One in Christ Jesus – A Sermon

After tweeting earlier today about my sermon I thought I’d post it online in case anyone is interested in reading it…

 

This week has been a difficult week.  Though it may not have been reported as such, the death of Jo Cox was a political assassination.  And her death is directly linked with some of the rhetoric within the EU referendum.  Yesterday I was on local authorised preacher training and someone said that we shouldn’t make preaching political and that voting is a personal thing.  And the choice of who we vote for is personal, but the impact certainly is not.

I wrote this sermon before Jo Cox was murdered, so I will speak further about that later on.  When I saw that this passage was to be preached on today, I told our vicar I would love to preach on it, as one verse in particular has great significance to me.  Galatians 3:28..

“There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”

I love this verse so much that it is the name of a project I am involved in, Project 3:28, which is all about addressing the lack of representation of women in Christian culture.

Last month I participated in a debate at Oxford University “This house believes religious practice hinders gender equality”.  I was on the opposition with a Hindu woman and a Muslim woman.  The proposition included an atheist woman, a cultural Muslim man and a “post Christian theologian”.  Her name is Daphne Hampson and she is a post Christian theologian because she used to be a Christian and she rejected the Christian faith because of how it oppresses women.

She’s not wrong…

Though it may not have happened in our church, the experiences of many in Christian culture and in churches is…

  • Women told by church leaders to stay with an abusive husband
  • Women told they cannot lead, teach, fulfil their calling
  • The failings of male leaders often colluded with.  “Restoration plans”
  • Real work seen as male, intellectual.
  • Model of spirituality often aligns with men who often have less caring responsibilities
  • Assumptions women will do childcare in church
  • Men often encouraged into leadership roles

Women’s full inclusion can be perceived as a “secondary issue”…

Yet for Daphne Hampson and many other’s it is the reason they have rejected the Christian faith.

In today’s post-modern world, it is ethics and not reason or proof that is standing in the way of many people accepting Jesus into their lives.

How do we declare Jesus as liberation when so many who bear His name are contributing to the oppression of women?

Today is Father’s Day.  Both Mothering Sunday and Father’s Day can be amazing, positive days for those of us with loving parents.  But for many they are complex days.  For better or worse, our parents are usually the biggest influence on our lives.

And for those of us who are parents what a great responsibility it is to recognise that is also the case for our children.

Our father may not have been present in our lives or perhaps he made choices which have deeply wounded us.  Perhaps we were adopted or do not know who our father is.  Or there may be men here who hoped to be fathers and it never happened.  Or fathers whose children are no longer with us, or perhaps who are estranged.

Often the church can be a difficult place to be if our family doesn’t fit the 2.4 nuclear family that is often idolised by Christian culture.  We can feel alienated and isolated if we are single, it we do not have children, or if our family background is complicated and messy.  Just as women (and men) can be alienated from the church because it seems oppressive to women, so can those who don’t fit the nice, happy smiley family structure.  How often when we’re asked how we are at church on a Sunday do we put on our church smile and say we’re fine, even though life is actually deeply painful?

Can we be confident that the non-Christians we know with messy family situation will not put the church off them because of the mess?  Do they feel the church is a place of inclusion or of judgement?  Do they know that us people in the church have messy lives too?  Are we willing to be honest about our pain?  Be vulnerable?  Or do we want to present ourselves as a model person, as a model family?

In 2 Corinthians 4:7 Paul says, “But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.”  I imagine myself as a broken jar of clay, with a light inside.  It is through the cracks that the light of God can get out.  It is not my strength or competence that most clearly reveals God to the world, it is instead my brokenness.

In the past week we have witnessed the deadliest mass shooting in the history of the United States.  49 people were killed and 53 people injured when a man claiming to represent Islamic State opened fire in a Gay Nightclub in Orlando.  I have gay and lesbian friends who have been horrified and left deeply scared by this homophobic terror attack.  It can be easy to look at this terrible atrocity and condemn Islamic State, without examining how Christianity has often been deeply homophobic.

We can look at the murderer’s religion and consider Islam as the problem.  Fear of ISIS has fuelled hate crime to those who don’t have white skin.  Earlier this week we may have looked at Orlando and assumed it happened “over there in America, where everyone has guns”.  Yet, what happened later in the week?  An MP, shot dead.

Just as women and those with complex families can feel the church and Jesus is incompatible with their lives, so can lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.  Do we have friends who are gay or lesbian?  Do we have work colleagues or family members?  Are there people in our congregation?  People here today?  Do they know that we care about them?  Or is their assumption that we are homophobic because we are Christian?

As we consider how to vote on Thursday (and there will be people here who vote both ways) as Christians, our vote must not be based on how the referendum will affect the price of our house.  As Christians we must prioritise firstly loving God and then loving our neighbour.  And who is our neighbour?  WHO is our neighbour?  If Jesus was here today, the story of the Good Samaritan would perhaps be about our neighbour being Muslim people or refugees.  As Christians we must vote based on how that vote will affect the last, the least and the lost.

The passage from Galatians includes a statement of equality that was unheard of in that time.  “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”  We must always be careful not to elevate one passage above others when discussing theology, however this passage has special significance for us today.

In Jesus, the prejudices that separate us from each other dissipate.  Those people unable to accept the Christian message because it is sexist or misogynistic have a place to come in the Bible which suggests a difference truth is possible.  Maybe our differences are not as important as the love Christ came to bring to us?

Though there are many stories of how the Christian faith can be oppressive to women, we must also acknowledge that the reason women can vote today is because of the pioneering work of the suffragettes, many of whom were driven by their Christian faith.  So however the Christian faith can be a force of oppression for women, it can also be greatly liberating.

When we delve into the Bible further we find that far from 2.4 cereal box families, the Bible story is full of messy families.  Cain killed Abel, Abraham impregnated Hagar his wife’s servant, King David refused to deal with his son raping his daughter,  Joseph’s brother’s sold him into slavery, Rahab was a prostitute, Jesus was raised by a step-father.  We have a faith founded in the messiness of real life and people’s bad choices.

We don’t have to be ashamed of our messy families.  Though we may need support and help to overcome the challenges, the church should be a place we can be honest and know that messy families are in our faith’s DNA.  Let me challenge you today, if anyone asks you how you are after the service, to be honest rather than offering the default church smile and the very British “I’m fine thank you.”

As for the Orlando massacre and the many people who have been affected by it.  The church has a complex, theologically difficult road to walk with issues of sexuality and gender identity.  However, we are called first to love.  And may we represent the Jesus of love and life-in-all-its-fullness to those who currently find the Gospel to be oppressive.  May we be people who love deeply and live honestly, even when it hurts.  And may we know the God who binds our broken hearts; the God who is truly the greatest Father and Mother each of us can ever have.

Guest Blog: Five Years

I am hosting this guest post for a woman who was subjected to abuse by her boss when she was working in a church.  She has courageously chosen to share her story and I feel privileged to offer my blog as a place for her to do this. 

 

 

It’s been five years.

Five years since he was my boss.
Five years since he turned and became violent in front of my eyes.
Five years since the institutions and people I trusted to protect people like me, let me down.
Five years since I learned some of the hardest lessons I’ve ever had to learn.

He was my boss. I thought he was my mentor and my friend.

I was the intern and he was the youth-worker. A good communicator, well respected by his peers; the classic church employee, minus the checked shirt.

What you probably don’t know is what he’s really like. Underneath the façade of loving father, caring husband, wonderful boss and brilliant youth worker. But I do.

I was there whilst he yelled at his wife down the phone, telling her she’s a stupid b***h. On the night he assaulted a volunteer and realised that he probably wouldn’t have a job the next day, he told his wife that without his job, his life had no meaning. That she and their children were not enough.

He told me that his wife didn’t understand him. But that I did.
That one day I would be better than him and that it scared him. He told me as his boss, I needed to be accountable to him. He would ask me personal questions about my relationship with my fiancé. He would vet my church activities, telling me which groups I could and could not volunteer with. I needed protecting you see. He didn’t want me to be overworked or taken advantage of by a demanding church. Particularly if those activities had any degree of leadership, or would give me opportunities that he hadn’t been offered.

