Archive | The Big Idea RSS for this section

2013 in Review

oosyYAoAs Challenging Tertullian steams into 2014, it’s good to look back at the year that was. Three observations:

First, it blows my mind that C.T. was viewed in 75 different countries last year. Top three were the U.S., the U.K. and Canada, but in this World Cup year, I’m glad to see people checking in from Brazil, Argentina, Germany and Italy. Most surprising countries? Probably Bolivia, Zambia and Myanmar.

Next, it’s clear that the blog’s front door is Facebook. At least that’s my top referring site. Second is Twitter, followed by (somehow) Pinterest.

Lastly, here are my top 5 posts from 2014, by the numbers. From looking at these topics, it seems clear you appreciate it when a take on male privilege in American pop culture!

1. On Really Respecting Someone. My post-Super Bowl brought in the most comments and readers.

2. And the Bummer is that I Really Like Those Western Bacon Cheeseburgers. Evidently, you all love a good boycott!

3. An Unwanted Conversation. Our 9 year old asked Amy, “Mom, when will I be allowed to dress sexy?” and many of you tuned to as I wrestled with the question.

4. On Mileygate. At the 2013 VMAs, Miley Cyrus was the one twerking, but in this post, I threw Robin Thicke under the bus.

5. On Really Seeing Someone. Almost a year ago, a good friend of mine expressed how she feels unseen when a letter arrives addressed to “Mr. and Mrs. <Husband’s Full Name>.’ Thankfully, Jesus really saw the women in his day, and he really sees women in our day.

Happy New Year, and thanks for being among the thousands of people who joined me in Challenging Tertullian in 2013!

Stop What You’re Doing and Read These Pieces!

miflA3iOver the last several weeks, I’ve been inundated by some amazing articles and blogposts on the topics of gender issues and gender equality. So, instead of cooking up my own stuff today, I thought I would curate a selection of material from others. Enjoy these terrific and thought-provoking links!

“The Incomplete Gospel of Biblical Womanhood”

By the Kate Wallace of the Junia Project. The perspective on “Biblical womanhood” that’s outlined in this post makes my blood boil. Here’s a quote from the piece: “That is why I do not buy into the “biblical womanhood” gospel, and why I cannot be a part of that movement – because it preaches a “to do list” instead of freedom; because it is gendered when scripture is not; because it demands uniformity instead of celebrating diversity; because it elevates married life over single life; because it doesn’t apply to everyone.”

“The Objectification of Women–It Goes Much Further Than Sexy Pictures”

From the Crates and Ribbons blog. When we talk about women being tragically objectified, we mostly do so with sexual material in mind. But according to “Crates and Ribbons” it’s so much more foundational than that. “The cumulative effect of all this is that we are socialising generation after generation to view the world, and the women in it, from the point of view of men. As a result, only men are seen as full and complete human beings, not women. Women are objectified — this means we are denied agency, and are seen from the outside, our own consciousness, our thoughts and feelings, utterly overlooked.”

Three Ways Patriarchy is Bad for Men”

How does male privilege damage men? Tim Peck has three reasons. The one that most grabbed me has to do with the tragic impact on our collective mission: “If one’s role in the church is based on gender alone, some men may find themselves in church leadership roles that they lack the competency to fulfill. By effectively disqualifying more than half of the potential leaders in a church by virtue of their gender, the need for leadership will necessarily be larger than the pool of available male leaders.”

“Only 19 Percent Are Women”

A few weeks back, I blogged about the lack of female speakers at Christian leadership conferences (here). Here’s a bit more perspective from Jim Wallis and Lisa Sharon Harper from Sojourners: “So, it is not only a sociological problem, but a theological one — an ecclesial one — when more than half the church is excluded from upfront leadership, prophetic ministry, and public teaching. This denial repudiates the power of the gospel of reconciliation.”

“Woman Pastors–I Just Couldn’t Picture It”

In her post this week, Erna Stubblefield eloquently captures what it feels like to be on the outside looking in in a ecclesiastical world dominated by male privilege: “I realized that though I believed in the Biblical basis for women in leadership I was uncomfortable with it in praxis. I was guilty of the same kind of subconscious male bias that I had experienced through others towards my leadership. I couldn’t picture myself as a pastor because I was woman.”

