Guest Blog – When the Youth Bible Hurts

I’ve got a guest post today from Judi Gardener who is a Christian feminist and also a survivor of multiple abuse including spiritual abuse that contributed to staying far too long with the perpetrator. She eventually ended up with PTSD and as a result lost her children through the family court. She is passionate about outreach to the unchurched, support around domestic violence and understanding of mental health issues. Somehow she ended up in an Anglo-Catholic (ish) Church and now has a Morning Prayer habit. She sometimes wishes God had not given her such broad shoulders.

 

It’s unacceptable. Whatever way I looked it was still unacceptable. I had opened a Youth Bible at random, it was a New Century Version but what I was reading actually seemed more fitting for the 19th century. It was not the Bible verse itself (Psalm 51), but the devotion that accompanied the text which got me so steamed up. The back cover informs me that the devotions are real life stories.  For the sake of the young woman who was the main character in this story, I sincerely hope there was more to it. If not, yet another young woman has been drastically failed by the ignorance of church leaders and will, years later, likely still be struggling through life.

 

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The box was headed “sexuality”, with a subheading of “whiter than snow”. It contained a not unfamiliar story of a young girl called Barbara who at nine-years-old was physically and sexually abused by her uncle. Apparently by thirteen she was sexually active with numerous guys and often dated guys four or five years older than herself.

What the devotion then focuses on is not that Barbara had obviously been abused by a number of men, but that Barbara was a sinner. In other words, the Youth Bible victim blames Barbara, in a rather big plot twist.  At no point in the text are the sins of the men who had sex with an underaged vulnerable girl mentioned. Apparently, Barbara needed to turn to God and have her sexual sin forgiven.  Excuse me.  Barbara, whilst no doubt a sinner just like all of us, had been more sinned against than she had been a sinner in her short life.

One of my go to Bible stories is that of the Samaritan Woman.  Jesus did not condemn her, but instead stayed in her company despite the cultural taboos.  He would have known why she had multiple husbands and was now living with another man outside of marriage. Had she been sexually abused?  We cannot know.

God certainly does not condemn all promiscuous women, Rahab the harlot is also described as a woman of faith. In John 8 1-11 Jesus deals with the adulterous woman, a familiar but for some quarters of the church a difficult story to stomach.

The truth is, a child who has been sexually abused such as Barbara, will feel filthy. The Youth Bible reflection explains, ‘“I came to church feeling like a tramp” she told Jan after they prayed. “But now I feel God has made me clean again.”’

This was supposedly after Barbara had asked to receive forgiveness for her sins. Now I am not doubting her experience and the peace that comes on giving your life to Christ, but for me, as an adult survivor of child sexual abuse, that dirty feeling did not instantly disappear. I was raped, for the first time at no older than seven and in hindsight I am grateful that I was not aware of what was happening to me. The experience left deep scars that lasted well into my adult life, way beyond my conversion.  It was being led into inner child healing and meeting up with my abuser years later that finally freed me. The former because it gave me some control over what I had suffered and the latter because I managed to see what a wounded man he had become and forgave him. The rape, like Barbara’s, was incestuous and was completely mishandled by my family when I choose to reveal it out of fear for another relative. I know now why.  Put simply, it was about shame. That sort of thing doesn’t happen in our family. It is the same in church. I think we can all recall situations where the reputation of the church was more highly valued than the welfare of the victim.

You may say this is an old version of the Bible and today’s teenagers get a different message, yet many of today’s church leaders would have been brought up on such Youth Bibles at the turn of the century and just as your music taste reflects your youth so do your values. It’s scary, and no wonder misogyny still rears its ugly head in our churches.

It needs to stop. Churches (if they have not already done so) need understandable child protection policies which include being able to deal with spiritual abuse and sexual abuse. Victim blaming is spiritually abusive and psychologically damaging. Victims need high quality pastoral care alongside support for reporting crimes. No further Barbaras, please, in Jesus name.

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Paige Patterson; Abuse of the less serious variety

Paige Patterson is the President of the US Southern Baptist Convention.  His response to a question about domestic abuse at a conference in 2000 re-emerged this week.  You can listen to a transcript of his comments HERE.  The questioner asks about the media discussion around submission “jumping” on the issue of women being abused by their husbands.  He asks Paige Patterson

“What do you recommend for women undergoing genuine physical abuse from their husbands and the husbands say they should be submitting?”

Patterson responds with,

“It depends on the level of abuse to some degree. I have never in my ministry counselled that anybody seek a divorce, and I do think that’s always wrong counsel. There have been, however an occasion or two when the level of the abuse was serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough that I have counselled temporary separation and the seeking of help.  I would urge you to understand that that should happen only in the most serious of cases…  More often, when you face abuse it is of a less serious variety.”

He explains that he won’t describe the type of abuse that was severe enough to lead him to counsel temporary separation because it was so horrifying that it couldn’t be spoken about in public.