He would take credit for my work constantly. He told me that he had the respect of the leadership team and the credibility to take my ideas and make them into a reality. After all, we are a team, it’s not about ego. If I truly wanted what was best for the young people, I would let him pretend that they were his ideas.

One night, about 11pm he came to talk to me. He told me that he had tried to commit suicide the day before but that it was a secret; that I couldn’t tell anyone. He said that the church were conspiring against him; wanted him to leave, and that this would give them the ammunition they needed to fire him. I believed him. Felt sorry for him. Ignored his tantrums. Forgave his cruelty as he undermined and bullied those around him. Babysat his child so he could get help from a counsellor.

But all of the pressure was just too much for twenty year old me to handle. I couldn’t be the person to keep his secrets anymore and told my fiancé who informed the church leaders. The next day my fiancé received threatening texts from my boss, telling him that he had no right to do that. That he was ‘taking me away from him, and poisoning me against him.’ My fiancé tried to phone me, but I didn’t get his calls, went to work and that’s when he became violent to a volunteer.

He was fired. But he pleaded that he was suffering from a mental health problem, that the stress of work had made him ill. He begged for reconciliation and attended mediation meetings with the church. They allowed him to resign on the premise that he would never work with young people again. At the time that really hurt, but I recognise that in the leadership was a deep desire to do the right thing for everyone. It was naïve, but I respect the compassion they showed to him and his family, even if it broke my heart in the process.

Six months later he started working as a youth worker in a church in another part of the country. My church was never contacted for a reference.

Looking back, I know it sounds so ridiculous. Why didn’t I say anything sooner? Honestly, I didn’t know anything was wrong. I was 20 years old, this was my first job, my first line manager. I didn’t know that this wasn’t normal. I thought I was the bad Christian for being upset when he took the credit, that I was unsupportive for questioning his actions, that he was ill and that I was somehow at fault.

Five years have passed and I am still angry. Angry that he could be doing this to somebody else. Angry that I am the one who is told that I need to be more forgiving. Angry that the people I have told did not act.

I don’t want to be angry. But I don’t want to reconcile. Somehow that feels like it makes his actions ok. How do I balance my ‘responsibility’ as a Christian to forgive, with my fury that he is still out there, in a position in power, still working with children and young people.

The internet is a funny thing. I see Christians; men and women talk about misogyny and equality. But some of them know what he did and ignore it. It’s easy to shout about faceless men and nameless abusers, but what happens when we put a face or a name to that man?

He is the one who abuses and I am the one who needs to be less angry.

It’s been five years.
But I’m the one that still has nightmares.
I’m the one that is still on a high dose of anti-anxiety tablets.
I’m the one who hides in the toilets at conferences, churches, events, having spotted him from a distance because suddenly its five years ago and I’m back in that room as he screams and lashes out.
I’m the one who is fearful of receiving another letter, another email in which he simultaneously asks for forgiveness, without acknowledging any of his behaviours or actions.
I’m the one who is typing this, debating whether or not to keep going.
I’m the one who is fearful that he will read this, recognise himself in it and contact me.
I’m the one who is fearful that people will read this and not believe me.
I’m the one who is terrified that this will happen again.

 

 

If what the author of this post has said resonates with your current or previous experiences, please do seek help and advice…

Women, for information about your rights regarding workplace bullying and abuse: http://rightsofwomen.org.uk.

For anyone wanting information about workplace bullying and abuse: https://www.gov.uk/workplace-bullying-and-harassment or http://www.acas.org.uk/index.aspx?articleid=1864.

For issues around anxiety you can contact http://www.mind.org.uk or http://www.mindandsoul.info.

Do get in touch with me via befreeuk {at} gmail.com if you would like to chat further about the issues raised in this post.

Brock Turner and Whitewashed Tombs

Last week two letters have gone viral across the internet.  The subject of both is the rapist, Brock Turner.  Firstly, the profound and deeply moving victim statement was published.  In the 12-page letter, the woman Brock Turner raped shares some of the many ways he hurt her and has forever changed her life in immeasurable, painful ways. “My damage was internal, unseen, I carry it with me,” the woman says. “You took away my worth, my privacy, my energy, my time, my safety, my intimacy, my confidence, my own voice, until today.”  She talks about the impact of the criminal justice system and courageously stands with all women who have been subjected to rape and sexual abuse.

 

The second letter was from Dan Turner, Brock Turner’s father.  It is as angry-making as the other letter is heart wrenching.  Dan Turner describes his son’s choice to rape a woman as “twenty minutes of action” and laments his son’s lack interest in pretzels and steak as evidence that his son should not be punished harshly.  The judge chose to go against all guidance and give Brock Turner an extremely light sentence with only six months in county jail (rather than the recommended 6 years in prison).  Even as much of the Western world is outraged by Dan Turner’s letter, it seems the judge was taking Turner’s sentiments into consideration in sentencing Brock Turner.

 

As Christians, how should we respond to this case?  What should be our interaction with it?  Should we focus on mothering and Jesus as the only answer, as Ann Voskamp has?  Or is there more to it?

 

Perhaps we should start by acknowledging that there are experts who are responding to sexual violence in a Western context and Christians are rarely the experts.  Christians claiming expertise are currently describing the choice of men to sexually assault as women “fall victim to sexual violence” and most efforts in the Christian world to address male violence against women doesn’t name the agent for fear of appearing “anti-men”.

 

Guess what people?  Men are the majority perpetrators of sexual violence.  This is a fact.  It is not anti-men.

 

The reason men are the perpetrators of sexual violence is not because men are innately bad.  As Christians we understand that the Fall has resulted in sin coming into the world.  This means that each person has the capacity to choose great evil, but also this means they have the ability to do great good.  Not only did the Fall result in personal sin becoming a reality for human existence.  It also ushered in the principalities and powers of evil in the unseen world.

 

The consequences of sin are listed in Genesis 3.  Pain in child birth; women will be dominated by men; men will struggle with the pressures of trying to provide in a world that makes it almost impossible.  Yet eventually, the serpent’s head will be crushed.  These are not God’s best plan for humanity, we already messed that up.  They are the consequences of sin.

 

Patriarchy is one of the powers and principalities that we must be fighting against.  This is perhaps where Christians could start.  Rather than leaping to the conclusion that we must end sexual violence, perhaps we could start by acknowledging and dealing with our own complicity in sexual violence.

 

When one of the most shared Christian response about Brock Turner’s choice to rape infers that it is a mother’s responsibility to act in ways that stop a boy becoming a rapist, we have a problem.  Yes, Jesus models a different way, but asserting that Christianity has the answer when many women and men who have rejected Jesus because patriarchy has so deeply infected the church that we are the staunchest purveyors of it?  In their rejection of the patriarchal-Jesus aren’t they more effectively seeking to end sexual violence than the many Christians who promote the toxic blend of purity culture and restrictive gender roles?

 

How do we declare Jesus as the answer to sexual violence when so many who bear his name are contributing to the problem?

 

Make the link 1

This image from Make the Link explains how sexual violence exists in a pyramid propped up by sexism, the objectification of women, traditional gender roles and rigid stereotypes for women and men:

 

 

Christians, this is where we start.  Not at the top of the pyramid, but at the bottom.  We must examine how our own lives and choices are contributing to a society where a man’s disinterest in pretzels is of more concern than the all-pervasive damage he has done to a woman.  It is easier to issue the rallying cry “fight sexual violence” at Christian summer festivals than it is to examine the ways those festivals continue to promote purity culture, sexual shame and a lack of women on the platform.  It is easier to be horrified at the crimes “out there” than to recognise that a patriarchal God is still the dominant God worshipped by many of our brothers and sisters.

