The Arm Warmer Dilemma

This week my friend Alastair Roberts has been given lots of mentions across Twitter after some of his writings were quoted by Andrew Wilson. If you haven’t heard of Andrew Wilson before, he is one of the UK’s most prominent complementarian leaders.  He is an elder at Kings Church in Eastbourne, a large New Frontiers church.  Two great posts which unpick Alastair’s thoughts and how they have been presented by Andrew Wilson are Hannah Mudge’s “A Post about A Post” and Danny Webster’s “Where Does Our Strength Come From?”

 

This post is not a critique of what Alastair said, but more a reflection of my response to it.

 

I consider Alastair to be a friend. I respect him and his enormous brain a lot.  A couple of years ago both of us were part of a group who read the whole Bible online over 6 months.  He is humble, gracious and thoughtful.  I’ve known him online since not long after I joined Twitter and last year he knitted me the most AMAZING arm warmers.  So I think he is a particular great person.

 

Though it may have been apparent to people that he held a none-egalitarian view of Scripture, I only realised a couple of months ago. I had assumed that as he had such a big brain it was inevitable he would know that we should have a gifts based approach to calling, not a gender based approach.  In recent months his reflections on priesthood and the gender of God left me surprised to realise he was one of “those people” (cue pantomime boos).  Leaving me with what shall be forever known as THE ARMWARMER DILEMMA.

 

How could someone who makes amazing arm warmers believe that women were called differently to men? How could someone who has such a big brain read the Bible and not see that God can legitimately be called Mother?  And I guess more personally, I wondered whether his assertions that women muddy the waters with their emotionality and vulnerability applied to me.  Had I reinforced his views that strength and power sit with men?  Reading quotes from Alastair saying that equality is an empty term and talking about the soft nature of feminist activism deeply saddened me.  Could I have better communicated the feminist work that saves the lives of women and children?  Could I have better shown that I’m not emotional?  Did my words or actions contribute to his view that women are emotional and weak?

 

Now, don’t feel you need to rush to the comments to reassure me, I recognise people’s views are much more complex than my quite self-centred perspective. It’s not simply whether one person reinforces their prejudices and often people’s perceptions become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

It’s easy to be annoyed when someone I don’t know say things I find offensive, but when It’s someone I consider to be a friend, it’s much harder to brush it off as nonsense. Especially when the person saying it is so thoughtful and kind.  Yet, his comments have now been posted by Andrew Wilson and used as ammunition for the complementarian cause.  No longer is it just Alastair’s thoughts, shared in comments or on his blog, but used to evidence female weakness and the perceived emptiness of feminism.

 

While I was still grappling with my thoughts on this I became part of a Twitter discussion about swearing. One of the people involved in the conversation was adamant that swearing was wrong, the rest of us were trying to explain that it was about context.  At first I felt really frustrated with this person.  Eventually the conversation ended with sharing of kitten pictures and much joviality, to which this person exited the conversation seemingly quite hurt and othered by the rest of us.

 

Somewhere in the midst of this conversation I started to see the person as a human being, bringing all his baggage (as was I, and everyone else in the conversation) and humanity with him. I started to think about where Jesus was in the midst of the conversation.  Everything seemed to shift.

 

I’m still trying to work through what this means. Alastair’s comments prop up misconceptions and generalisations that are harmful to building bridges between complementarian and egalitarian people and churches (even if that wasn’t the intention of his communications), yet I still see him as a friend.  Maybe this blog in itself reinforces his point, that women are interested in feelings, preventing men getting on with hard theological work.

 

And so the Arm Warmer Dilemma continues, how to disagree while still being friends. How to value someone’s gifts while holding that in tension with the damage they may be doing to the cause.  I don’t really have any answers, just more ponderings.