He went on to give an example where a woman was being “subject to some abuse” and he told her to pray about it based on his understanding of Jesus’ words in Matthew 7:7-12.  He said that she came to church with two black eyes, but that it was all okay, because her husband came to church for the first time that Sunday and “his heart was broken”.  Patterson explains,

“…when nobody else can help, God can.  And in the meantime, you have to do whatever you can at home to be submissive in every way that you can and to elevate him.  Obviously, if he’s doing that kind of thing he’s got some very deep spiritual problems in his life and you have to pray that God brings into the intersection of his life those people and those events that need to come into life and arrest him and bring him to his knees.”

Let’s take a little look at some of the language used within this.  Patterson clearly reinforces all concerns that submission leaves abusive men supported in their behaviour.  To some degree I wonder if this is preferable to the weasel words of those who try to justify complementarian theology as absolutely fine. At least he’s honest about it.

From the outset, the questioner uses passive language and a qualifier to abuse, “undergoing genuine physical abuse from their husbands”.  I use this clip from Jackson Katz A LOT in training to explain how language is used to erase the agent of the abuse (who is generally a man).

By asking about “genuine physical abuse”, the questioner is inferring that non-genuine abuse exists.  What would that be?  Does the husband’s violence have to leave bruises to be genuine? What about if there isn’t physical violence?  Is that what he means?  If a man is berating his wife, belittling her, humiliating her, manipulating her into degrading sexual acts, giving her no money to buy sanitary products, timing how long she takes shopping, screams in her face, torments the children to punish her, deliberately gets her into debt, keeps her up all night, makes her watch him wash after sex because she’s so dirty?  Are all these things not genuine because he hasn’t physically hurt her?

I should say at this point, even responses to Patterson still echo the language of only an abuser’s physical violence warranting separation, for example:

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Patterson’s response starts again with qualifying the type of abuse a man has to perpetrate in order for a woman to legitimately separate from him.  But apparently it has to be SO bad that you can’t actually publicly tell people about it.  Patterson also doesn’t make any mention of how a church leader would actually be privy to the full scale of abuse being perpetrated.

Disclosure is usually accidental and is always gradual.  Nobody starts by disclosing the worst things that their husband has done to them.  We start small and see if a) we are believed and b) we are looked at with disgust or care. The risk of speaking out leaves most women unwilling to do so, which means that often it will be accidental. Someone sees us at the school gate on the day he has bruised us, or one of our children mentions something to their teacher, or we mention something benign like, “Oh my husband doesn’t let me go shopping for more than half an hour.”  Because we hadn’t realised that isn’t normal.

Nobody is going to start off by telling their church leader, “he urinates on me and chokes me and one day he took me to a derelict building and told me if I tried to leave him, he would bury me there”.  And so, how exactly is Patterson able to assess how serious the abuse is in order to decide whether it meets his criteria, when he will likely never be provided with enough information to do so.  But besides that, what abuse is not serious?  Why does he get to make an arbitrary line between run of the mill abuse which should simply be ignored and that which is “serious enough, dangerous enough, immoral enough” to warrant temporary separation (nothing warrants divorce, so the only women able to escape are those whose husbands kill them, or who kill their husbands)?  Sin is sin. Abuse is abuse.  There is no sliding scale.  And abusers inevitably escalate their behaviour, so whichever abuser fits within Patterson’s “acceptable abuse” category today may kill their partner or children tomorrow.

It takes years for most of us to recognise that our partner’s behaviour is wrong.  He works very hard to ensure that we blame ourselves for his behaviour, and his constant minimisation and denial leaves us sure it can’t be that bad.  By the time a woman says, “I need to get out”, you need to be listening to her and doing all you can to help.  Particularly women in Christian communities, who have been indoctrinated to believe men have to be in charge, that submission is the solution and that denial-based-forgiveness is the way to move forward.  But from this interview, there seems to be an inference that women are accusing their husbands of abuse willy nilly, just waking up in the morning and thinking, “Today I’ll go to my pastor and say that George is abusive because he won’t let me buy 73 pairs of shoes.”  Just no.

It’s always convenient isn’t it, that people like Patterson have that story of the violent husband whose wife prays and he becomes a model Christian man.  But it is hugely irresponsible to tell that story (whether it’s actually true is always something we must ask too).  Abusive men do not change out of nowhere.  There are too many benefits for them in remaining abusive. They get whatever they want whenever they want it; sex on demand, a servant, the status of being a good husband and father without actually being one, they get to always be right.  And Patterson wants to uphold all those benefits, in fact he wants to increase them.  Why on earth would an abuser change when Patterson is saying that an abuser should be rewarded with increasing levels of submission and adoration from his wife?

Patterson says that “when nobody else can help, God can”.

YOU CAN HELP, PAIGE PATTERSON!  WE CAN ALL HELP.  THIS IS NOT SOME INCURABLE DISEASE THAT WE ALL HAVE TO HOPE GOD WILL INTERVENE IN. THIS IS AN ABUSIVE MAN MAKING CHOICES THAT ARE ILLEGAL.  WE CAN REPORT HIM TO THE POLICE.  WE CAN FIND HER AND HER CHILDREN A SAFE PLACE.  WE CAN STAB HIM IN THE HEAD.  OKAY I KNOW WE SHOULDN’T DO THAT, BUT AT LEAST WE COULD THINK AND ACT WITH A VIEW THAT HE NEEDS TO BE STOPPED.

