When was the last time you were led by a woman?
Over my 2o years as a campus minister, I’ve had two seasons where my direct supervisor was a woman, and many more where I served under the leadership of women in other capacities. It’s true to say that those positive experiences have helped to propel me into reflection on issues of gender and faith, including on this blog.
If the latest polls are correct and Hillary Clinton is elected president in just under two weeks, on January 20, 2017 we will all be led by a woman, for the first time in our country’s history.
And for lots of Americans, and for many male Americans in particular:
That will be a first.
That’s certainly true for Clinton’s running mate, Vice Presidential candidate Tim Kaine. Here’s Kaine from the other day, from this article:
“Other than supervising attorneys on occasion, this will be the first time I’ve had a female boss,” Sen. Kaine told MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow in an interview to be aired in full on Tuesday night at 9 p.m. — and he was a little taken aback by the realization.
“Wow, I hadn’t thought of it that way,” he chuckled.
Again, I don’t think Kaine is alone in this. And I wonder how the nation will respond to a woman in the oval office. In particular, how will American men, long accustomed to the privileged position in this country, respond as “Hail to the Chief” serenades a woman?
Perhaps Kaine himself can give us a roadmap how men might engage a President Clinton. More from the article:
A civil rights lawyer and self-described feminist, Kaine said he “relishes” the idea of reinventing gender norms in the White House alongside Clinton, who could be the first women elected president of the United States.
“I get to be now, play a supportive role — that’s what the vice president’s main job is — to a woman who’s going to make history, to a president who will preside over the centennial of women getting the right to vote,” Kaine said.
He added that as much as Clinton could normalize the idea of a woman in the White House, his vice presidency would normalize the notion that “strong men should definitely support strong women.”
Of course, there’s bound to be some confusion, Kaine acknowledged. For instance, he said: “Is my wife Second Lady if there’s no First Lady?”
Nevertheless, Kaine said he was excited to create a new model.
“There’s no complete playbook for this, but that’s cool too,” he said. “There’s traditions that you honor, but it’s always something old, something new, something borrowed, something blue. So you got to make your own traditions.”
Three comments on Kaine’s posture here.
First, it will be important to acknowledge the novelty of the situation. This will indeed be something new. For the first time, a woman will hold the highest office in our government. And, the truth is that new things can take some getting used to. So each of us should expect a bit of internal dissonance, particularly at the beginning.
Second, I appreciate Kaine’s posture towards the new thing. He is predisposed to be supportive. Now, he’s her VP choice, so of course he’s going to say that, but what about the rest of us? When George H.W. Bush left office, he wrote a note to his successor, Bill Clinton, and here’s how he closed the letter: “your success now is our country’s success. I am rooting hard for you.” In the current political morass, this brand of civility feels like a pipe dream. But what if we find that within ourselves, committing to be supportive? What would it mean for Clinton? What would it mean for us?
Third, Kaine calls us to a paradigm shift. Here it is: “strong men should definitely support strong women.” Friends, that is a vision we can and should get behind. To go a step further, I’ll say that “strong men definitely supporting strong women” is a vision that the Bible affirms. You see, the message of Scripture is that women and men are called to jointly steward our world. Sometimes, that means men will lead, other times, women will lead, and, all in all, joyful support should mark the partnership.
If the trends continue as the campaign (mercifully) winds down, Hillary Clinton will make history on January 20th. Indeed, for the first time in our 227 year history, the country’s daughters will have someone placing their hand on a Bible who looks and talks like them. It will be a powerful occasion.
And the country’s sons? May we respond like Tim Kaine.
“So are you saying that men should voluntarily give up power?”
In a word: YES.
I mean, if we’re going to eradicate the scourge of privilege and balance the gender scales, power is going to have to be redistributed. And that means women gaining more power and men giving up power. As I’ve said before (here on The Junia Project blog, most recently), releasing power is not necessarily a bad thing. Heck, if it was good enough for Jesus…
It’s good enough for me.