“A Lament for Women in Leadership”

Sit with this reflection on Psalm 40 and let your heart engage this issue. “My sisters and I have cried when we’ve been told “no”, “be quiet”, “this is not your place”. We need your rescue, God. We desperately need you to bring good news in places where we are pushed down, snuffed out, and negotiated around. Your Kingdom suffers when we are relegated to roles and ministries and places where we are not gifted or passionate. How long?”

“How I Became a Jesus Feminist”

Micah Murray went from being “least likely person to ever become a feminist” to someone who could write this: “I realized that the “Gospel-centered manhood” promoted by so many leaders didn’t always have much to do with the Gospel. I realized that the violent masculinity that I’d admired wasn’t consistent with the Jesus who showed us that God can bleed.”

Last but not least I present you with…Goldiblox. And the Beastie Boys. What’s not to like?!? Here.

Good Words

mhXYyFUThis Thanksgiving, I’m thankful for…words.

As a blogger, perpetual grad student and as a campus minister who communicates best in writing, I love the process of wrangling a jumble of words into something meaningful. So I’m grateful today for words and the beauty that comes when they are well-shaped.

In that spirit, I present this particular collection of words, from former President Jimmy Carter. President Carter has featured on this blog before (here), but today I want to share these words with the hopes that next Thanksgiving we’ll be able to say that gender-based injustices have been lessened, and this vision of gender equality is nearer.

“One of the most powerful truths in my Christian faith is that I and all other people are equal in the eyes of God. Many believers of all religions – Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists – violate this basic premise by claiming that men are exalted at the expense of women.

Several years ago my wife Rosalynn and I decided to sever our ties to the Baptist denomination to which I had given allegiance for seventy years because its leaders decided to depart from this principle and to deprive women of equal rights to serve as ministers, deacons, chaplains, or in other positions of leadership. We continue to worship in our local Baptist church that is served by both a male and female minister, where I teach Bible lessons and Rosalynn is a deacon.

Devout Christians can select specific verses from the Holy Scriptures to justify this claim of masculine superiority, but their premise contradicts the incontrovertible fact that Jesus Christ never condoned the subservience – or inferiority – of women. It is well known that there were many examples of women leaders in the early Christian churches.

This prejudice, unfortunately, is extremely common. Men who wish to abuse women physically, deprive them of equal pay or exclude them from the same opportunities in political or economic affairs tend to justify their actions because of this misinterpretation by men who are in ascendant religious positions.

The abuse of women and girls is the most pervasive and unaddressed human rights violation on earth.”

Happy Birthday CT!

mhgnDJmSometime midday on October 7, 2012, I did one last proofread, took a deep breath, uttered one final fervent supplication to the Almighty…and launched Challenging Tertullian.

And in my first post, I wrote the following:

“With this blog, I want to challenge Tertullian. Or, more to the point, I want to challenge the system of male privilege. I want to think about it, understand it and then discern how Jesus would have me respond to it. And I invite you to join me.”

One year into this adventure, let me share a couple of reflections.

First, I think I’ve done a pretty thorough job expositing male privilege. What I mean is that I’ve offered plenty of examples of male privilege in action in our culture and in American church culture in particular. A quick look at my dashboard reminds me that “Gimme Some Examples…” category is by far my biggest category. Looking around the blogosphere, I don’t see many people (other than Ryan Gosling) who are trying to call this stuff out. So I’m glad to be serving in this way.

Next, I think I’ve been less helpful offering solutions. Faithful readers will remember my three-fold rubric–Admit, Submit and Commit. Basically, I think I’ve given you good material for the “Admit” step, but I’ve been more sparse with the other two. As Challenging Tertullian rounds the corner on year one and heads boldly into year two, I’d like to balance out this ledger a bit.

Finally, you’ve joined me, but I’d love to have you join me more! Blogging faithfully twice a week has been an interesting enterprise, one thats been simultaneously natural and awkward. Natural, because I remain convinced that I am supposed to be thinking, writing and leading in this area. Simply put, to have fidelity to what God has called me to, I have to take the risk to challenge Tertullian, and this blog is one way I can do that.