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The Lost Daughter

As another day turned to evening, she sat on the balcony in the sagging old armchair, her heart and soul weary. In the first few weeks after it happened she had wept every single day. Not a minute would go by when she wouldn’t wonder where things had gone wrong, what she could have said or done differently. As the weeks turned to months the sadness became a knot in her stomach. Occasionally she would laugh, at a joke or something Martha said. Then the sadness would overtake her, combined with a guilt for almost forgetting what had gone before. Martha would see the darkness overshadow her smile and her face would fall. “Everything we do will always be about her.” Martha, the One Who Had Stayed, had spat the words at her the other day. It had been a slap in the face when already the pain of was unbearable. She slowly pulled herself out of the chair, it seemed her body had grown old fast. Soul pain did that. She walked to the railings, squinting into the twilight, hoping that this would be the day things changed. By the time she walked indoors, the twilight had turned to thick darkness.

 

She undressed slowly, her limbs heavy with grief. Once in her nightclothes she looked in the mirror, the woman in front of her no longer familiar. Her lined face and silvery hair, once proudly held high a crown of wisdom now left her feeling old and lost. Her shoulders slumped slightly and the energy she had lived her life with was lost in the pain of the day things changed.

 

The sheets cold against her skin, as, the silence shouted louder than the busyness of the day. Nothing to distract her from the memories, an onslaught of pain that never stopped.

 

“I want it now.” Evelyn had said. Her face hard, her words cold. “There’s a whole world waiting for me and I want to explore it. You’ve always said we shouldn’t be ruled by the traditions. Let me go, give me my share.” Martha’s mouth had hung open. Shocked by her sister’s audacity.

 

As their mother, she had always offered them freedom. Never holding to the old ways of control, she wanted her daughters to know their worth and value. To have choices, make decisions, live in freedom not duty. Never once had it occurred to her that freedom would break her heart.

 

She had heard them arguing later that night. Martha’s voice hissing words while Evelyn’s voice had rung out loud and clear, “It’s my choice, you stay here if you like, but the world is waiting.”

 

As she lay in bed, heart aching, tears slowly trailing down her face, she wondered whether she should regret giving her daughters the power to choose for themselves, to have freedom. She heard the whispered comments of the others; the neighbours, so-called friends and the employees. Her own mother’s words came back to her, “You mark my words Sophia, you’ll regret giving them freedom. Discipline and duty is the only way.” Yet, even in the midst of the screaming memories and darkness, she couldn’t muster any regret.

 

The darkness and shame overwhelmed Evelyn. Regret sat like poison in her stomach, no amount of vomiting able to purge it. She thought back to her dreams, when she thought the world was waiting. The way her money, her mother’s money had opened the doors. The parties, the film crews, her name in the credits, her conviction had grown with every success. She had been right; Martha wrong. Rich girl, famous girl, star of the reality show, living the dream.

 

But the dream is just that, one day you wake up. To find your private sex tape watched by the world. She didn’t know exactly when the regret had taken hold. The topless shots sliding into soft porn movies, if the world wanted to watch her, well at least they could pay her. Her FU to the world was to show she could still make it. Yet here she was sore and degraded, shame filling her head with thoughts of destruction.

 

She’d been given some powder to fix it; so they had told her, “It’ll make it better. It’s no big deal.” Yet, the tiny bags had laid in a drawer, the line she had yet to cross. She wondered whether now was the time. She walked over to the cabinet, took one out and stared at it. Could this take away the terrible poison within? Her mother’s face came into her head. Perhaps, maybe, she could go home. She could offer to work for the business. Find herself a bedsit. It could be better than this porn hell.

 

Sophia awoke, the state of half-awake providing blissful ignorance from the loss of her precious oldest child. The feelings of grief flooded in as consciousness overtook her. She sat up, squashing the ache in her soul. Before That Day she had regularly read the newspaper over breakfast, but with the first sight of Evelyn in the pages, she had avoided it like the plague, as the sickness took hold in her heart.