The only mention to “arrest” that Patterson makes is that God might arrest the abuser’s heart.  PATTERSON SEEMS TO LIVE ON ANOTHER PLANET WHERE THERE AREN’T ACTUAL POLICE OFFICERS WHO CAN ARREST ABUSIVE MEN.  The US and UK have both had laws in place for decades which can be used to arrest, charge and convict those who harm a partner.  The police could actually arrest the abusive husband, but no, Patterson wants to leave that up to God.  We should just pray that God brings situations and people into the man’s life that cause the man to be changed.  Let us not consider that maybe WE are the people that God has brought into the man’s life!  Let us not consider that WE could be the ones God is asking to partner with women and their children in finding a way out.  Instead, Patterson would prefer that like the Pharisees we tithe our herbs and neglect the weightier matters of justice, mercy and faithfulness.

It is easy for us all to be horrified and outraged about Patterson’s comments.  And they are deeply concerning, particularly for all the women and children who have been brutalised first by an abusive man, and then had that compounded by church leaders and communities who have been more interested in the letter of the law rather than the spirit of justice and mercy. However, it is much harder to accept that we are likely to believe some of the things that Patterson says, albeit in much more implicit and hidden ways.

Years ago, I was contacted by a church leader.  She wanted to know what to do about a family in her congregation.  The man had been violent towards his wife on a number of occasions.  I started by asking the church leader if she felt able to advise the woman to leave, “Oh yes of course,” she said, “nobody should be abused.”  After we had been talking for about 20 minutes, she said to me, “The thing is, he was going to leave, and we felt that we could support her, because he was going to instigate leaving.”  My response, “It sounds like you’re saying that if she had instigated leaving, you wouldn’t feel you could support her?”  This church leader thought for a moment and responded, “No, I don’t think we would, because of what the Bible says about divorce and forgiveness and…”

We all like to believe that we think abuse is wrong.  And that we don’t have such horrendous views as Paige Patterson.  But in reality, we are theologically and psychologically predisposed to deny abuse.  If she’s a strong woman, or he’s a lovely man.  If she hasn’t mentioned physical violence or it seems like it’s a one off.  We don’t want to believe that it’s abuse and so we minimise it, make it into something palatable.  It’s his mental health issues.  She’s quite overbearing.  They just need couple counselling or to attend the Marriage Course. (Relationship counselling is NEVER appropriate where there is an abuser).

I spoke to a woman who asked for prayer because her husband was abusive.  The pray-er advised her to put little love notes in his pocket each morning.  Apparently that would solve it.

We don’t want to live in a world where the men that we think are good and nice could be abusers.  We don’t want to believe that the women we know who are competent and strong could also be subjected to abuse by their husbands.  We don’t want to believe that our church, family, neighbourhood could be tainted by abusers.  And so we minimise, avoid, reshape the narrative and all without ever believing that WE, the woke people that we are, could EVER be anything like Paige Patterson.

But maybe we are.

 

 

If you’ve found this blog helpful, my WHOLE book about Christians and domestic abuse is being published by SPCK in March 2019.  If you’d like to get updates about the book, you can sign up HERE.

 

Thank You Rebel-Women

A couple of weeks ago I was delivering a lecture on Gender Awareness at St Mellitus Theological College.  Over lunch, I briefly saw a dear Twitter friend who is training to be a priest. She explained how difficult life is as someone who has feminist consciousness, that she doesn’t have the capacity to challenge all that she sees, as a mother, ordinand and human being.  She hugely encouraged me, telling me how my ongoing work on gender justice helps her; just knowing that I’m fighting the patriarchy encourages her.  After she left, I felt like a bit of a fraud.  I get to be a fulltime warrior against the patriarchy.  I do have kids, but I get to spend the majority of my life focussing solely on fighting the patriarchy.  It occurred to me I should have told her how in awe I am of her, and all the other part-time patriarchy-smashers, who also have to hold down fulltime jobs that are unrelated to gender justice.

 

Last week I was in Cape Town.  It was an amazing experience, and I’m hoping to write more specifically about it at a later date.  I was in Cape Town delivering training about domestic abuse to a group that included a social worker, teachers, foster mothers, youth workers and a vicar.  You can read more about the trip HERE.  The training took place in the church led by my Twitter friend, Dave Meldrum (a British vicar in Cape Town).  Back in 2014, after connecting on Twitter, he wrote a guest blog for me about restitution and gender (you can read it HERE).  Fast forward to 2016, and it turned out we were both on the same MA programme with London School of Theology.  The course is run online, creating a wonderful opportunity to study with people across the world, including Dave in Cape Town.  Through our studies we’d connected further and then when it emerged that I would be delivering training in Cape Town, Dave kindly offered his church as a training venue.  Last Friday I found myself sight-seeing with Dave, a Twitter friend who is now an offline friend too.  Afterwards we sat at his house and chatted about the impact of Twitter on our lives, including that I found myself sat in his house, thousands of miles from my home.

