Last Friday night, I had the opportunity to speak on the topic of sex to a group of students from Fresno State University and Fresno City College. The goal was to articulate God’s creative vision for sex from Genesis 1 and 2.
One of the things that struck me from the experience was how engaged students were. They were with me the entire talk. I find this every time I speak on gender, sexuality and other similar topics. To me this reflects a hunger in students to talk about things that are important, and it also exposes the historic (and tragic) silence about topics like these in our families and in our faith communities.
I started the talk with a warning. I said, “you’re going to have to get used to me saying the word ‘sex’ often tonight. It may seem like I’m getting paid a quarter each time I use it, but I assure you I’m not.”
As I walked off the stage, one student held up his iPhone. He had spent the 35 minutes I was speaking tallying the number. Any guesses?
If you picked 123, you win a prize!
Last Spring, I had the joy of speaking here, on the topic of what the Bible teaches about women and men in leadership. For tonight’s talk, the topic is different yet similar. Tonight I’ll be helping the students understand the Bible’s call to be racially reconciled in the context of mission.
This means that, once again, I’ll be sharing Paul’s revolutionary and inclusive words to the church in Galatia from 3:26-29:
For in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith. As many of you as were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ.
There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus.
And if you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to the promise.
This text has also made my literature review, as I’m working on tracing a theology of inter-gender partnership in mission. And, in the literature, the crucial issue with this passage is whether Paul is intending the text to have social implications in addition to salvific ones. In other words, in the work of Jesus on the cross, are we only equal before the Lord, and/or are we equal in our relationships with one another?
Those who see limitations on women’s roles in the church see only “vertical,” or salvific, implications. (Looking at you Tertullian). Others, like me, see both.
“It is clear that Gal 3:28 carries important social and practical implications. Ethnic-religious, socioeconomic and gender barriers are overcome in Christ. Paul’s repeated insistence on the practical implications of spirituality throughout Galatians necessitates that the equal standing that Christ has opened up to Jews and Greeks, slaves and free, male and female not be divorced from a corresponding equality of social standing in the practical life of the church.”
In concert, here’s how Gordon Fee sees it, from the book Discovering Biblical Equality:
Paul asserts that in the fellowship of Christ Jesus significance and status no longer lie with being Jew or Greek, slave or free, male or female. The all-embracing nature of this affirmation, its countercultural significance, the fact that it equally disadvantages all by equally advantaging all—these stab at the very heart of a culture sustained by people’s maintaining the right position and status. But in Christ Jesus, the One whose death and resurrection inaugurated the new creation, all things become new; the new era has dawned.
Thank God that in Christ Jesus a new era has indeed dawned, one marked by freedom and equality, for women and men and with race and ethnicity as well.
I love Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians in chapter 4:8-9 of his letter:
Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Keep on doing the things that you have learned and received and heard and seen in me, and the God of peace will be with you.
The older I get, the more this verse hits home. Because, more than ever, I understand that what I willfully allow in my head makes all the difference in my thoughts and, ultimately, in my actions and words. I think it was some brilliant computer scientist that coined the adage of “garbage in, garbage out.” When it comes to spiritual maturity and character development, that’s really a true statement.
In this spirit, I want to offer three select quotes from my journeys this past week through an absolute mountain of literature about inter-gender partnerships in mission. Specifically, I’m going to pick some quotes from Genesis, since, when it comes to gender equality, for most commentators and writers the heavy theological lifting begins right at the beginning of our Bibles.
Enjoy, and may your “thinking about these things” bless your theology, but also your view of the men and women partners that God has put around you.
From Equally Yoked, by Rick McKinniss;
“God made the man and the woman to be full and equal partners one with the other. They are called to share the blessings and the responsibilities of fruitfulness and of exercising dominion. Though the operation of this ideal was seriously disrupted by the fall, it has not been lost beyond the reach of the redemption in Christ. The New Testament church operated in this perspective, and the New Testament teaches the recovery of this idea of full and equal partnership.”
From Equal to Serve, by Gretchen Gaebelein Hull:
“Our creation in God’s image is a truth that transcends gender. Our re-creation as new creatures in Christ Jesus is a truth that transcends gender. God’s call to His individual servants transcends gender. When we examine the Bible carefully, putting down our cultural baggage, we find that the Bible does not teach that biology is destiny.”
From Women Leaders and the Church, by Linda Belleville:
“Although there is a great deal of debate about what creation in ‘God’s image’ means, the Genesis account is unequivocal in affirming that women and men equally share it. There is also equality in the social realm. Both male and female are commanded to exercise dominion over creation. Although some claim that male headship is intrinsic to the creation accounts, quite frankly the only time this kind of language appears is when it is used of the joint dominion of male and female: ‘Let us make human beings in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea’ (Gen. 1:26). There is no division or distinction of the roles here. The woman is given the same task and level of responsibility as the man.”
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 #2 most shared post of all time on Challenging Tertullian.
This week, Tertullian and I are taking our show on the road. Together with a good friend and co-worker, I’m teaching a week long seminar on the topic of “Women in the Bible.” 14 college students will be taking the plunge with us.