 

She completed each day on automatic pilot. Meetings, conversations, projects, reports; all of them completed by her body, while her soul wept. She knew Martha struggled. So many times they had gone round the same circle, “Evelyn has chosen her path; you’ve got to move on. Not least because I’m still here. I need you Mum.” Sophia had tried to awaken from the nightmare, for her younger daughter’s sake. But it was so hard. She lived for the evenings where she could sit in the chair on the balcony and hope that would be the day.

 

It had been months since that first night Evelyn considering returning, succumbing instead to the comforting powder. Her soul eviscerated by the photo and video shoots. Man after man, woman upon women. The irony of it being called a shoot. If only someone would shoot her.

 

She used all her pay to buy the escapism powder, living on the sofas of the men who filmed her. In one of her only recent lucid moments she remembered that time, how she considered going Home; after so long, that’s still what she called it. Home. This was the day things had to change, she was better off there as a worker, no matter how menial, than on the sofa of a pornographer. She had no belongings, nothing to pack. She walked out the door and started out Home.

 

Sophia was curled on the chair, the evening air cool. She had almost given up hope. She stood, her joints almost audibly creaking, shuffling to the balcony railings. Staring at the horizon she waited. In those moments she allowed herself to hope.

 

In the distance a speck emerged from nothing, gradually becoming the shape of a person. She gripped the railings and squinted. It was a person. She held her breath, willing herself to stay calm. To keep the hope in check. Yet as the person drew closer, she saw it was her lost daughter. In that moment the heaviness disappeared along with the joint pain and the soul ache. She turned and lunged for the door, leaping down the stairs she shouted through the house, her daughter had come home!

 

She ran down the path, her bare feet thudding on the ground. She needed to reach her daughter; to hold her. She stopped.

 

Ahead of her was her beloved daughter, thinner, older, eyes cast down, trudging forward, she hadn’t seen her mother running. Sophia held her breath for a long moment, tears dripping off her chin, she dared not move in case it was just a dream. Out of her mouth a groan of agonised hope escaped, causing her daughter to look up. As their eyes met Sophia knew it was real. This was it. She ran to her daughter, scooping her thin frame up into her arms, holding her tight as she wept.

 

Evelyn froze. This was not the plan. Her mother shouldn’t be here. And yet she was. Evelyn forced herself to recite the words she had been saying over and over, “I’m sorry. I’ve hurt you so much. I’m no longer your daughter, if you’d let me work for you, that is more than I deserve.” Her muffled words were spoken into her mother’s hair as she dangled in the tight bear hug her mother had enveloped her into.

 

Her mother loosened her grip, stepping back and attempting to look her in the eye. Evelyn kept her eyes on the ground. The shame twisted, squeezing her insides and leaving her wishing she hadn’t come. The silence was thick as she felt her mother’s eyes boring into her. Suddenly her mother grabbed her hand and pulled her towards the house. She allowed herself to be pulled along. They reached the door and her mother bellowed up the stairs, “Evelyn is home everyone, we must have a party to celebrate! She has been lost, dead and yet here she is, we’ve found her, she’s alive!”

 

Evelyn’s heart sank, she didn’t deserve this. She shouldn’t have come.

 

As if her mother knew how she felt, she felt arms surrounding her. Evelyn began to weep, raw pain escaping from her every pore. She had messed up. Yet here was her mother, still loving her. She collapsed into her mother’s arms and sobbed.

 

The people were everywhere, the “Welcome Home” banner declaring to the world that she was indeed Home. Evelyn sat at the edge of the room, not quite knowing what to do. How many of these people had seen the movies/photos she had been in? How many knew what she had done? Yet her mother was smiling, telling the room how wonderful it was to have her home. Every so often her mum would come to Evelyn, telling her how happy she was.

 

Martha was nowhere to be seen.

 

Martha sat on her bed crying bitter tears. How dare Evelyn waltz back into their lives? How dare their mother just throw her a party, after all she had done? Didn’t her mother know how much it had hurt, the jibes and comments? “Sister of the whore!” That’s what they’d called her. The calls from journalists, the way people looked at her. The shame and humiliation. How dare she? How dare Evelyn just walk back into their lives? Then the party! That had been the last straw. She had waited, kept working hard for the family business, been obedient and not so much as a celebration! She could have been out, partying, having the time of her life like Evelyn and yet she had been the dutiful daughter. And where had it got her? Nowhere.