And yet it’s also been awkward, because when you blog, you send something out into the world and you know not where (or to whom) it goes. It’s very weird. So, I send off a post and hope it hits the mark somewhere and with someone. All of this makes comments so key. Thanks to those of you who have commented here and on facebook. Please keep them coming. In fact, I’d love it if you’d take a second to comment on this post and let me know what you’ve been learning this year on CT.

Thanks everyone! And here’s to another year of challenging Mr. Tertullian!

In Good Company?

Evidently, this whole challenging Tertullian thing is becoming all the rage. Thanks to our friend (and family photographer) Tina for sending me this picture of actor Ryan Gosling:


Good to know that plundering male privilege is just one more thing that Ryan and I have in common…

For more shots of the pro-women Ryan Gosling, go to the tumblr page here. Or, the above picture comes from the book version here.

Patriarchy, Matriarchy, Schmpatriarchy…

nVItotoNot all of my readers are American, of course. In fact, my blog stats tell the story of periodic visitors from 57 countries in total. So, shout outs to those of you reading in Myanmar, Peru and Morocco!

Still, most of you are from the States, and, as a result, you know only a world marked by male privilege. Put another way, you and I have been breathing the air of patriarchy for a long time.

So much so that we have a hard time seeing it. 

But here’s the thing…not every culture operates this way.

Meet the Mosuo, a group of people in southern China who operate in a matriarchal system. That’s right, in Mosuo culture the women are in charge. Thanks for my friend Caroline for sending along this article, that tells the story of Argentine writer Ricardo Coler’s visit to the Mosuo. What he found is striking. It’s also more than a bit disturbing.

For instance, according to Coler, the Mosuo’s matriarchal system has a whole different take on authority. He writes:

“I had expected to find an inverse patriarchy. But the life of the Mosuo has absolutely nothing to do with that. Women have a different way of dominating. When women rule, it’s part of their work. They like it when everything functions and the family is doing well. Amassing wealth or earning lots of money doesn’t cross their minds. Capital accumulation seems to be a male thing.”

I’m not sure if I agree that getting rich is only a “male thing,” but there’s something compelling about this picture of leadership. It feels communal and empowering. In fact, elsewhere in the article, Coler notes that the matriarchs absolutely abhor violence and will do almost anything to avoid it. Imagine if American culture operated like that.

On the other hand, there appears to be a fair degree of, well, gender funk in Mosuo culture.

Most distrublingly, the matriarchs endorse a free sex, low commitment culture. Coler notes that sometimes a woman will get pregnant and have no idea who the father is, such is the prevalence of promiscuity in the culture.

But perhaps more significantly, Mosuo’s matriarchs appear to have little respect for their men. Men get treated like little boys, they are only sporadically involved in the decision making, and there is little clarity about the role of a father. In fact, Mosuo’s matriarchal culture reminds me in some ways of American patriarchal culture:

The out-of-power gender gets the short end of the stick.

Sometimes people ask me what the end goal is. They want to know what I think should replace male privilege as our cultural norm. After reading about the Mosuo, I feel comfortable saying that it’s probably not matriarchy.

In the end, I want to live a world where neither patriarchy or matriarchy wins the day. I want a third option, a world marked by collaborative partnership, power-sharing, and mutual, joyful submission.

Nature, Nurture, Both, Neither?

mXb9EXiOver time on this blog, I’ve demonstrated how male privilege has gripped most every aspect of our culture, from politics to economics to the church. Truly, male privilege is a powerful and pervasive influence on all of our lives.

Still, as yet we haven’t explored the idea of gender differences. More to the point, we haven’t tried to figure out how to account for what seems to be clear gender distinctives. Are they a result of nature? Or are they a product of nurture? Or do they even exist at all?

Now, I’m going to declare myself completely “in process” with these questions. In fact, here are the very few things that seem clear to me:

First, and I hope this won’t be news to anyone, there are at least anatomical differences between the genders. Duh. And yet this seems baseline and significant, because it declares and demonstrates that God made two genders for a reason, for a purpose. In the end, we are fundamentally, physiologically, not the same.

Second, in the same breath, let’s note that even though there are anatomical differences between the genders, there are far more anatomical similarities. So, for those of you scoring at home, physically we’re different…and we’re also the same.