 

Let us start at the bottom of the pyramid and recognise we are not the experts.  Let us begin supporting experts like Rape Crisis, NAPAC, Object, Women’s Aid, Refuge, Nia, AVA.  Because until then Jesus may be saying to us, “Woe to you Christianity.  You are like whitewashed tombs which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of bones of the dead and everything unclean.”

Does Avoiding Pre-Marital Sex Devalue Marriage?

Two separate things have led to me writing this post.  A few weeks ago I had a Twitter chat with people after pondering whether an abstinence approach to sex may in fact dishonour marriage.  Then a couple of days ago I listened to THIS discussion between Dianna E Anderson and Sarah Long, facilitated by Justin Brierley on the Unbelievable show at Premier.

The debate was “Should Christians save sex for marriage?”

The debate was interesting, though I’m not sure it fully worked.  Dianna has written a book reflecting on US purity culture in Conservative Christianity.  Sarah is UK based and has worked with Romance Academy.  There’s some massive culture differences between the UK and the US, so to some degree it became much more about acknowledging the different contexts and less about a debate based in the same cultural context.  Though I think many would say the culture isn’t as different as was perhaps suggested on the show.

Sarah’s main view was that sex is a covenant and as such should be saved for marriage.  Her work has generally been in a youth context and therefore the focus has been with young people.  Dianna’s view was that the Bible isn’t clear at all about sex before marriage and as such she would place it within the adiaphora of Biblical stuff; basically it’s a conscience issue, not an absolute.

Mr GLW and I didn’t have sex until we got married; I’ve written a few thoughts about sex and Christianity in THIS blog post, in which I bemoan awful post marital sex that is rooted in the many unhealthy messages attached to abstinence values.

Some thoughts I have about the whole saving sex until marriage thing…

1. It may possibly work when people are in their teens and early twenties.  What about people in their forties, fifties or sixties who have never had sex?  Did God just decide they shouldn’t ever experience the awesome gift of sex?  Not everyone is going to have a partner.  The whole abstinence teaching is connected so strongly to the “everyone will get married and have babies” narrative.  What does sexuality look like for people who don’t ever get married?  Do they simply suppress it FOREVER?  What about masturbation?  Is that off limits too?

2. When abstinence teaching is intertwined so strongly with purity culture is there a baby left in the bath when you chuck out the bath water?  Or is the shaming of women, blaming of women, infantilising of men, lack of understanding of consent and terrible sex so fused with “don’t have sex before marriage” that we can’t keep the latter without holding onto the former?

3. Within the Unbelievable debate, there was no mention of how abstinence teaching disables people from recognising abuse.  For me this is paramount.  I am confident that my young adulthood sexual experiences would have been non-abusive if I’d chosen to embrace pre-marital sex.  Could that have been the case if I’d been educate in healthy ways about consent and had awareness of abuse?  Perhaps.  But could the messages from across Christian culture about abstinence have drowned out the voices providing that awareness?  Also quite possible.

I’ve been wondering about whether Christians put a higher value on sex than on marriage.  If people HAVE to get married to have sex, how many (usually young) Christians rush to the altar so they can GET IT ON?  Conversely, how many Christians suppress their sexuality and their natural desire for one another for years while they wait to be able to get married. leading to a whole load of marital problems?

One of the examples on the Premier debate was a couple who’ve been together for four years, are engaged but can’t afford the wedding.  Dianna suggested that having pre-marital sex in that context was a matter between the couple and God, they could pray about it and come to their own conclusions.  Sarah’s view was that the couple could choose to marry in an inexpensive way in order to “save sex” for marriage.

Is that the best approach?  Should people reject the whole Big Wedding thing in order to have sex?  Or does that suggest less value for the whole process?  Do the couple elope and get married in a registry office somewhere so that SEX?  Or is the marriage ceremony and the value placed on it and the community element significant enough that pre-marital sex isn’t the main consideration that should be attached to it?

What does abstinence mean anyway?  Should there be no kissing pre-marriage?  No tongues?  No nakedness?  No oral sex?  No groping?  Is everything non penetration based okay?  Is there a sense of legalism in the whole thing?  Is this whole thing simply tithing herbs (Luke 11:42)?  Are we neglecting the weightier matters of a deep and considered sexual ethic that takes into account the many ways abstinence is painful?

The Bible wasn’t written for our context.  People got married REALLY young.  Mary was probably 14.  Women had no rights.  Contraception didn’t exist.  Periods were seen as impure. Singleness wasn’t an option for women.  Women’s sole value was attached to their husband and sons.  Rape victims were to marry the man who raped them.  Then there’s Song of Solomon which is full on sexiness, seemingly between unmarried people.  Marriage was a financial contract between the girl’s (it usually was a girl) husband and her father.  How do we extrapolate a sexual ethic for our time, our culture from a book written in such an extremely different context?

I don’t know.

I do know that the current system isn’t working.  Abstinence teaching doesn’t produce chastity.  It leaves people ill equipped to recognise sexual abuse, sexually damaged, repressed and/or with a deeply unhealthy sexuality, it blames women and encourages men to avoid responsibility for their sexuality and wrongly assumes that every twenty-something Christian is going to meet a nice Christian (opposite sex) partner, marry them, have babies and live happily ever after.

I’m not sure what a positive sexual ethic looks like.  I guess I veer close to Dianna’s view.  What’s wrong with trusting couples to discern what is right for them?  What is the risk in encouraging people to seek God’s will for their lives over and above an abstinence rule that isn’t fit for purpose (and actually isn’t in the Bible)?  When the current messages are causing serious damage to individuals and couples can we risk insisting abstinence is the way forward?

Matthew 23:24 comes to mind…  “You blind guides!  You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel.”  Yes abstinence may get women to their wedding night with their hymen intact, however what about the camel of shame, vaginitis, pornography use, woman blaming and/or sexual repression?

The conversation amongst young people should be a different to that with adults.  One of the difficulties of the Premier debate was that Sarah’s context was young people.  We can’t liken the sexual choices of two people in their mid twenties (and upwards) to how we approach 14 year olds.  However, is the right approach with teenagers and young adults to focus on marriage as the means by which people access sex?  Does that put unnecessary focus on marriage as the end goal for people’s lives?  In a Christian culture which is deeply heteronormative and idolises the nuclear family, how do we articulate the liberating message that marriage is not the logical start of adult Christian life?

With our children, Mr GLW and I have focussed on:

  • Ensuring they own they bodies, lives and choices. This is the foundation of consent.
  • Nakedness and sexuality are not shameful, bodies are BRILLIANT.  Puberty is fabulous and exciting, if somewhat messy and traumatic.  Since they were very small we regular talked about how bodies change; hair, periods, wet dreams and the like.  This stuff shouldn’t be a surprise.  It is INEVITABLE.
  • That sex is awesome yet SO extremely special and precious that it’s a serious matter.  Babies can be made and diseases can be caught, so great thought must go into when, how and who we choose to do it with.
  • Singleness is GREAT!  We regularly chat about the amazing single people we know.  At first the kids assumed that all the single adults we knew were married, they just hadn’t met their spouses.  This stuff must be made explicit or kids won’t notice it.
  • Critically examining the messages around us; women are not objects, sexism is all pervasive and it is wrong, gender stereotyping is bad, racism is everywhere and it is bad, male privilege is real, a lot of masculinity is toxic and needs to be challenged etc etc.
  • There’s creepy naked stuff on the internet (pornography) and when they see it (because they will)  they need to tell us so we can help them make sense of it.

Our kids may have sex before marriage.  It’s not something I’m concerned about.  What I am concerned about is that every sexual experience they have is one they have entered into willing (and legally), in an informed way and with deep respect and love for themselves and the other person they engage in any sexual activity with, and also deep respect and honour for the seriousness of the act they engage in.

Yes, marriage may be a way of ensuring this stuff happens.  But that is not guaranteed.

Genuinely, I don’t want my kids to get married.  I want them to live lives of worth.  And if that includes marriage, great!  But if not, that is JUST as wonderful!