 

The knock on her door brought her up short. Who was bothering with her when the precious lost daughter had returned? Slowly someone pushed the door open and her mother crept into the room. She refused to look at her, watching as her mum’s feet stepped towards the bed. She felt the bed move as her mum sat down. “Aren’t you joining us for the party?” Her mother gently asked.

 

“Join you?! I never left you! And that whore who abandoned you, wasted all you gave her and brought shame on our family’s name is being thrown a party! You never gave me anything.” Her mother recoiled at her bitter tone and harsh words.

 

Her mother smiled sadly, reached out and took her hand. “Martha, you are always with me and all I have is yours. Your sister will live with the consequences of her decisions and the decisions of those who hurt her for the rest of her life, but she has been found and for that we can celebrate.” Martha’s eye filled with the tears, the feelings of unfairness overtaken by a desperate need to feel her mother’s love. She stared at the bed covers, tears overflowing, great drops falling onto the sheets. Her mother moved closer and held her. Martha clung to her mother, great sobs escaping from her mouth. Her mother stroked her hair whispering over and over, “I love you, I love you, I love you.”

On Desmond Tutu and Forgiveness

Archbishop Desmond Tutu has written of his journey to forgiving his father for abusing his mother. In an article for the Guardian he says, “I can still recall the smell of alcohol, see the fear in my mother’s eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways.”

 

Karen Ingala-Smith has written an excellent blog critiquing Tutu’s message of forgiveness from an feminist atheist view. I have such deep respect for Karen and her tireless and enormously valuable work on ending male violence against women and girls. Her blog led me to thinking it would be useful to write my own response, from my perspective as a Christian feminist. (You can read my blog responding to Karen’s blog here.)

 

It must be acknowledged that for Archbishop Tutu to witness his father hurting his mother as a child is a terrible thing. Research suggests 750,000 children in the UK witness domestic abuse every year and the effects of such trauma can impact a person throughout their life. I hope my thoughts will in no way invalidate or undermine the pain and suffering of Archbishop Tutu has experienced as a result of his father’s choices. So much of his work and lie are to be admired and respected. As Karen says in her blog, his life has involved much good work. I also hope my thoughts in no way devalue the amazing work he has done and continues to do across the world.

 

I have known the power of forgiveness in my own life. For four years my ex-husband chose to hurt me. His choices left me suicidal, physically and mentally scarred and I only escaped after he assaulted me and my son was born three months premature. The effects of his choices continue to impact my life, with ongoing traumatic responses to what he did and with my children. For me forgiveness has been an enormous sacrifice, but one that has transformed me. I am not defined by what he forced me to become. I am free.

 

The theology I had learned in church about forgiveness and relationships disabled me from making good or safe choices. I met him when I was 17. He sexually manipulated and abuse me and I thought it was “sex before marriage”. I assumed my only way forward, twelve days into the relationship, was to commit my life to him, to marry him. His constant put downs and sexual relationships with other girls were seen by me as an opportunity to show him Jesus’ love. To forgive him and forget. I thought Psalm 51:7 applied to my actions “wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.” I had to forgive him, to wash away all traces of his choices and then everything would be okay. But it wasn’t okay and I was pregnant within six months and four years later, lived in a hospital with a seriously ill child and a toddler, almost totally dead inside.

 

In that place I learned what it was to lose everything, to hit the end of everything and for me, it was in that place that I found God. And I have been on a journey since then. Part of that journey has been discovering what forgiveness is and what it is not. Forgiveness is never about nullifying the consequences of someone’s choices. It isn’t about reducing their behaviour to something we can justify or explain, in order to make it smaller and easier to accept. It isn’t about a forced feeling that allows us to believe that now “God can forgive us too”.