 

I joined Twitter in August 2011.  I knew few feminists offline.  I was full of opinions and ideas but I didn’t have a community to share them with.  I felt alone and vaguely wondered if it was me that was wrong, repeatedly finding myself in disagreement with Christians, church leaders and the world generally.  Twitter enabled helped me to find a community and to realise that I wasn’t mad or wrong (well, sometimes I’m wrong…).  On Twitter I found my people, Christians and feminists (and Christian feminists) who I didn’t agree with on everything, but who became my people.

 

Twitter has changed in the last few years.  It has been inundated with adverts, extra characters and Nazis.  It enables terrible bullying and abuse and possibly contributed to the election of Donald Trump.  However, it wasn’t always like that!  Some of my most dear friends are people I met on Twitter.  There was a time where conversations included so many people’s names that there was only enough space in a tweet for two words at a time.  We would debate and discuss so much.  We even read the Bible together communally over 6 months (it was quite intense, most especially Alastair Roberts’ blogs!).  Out of that community came the Gathering of Women Leaders, Project 3:28, and wonderful, lasting friendships that have changed my life.

 

After I left Dave’s house on Friday, I began thinking about the ways that the Twitter communities I am part of enable me to do what I do, to challenge patriarchy and misogyny.  I was reminded of a story Rus Funk told at a conference we were both speaking at a few years ago.  He spoke of how he was in a locker room getting changed and in walked a lawyer.  The lawyer was surrounded by a group of men and was boasting about how he had represented a man who had abused his wife.  He was proudly sharing he had ensured the man was cleared of all charges.  The other men in the locker room were all cheering the lawyer on.  Rus Funk explained that he knew he needed to challenge the lawyer, but that he was fearful of doing so.  He told us that he wasn’t fearful of being attacked by the lawyer.  What he was scared of, he explained, was losing his man card.  There was a deep fear that standing up for women in that locker room would lose him his Man Status.  What enabled him to challenge the lawyer was the fact that he belonged to a different community, with a standard that required misogyny to be challenged.

 

Twitter is that community for me.  I know that I can share the ways I’ve challenged misogyny on Twitter and people will offer their support.  When I go into situations which are combative or require courage, I can do it because I have people who are cheering me on and who love me.  And a whole load of them are people I’ve never actually met face to face.  I have a community who I am accountable to for speaking out, standing up, and not accepting the status quo.

 

Whilst I was in Cape Town, I read “The Incredible Woman” by Riet Bons Storm.  It is an extremely good book and you should all read it!  She writes,

 

“By acknowledging her own voice and subject quality, a woman becomes conscious of the gap between herself and the dominant discourse with its belief system and sociocultural narrative and the roles “Woman” given to her…She can gradually or suddenly decide that her truth is not the same as the dominant sociocultural narrative.  If that happens, she “falls out of” the blind acceptance of patriarchy.  At that moment she becomes utterly confused, sometimes she is called “mad” by the dominant discourse… till she can find a companion who looks at her with affirming eyes, acknowledges her emerging subject quality, and proves herself or himself to be an ally in the quest for the woman’s own voice.  Touched by that companion, or by a group of companions, she can develop her own voice.  This emerging voice is always a rebellious voice, in that it has to contradict and disobey the dominant sociocultural narrative and its proper roles for women.  By means of a rebel-self, together with other rebel-women, a new sustaining speech-community can be formed.”

 

I can only do the work I do and hold onto my rebel-self because Twitter is the speech-community that enables me.  Not just in terms of accountability, but also practically.  I was able to travel to Cape Town because people on Twitter (and some offline friends) donated money.  Some Twitter friends financially support my work monthly, some are prayer warriors speaking protection over mine and my family’s life, some are dear friends, and one even crocheted me a Cuterus (thank you Jayne Manfredi)!

 

I think we’ve moved to a place where there’s a general acceptance that online relationships can be “real”, but I felt compelled to write this blog to honour those people that I either met or primarily interact with online, they are not only “real” friends, but are precious to me.  Without you I couldn’t do what I do and I am so grateful for all of you!  Thank you for being my people, you rebel-women and consciousness-raised-men.  In these dark days, thank you for lighting my way.

When should a church be disqualified from having women in it?

Mez McConnell is the Director of 20 Schemes, a church planting organisation seeking to “see Scotland’s housing schemes transformed by the gospel of Jesus Christ through the planting of gospel-preaching churches”.  His passion for and commitment to seeing lives transformed by Jesus is extremely inspiring. 20 Schemes is working with some of the most marginalised people in society.  This is also a mission I am committed to.  I come from a working class background, have been a teenage mother and single parent.  I have lived in deprived areas almost my whole life and have worked with many women who have been deeply wounded by men and by poverty.   My husband and I are now raising a little boy from a severely deprived background having spent a year trying to support his mum to be able to become a parent again.  As such I hope that this blog is read in light of my great respect for 20 Schemes mission and passion.