No Sex Please. We’re Married

Everyone knows what the Christian view of sex is.  That it should be “saved” for marriage.  That it’s this precious gift God gave humans and that sex outside of marriage can be damaging.  Depending on who you talk to, the damage ranges from a vague possibility to ABSOLUTE DESTRUCTION which requires a whole lot of prayer to get rid of “soul ties” which some would say mess you up in all sorts of emotional and spiritual ways.

 

Yesterday I listened to teaching on sex delivered to 12-14 year olds at a 2015 national Christian youth event.  Separate sessions for boys and girls.

 

The boys were told the only relationships they should have with girls should be friendships, in part because they can’t “go out and get a job to support the girl” when they’re only 12.  The speaker explained to these 12-14-year-old boys: “If the girl is not your wife, then she’s your sister.”  He went on to explain there should be no touching, kissing etc. until the couple are engaged.  The boys were also told that masturbation is wrong; avoid it by going for a walk or by reading the Bible (because they were told, the Bible isn’t sexy at all).

 

The girls were told “God wants His best for you.  He wants you pure and undamaged and unhurt.”  They were also told, “If you want to be attractive, dig into God.”  The girls were told that girls’ wanting to have sex was a form of seeking love and validation (the boys were not told this was the case for them).  The girls were also told that masturbation was wrong, addictive and the devil would use the shame they subsequently feel from masturbating to harm them.

 

This was at an event that happened in 2015.

 

In the church, we’re very good at talking about not having sex.  What we’re not good at talking about is the awful post-marital sex a lot of Christians endure, especially if they’ve done the “right” thing and waited.

 

If a couple have waited to have sex until they get married (whether or not they’ve had sex previously) there can be an expectation that such a sacrificial and counter-cultural choice will be rewarded by mind blowing sex from the wedding night onwards.

 

Sadly, multiple orgasms do not ensue.  From 12 years upwards they’ve both been told not to masturbate and not to think about sex.  At all.  Until “she’s a wife not a sister.”  The boys have been taught they should “resist temptation”.  The girls have been taught their value is intertwined with their purity.  Both have been conditioned to think only males have a sex drive.

 

Post-abstinence marital sex can be utterly abysmal.  Rarely is this talked about.  When it is talked about, it’s euphemistic at best.

 

I’ve been married over 8 years, my husband and I didn’t have sex with each other until after we were married.  We’d both had sex previously, and I brought two small children to the relationship.  From 17 to 21 I was abused by my ex-husband.  Much of the abuse was sexual.  I had been raised in Christian culture which taught me not to have sex but didn’t tell me what consenting to sex actually meant.  All of my first sexual encounters were coerced, forced or manipulated.  And Christian culture had given me no framework for this, so I thought the trauma I was suffering was caused because I had betrayed Jesus, not because I was being raped.

 

At 23 when I married my now husband, I’d been dealing PTSD, depression, self-harm, suicidal thoughts and more.  He’d been single in the church for 13 years and had tried to avoid thinking about sex the whole time.

 

Our honeymoon was amazing in most ways.  Except that sex was generally difficult.

 

Marriage has been awesome for us.  Sex not so much.  And even though I’d been sexually abused for the majority of my life at that point, my husband being raised in the church caused us at least as many issues as my stuff did.  We’re not alone.  So many Christians (even where there hasn’t been abuse) experience extreme damage from abstinence and purity teachings in church.

 

Christian women and men have been conditioned to see sexual acts as shameful.  How do they then engage in those same acts after saying “I do” without shame?  The wedding ceremony isn’t going to negate years and years of unhealthy and sexually negative messages.

 

My husband and I are doing good now.  But stories like ours must be told.  Because otherwise every couple struggling, every woman feeling ashamed for simply considering initiating sexual activity, every man feeling inadequate because his sex drive doesn’t meet some arbitrary level he’s been told is normal, feel this is just them.  And it’s not.  There’s loads of us out there.  Welcome to crap Christian sex!  We’re not getting much.  But hey, it can get better!

 

I would tell 12-14 year olds that…

 

  1. Compulsive masturbation is a problem. What isn’t a problem is learning how your body works, what feels good and what doesn’t.  Girls especially are not taught about their genitals and popular culture can leave girls and women ashamed of their woman bits.  God isn’t ashamed of your vagina or vulva, he made it and He wants you to love it!

 

  1. Boys, it is not your job to pursue, provide for or protect a girl. That is nonsense made up by people.  Only God does those things.  Don’t take on responsibility that was never meant to be yours.  God made women and men equal and gave them the awesome gifts of intimacy, equality and partnership found in marriage.

 

  1. Choosing to have sex is a big deal. God made it as a thing to do within a marriage relationship.  There’s the potential for making babies and catching diseases and all sorts when you start doing it.  Understanding the difference between choosing to have sex and being coerced or forced is really important.  Sex is a big deal and when someone hurts us sexually they can cause us great damage.  But there is help available and healing is possible!

 

  1. You are not defined by your virginity. God loves you whatever your sexual experience or lack of it and so should any person you have a relationship with.

 

And to all you Christians preparing to get marriage please be aware that if you haven’t engaged in sexual activity with your spouse before getting married, don’t expect sex to be mind blowing straight away (if it is, lucky you!).  Like anything valuable in a relationship, it takes time, effort, understanding, respect and self awareness.  Sex can be awesome, get help if you need it and marriage is so much more than how good the sex is anyway.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Supermarket Christianity

After doing a one-woman protest at the Hillsong Conference last week, Christian Today writer Mark Woods interviewed me. He asked whether I thought the protest had been a success. It got me thinking about what “success” is.

The Christian model of success seems to mirror the world’s view; it’s numerical… The more people that buy into your brand, attend your event, buy your books. That’s how you know you’re successful. There are Christian courses about building your online platform, growing your personal brand and blogging for success.

By those standards, my protest wasn’t very successful. It was me. On my own. By numerical standards it was 8000 (or more) to 1. By those standards, it was a failure.

However, Christian culture’s valuing of things isn’t God’s valuing of it. The kingdom of God is in the weeds that push through the pavement cracks, in the birth of a human child over 2000 years ago, in the smallness and in the whisper.

It seems in the Bible there is something significant about numerical growth. In Acts we hear of people joining the faith constantly, of meetings where thousands were added to their number. We hear of Jesus feeding the five thousand and the crowds that followed Him wherever He went. Yet, within Christian culture it seems success is measured solely in numerical terms.

I’ve been pondering Christian culture’s tendency towards numerical success. It’s led me to thinking about mega-churches and Christian brands. Hillsong, HTB, Bethel, New Wine, Soul Survivor, Spring Harvest. And the human brands within the wider brands; Osteen, Meyer, Houston, Hybels, Warren, Dollar, Driscoll, Gumbel.

It seems we currently have a dominant Christian model of “Supermarket Christianity”. Everything is pre-packaged. Shiny and new. Every taste is catered for. You can go to one church and have all your needs met. Supermarkets aren’t fundamentally evil, they meet the needs of people with busy lives. People who don’t have the time or skills to grow their own food or milk their own cow (if the even have a cow at home any way…).

In the same way, most mega-churches (and even a lot of regular churches) aren’t evil. They provide for people who don’t have the time or skills to take on their own spiritual growth. In a church where there are few creative people, an Alpha Course is a great package to begin conversations with non-Christians about God. Many amazing ministries have been birthed out of events like Spring Harvest and Soul Survivor. Supermarket Christianity is not evil.

However, though supermarkets are not evil. They are perpetuating injustice. There has been an enormous increase in food insecurity as supermarkets buy food overseas and have it shipped over to the UK. They don’t pay staff a Living Wage. They prioritise profits over ethics. And now we are all reliant on them. We can’t live without them. We are dependent on them. I don’t know how to grow vegetables. I can just about keep children alive, but give me a plant and it will be dead with a week.