 

Forgiveness for me started by learning to forgive myself. The shame and abuse I suffered left me filled with self-hatred. To no longer blame myself for my ex-husband’s behaviour, but to fully hold him responsible. To know longer live in denial (which is what the teaching I had been given as a young person really meant; forgiveness equals denial). Then, once I had been through the long and painful journey of holding him fully responsible for his choices, I then chose to forgive him, over and over each time another memory surfaced. And for me that has been the liberation of no longer being defined or controlled by him. I don’t have to be filled with hatred for him, and I’m not. Forgiveness isn’t about letting him off the hook, but rather hoping he will stop hurting others and begin to live a positive life. It is wishing him well within a context of knowing he is currently dangerous and unsafe.

 

It is within that context of my own journey of and belief in forgiveness that I write about the article Archbishop Tutu has written.

 

“…see the fear in my mother’s eyes and feel the hopeless despair that comes when we see people we love hurting each other in incomprehensible ways.”

 

What he writes about is not two people hurting “each other” but one person hurting another person. Though this may seem like semantics, it is important to mention. I have written for EVB about the issue with talk about abuse as a relationship, as a “between” type thing.

 

“Intellectually, I know my father caused pain because he himself was in pain.”

 

Far from this being intellectually true, it is feeding into myths about abuse. Perpetrators do not abuse out of their pain, they abuse because of their beliefs about the person they abuse. They believe they own their partner and are entitled to behave in the ways they do because of this. Rather than this being a statement which holds his father to account, Archbishop Tutu actually justifies those choices.

 

“Spiritually, I know my faith tells me my father deserves to be forgiven as God forgives us all.”

 

The Bible does talk of us forgiving others, but I’m not sure it says that others deserve our forgiveness. Surely forgiveness is necessarily a voluntary act. Not because it is deserved, but because the person forgiving has made a choice to do so.

 

“If I traded lives with my father, if I had experienced the stresses and pressures my father faced, if I had to bear the burdens he bore, would I have behaved as he did? I do not know. I hope I would have been different, but I do not know.”

 

Perpetrators of abuse do not need empathy. We cannot put ourselves in the shoes of those who have beliefs of ownership and entitlement and consider that we too may behave in those ways. Forgiveness is not about being able to understand or provide reasons why someone did what they did, it is a choice in the midst of suffering to no longer be defined or held captive to what they have done to us.

 

“Forgiveness is not dependent on the actions of others.”

 

I do agree with this. It is not in the apologies of the offender that forgiveness is found. We can choose to release them from our hatred regardless of what they do. That is the beauty of it; the offender has absolutely no control over whether we forgive them or not. However, the other side of this is that if someone does apologise, we are under no obligation to reconcile with them. Reconciliation may put us emotionally or physically at risk. No matter how much the offender changes, we as the offended have the right to put in as many safeguards as we need.

 

Of his children, Archbishop Tutu says, “We have been able to forgive them because we have known their humanity. We have seen the good in them.”

 

The forgiveness we have for our children is different than that of a son forgiving a father. The power differential within all of our relationships must be considered when we think about forgiveness. Likening forgiving my child for keeping me up at night to the forgiveness of a son for the abuse his father perpetrated is not comparable. The power differential and the choice to bring those children into the world means that our relationship and responsibility means we make allowances for them in healthy ways.

 

Of his father he says, “…while his temper pained me greatly, there was so much about him that was loving, wise and witty.”

 

It is important to understand that abuse is not rooted in anger. It may appear as anger, but as I mentioned before, it is about beliefs. The belief in the inferiority of the person they hurt, that they are an object, a possession to be controlled.

 

“When I reflect back across the years to his drunken tirades, I realise now that it was not just with him that I was angry. I was angry with myself. Cowering in fear as a boy, I had not been able to stand up to my father or protect my mother. So many years later, I realise that I not only have to forgive my father, I have to forgive myself.”