And, evidently, it’s also good enough for a tithe of Adventist pastors. According to this article, after their denomination voted to not ordain women, a group of male pastors decided to voluntarily downgrade their clerical status from “ordained” to “commissioned,” as a way to stand in solidarity with Adventist women, for whom commissioning is currently the only permitted ministerial option. Here’s an excerpt:
Mike Speegle, senior pastor of an Adventist church in Fulton, Md., said Wednesday (Oct. 14) that he requested and received a change in his credentials late this summer as his way of supporting his female colleagues.
“In our structure, I can’t make them equal with me by ordaining them, but I can make myself equal with them by taking the commissioned license, which is exactly what they have,” he said.
Pastor Kymone Hinds, the leader of a Memphis, Tenn., church, took similar action. He and another minister, Pastor Furman Fordham of Nashville, Tenn., received permission from their regional officials.
“Though I am not in agreement with the position that you brethren have taken on this issue, I admire your willingness to act on your convictions and fully support your right to do so,” wrote Elder D.C. Edmond, president of the denomination’s South Central Conference, in a September letter to them.
Cool, right? And costly as well. According to the article, the choice these men have made comes with clear costs:
Hinds said it was worth it to him to lose access to certain privileges of ordination: presiding over regional conferences; organizing churches; and ordaining elders, deacons or deaconesses.
Imagine that. Out of a place of conviction that gender equality is God’s creation intent, and out of a concern that their denomination was erring by not allowing the same access to power that they enjoyed, these men choose to willingly lay down their ordinations.
Friends, solidarity is a powerful thing.
I’ll give Pastor Hinds the last word:
“I wanted to stand in solidarity,” he said Wednesday. “We realize that our female ministers do the same work and have the same education but there is a glass ceiling over them.”
It’s an honor again to feature on The Junia Project today, with a piece entitled “Laying Down Male Privilege for Joy.” Find the full post here, and find a teaser below:
Like most kids, our children love their candy.
A relatively rare treat in our house, every piece of candy is something to be cherished, savored, and, above all else, hidden from your siblings. I mean, God forbid your older brother finds your hidden stash of Jolly Ranchers!
I think a lot of us view power in a similar way.
I’m talking about social power, like who has authority, who exercises leadership and who commands attention in a given situation. As with my kids and their candy, in our guts, we see power as something to be guarded and kept safe, under lock and key. Over the last several years I’ve been wrestling with what to do with the social power that culture gives me as a man, and my conclusion is this:
Out of reverence for Jesus, I am to release my socially-granted male privilege and power so that others, particularly women, may thrive.
…and don’t stop now! The rest of the post is here.
I had a great time yesterday speaking to the men of Fresno Pacific University at chapel. It was fun to field test my male privilege material, and while there are things I would do differently next time, I think it was a good first outing. I’m praying that my words hit home with the students.
In round 2, tomorrow morning I’ll be inviting the men to submit their privilege to Jesus, so last night I cooked up a simple prayer that they can pray in order to help that happen. Perhaps for some it will become a daily litany that they offer each morning.
I know I want it to for me.
Here it is:
“Jesus, thank you for being my Lord. All that I have and all that I am belongs to you. If there is anything in my life that is not under your leadership, reveal that to me so that I can give it to you. Thank you that life is better and more joyful when you are in control.
Help me to see more clearly the privilege that culture gives me as a man. And, as I see it, strengthen me to submit it to your leadership alongside everything else. Jesus, I commit to use my privilege to expand your Kingdom and to bless others. Show me the way. Amen.”
It’s even rarer when someone gives it up joyfully. And yet you get the sense that that is exactly what’s happening in Indiana.
In case you missed it, last week I blogged about the dramatic shift that leaders of one congregation are entering into around gender and power. Specifically, after prayer and discernment, they are choosing to open up their church leadership, at all levels, to women. This is a full-blown reversal from the church’s historic, restrictive posture.
There’s a lot to appreciate in this willful power exchange, but I think I’m most glad to see the emphasis on mission. For these church leaders, there is a deep conviction that accomplishing God’s mission requires both men and women using their gifts. Truly, it’s “all hands on deck.” I’ve blogged about mission before, here and here. And you’ll see the focus on mission in the quotes below.