In the same way, it seems that Christian culture has become reliant on Supermarket Christianity. Rather than learning to hear God’s voice for ourselves, we seek out another book/sermon/worship song to tell us what God thinks.   We read more words about the Bible than the Bible itself. We expect Supermarket Christianity to meet our needs. With pre-packaged courses and sermons for every situation. Instead of considering the needs in our community and how best to represent Jesus to those who don’t yet know Him, we simply put on an Alpha Course. Supermarket Christianity isn’t wrong. Supermarket Christianity as the default is.

I’ve been part of Christian culture long enough to have seen Supermarket Christianity as the answer. Growing up in a medium sized Anglican church, I was attracted to the idea of thousands of people in one place, cool preachers and the general largeness of Christian youth events. I thought that’s where people grew in their faith. And for some people, large events are where growth is found. Yet, there’s something slightly off kilter about our relationship with God being reliant on things that aren’t God. That aren’t local church or the Bible. That are branded and shiny and new.

I knew a guy who would always start to lose his connection to God in September. “But don’t worry!” He told me, “This always happens around this time, then I’ll go to Spring Harvest at Easter and I’ll get time with God and everything will be okay again.”

Maybe it’s partly that my faith didn’t grow large at an event or through a popular Christian book. Maybe it’s just my experience that makes me sure that Supermarket Christianity is not that way. And if so, then I’ll just keep walking the road that God has placed me on. But it feels like more than just my experience.

It seems that Supermarket Christianity allows us to vicariously live faithful lives through the testimonies of people who give up everything for Jesus. Just as the Tesco aisle invites us to have a “taste of India”, believing we have become more exotic for eating a pre-packaged meal made somewhere in Milton Keynes, so we hear the stories of people who are doing amazing things for God and we feel filled with a sort of confidence that Christians are doing good things.

We can now donate to a food bank and buy fairtrade produce on our way round the supermarket; either ignorant or avoiding the many ways supermarkets contribute to the need for food banks and fairly traded goods. In Supermarket Christianity we can donate to projects or even set projects up, while still living our lives in ways that exploit the most vulnerable.

My faith was founded in the crucible of suffering and through learning to be obedient. I have learned that the measure of my faith is not the amount I am on the church rota nor the number of people who stand with me in that which God has called me to. Not everyone has the “opportunity” to find God in losing everything, so maybe this is my truth and not The Truth.

I am trying to live a “Smallholding Christianity”. One which relies on the weather that God sends, that involves taking full responsibility for my walk with Him. Learning to grow my own spiritual food and not rely on the pre-packaged kinds. It’s a lonely road as most people are still living out Supermarket Christianity. I think I might be allergic to Christian events now. The last event I went to I cried all the way home. Just as people who re-enter the UK after a prolonged time in the majority world experience culture shock going into a supermarket, with the choice and shininess. So I think I have developed Christian culture shock.

Someone sent me this quote the other day,

“Whenever you find yourself on the side of the majority, it is time to pause and reflect.” Mark Twain

I responded to Mark Woods by saying that I thought the protest was successful. God has taught me that success isn’t found in the numbers of people by your side, the number of books you sell, the size of an event. It is found in being fully obedient to God’s call. And we can only become obedient to God’s call if we learn to hear Him above all the other voices in our lives. Success is not found in this life, but in hearing, “Good and faithful servant” on the other side of eternity.

So you’re welcome to join me in discovering “Smallholding Christianity”, but I don’t mind if you don’t, I’m okay over here on my own…

Mark Driscoll isn’t Speaking at Hillsong

Mark Driscoll is no longer speaking at the Hillsong conferences in Australia and the UK. This is a Good Thing.

I set up the petition asking for Hillsong to remove Driscoll from their conference after they confirmed he and his wife Grace were doing an interview, subsequent to his resignation from his position as a pastor, surrounded by accusations of bullying, plagiarism, spiritual abuse and misuse of funds. The pain of those who are continuing to live with the consequences of Driscoll’s choices must have grown as one of the biggest platforms and brands in Western Christianity welcomed him to the stage.

The recent media coverage has focussed on some of Driscoll’s many woman-hating comments he made over ten years ago. Although his attitudes and beliefs about women are very concerning, the direct impact of the well documented bullying and abuse perpetrated by him, towards many within his church and wider community was what led me to set up the petition.

Many people have commented on Brian Houston’s statement, and while I hope his actions in uninviting Mark Driscoll speak louder than the words in his statement, I wanted to comment on various parts of the statement, partly in response to him and partly to correct some assumptions within it.

After personal interaction with Mark Driscoll today, we have agreed that he will no longer be coming to Australia or the UK to attend Hillsong Conference. It is my hope that Mark and I will be able to speak in person in the coming weeks to discuss some of the issues that have been raised, what – if anything – he has learned, and for me to understand better how he is progressing in both his personal and professional life.

 

This part of the statement is excellent. It suggests that in conversation with Mark Driscoll, Brian Houston may have realised that Driscoll is not in the right place to offer appropriate responses about his behaviour in recent years. As Pastor James Miller wrote after hearing Mark Driscoll speak at the Thrive Conference, “Driscoll just gave a long lecture on forgiveness without asking for it.  Aside from the allusion to “not being totally innocent,” he really didn’t point out his own failings.”

It is likely Driscoll will continue with the same minimisation, denial and blame in private conversation as on the platform and it is good to know Brian Houston has taken this into consideration.

The teachings of Christ are based on love and forgiveness, and I will not write off Mark as a person simply because of the things that people have said about him, a small minority of people signing a petition or statements he has made many years ago for which he has since repeatedly apologised.

 

I agree with Brian that love and forgiveness is at the core of Jesus’ teaching. Nobody has “written Mark off” and any action that is taken has been based on well documented and extensive information about the ways Mark has behaved in bullying and damaging ways; both as a leader and as a Christian.
Ensuring that someone who has chosen to hurt many people does not have access to a platform is not writing someone off. If Mark wanted to work in a supermarket or office, aside from concerns about his bullying behaviour, I would not have set up a petition asking him not to be employed. Being given a platform of any size (especially one of the largest in the western world) is an enormous privilege and being denied access to that is an appropriate consequence for someone who has misused power in so many ways.

In the same way that taking a person with alcohol dependency to a bar might be problematic, giving someone with power issues a platform invites them to continue to misuse power.

The petition was not primarily about statements Mark made years ago, it was about his ongoing misuse of power.

The petition has been signed by 3000 people. This may be a small minority for a church which has around 30,000 people attending its Australian campuses, however some of those who signed the petition have been directly hurt by Mark Driscoll. They are not a number. They have a painful story of Mark Driscoll’s choices, they are still living with the consequences of his choices.

 

However, I do not want unnecessary distractions during our conference, particularly as this 30 minute interview was only a small part of this five day event. It was clear to me that Mark’s attendance had the potential to divert attention from the real purpose of Hillsong Conference, which is to see people leave encouraged in their own spiritual journey.

 

Some have commented that this part of the statement is concerning. I would agree. He has shifted the focus away Mark Driscoll’s choices and lack of repentance, to talking about “unnecessary distractions”. For many, Hillsong’s brand has long been associated with the more negative elements of Christian culture, and this section of the statement will have done nothing to dissuade them of that. However, perhaps it could be seen that he is saying “interviewing Mark Driscoll is not going to encourage people in their own spiritual journey”. Which I think many would agree with.

Clearly Mark has held some views and made some statements that cannot be defended. One or two of the more outrageous things he is purported to have said, I have heard for the first time through the media exposure over the past week.

 

I think similarly to Steve Chalke’s quotes about Yoder, Brian Houston perhaps made an uninformed choice to include Mark Driscoll. But unlike Steve Chalke, Houston has had the wisdom to not collude with power misuse or hatred of women. Perhaps this situation will cause conference organisers to investigate speakers more thoroughly before inviting people onto their platform. Maybe they can also address the lack of women on the platform at the same time…

I am grateful to Hillsong and Brian Houston for their decision and hope that this will lead other conference organisers to think before inviting Driscoll onto their platform. There is much time that must pass, responsibility that must be taken and restitution that must be done before Mark Driscoll should be considered for any platform in any part of the world.