 

One of the scars of abuse is blaming oneself, of believing oneself capable of impossible action, like that of a boy protecting his mother from his father. That self-blame is a lie. And though it may require self-forgiveness, it is also important to acknowledge that it is a lie that we believe in order to give us some illusion of power in a situation of utter powerlessness.

 

“No one is born a liar or a rapist or a terrorist. No one is born full of hatred. No one is born full of violence. No one is born in any less glory or goodness than you or me…We can easily be hurt and broken, and it is good to remember that we can just as easily be the ones who have done the hurting and the breaking.”

 

It is true that no one is born an abuser, however this statement does not take into account the systems which exert themselves on every person. That patriarchy insists men be dominant and that women are owned, is a fundamental system that must be challenged. Men do not abuse because they are hurt and broken, they abuse because a patriarchal system legitimises their choices. It is so important that we never lose sight of this. That Karen Ingala-Smith was left with the understanding that forgiveness enables patriarchal culture is not surprising if this is the message that is being given.

 

“It has taken me many, many years to forgive myself for my insensitivity, for not honouring my father one last time with the few moments he wanted to share with me. Honestly, the guilt still stings.”

 

It seems the feelings Archbishop Tutu has towards his own actions are more overwhelming the choices his father made to hurt his mother. Earlier in the article he talks of having forgiven himself, but it seems he is still far harder on himself for doing the best he could at that time than he is on his father.

 

In relation to the bad choices each of us make he says, “We can come up with all manner of justifications to excuse what we have done. When we are willing to let down our defences and look honestly at our actions.”

 

Throughout the article Archbishop Tutu provides many justifications for his father’s choices, yet when he talks of us acknowledging our own choices, he then says excuses and justifications are not okay. Surely we must be willing to apply that same attitude to our forgiveness of others, as we do to asking for forgiveness?

 

For me, it is through Jesus’ model of giving up power and showing what forgiveness and love truly are I have been able to make the choices I have. My experiences of being set free from the abuse I have suffered and my work in ending male violence against women are all rooted in a deep knowledge that it is through love and forgiveness that we will win the war. In Jesus, we see an all-powerful God, who discovered the only way to save humanity was to give up all His power and become weak, vulnerable and powerless. In Jesus, I discovered it is my weakness that is my greatest gift, not my strength.

 

While patriarchy continues to be a power which destroys lives and incites individuals and systems into worldwide oppression and injustice, it is as we live lives of love and refuse to be manipulated into hatred, as we begin to own the power and privilege we have and recognise the responsibility that gives us to empower those with less power, as we choose to forgive in a way that holds people to account, while believing them capable of change, and challenging the societal issues which disable change, it is as we do these things, that we will see transformation.

 

I am a woman

I’m a woman is all, a woman I say

Does that make me not good enough,

To be given the time of day?

 

“No”, say You, “You’re a child of God.”

“Great!” say I, “thank you Lord!”

 

So I grow in that knowledge

That I’m loved by God on high

Told that I’m good enough

For Him to come and die

 

And I start to notice

That everywhere I go

I’m taking the lead

Helping run the show

 

And I hear the voice of the One who loves me

Saying I want you to lead My people

“No!” says I, “I can’t do that”

“Yes!” says He, “I’ll help you out”

“You see” says He,

“It’s not you, but Me.”

“In you and through You, I’ll bring forth the Kingdom”

“Just like Mary, who said ‘may it be done’”

“Alright” says I, “that sounds not too bad,

But only if it’s You in me and through me.”

 

So I start doing this leading,

Obedient to the calling of the Almighty

I get so far, then suddenly I’m told

I don’t qualify

 

“What?!” Says I, “Have I done something wrong?”

“No!” They say, “But you’re not a man.”