 

Mez published a blog on the 20 Schemes website earlier today entitled “Why My First Church Hire Was A Woman, And Yours Should Be Too”.  At first glance, this blog seems to be incredibly pro-women, challenging male-led churches to value the contribution women make to the life of the church.  Not only that, he is insisting women should be paid for doing this, shifting away from the idea that women’s labour should be offered free.

 

Mez’s audience seems to be those who wouldn’t consider employing women in any role within the church and so it is a positive step that he is challenging such men (and women) to consider the role women can have in Christian communities.  Some of what he says is very helpful, including that:

 

  • Untrained “pastor’s wives” shouldn’t be offering pastoral support.
  • Women need other women to walk the journey with them.
  • 20 Schemes trust women and train them well
  • Mez explains he finds it “offensive to suggest that by giving women responsibility at [a pastoral] level we are opening the church up to serious error. Far more men have led churches astray than women.”
  • Mez states, “Women are encouraged that they have a serious part to play in the kingdom of God and that they are not just bystanders or there to cook the meals.”

 

I have become absolutely convicted that individual, organisational and church views on gender and sex are a primary Gospel issue.   Too many women (and men) are alienated from the Gospel because of Christians who insist that men’s and women’s roles are fixed with men being responsible for women (within marriage, church life or wider society).   Jesus says, “If anyone causes one of these little ones–those who believe in me–to stumble, it would be better for them if a large millstone were hung around their neck and they were thrown into the sea.” I understand this to include those who alienate believers by their views of men, women and sex.  Many of the radical feminists I know started off life in faith communities and the rejected Jesus because of the horrific oppression the were subjected to or witnessed in the church.  Complementarian Christians are quick to insist that their theology is Biblical and that egalitarian theology is not.  I will meet them on their terms, complementarian theology is not Biblical.  It is oppressive.

 

The question Mez’s blog raises for me is, “When a church exemplifies oppressive views towards women, should this disqualify them from having women attend their churches?” And I would suggest there are at least 10 reasons Mez’s blog evidences taking up such a policy.

 

  1. Women are prevented from being obedient to God

If women are called to worship lead, to be an executive pastor or to youth work, they cannot be obedient to God in following that call because Mez explains that: “[Churches] will talk about hiring a youth worker, or an executive pastor or a worship leader before they would even consider a woman”.  The only role women seem to be able to do is to be women.

 

  1. Vulnerable women are at extremely at risk in patriarchal structures

Mez explains that single mothers and those with other vulnerabilities are a large proportion of scheme communities.  Much evidence can be provided that patriarchal structures disempower and further oppress women and prevent them being released into the fullness of life Jesus offers them.  Sadly, most efforts to address the oppression of working class people maintain the oppression of women[1]. Seeking to support vulnerable women without having a good understanding of male violence is likely to perpetuate rather than liberate women who have been deeply hurt by male power.

 

  1. The male leaders don’t have time for the messiness of women’s lives

Mez tells us it is “not wise or prudent for a man to invest serious amounts of time into” women who have been subjected to abuse, violence or sexual violation by a partner because their “emotional needs are often so great”.  This statement is staggering in how pastorally insensitive and revealing it is of how little women’s pain should be invested in by men.

 

  1. A third of the male leaders are a sexual risk to vulnerable women

Mez explains that a third of the leaders who preceded him were removed due to sexual immorality that happened when they were intensely counselling women (who he acknowledges had likely been sexually abused prior to the intense counselling).

 

  1. Extremely vulnerable women will be blamed if male leaders sexually abuse their authority

Mez blames women (with possible histories of having been sexually abused) for male leaders sexually abusing their authority.  According to Mez “Any form of tenderness or a willingness to listen from a male is almost always misunderstood sexually [by vulnerable women]… A man who listens to them is a very powerful aphrodisiac. Temptation can be for some [vulnerable women] very hard to resist. They aren’t used to men listening to their problems. They are used to men being the problem.”

 

  1. The male leaders are powerless to stop themselves having sex with vulnerable women

In the above quote Mez is saying that the church leaders who sexually abuse their authority are not the problem; these leaders are the victims of women who find men listening to them so much of an aphrodisiac that they essentially place the male leader’s penis inside them and with the male leader helpless to stop it.  The male leader just passively allows for sexual activity to take place, unable to act.

 

  1. Men cannot and should not have deep long lasting friendships with women they aren’t married to

Mez explains this in his fifth point about women’s role as pastors pastoral assistants.  Jesus explained that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ and as such should be seeking to build communities that are built on deep and long lasting friendships.  It is by our love for one another (not solely love of those who have the same sex as us) that people will know Jesus.  What state can a church be in if women and men can’t be good friends?  If the only deep interactions men and women have to be sexual?  Maybe that’s one of the reasons male leaders keep having sex with women who aren’t their wives?  Just a thought…

 

  1. It is unbiblical

Mez states that “The church is to be led by men after all.”  I shall put aside the fact his church is led by men who can’t stop themselves penetrating women unless they’re not allowed to be alone with them for too long.