Questioning “A Theology of Maleness”

After being told about Andrew Wilson’s talk “A Theology of Maleness” in January, it’s taken me a while to get around to watching the whole thing.  But I have now watched the it and will offer some (rather extensive) views on it.

If you don’t know who Andrew Wilson, he is an elder at Kings Church in Eastbourne and is a well known complementarian.  He has an MA and is doing a PhD in theology.

Before I start my thoughts on his talk, I should make clear that he says towards the end of his talk that it’s content he would not deliver to women, so if any men would like to watch the 45 minute talk, and offer their thoughts, please do!  Mr GLW’s response, listening in to the last 20 minutes of it was intermittent OH PLEASES so I don’t think that being female precludes my ability to critique what he says.

So here goes…

He starts by apologising for the “theological” nature of his talk, taking it out of the realms of opinion and into the realms of factual, or perhaps the academic, however rarely within the talk does he say anything that I would consider on an academic level.  I’m sure he didn’t intend for it to be a communication device, but the effect of saying it is “theological”, is that people immediately assume a level of robust research and fact within the forthcoming content.

He uses the John Piper quote, “The question you have to be able to answer is, “What are you going to do when your son says to you, “Dad what does it mean to be a boy rather than a girl?  Or to be a man rather than a woman?””

Personally if my son was to ask me this, I would reframe the question and say, “Well, Joshua, what does it mean to be you?  What does it mean to be Joshua?  Because God made you unique and different to everyone else in the whole world, and there are so many different ways to be a boy or a man that we need to be working out what it means to be who God made you to be and being a boy is only one part of that.”

However, Andrew’s approach is different.  He acknowledges that we need a strong theology of identity, before then choosing to not focus on the macro of identity but rather on the micro of gender.  He talks about the differences between absolute and generalised statements about men and women and says that “we need to be able to generalise about gender in order to articulate what the Bible says.”

He immediately makes generalised statements that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive, explaining that people get upset about statements like this.  “It’s not absolutely true, but is generally true that women are more sensitive and men are more decisive”.  He goes on to evidence that men are more decisive because within academia there are trends which show men get further in academia that women.  He does mention that privilege could come into this; that men might have more opportunities than women, but says he thinks it’s probably more about Christendom and that white men were involved in the rise of Christendom.  He also says that historically women were in the home and men had more muscles so worked as farmers.  Which led to men having more time to do academia.Andrew doesn’t detail how that meant men had more time.  Just that they did.  I would suggest that if men had the muscles to do the farming, women would have been much better suited to academia, what with having less muscles, but anyway…

This section really seems like a response to feminist critique as he begins to talk about  privilege, I definitely felt he was engaging with the issues I would raise in a conversation with him.  However, his conclusion about privilege is that it’s “not necessarily true” that white men are privileged but that it is about taking responsibility and good stewardship of what’s been given to them.

He states the usual complementarian line, that men and women are “equal in dignity but not in function” and uses playing the bass as an example of this.  He says the left and right hand are used in the bass for different things.  The left hand plays the notes while the right hand plucks the strings.  He suggests that the left and right hands are equal in dignity, but their function is different; just like women and men.

As an analogy it is deeply flawed.  People play the bass that way round because that is the way they have been taught to play the bass, not because the left and right hand have been innately designed to pluck strings/play notes specifically.  And the existence of the left handed bass suggests some people still play it the other way round.

He says that men should be talking about FGM, domestic abuse and rape, that these issues are injustices and should be challenged.  That they’re not the same as what he see as inequality of function, i.e. the roles men and women should have are different to violence against women.

Except that every expert in understanding and ending violence against women will tell you that gender inequality is the foundation of violence against women.  That the privilege he has just denied as a real thing is the reason men abuse 25% of women in the UK.  That the position of men as the power-holders and gatekeepers leads to women’s oppression.  These things cannot be separated into “real injustice” and “a God intended injustice  plan”.

He goes onto say something that I actually fully agree with (I know, it’s a shock.  Have a pause before continuing if you need to…).  He says that within the church, the rhetoric about “real men” and (to a lesser extent) “real women” is about what people “ought to” be doing, not who they are.  So, by being a man or a woman, you are “real”.  The existence of your body being male or female makes you male/female, not the need to perform a certain type of masculinity/femininity.

The rest of his talk is about equipping men to know more about what being a man looks like.  Which doesn’t sound that contradictory when he says it, but actually is.

He mentions the feminisation of the church, without giving any examples or citations of how the church has ben feminised and states that some Christian conversations/resources/ideas about manhood have been an “overreaction” to this non-evidenced feminisation of the church.

He says that we should be looking to Jesus for how to be a man, and also for how to be a human being.  Which is weird, because his whole talk is about theological differences between men and women, but he’s saying Jesus is the model for being human.  Which really He can’t be, if there’s particular ways that men are meant to be.  Because either Jesus conformed to the theological way of being a man (therefore not being a model for women) or He was a model for being human (therefore not conforming to the theological way of being a man, which would suggest it might not be all that theological if Jesus didn’t do it).

He explains that since the sexual revolution men are being “infantilised” by society and that even though women have progressed in lots of ways, that they are “not happier”.  He doesn’t provide any evidence that states women aren’t happier, or really explain how society is infantilising men, he just states it as a fact.

He then pitches “very feminist”  and chauvinist as a polarised positions, the two extremes and says people mainly sit in the middle.  This is deeply problematic.  Last time I checked a chauvinist was “a person displaying excessive or prejudiced support for their own cause, group, or sex” whereas a feminist is a person working for “the advocacy of women’s rights on the ground of the equality of the sexes.”  I’m not sure how those two things can be polarised.  A chauvinist is excessively prejudiced, a feminist is working towards equality.  Hmm…

However, polarising those two terms works to the benefit of Andrew’s points.  That being in middle, being a moderate means not being a chauvinist, but also not being a feminist.  Now, I know I’m biased as a feminist, but I would say feminism is the middle ground between hatred of women and hatred of men.  The portrayal of feminists as “man hating” is not from evidence of the feminist movements, but a mischaracterisation by people against the cause.  Chauvinism and misogyny however is evidenced in language and actions.  Men rape women and kill women, men tweet about raping and killing women.  There’s no similar action from feminists towards men.  Women are not as a collective or on a large scale killing or raping men.  It simply does not happen.

Andrew then moves into his 7 points about what a Theology of Maleness looks like.  He explains that as it originates in Genesis and is “bound up with marriage” but is applicable to single people too.  However, he doesn’t at any point during the talk expand upon the implications for single people or how it is practically worked out in the lives of single people. Here are his 7 points, and my thoughts on them:

1. Men = Tohu. Women = Vohu (Genesis 1:2)

The earth as formless (tohu) and void (vohu).  Andrew explains that Tohu refers to men; men bring form to the earth and that vohu refers to women; women fill the earth.  It’s interesting that this verse is mentioned long before men and women are created and that it’s just an idea that he (and perhaps others) have come up with.  It suggests that women’s role in the world really involves birthing children, which creates great problems for single women and women who can’t have children.

It places men as subjecting the earth, being agents in the world; the ones who shape what the world looks like, while women act within the constrains of what men decide.  This leaves me wondering, why did God give so many women gifts of leadership.  Surely, they are anomalies within a world of men who were created to shape?

2. Men = Subdue and Dominion. Women = Multiply and be fruitful (Genesis 1:28)

It’s interesting because this verse is said to woman and man together.  There is no mention within the text that these commands are gender specific.  It is only after The Fall that gender differences are mentioned at all.

He talks about penis and vagina (which obviously I was pleased about, given my goal of making vagina a more acceptable word across society).  He explains that women’s reproductive organs are internal.  Men’s reproductive organs are external.  This mean’s that men are “externally focussed agencies there to protect”.  That seems like a rather large leap in theory to me, but then I may not be theological enough…

He states that men’s “involvement in child birth and child rearing is relatively short.”  As Christians we believe that women and men are equally called to be parents, the biological reality is not the one which dictates how we behave as parents, otherwise men would generally just, “shoot and leave”.  Instead, we hope for integrated family structures, seeking after “the important things of justice and love”.