 

But God told me I’m actually worth loving

And God called me to lead His people

God said He would work in me and through me

Just like He did with Mary,

and Mary

and Martha

and Junia

and Deborah

and Priscilla

and those daughters of Zelophehad

 

So I’ll still lead and follow God’s call

No matter whether you tell me I fail the man test

But I’ll cry and hurt that some fellow believers

Tell me I’m just not good enough

The Miracle Man Preacher

My heart was broken afresh by Jesus today as I read Luke 6 and the account of Jesus, the Pharisees and the man with the withered hand.  As I walked home from dropping the kids off at school I was reading this passage and suddenly my heart broke again.  Thankfully I didn’t see anyone as I wandered along crying as the reality hit me.  This is what I saw:

 

 

The Pharisees are sat in the places of importance, looking on and judging this miracle man preacher.

 

He preaches and preaches and challenges their comfort, until He sees one that all know is tainted.

 

His hand is all withered, all know because of sin.

 

The sinner’s eyes focus downwards: “don’t make eye contact, don’t make eye contact, lest they sneer at my pain…”

 

The important ones focus their attention more closely, what would the preacher man want…

 

…with a sinner so useless?

 

And He reaches out His hand to the sinner, the man so tainted, his hand all withered.

 

The important ones look on, shocked at the possibility; He wasn’t going to heal him, was he?!

 

On a Sabbath no less?!

 

How disgusting, how despicable, to break the laws of the Sabbath, He deserves to be stoned, doing such evil in the Synagogue.

 

And as they look on with hearts made of stone, the preacher man’s heart is breaking once more…

 

…as the pain of the outcast, the judged and the sinner, means nothing to the important, just reminds them they are purer.

 

As the preacher man’s heart cries for the pain of the broken man, and His anger grows against those who would judge.

 

He speaks to this outcast, this sinner, this failure…

 

…the man looks up, shocked that anyone would bother.

 

The preacher man’s eyes glisten with tears and with anger and broken hearted passion he shouts,

 

“I ask you is it lawful to do good on the Sabbath, or to do evil….

 

…to SAVE a life, OR TO DESTROY IT?”

 

The important ones look on, completely disgusted, his words not even hitting their hearts…

 

…as the preacher man heals the sinner’s hand, and with it He also restores His whole being.

 

As the important ones seethe and whisper their murder plans, while the no longer an outcast man hugs this preacher man hard.

 

And the preacher man cries as He looks at His creation and knows it’s going to take something more…

 

…more than healing to break hearts of stone, more than words to pierce minds blockaded.

 

He weeps inside with love for them all.

This Is Theology!

I had a twitter conversation with someone recently about whether God’s model for humanity involves hierarchy and whether his model for marriage involves headship.  My view was that hierarchy and headship are not from God, his was that they are God’s constructs.  This is how it ended:

 

Them:    “Yes, it’s clear from both of you that men have abused their position. However, just because they have does not make almost all of the arguments you’re offering. If you are saved, then you simply cannot ignore scripture, or reduce it to fit your needs or argument. I say this not because I’m a bloke, but because it’s God’s word!”

 

Me:     “But perhaps in part you can say that because you haven’t been abused by those Scriptures.”

 

Them:    “..and THATS the issue.”

 

The person I was conversing with then left Twitter and I was left trying to deduce what he meant by his statement.  Although afterwards I said I didn’t understand what he meant, he has not clarified his meaning and so I am left wondering.

 

The conclusion I have come to about his comment was that he somehow thinks that my having been abused through the use of headship and hierarchy puts me in a less capable position to be able to see how God views these things.  That somehow his privilege at not knowing first hand the damage hierarchy and patriarchy does means he is in a better position to understand the Scriptures.  Perhaps that I am too emotionally involved with this issue to really “get” what God is saying.

 

[Of course, this may not be what he was saying, and if I’ve misinterpreted his view, I apologise, but I shall continue with this blog as I believe even if this man doesn’t believe this stuff, there are plenty of people who do.]