The church is to be led by Jesus Christ, in partnership with the Holy Spirit.  Women and men are to serve God and those He calls us to love, giving up our lives in service to Him.  Jesus tells us that “the rulers of the Gentiles dominate them, and the men of high position exercise power over them. It must not be like that among you. On the contrary, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first among you must be your slave; just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life — a ransom for many.”

 

  1. The church is playing Pharisaical mental-gymnastics with women’s callings

Mez explains, “When we say that our women’s worker pastors our women we don’t mean that she is a pastor, rather, she assists the pastors by providing day-to-day pastoral care to our women”.  The Pharisees played the same sort of mental gymnastics as this to keep their hierarchies in place, “Okay, so we don’t swear by the temple, we just swear by the gold of the temple.”  “I know we don’t support our ageing parents, but that’s because we’re giving all our money to God.”  “We’re being obedient by even tithing all our herbs, look at how awesome we are.”

 

  1. Women are used out of necessity

Mez explains that without women pastors pastoral assistants, “Even with a small church and multiple elders we would struggle under the weight of pastoral issues in our congregation”.  Primarily women are asked to take a role in the church because a) men can’t help putting their penises in women and b) there’s too much work for only the men to be able to do it.  This isn’t about women’s gifts or call.  This is an argument of efficiency, practicality and utility.  It is not about the unique ministry of women, the value of women or God-breathed life in women.  It is not about the image of God that is found in women.  According to the blog Mez has written, this is about men being sexually deviant in nature and therefore women having to lead, pastor and disciple work with women.

 

Mez finishes by saying something I am in total agreement with,

 

“The local church needs women’s workers. Most of the women living in our poorest communities are suffering without the hope of the gospel. They have not heard the good news that can set them truly free from their burdens. Women on schemes need more than women parachuting in to be another worker in their life, perpetuating dependency. They need women who will do life with them every single day of their lives. The harvest is great, the workers are few and women are being left on the shelf. They shouldn’t be. Employing more women for ministry should be our highest priority.”

 

It is heartbreaking to me that the rest of his blog undermines this hugely important message.

 

To find out more about the 20 Schemes perspective on women, have a read of THIS application process for church planters and their wives (only married men can be church planters).  It has been suggested the process may be in breach of various equality and data protection laws.

 

 

 

[1] Even the great Paulo Freire described a poor man beating his wife as the abusive man’s response to oppression and not as a form of oppression in its own right.  Women are always left behind in liberatory movements.

Jon Jorgensen and Repackaged Patriarchy

In the last week, I got my first introduction to Jon Jorgenson after stumbling across his video “Who You Are: A Message to all Women” after it found its way into my Twitter feed.  The video is well on its way to having 6 million views.  Jorgenson is a Christian spoken word poet and although this video’s title is aimed at women, the video is set in a lecture hall and seems to be seeking an audience of younger women and girls.

 

A white man telling girls who they are didn’t seem like a particularly liberatory model.  So I decided to have a watch.  With emotive music and short dramatic sentences, the video is designed to create a specific emotional response.  He tells girls they’re smart and precious and funny and insists we have a responsibility to set free the “world changing woman” within ourselves.  Incidentally the video is entirely produced by men.  So he doesn’t think women are actually smart enough to be involved in creating his videos with him.

 

After moaning about the video on Twitter, I was informed that he has also created one for men.  So I had a watch of “Who You Are: A Message to all Men”, it has close to 2 million views.  The thing that is MOST fascinating is comparing the words of the videos (and though I don’t have time to delve into them, also the tone and body language within them and soundtrack lyrics behind them).  The subtly (or not so subtly) different language devices within stories that are broadly the same.  The overarching narrative of both videos are:

 

  1. You Are Awesome
  2. Things get in the way of you feeling amazing
  3. You have the capacity to change the world
  4. Jesus died for you
  5. The devil will tell you you’re not amazing
  6. Reject the devil
  7. You Are Awesome

 

The image below has the words typed up in two columns in order for you to compare them.  I’m hoping you can zoom in and read it…

 

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Here’s some of the issues when the videos are compared:

 

Women are passive: Beautiful, smart, funny, kind, unique, precious

Men are active: Strong, brave, capable,

 

Women receive: they “are worthy of love and affection”

Men give: they have ability, potential, gifts, talents, kind words, wisdom, jokes, joy to spread, they are full of qualities, traits and virtues

 

Women are “the most stunning of all God’s creation”

Men are “the Lord’s most valuable creation”

 

Women are objects: a diamond, rose, pearl, “the most

Men are subjects: writers, athletes, inventors, artists, musicians, technicians

 

The things that get in the way of women knowing their worth are all related to how they look (except maths test scores and pottery modelling): weight, hair, shoes, whether girls envy them or boys want to “have” them, clothes, modelling, hot list or not list (yes it says that), cheerleader, can’t stand to look in the mirror,

 

The things that get in the way of men knowing they are loved by God are related to activities and physical size: being muscly, being small (and in the library), baseball, swing dancing, fastest, slowest, tallest, smallest, skinniest, fattest, captain of the team or last one picked,

 

For women it doesn’t matter whether “you’re Miss Popular or never really had someone you could call a friend”.