He mentions the book “Why Men Don’t Listen and Women Can’t Read Maps” saying he has “no idea idea whether it’s true or not”. It is not true. The book is based on ridiculously bad neuroscience.  Andrew’s mention of this book allows him to example the differences between men and women, without having to stand by the conclusions of the book as true.

He talks about how until relatively recently men went to war because women were the one’s bearing children.  He fails to mention that those creating the wars were also men. He says that God could have created us to be fertilised like plants or as asexual, but instead, “God did something and in doing so made a statement about how women and men are meant to function.”  All mammals function and reproduce in the same way; so rather than God choosing a specifically unique way for human’s to reproduce (to infer all the special things Andrew wants it to show) it’s actually the way all mammals reproduce (including whales).  Unless we’re saying male whales are uniquely purposed as “externally focussed agencies there to protect” it’s not really going to work.

After this he references a shooting in Colorado in which three men died after having laying over women to protect them from a gunman in a cinema.  He said the men were in no way connected to the women they chose to protect.  In fact (according to Wikipedia) the three men who died were protecting their girlfriends.  Andrew’s point is that men are wired to protect women. That it’s somehow an innate characteristic of men.  He failed to mention in his talk that the person who shot dead 12 people and injured another 70 was also a man.

This section of Andrew’s talk left me crying.

We live in a world where male violence is at epidemic proportions.  Rape, murder, torture, emotional abuse, street harassment, female genital mutilation, female infanticide, sexual abuse; all perpetrated by men in every community and society of the world.  We don’t live in a world where there’s an epidemic of men protecting women, but rather, hurting women.  We don’t live in a society where a woman sees a man in a dark alley and thinks “Oh he’s going to protect me”.  That’s not what our world looks like.

I have argued before with people that I don’t want to be offered a seat or have a door held open for me by a man if they’re only doing it because I’m female.  If they always offer their seat to women and men or they always open the door for women and men, then that’s fine.  But the assumption with those things is that I am weaker, but let’s face it, I am not more in need of a seat than a man.

The belief in women as weaker is what lays at the roots of male violence.  I delivered an assembly to a group of 240 13-14 year old students.  One boy said, “The thing is I think girls are emotionally weaker than boys, that’s why they get upset more.”  Afterwards a teacher explained that this same boy had been abusive to all his girlfriends.

Although Andrew says women aren’t defective or impotent, but instead inherently “precious”, the reality is that if women are weaker, especially when it comes to “dominion” then they should be less trusted than men in relation to those things.

His example of the men who died in the Colorado shooting was used to say that “men immediately knew” women should be protected, but across the world men don’t immediately know that, how do we know those men’s responses didn’t come from how they’ve been raised?  Andrew excluded the information that the women were the men’s girlfriends and at least four of the people murdered in the Colorado shooting were women, not all of the women had men “immediately” knowing how precious they were and jumping in front of a bullet.

3. Man = Guard. Woman = Helper (Genesis 2:15 and 18)

Verse 15: “The LORD God took the man and put him in the garden of Eden to work it and keep it.” (ESV)

Verse 18: “Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him.””

Andrew introduces both of these verses and explains that although nowhere in verse 15 does it actually say “guard” he is going to use it interchangeably with “keep it”but doesn’t explain his rationale for doing so.  It’s interesting that at this point in the story there were no threats to human beings, so there wasn’t actually any need to “guard” the garden from anything.  Other versions use the word “take care of…” which definitely doesn’t sound like a “guard” type role.  He does say the word is related to that of the priest role in the Old Testament, however the guards in the tribes of Israel were not the Levites.  In fact the Levites didn’t go to war, their role was to enable the community to worship God.

He mentions how women are called to be men’s helpers, and does reference that helper is used as a word in the Bible to describe God bringing help to His people.  Andrew doesn’t mention that it is a word used to describe God on 15 occasions, he also doesn’t explain how God helping His people differs from what he says as men’s role of “guarding”.  To me they sound quite similar…

Andrew talks of how men will always get up to check for a burglar if there’s a noise in the middle of the night.  That men’s role as guard is “why men protect their families.”  That men would always ensure they were first to deal with suspicious noises in the middle of the night.  He didn’t offer any research to back this point up.  Just his assumption that men always protect their families.

Except men don’t always protect their families.  In fact women and children are much much more likely to be at risk in the middles of the night from men they know than from burglars.  Children sexually assaulted by their father or step-father while their mother sleeps unaware.  Women awakening to find their husband raping them or perhaps not allowed to go to sleep because their husband’s abusive tactic is to force them to stay awake all night.  If we’re going to use collective male behaviour to decide that something is innately built into men, it seems violence and abuse is something we should be talking about.

He also doesn’t explain how single women are supposed to protect themselves.  Without a man are single women sitting ducks for burglars?

Also he seems to think protection is solely a physical thing.  I may not be physically strong enough to protect my husband physically (though some women are).  However, if someone was being verbally hurtful towards him, I would be the first to stand up and say something.  If someone was going to try and take advantage of his kindness or support, I would be the first to challenge that.  Perhaps, as women and men we are supposed to protect each other, based on our gifts, rather than some assumption of difference from a word that doesn’t actually appear in the verse being talked about?

Andrew states, “The role of guarding and protecting is always something God has said, “Men I want you to do.” I could be wrong, but I don’t think this is actually a verse found anywhere in the Bible:  “And then God said, “Men! Guarding and protecting is always your job!”

God likens Himself to a mother bear protecting her cubs.  Jesus likens Himself to a chicken gathering chicks under her wings.  Unless I’m mistaken, those are female images of God protecting and guarding.  In fact, mothers are well known for protecting their children.  There are many anecdotal stories of women having “Hysterical Strength”, lifting a car off their father or fighting a polar bear to save their children.  1 Corinthians 13:7 tells us that love “always protects”.  Protecting isn’t limited to men, it’s a characteristic of love.

4. Men = Beloved.  Women = Beloved (Genesis 2:23)

“The man said, ‘This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh; she shall be called “woman”, for she was taken out of man.’”

Andrew says that Adam “Initiates the relationship” and Eve responds.  He explains, “That’s why a man asks the father’s permission” to marry a woman.  And states, “That’s the way civilisation has worked ever since.”

Where to start with this..?  The reason a man asks the father’s permission is because historically the woman/girl belonged to her father, and the marriage contract enabled the husband to buy the woman so she goes from being her father’s possession to becoming owned by her husband.  That’s not okay.

When Mr GLW and I decided to get married, God told us we should marry each other.  So we had a conversation about it and decided to get married.  Perhaps Andrew thinks this is unBiblical, but that’s how God worked out our marriage and it is no less valid because Mr GLW didn’t initiate the relationship.  In fact, I think the model of having a grown up conversation about marriage, rather than a romantic proposal, might be more useful for lots of people…

He goes on to say that it’s obvious what this means “in a marriage context, but with implications for single people as well.”  He does elaborate further, leading me to wonder how exactly this works for single people.  Men should initiate all things?  Women should stay silent?  I’m not really sure how this works out in the lives of single people even if Andrew is.

5. Man = Christ. Woman = Church

Andrew says that “Christ leads the church” and that the “church responds and submits to him” and that should be the “same with husbands and wives…this is very obvious.”

Setting aside the content issue.  He has used a communication device here (perhaps unintentionally) which says that what he’s just said is “obvious”.  Basically everybody should get this, everybody should agree with it.  The fact that there are many scholars, theologians and others who don’t accept this is what the Bible says, or that it’s actually quite offensive to say that one gender is more like Christ than the other is neither here nor there when you say something is “very obvious”.