 

Firstly I would like address the idea that being emotionally involved with an issue means we are less able to have a suitable perspective on it.  God came to earth as a human baby, how much more emotionally involved does it get than that?  Jesus lived, died and was resurrected in a state of complete vulnerability.  Throughout the Bible we see God relating to Israel as an emotionally involved Father.  Jesus calls us to love sacrificially; he calls us blessed when we mourn and when we are merciful.  Being emotionally involved is not only an asset when making theological decisions, it is essential.

 

It is only as we see the true consequences of the theology we hold, that we can make decisions as to whether it is God’s heart or mans understanding.  Just as the Pharisees spent their lives running around trying to obey rules that they had missed the heart of, so many of us Christians are busy trying to stay true to teachings that we don’t understand, blaming God’s sovereignty on perpetuating teaching that abuse, damage or undermine people’s humanity.

 

I understand people’s reluctance at picking and choosing Scripture, but have we learnt nothing from Jesus’ response to the religious leaders?  Blaming it on the rules isn’t good enough!  Jesus came into the place and time He did and blasted apart the religious views of the time.  He advocated a radical third way, in which the heart is more significant than the letter could ever be; in which the least became the greatest and the most sinful more capable of redemption.

 

I resist anybody who tries to tell me that the fact I was subjected to abuse by my ex-husband, or having listened to the horrific stories of many Christian women, who have been abused by their “Christian” husbands makes me less able to understand what God is saying.  God has truly healed me from the abuse and trauma caused to me, and yet my heart is broken for the abuse and hurt in this beautiful world.  It is broken for the women and children that suffer, for the men who destroy lives, for a society that accepts abuse and for a Church that perpetuates it with teaching of hierarchy and headship.  This does not make me less able to understand theology.  This is theology.

Inerrancy of Scripture?

I’ve been having a few conversations with people recently about the inerrancy of the Bible; that it is God’s Word and therefore cannot be wrong.  Anything that we do not understand is down to the Sovereignty of God and we must therefore accept it.  Their views are widely informed by 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

 

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.”

 

I understand this view and having grown up in the Church and with a Christian family; I have to some extent held the view myself.  I would say though that more recently my view on this has changed.  Rather than focussing on why my view has changed, I would rather examine the idea of inerrancy and why I don’t agree with it.

 

Firstly let us clarify that the original Greek wording of “God breathed” or “God inspired” is the word theopneustos which literally does mean “God-breathed.”

 

From this many Christians say that as Scripture is God-breathed this means it cannot be wrong.  However, no matter how much we are convinced of this view, the reality is that “God-breathed” in no language translates as infallible/unable to be argued with/inerrant.

 

God breathed into Adam and Eve in order that they would have life, this did not make either of them infallible or inerrant, in fact as we all very well know; they failed quite miserably…

 

When Paul wrote this to Timothy, had he considered his letters as “Scripture”?  Probably not, so how can we be sure that the New Testament is relevant to these verses anyway.

 

If we believe in free will, as many of those who believe Scripture is inerrant do, how do we reconcile this free will with the idea that the authors of the Bible books are supposed to have written with complete inerrancy?  They were not robot people who wrote letters/poetry/historical records etc. with glazed over eyes while God took hold of their hands and wrote the words He wanted to be written.  Truly, that is not our God!  One of the glorious things about our God is that is not what He does.  He meets us in our own place and time and uses us, with our flaws, failings and the gifts He has given us.

 

Jesus did not say that He would leave us with the Scriptures; or with writings from His disciples and others to enable us to know how to follow Him and what do to.  He said, “But the Advocate, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you.”  (John 14:26)

 

Where does this leave us in relation to the Bible?  As someone I was talking about this with on Twitter said, “So should we just get rid of the bits we don’t like?”  I don’t believe this is about picking and choosing what is and isn’t inerrant in Scripture, but rather recognise that the Bible is written by men (and potentially one woman, if those rumours about Hebrews are true…) with the breath of God throughout it.  Rather than being legalistic about it being “all or nothing”, perhaps we should be guided by the Holy Spirit, and look to the only human being who has ever lived an inerrant life, and let that inform the way we live and the theology we hold.