For men it’s doesn’t matter whether “your dad could beat up his dad or you never had anyone in your life who could fill that role”.

 

Women “deserve someone who would give their life up for you because you are powerful and strong, capable”

Men “have a power inside you that was formed before the beginning of time in a secret place by the God of the universe”

 

Women get to change the world, but he gives no examples of what they do.  Just to read about women ing the Bible: Esther, Ruth, Mary, Martha.

Men get to change the world with their gifts, talent, courage, ability, and joy

 

Women are cherished, loved, adored by God

Men are treasured, entrusted and love by God

 

This videos are seeking to change the world, to change how women and men perceive themselves.  But particularly the messages Jorgenson sends to women are regressive and reinforce women as objects and ornaments.  It’s all very well wanting to challenge the cultural messages that women and girls are oppressed by.  But you cannot dismantle the devil’s house with the devil’s tools.

 

As well intentioned as these videos are, they continue to perpetuate the same models for women and girls that exist across society.  Perhaps that’s why the one for women has so many views.  It isn’t enabling women to reject the messages that oppress them, but rather to hear God tell them those same messages in a nicer voice.

 

The messages given to men are slightly more benign, there’s less about aggression and redemptive violence.  However, the comparative messages in the videos still leave men to conclude they are the actors (reinforced by a man performing both videos), the agents and that women are put on earth by God to be attractive and passive.

 

We must challenge these messages wherever we find them and remain steadfast in recognising that girls and women deserve better than repackaged patriarchy to empower and inspire them.

 

Christian Union in the US

Last week I was contacted by Emily Nielsen Jones who runs Imago Dei Fund.  She’d come across the university CU series I’d been running and wanted to share her thoughts.  After a couple of emails we interestingly discovered we were talking about two different Christian Unions.  In the US there is an organisation called Christian Union who run ministries on Ivy League university campuses in the US.  The blog series I’ve been running is actually focussed on UK Christian Unions which are organised by UCCF.

 

Fascinatingly, Emily read the content about UK Christian Unions and thought it was about the US organisation which has exactly the same issues with sexism and patriarchy.  These two organisations are entirely separate and on two different continents and yet both are infused with sexism!  Emily sent me a post that she wrote about the US Christian Union organisation, which you can read by CLICKING HERE.

Hannah’s CU Story

I’ve been posting people’s university Christian Union stories for a few weeks now and we’re at the final one!  This one comes from Hannah Mudge.  She’s a marvellous woman and you can follow her on Twitter @boudledidge.  If you’d like to read the other CU stories, you’ll find them all HERE.  

 

I started university in 2003, having been brought up attending a C of E church. In the year or so before university I had decided to explore other options and checked out various denominations and church groups, which led to me doing the Alpha course at my local Baptist church and also visiting church – an evangelical, charismatic ‘new church’ – with my boyfriend and his family.

 

On visiting my university for the first time I had heard a lot about the Christian Union (CU) and was impressed by the number of members, the amount they seemed to have going on and how exciting everything appeared to be. Coming from a small town I had never had much experience of Christians my own age and was really looking forward to meeting some. Like most people going to university, I just wanted to make lots of new friends and ‘get stuck in’ to socialising.

 

People at church had encouraged me to get involved with the CU so I signed up at the Freshers’ Fayre and started attending meetings, also becoming a member of my hall’s cell group. A few years ago I dug out a lot of leaflets and notes I’d kept from that time. My leaflet from the first main meeting of term tells me that there were four prayer meetings a week, three ‘cold contact’ sessions a week (in which members went out and about on campus to evangelise), one ‘lunch bar’ per week (lunch and a talk on one aspect of Christianity, which we were encouraged to bring friends to) – and of course the main meeting. Then there was ‘Mission Week’ in Semester Two, the main outreach event of the year and a ‘house party’ at a residential centre in the countryside. The first flyer I received also included details of the now-infamous PURE course, which received a lot of attention from the national press in the mid-2000s.

 

I think I came away with quite a positive impression of the CU from that first meeting. My notebook tells me that it focused on being fearless about proclaiming the truth of the gospel in a world where people are ‘afraid to stand up for what they believe in’. My notes included: “God is the most important thing. We live in a society where tolerance and doing what you want is most valued but it requires great courage to speak up and say that we know how to live the right way.”

 

Topics covered at a later date included: ‘The church is the Spirit’s megaphone to the world’, ‘False teachers and the world leading us astray’ and ‘The persecuted church’. As time went on, I began to make some observations that went beyond my initial impressions – observations that weren’t always positive. I should probably point out that at first, I didn’t know or hadn’t understood that the CU wasn’t some sort of ecumenical organisation, so was slightly surprised that almost everyone was evangelical.