The brokenness of the world is reflected in the “equity and dignity between men and women,” according to Teaching Pastor Tim Ayers, who preached on Feb. 9 the second part of Grace Church’s new teaching series. In that message, Ayers spelled out the results of the leadership’s painstaking exegetical endeavor into the Bible’s position on female leadership.
“Our governing board and our pastors deeply studied the overall tenure of all of Scripture related to leadership within the people of God,” explained Ayers. “Then, they wrestled with God’s initial intentions, the world’s brokenness and God’s desire to repair that brokenness. Then, they affirmed that the task of the Church is to heal the broken places that resulted from the Fall and to live out in this world as best as we can God’s initial desires for His world. And they came to the conclusion that one of these broken places is the inequity that exists between men and women.”
Ayers insisted, “This decision is not a slippery slope. It is getting in line with God’s initial designs for His people, it is taking the whole of Scripture seriously, and it’s standing against the structures of a fallen world.”
The Grace Church teaching pastor stated that “the issue in 1 Timothy is competence and character” and that “according to Paul, race and class and gender are not the issues.”
“We need the best people that God has given our community at the table,” Ayers stated, “people who meet the character demands that Paul gives us, people who know the Word, people who walk in submission to the Spirit of God, and who live lives of prayer.”
The leadership’s decision to lift Grace Church’s gender restrictions and affirm female leadership did not come as a compromise to culture or to “make a point.” But rather, said Ayers, the decision was about a desire to allow all the people of Grace Church to join God in His mission in bringing salvation and hope to the world.
The more I talk about power and privilege, the more I’m drawn to Luke 5:1-11. First, it’s a beautiful passage. Second, for me it serves as the most compelling grid in Scripture for how to experience a life spent following Jesus.
Want to make Luke 5 even more beautiful? Feast your eyes on this dramatic piece from Urbana 2012:
Pretty awesome, yes?
Jesus, thank you that you fish for us. In response, help us to be like Simon. Help us to embrace you as our leader and Lord. In particular, help us to follow you in the area of our power and privilege. Jesus, we want to put what we have to work in order to bless those around us. Show us how to do this in our lives! Finally, thank you for the call to fish for others, and for how that gives our lives such joy-filled meaning and purpose. Amen.
But the reality is that the Christmas story was far from the sanitized version we embrace (or consume?!?) each Winter. In fact, yesterday at church, the preacher called the Christmas story “kind of a downer.” She (she!) went on to describe the litany of brokenness that surrounded Jesus’ birth:
A hint of sexual scandal, abject poverty, homelessness, oppression. And let’s not forget the crown jewel of Christmas-time brokenness, infanticide.
Time to rethink our Hallmark cards perhaps?!?
Let’s face it, for Jesus the Incarnation was a messy journey from power to powerlessness. Think about it. It’s a long way from the awesome trappings of Heaven to the sordid confines of Earth.
In fact, Christmas marks the largest power exchange in human history.
And Christmas was just the start, as a careful read of the Gospels demonstrates that this surrendering of power became a theme for Jesus. From Philippians 2, here’s how the apostle Paul captured Jesus’ habitual surrender of power:
5 In your relationships with one another, have the same attitude of mind Christ Jesus had:
6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a human being,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.
This Christmas, I want to celebrate the God who surrendered power in becoming flesh. According to Paul, for Jesus power was not something to used for his own advantage. Instead, it was about humility and servanthood, most eloquently expressed in his obedience to death, and a messy death at that.
Truly, from beginning to end:
Jesus used his power to bless others.
Because of this, when Jesus invites us to surrender our male privilege, he’s inviting us into his story. He’s inviting us to use power his way and not the world’s. Seen this way, then, it’s an act of discipleship, as surrendering male privilege is one way to emulate Jesus’ surrender of his divine privilege.
Jesus is Lord over my privilege. And he calls me to bless others, at home, at work, in the church, in the world. Join me this Christmas in rejoicing in a God who joyfully, willingly surrenders privilege, in the process empowering and blessing his people.
Merry Christmas everyone!
What about you? What is one way you can surrender power this Christmas season?