclining settings. It’s really the Cadillac of lawnchairs.
All of that said, there’s one problem with this otherwise perfect lawnchair:
I can never close it.
For me this thing is worse than a Rubik’s Cube. It’s the Sphinx. It’s like Stonehenge; no one knows how to solve it. They should do NPR podcasts on the mystery that this chair presents.
In my defense, other people struggle to fold this lawn chair as well. But that doesn’t change the fact that when push comes to shove (literally), and I can’t close the chair, I think this:
I’m a man. I should be able to do this.
Why do I think that?
Perhaps it’s decades of being told that men should take care of the sporting equipment. Or, maybe, it’s the ingrained logic that physical tasks are a man’s domain. Or perhaps it’s the socialized narrative that says that solving mechanical problems is a man’s work.
Or perhaps my unthinking and illogical conflation of the act of folding up a lawnchair and my identity as a man suggests that Tertullian himself was a soccer dad?!?
Whatever the reason, all I know is that somehow I feel less manly when I can’t close the stinking chair. So, the other day, with the track meet rapidly drawing to a close, I turned to face the challenge. And what do you think I did?
Here, let me show you:
That’s right. I texted a friend of mine to ask for help. You see, she also rocks a Tommy Bahama chair at sporting events. And, sure enough, she walked me through it.
What’s the moral of the story? Maybe, just maybe, laying down male privilege can be as simple as…
Asking for help.
There I was, sitting in church during the missions moment, when it dawned on me:
I see only women up front.
Yep, from my vantage point, I could count 5 women, the missions pastor, two worship team members and then two on banners. I thought, “this is what I want my kids to see.”
And so I snapped a picture:
For the record, a man preached on Sunday, and another man lead worship.
But this picture represents a moment of hope for me. Because it shows women in leadership. And because it articulates a vision for partnership between men and women.
“Lord, get us to the point where pictures like this become normal in our congregations! Amen.”
Remember my Junia Project post about gender-based humor in the pulpit? It still blows my mind that almost 17,000 people have read the piece.
But one thing that has been weird about the process has been having no idea about outcomes. In other words, I know a lot of people have had their eyes on the post, but what is the fruit of that? Are pastors telling fewer offensive jokes? Are churches talking about these things? Are our churches becoming more thoughtful about issues of gender?
I sure hope so.
In light of this, one particular post caught my eye this morning. It’s a blogger using my post as a launching pad to think more broadly about humor in the pulpit. Yes, let’s do humor well in our sermons!
I’m quoting his piece below, but please read the full post in context here.
Humor is a must for good preaching. It disarms, engages and reinforces a good preacher’s points. But only good humor. What do I mean by “good humor” (insert ice cream joke here)?
Humor that clarifies (rather than confuses)
I love wordplay. I enjoy humor that makes me think. But some humor can be so “sophisticated” (or obtuse) as to confuse or—even worse—make the listener feel stupid, which is always a failed attempt at humor. Inside jokes (that only someone in your denomination or someone who’s been around your church for a while would understand) almost always confuse rather than clarify.
Humor that builds bridges (rather than burning them)
This is why self-deprecating humor is the best. It helps people identify with you. It helps them like you. And, at its best, helps them laugh at themselves because they are a little bit like you.
Humor that unites (rather than dividing)
I once used a metaphor in a message, saying that something was as “rare as a Baptist in a liquor store.” I thought it was a safe reference, as most people could appreciate that Baptists don’t (or shouldn’t) frequent liquor stores. But one woman in the room took offense at the mental image of a Baptist in a liquor store. Upon reflection, I had to admit she was right. I wasn’t a Baptist; she was (though attending my church … perhaps until that moment).
Humor that respects (rather than ridicules)
This is another reason self-deprecating humor works. However, even when telling stories on ourselves, there is a limit. “Good” humor in a sermon is that which doesn’t ridicule or disrespect anyone—including the preacher, if he or she is the butt of the joke.
Humor that makes the point (rather than the joke) the point
In both of the sermons I heard yesterday, I took notes. And I didn’t note the humor, I recorded the excellent points—and supporting scripture and ringing statements—the preacher made. As the Junia Project blog post said, if people talk about your humor on the drive home or around the dinner table, your humor failed; you want them to talk about the life-changing truth you shared, not the momentary laugh they enjoyed.
The joke around our house is that someday, we’ll all be working for Gracie.
Gracie is our middle daughter, and the third of our four kids. And she’s a leader. Headstrong. Hasty. Loud. Confident. Always the first to volunteer. A perfectionist. With an overdeveloped sense of right and wrong. Truth-teller. Competitive. Direct.
Come to think of it, she’s a handful.
But she’s our handful. And she’s a wonderful handful. And, while I think she’s going to need to have some of her rough edges tempered and rounded off, may she never lose what I think is her basic, most foundational drive:
Gracie’s class has an oral interpretation competition tomorrow, and Grace has a solo. Today, as I was watching rehearsals, I snapped the following picture. To me it captures our Gracie at her best. Leading her peers, showing the way.
I’ve said this before, but this Challenging Tertullian stuff is personal for me. Because when it comes to women and leadership, any barriers, theological, cultural, ecclesiastical and more, need to be torn down. Why?
So that Gracie can lead.
On Tuesday night, it was this male’s privilege to once again present on the topic of gender reconciliation to a group of young urban leaders in downtown Fresno. These saints are spending this year living in intentional Christian community and pursuing experiences with justice, reconciliation, and ministry with the marginalized. Honestly, it was an honor to be among them.
So I did my 40 minute talk, and then I opened the floor for questions. And, when that happened, the torrent began. Insightful question after insightful question. We spent about 20 minutes, and we could have gone much longer. Some reflections.
1. We need to help people understand the Scriptures related to faith and gender. I gave 2 minute expositions of Ephesians 5 and Genesis 3, and then I gave a longer treatment of 1 Timothy 2. The question about the Timothy text came from a woman in the front row who raised her hand and said, “there’s this one passage, from Paul, in 1st Timothy. Doesn’t it say that woman can’t teach in the church?” After I said my piece, she had a look on her face that said, “I can’t believe there is another way to interpret that text.” What venues can we create in our faith communities where people can honestly wrestle through the Scriptures?
2. People are craving new models for how to live this stuff out. That’s certainly true when it comes to inter-gender partnerships. Models of functional, missional partnerships are so scarce, I had to exhort the students to move heaven and earth in order to seek them out. And then I got asked about how my egalitarian marriage works. Why? Because no one has ever seen one!
3. Creating safe places where people can ask their questions would be a good use of our time in the church. There were a lot of questions on Tuesday night, but, then again, there always are. I think it speaks to the persistent (and frustrating) silence in our churches on the topic of faith and gender. And let’s not fool ourselves. When it comes to these topics, it seems like the church is the only one being silent. The culture certainly isn’t.
Between last week’s sessions at Fresno Pacific and Tuesday evening’s presentation, I’m in need of a break. Good thing the next DMiss year doesn’t start for another 5 weeks…