Third, I can say with confidence that nature has a significant role in establishing the appearance of differences. There is too much evidence out there to deny that culture shapes us into prescribed gender roles. And as I’ve demonstrated, it starts early on with the toys kids play with, the shows they watch and the clothes they wear.

What’s beyond these two points, I’m not totally clear, and it bears further study.

Recently I noticed this article with interest. It’s about one key way that men and women are (or appear to be) different: self-confidence. Specifically, the article posits that men are blessed (or cursed) with an abundance of confidence, while women are the opposite, preferring instead to operate in teams/groups. I appreciate the writer’s final prescription for closing the confidence gap, with its emphasis on balancing out and constructively using gender differences:

“This isn’t just a story about gender wage gaps; it’s a story about motivation. In manufacturing and other complex processes, teamwork is vital. It’s not enough to focus on making brilliant women feel confident. It’s also key to make overconfident men trust that their colleagues just might be competent.”

On one hand, this particular distinction of self-confidence certainly rings true. Most men I know, particularly those with power, tend to have an abundance (or an over-abundance) of self-confidence. And, most women I know, including those with power, tend to prefer working in teams. So, it seems right.

And it also seems wrong. Heck, I’ll be the case study. As a guy with a bit of organizational power, I have long struggled with self-confidence. Oh, and give me a team any day as opposed to forcing me to work solo.

So what is it? Nature? Nurture? Neither? Both? Some of one, less of another? Vice versa?

Maybe the best answer, for now, is “yes.”

What about you? How do you account for gender differences? What resources can you share with me on the topic?

On Hitting 9 Months

mhtAAriIn his new book, Start, writer Jon Acuff calls us to live lives of purpose, adventure and, to use his term, awesomeness. To start such a journey, he says, don’t worry about the end, just start. He writes:

“It’s impossible to accurately predict the finish. Part of the reason it’s so difficult is that the path changes by the time we get to the end.”

“You just have to start.”

With this post, this blog hits the 9 month mark. That’s about 274 days of duking it out with Mr. Tertullian. And for me it really has been an exercise in just starting. I’m not sure where it will end, exactly, but I have realized a couple of things as I’ve been starting.

First, as I’ve posted before, it feels vulnerable to be putting this stuff out there. Just the other day, I got a Facebook message from a friend who clearly has a different perspective on this stuff. And while the tone of the exchange was more than civil, it still pressed my emotional buttons. For me, then, it’s vital to hold onto grace, grace for the process, for the learning mode I’m in, grace for others, and grace for myself.

Next, sometimes I worry that I’m being redundant, or a broken record. This is especially true when I launch one of those posts that bemoans the status quo. To my rescue comes a word like this one, from Ello’s World’s tumblr page, in a piece here about diversity in the publishing industry:

I was going to post this up on my blog and my daughter was like, you are talking about diversity again. Don’t you ever feel like you’re talking and nobody’s listening? Do you ever think it’s not worth it? And I was so sad to hear her say that. I told her “If you want change, you have to keep starting up the same conversation over and over because someone is always listening. And maybe some day, it will reach those someones who will go from just nodding their heads to wanting to do something about it. That’s why we must keep saying the same thing, no matter how tired we get.” And she said, “Post it.”

So far it’s been 9 months of “post it.” I hope you’re listening.

Lastly, the more I start, the longer the road ahead seems. I see Tertullian all over the place! As a preview of coming attractions, here are a few topics that I’m batting around in my head: the Bible and male privilege, gender differences: nature or nurture, and a bit more on the feminism movement. Stay tuned!

At the end of his book, Acuff expresses his dream for his readers:

“I hope you punched fear in the face. I hope you escaped average. I hope you figured out what your diamonds are and started doing work that matters. I hope you realized that the door to purpose has been unlocked this whole time. And when you survey your life and find something else that could be more awesome, I hope you’ll do what I’m going to do once I finish writing this sentence. Start again.”

Whenever Tertullian and I are done with this conversation, I plan to have done these things. For now, thanks for starting with me.

On Culture-Making

mxDSMY8Culture, it’s been said, is “roughly anything we do and the monkeys don’t.”