So this week we’ll be opening the Scriptures, watching some videos and reading some articles. Along the way we’ll have some intense conversations I’m sure. All with the goal of helping these students think through what the Bible has to say about women in general, and the relationship between men and women in particular.
Last night we started by having a time to articulate our questions. And after listening to their questions, let there be no doubt:
This stuff matters.
Here’s the list of the questions that our students are bringing into the seminar this week:
Is there a hierarchy of gender in God’s eyes?
Why are men represented more than women in the Bible?
What exactly are the roles that each gender has in the church, in ministry and in the home?
Why is there God the Father only, if both men and women are made in God’s image?
How do men and women work together peacefully?
What are some common problems between men and women in ministry?
How do we figure out what is from God and what is influenced by culture?
Why don’t churches discuss this topic?
Simple, huh? Now to seek some answers! If you’re the praying type, we’d appreciate them! And I’ll give an update in the Thursday post.
As in, if power was truly shared, if there was no more male privilege, how would it work?
To answer I talk about a community marked by mutuality, where power is allocated according to gifting, and where it is joyfully and humbly given and received.
The other day I came across the following quote on mutuality, from the book Women in the Greetings of Romans 16.1-16 by Susan Matthew. Enjoy, and imagine with me a world, and especially a church, where this was normal.
“Mutualism in this context may be defined as follows: it refers to relationships of reciprocity (i.e. where each has sometime to contribute to the other) whose purpose is mutual promotion (i.e. where the task of each is to serve the interests of the other).
Because of this purpose in mutual service, relationships may not be simultaneously equal: in one serving the other there will be temporary forms of asymmetry. But, crucially, this asymmetry is reversible and constantly reversed: there is never a settled hierarchy in one direction, but continual processes of reciprocal asymmetry in which a relationship of power which is unbalanced at one time or in one respect is continually reversed and unbalanced at another time or in another respect, in a dynamic, non-static, process of mutual promotion.”
On Tuesday morning I started the first intensive associated with my DMiss program. So far it’s been amazing. As we meet these two weeks, I’m aiming to get to know my cohort, to refine/narrow my topic and to plot out my research process.
In the run-up to these two weeks, I’ve been doing some reading. OK, a lot of reading. Like a 7-8 books in the last month level of reading. And I discovered late last week that I also need to read a bunch of missiological journal articles. (Note to self…read the syllabus more closely!).
So last weekend I did a bit o’ online research, looking for recent missiological articles related to my topic. The result?
For the most part, “crickets.”
For instance, I went to the site for Evangelical Missions Quarterly, searched for “gender partnership” and found nada. Here’s a shot:
Same thing for “gender.” In fact, if you search the site for “gender” all you get is an article that contains the word “engendered.”
So then I tried Mission Frontiers, the magazine/site of the U.S. Center for World Mission.
Again, a search for “gender partnership” came up empty:
And then I tried the International Bulletin of Missionary Research, and, same story. Here’s a shot of the search page:
In this case, at least it only took 16.45 seconds to find out the news!
So what’s going on here?
I think it’s either one of two things.
Maybe there’s really little out there on the topic of intra-gender partnerships in mission. I mean, I might be plowing new ground here.
Or, I’m just a really bad researcher who needs of some better search keywords!
Either way, it’s going to be fun to learn and grow through the process.
Here’s a quote to get you thinking today, from the book What is Mission? by missiologist Andrew Kirk:
“For a Christian who listens to the witness of the Old and New Testaments, the problem of finding an adequate basis for justice is solved. Both the basis for and the meaning of justice spring from the nature of the God who is. Justice is what God does, for justice is what God is. By definition, he acts consistently with his attributes. So we know justice through God’s acts of deliverance, through his laws and through the kind of relationships between human beings that he requires:
‘He has told you what is good;
and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice, and to love kindness,
and to walk humbly with your God?’
‘Is this not the fast that I choose:
to loose the bonds of injustice,
and to undo the thongs of the yoke,
to let the oppressed go free,
and to break every yoke?’
‘Give the king your justice, O God…
may he judge your people with righteousness,
and your poor with justice…
may he defend the cause of the poor of the people,
give deliverance to the needy,
and crush the oppressor.’
The word of the prophet is addressed to the whole nation, not just to individuals. The whole community has a set of obligations which reflect God’s character. ‘To do justice’ is to demonstrate that the corporate body of people belong to one another. Justice is an active concept. It is not the maintenance of a static state of equilibrium in which certain powers are kept in balance. It is an activity in which a disordered or disproportionate state of affairs is put right. To do justice is to enable the disadvantaged to escape permanently from the trap of deprivation in order that they may become full, responsible members of the community. This will happen as resources and opportunities in life are made available to all. Justice includes; injustice excludes.
Justice is also about checking the excessive concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few, so that responsible decision-making may be an activity of the whole community. It is about ensuring that each person may own and enjoy the work of his or her own hands and be supported by the community when hit by adversity.” (pp. 104-105)