 

  • The emphasis on quite in-your-face evangelism seemed quite obsessive and intrusive.
  • There was an expectation that you’d attend all meetings and get-togethers, which I wasn’t always able to do due to visiting my boyfriend or simply due to wanting to spend time with friends.
  • I therefore didn’t feel as ‘included’ as many other people. I also ended up feeling quite paranoid that people felt my lifestyle was unacceptable. I came from a sheltered, middle-class background but one that was outside the evangelical bubble and I often felt as if I was saying the wrong things and doing things – like going on nights out, having close friends who weren’t Christian – that were disapproved of. There was a definite sense of ‘concern’ about people whose social life didn’t revolve around church and CU activities and the problem of non-Christian friends ‘leading Christians into sin’ was often discussed. Your non-Christian friends were people you invited to CU events and asked along to church, but not people you should spend too much time with.
  • Talk about sex and relationships was a key focus. Let’s expand on that:

 

I know it’s inevitable that it’s going to happen at a university. It’s full of young people – it’s unavoidable – and so there was plenty of discussion on ‘purity’ and ‘modesty’. Most of the people in my cell group were in a relationship – and like me, all but one of them were in relationships with someone at a different university. There was a lot of talk of ‘temptation’ and the importance of resisting it.

 

So during my first semester, I attended the PURE course –  billed as ‘Sex and Relationships – God’s Way. This took some commitment for a fresher – it was held over breakfast and involved getting up at 6.30am and trekking across campus in the cold and dark when no-one else seemed to be up. Interestingly, I looked back at the notes and handouts from the course some years later when PURE was making headlines about its allegedly homophobic teaching and interestingly there was absolutely nothing to be found about LGBT issues – so this may have been added into the course at a later date. Some session outlines were as follows (taken from handouts and my notes):

 

What does it mean to be a man/a woman? Man: work in and take care of the earth; be united with women. Women: Man’s helper on earth, be united with man. Equal but different. The world says men/women are not different and focus now is on empowered women and demeaning marriage. I was young; I’m not sure I had any critical thinking skills; I hadn’t yet encountered feminism and this was the first teaching on gender and Christianity that I’d ever heard. So it wouldn’t have registered that this is was complementarian teaching or that many Christians would not agree with it.

 

What’s wrong with relationships these days? Sex used wrongly – flirting, promiscuity, jealousy, control.

 

What can men/women do to help the opposite sex? Good communication, respect, friendship, modesty. girls can be helpful to guys by being careful what they wear. It was claimed that ‘Girls want friendship from guys, but guys need us to be helpful’. ‘Helpful’ was defined as dressing and behaving modestly and not ‘obsessing’ over getting into a relationship.

 

Pure sex Stay away from sexual sin and avoid immorality. Don’t lead people on, flee temptation, be accountable to a friend, control your thoughts. The ‘Big Five sexual problems for men and women’ were highlighted, with no. 1 for men being ‘masturbation’ and no. 1 for women being ‘fear of singleness’.

 

After the course, my hall group leader let me borrow her copy of Joshua Harris’s I Kissed Dating Goodbye. It confused me, bemused me and angered me. It was my introduction to the idea of ‘courtship’ rather than just ‘going out’ with a person and I found it bizarre – never being alone with your partner, chaperoned dates, the idea that women shouldn’t make any moves and are ‘in need of protection’. It seemed totally irrelevant to UK culture and I didn’t find much to take from it, but at the same time felt vaguely ashamed that I might not be conducting my relationship with my boyfriend the ‘right way’ in the eyes of God.

 

As my first year wore on I attended CU meetings less and less. The feeling of having very little in common with other members had deepened. I remember feeling that the topics discussed were too repetitive (evangelism; resisting the evils of the world; relationships) and I had picked up that other students were quite hostile towards the CU and its methods in a way that they weren’t towards other Christian groups on campus. I was also struggling with mental health issues – becoming quite reclusive – and didn’t feel I could talk about this to my CU friends. They were nice people, well-meaning and committed Christians and just like me, young in their faith and their ways of relating to and understanding the world – but I just didn’t feel at home among them and I also felt that there was a very particular stereotype of being a woman promoted that I could never live up to. This point in particular was something that I struggled with for years after starting to attend evangelical churches.

 

It was after I left university that I started to understand more about gender and the church and it was around the same time that controversies over Christian Unions began to make headlines – the PURE course, a refusal to let women speak at main meetings or include women in leadership, negative attitudes towards other Christian groups, the UCCF doctrinal statement. My former university’s magazine ran a feature on sexism within the CU, in which the President affirmed a complementarian position.

 

It had never occurred to me to think too much about these issues as a first year student – but I was essentially new to evangelicalism and completely new to any church teaching on gender. It also didn’t necessarily occur to me to question anything I was told was fact. A couple of years down the line, it gave me great cause for concern that complementarian teaching seemed to be the default and that there was a lot more about gender going on in CUs that I had probably been oblivious to.