Indeed, there’s a certain broadness or vagueness to the idea of culture. In fact, in some ways, you only see culture when you are no longer in it. Culture is water to a fish. It’s soil to a plant. It’s air for a bird.

Simply put, culture is the sum of everything we encounter and interact with, day-in and day-out.

On Saturday, I’ll walk across a stage and graduate with my Master’s degree. In large part, my 2+ years in this program have been about thinking through the idea of shaping or creating culture.

Yes, culture can actually be made.

In his book Culture Making, Andy Crouch says this:

“Culture is what we make of the world. Culture is, first of all, the name of our relentless, restless human effort to take the world as it’s given to us and make something else.”

For the last paper of my program, I spent 25 or so pages thinking about that “something else.” Specifically, I was dreaming up what it would feel like to make an organizational culture where women and men were truly equal and in mission together. Here’s my list of five marks of such a culture:

1. Men and women are aware of and repenting of their gender brokenness. What if we lived in a culture where you and I were aware of our brokenness (past pain, flawed perspectives, etc.) and seeking to grow into wholeness?

2. Women and men pursue reconciliation, extending forgiveness freely to one another. In such a culture, not only are people aware of and growing through their brokenness, they are experiencing redemption as they extend grace to one another. Imagine a culture where women forgive men for their pornography addiction! That’s a culture that the world needs to see.

3. An organizational commitment to teach and train on gender dynamics. Let’s face it, for many organizations or groups, the silence on these topics is deafening. Particularly in the church. What if we had a culture where the groups we are a part of were proactively engaging issues of gender dynamics?

4. A more equal distribution of organizational power. In a culture marked by gender equality, men and women share power. Decisions about leadership are made by gifting, not by gender privilege. Consider how this might increase our effectiveness in mission!

5. Permission to lead with authenticity. What if everyone–men and women–could lead in ways that are comfortable for them? In particular, too often in today’s culture, women end up leading in stereotypically masculine ways. Imagine a culture where people could bring who they uniquely are and apply it to the leadership task. The qualitative difference in our leadership culture would be profound.

There’s my list so far. What about you? What would you add? Subtract?

Is it Possible for Women to Step Up Without Men Stepping Back?

n4xgvw6In a comment a few weeks back, I got this insightful suggestion from a dear reader:

Maybe instead of trying to end male privilege you may want to extend the same privileges to women. Then men won’t feel like you are trying to take something away from them.

I’ve been sitting with this since then and here are two thoughts on the topic:

There’s not enough space to simply open doors for women without men stepping back. And, further, in the Kingdom, stepping back is actually good for men.

Let me break these two thoughts down a bit.

In her book Making Room for Leadership, MaryKate Morse uses the metaphor of physical space to describe how much power someone does or does not have. A person with a lot of power takes up a lot of space, and the converse is also true. And, for Morse, how much space a person takes up has a lot to do with who they are (or aren’t), with things like gender, ethnicity, positional authority, personality, age and access to resources factoring prominently into the equation.

My perspective is that there is a finite amount of social space or power. After all, there’s only one school principal, or soccer coach, or business owner, or CEO, or president. What I mean is that, in most contexts, there exists a cap for how many individuals can exercise influential leadership. And so how that limited social space gets filled is indeed a crucial question worth pondering.

As we’ve seen, in most every corner of American culture, men take up the most space. Visually, let’s say that currently the picture looks like this:


If indeed it’s true that space and power are finite, in order for the equation to change, two things will need to happen. First, men will need to give up power and, second, women will need to take up power (or, if you will, Lean In). I’m expressing this conceptually here; believe me, I know there are plenty of conversations to be had about how each of these things can and should actually happen. In any event, the redistribution zone is in gray:


And if that power is redistributed in healthy ways, if we can discern a way to share power equally, the final picture could look like this:


The bottom line, then, is that we need men to lay down power in order for women to take it up. And until that happens, there’s not enough social space or power for both genders to fully flourish.

Secondly–and this is the really good news for men–in the Kingdom of God giving up power is actually a good thing. I’ve written about this before, (here, here and here) and so let me repeat myself:

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.

So let me be clear: I do want women to enjoy the same privileges as men. In part, I just think that we get there by discipling men into joyfully and willing releasing power.

What about you? What resonates for you from this post? What doesn’t?