He goes on to liken the spectrum of masculinity to having various points on it.  It looks like this:

<—Servant leadership—Apathetic—Controlling—Domineering/abusive—>

He says that Christian men should be at the servant leadership end of the spectrum .  That is what Christ is like.  Though it would seem women shouldn’t even exist on this spectrum, we’re somewhere else, on the “submission spectrum” no doubt.  He explains that his life hasn’t required him to stand in front of a bullet for his wife, but usually involves him having to get up earlier.  He doesn’t really explain why getting up earlier makes him a servant leader, but anyway.

We are all called to “prefer each other’s needs”, as Christians.  Personally, I don’t want Mr GLW getting up early for me every day, I want us to exist in mutuality, where if he’s tired he can have a lie in, if I’m tired I can.  We submit ourselves to God and each other, in full partnership.  It’s not our gender that dictates how much we offer, or how we offer it, but our love for God and for each other and the gifts God has given us.

6. Man = Representative. Woman = Beneficiary (Genesis 3:9)

“But the LORD God called to the man, “Where are you?””

Andrew explains that even though Eve was the first to eat the fruit, it was Adam who God addressed the question to.  He doesn’t mention that in verse 13 God asks Eve, “What is this you have done?”  But anyway…

He likens this to a civil servant and a Government Minister.  When the civil servant makes a mistake, it is the Minister who is held accountable for it, because they are the representative of the department.  After using this analogy he then says that “boss isn’t the right language to use” when talking about headship, which is problematic when that’s the exact analogy he has used to explain the whole “man is the representative” thing.

It’s interesting that there is actually a verse about being a representative in the Bible, “Therefore, we are the Messiah’s representatives, as though God were pleading through us…” (2 Corinthians 5:20 ISV)  So we see that actually, all of us, men and women are Jesus’ representatives and when I get to heaven my husband won’t have to make account for my behaviour, I will.

He says that he sees headship as who the woman is identified by.  For example when he sees other men in the room he recognises them by their head, not their shoulders or body.  In the same way, he explains, the husband/father is the representative of the woman.  He goes on, “That’s what still happens in many cultures, even now.  The father speaks for the family…he carries the can…he gives the family their name.”

Andrew may not be aware, but male violence against women is also directly correlated to the level of autonomy and control women have over their own lives.  The less autonomy women have (like in the cultures he’s mentioned) the more instances of violence against women.  Because where women and girls are seen as possessions and as less than equal to the men, they are treated and discarded like possessions.

7. Man = ground.  Woman = Womb. (Genesis 2:16-19)

Andrew mentions the curse on Adam and Eve; childbearing pain for women and the ground being cursed for men.  He explains that this is what he sees as men’s and women’s “spheres of responsibility”.

He omits the part of the verse which says, “Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.”  This is an interesting section to omit, given his previous mention that men should be talking about FGM, rape and domestic violence more.  Every society in the world is blighted by male violence.  And yet the Biblical basis for male violence and domination isn’t referenced at all in his talk.

What is referenced however as evidence of men’s sphere being different to women’s is the Man Drawer, specifically Michael McIntyre’s portrayal of the Man Drawer.  Yes, this is a theological talk that references the Man Drawer as irrefutable evidence of men’s sphere of responsibility being different to women’s.

Towards the end of the talk he explains he would not be present teaching about gender in the same way to women as it wouldn’t be helpful, especially not for single women as “marriage changes a woman’s life an impacts a woman more than a man.”  He didn’t explain how/why it impacts women more.  I’m not sure it does actually.  Surely if he believes that men are supposed to be the servant leader, getting up early and being the representative in the relationship, it should probably be more difficult for men than women, but as it is, I’m really not sure how women are affected in a greater way than men…

Personally, when I do talks or write blogs, I hope everything is as useful to men as it is to women.  It’s interesting Andrew’s view is that his message to men can’t be delivered with the same content to women.  Maybe that’s because, like me, women see the implications of his message on them, or can see that it doesn’t make sense.

Andrew finished by talking about the Gospel and reminding all the men present that in relation to Jesus they are the “female”; the Helper, the Beloved, the Beneficiary.  It’s confusing how this works out for women though.  Are women the Helper to their husband and then Jesus?  Or Jesus and then their husband?

He said that “in the Gospel we [men] play the part of the wife, we respond with submission and obedience…we are recipients, not agents of…”  Which gets to the crux of the matter.  He seems to see men as agents, women as recipients, which doesn’t look so different to the rest of society.  This TED Talk by Caroline Heldman explains powerfully and clearly the ways the media ensure men are the subjects and women are the objects.  Men act, women respond.  This is not good for men or women.

God implanted free will within all of us.  As male and female beings we are called to make choices and we will have to account for those choices.  No distinction is made between men and women in Jesus saving us and to do so, especially within Andrew’s restrictive terms is not enabling us to be more Christlike, or more deeply rooted in God, but rather to find our identity in our genitals and tenuous links to The Man Drawer.

Petitioning Hillsong: Unfair or Justified?

Last week I set up a petition to ask Hillsong to remove Mark Driscoll from their platform at their Europe conference.  His contribution has been downgraded from “MAINSTAGE SPEAKER” to “Interview Guest” alongside his wife Grace.  Driscoll was on the programme for Hillsong before he resigned and his behaviour within Mars Hill and beyond had been made as public as it is now.

I did not create the petition because I’m slow to forgive.  I did not create the petition because I am “shouty and ranty” or because I’m “emotive” or because I’m not very “Christlike”.  I did it because I believe it is unjust for Mark Driscoll to be given one of the biggest Christian platforms in Europe while those he hurt are still trying to rebuild their lives.

Stories have been told of how Driscoll encouraged people to give up their jobs and lives to move and work with Mars Hill, to then fire them.  The destruction and damage caused to those families?  Horrendous.  Stories of him asking church leaders’ wives inappropriately sexual questions, of him spending church tithes on getting his book into bestseller lists, of him plagiarising other people’s work; stealing their ideas and words and calling them his own.

He has not publicly repented, no matter what Charisma News tell you…  HERE is a blog I wrote about the PR apology he offered when resigning from Mars Hill.

Mark Driscoll used power in a dangerous and damaging way.  Just as an alcoholic uses alcohol in a way that is hurtful, to their own body, to their family and to others.  Or as a workaholic uses work in a way that damages themselves and others, Mark is a “Poweraholic” (Yes, I made that word up.  You are welcome…)  It is not that leadership is wrong or inherently damaging.  But it does come with risks (like drinking).  That’s why Jesus gave us a specific model for leadership, “The leaders of the world dominate, IT SHALL NOT BE LIKE THAT AMONG YOU.” (Matthew 20:26)

It is intensely unloving to provide Mark Driscoll with a platform.  Firstly to the many, many people broken by Mark’s actions and those around him who colluded with and enabled him to continue as a poweraholic.    Secondly, to his family and friends.  Poweraholics are like alcoholics, their need to maintain and increase power damages all those around them.  Thirdly, to Mark himself.  Poweraholics are not loved and cared for by giving them more power.  Just as loving an alcoholic involves enabling them to avoid alcohol, loving a poweraholic means enabling them to avoid power.

Mark DeMoss, Hillsong’s spokesperson has responded directly to the petition, and the mention within it that it would be a form of “cheap grace” to give Driscoll their platform; “I don’t think that is ‘cheap grace,’ but rather, a thoughtful approach to challenging circumstances. I think it would be fair for the petitioners to judge this appearance after it takes place, but advance judgment seems premature and a bit unfair, in my view.”

I would suggest what is slightly more unfair is that Mark DeMoss is the same person who did the PR management for Mark Driscoll’s resignation.  So, we have the person who equipped Mark Driscoll to do his slick PR apology (referenced above) now telling us that Hillsong is right to keep Mark Driscoll on the programme.  Isn’t that interesting?

Even within DeMoss’ statement he describes Mark Driscoll’s choice to damage hundreds, if not thousands, of people as “challenging circumstances”.  I think that suggests what is to come in the interview.  There’s no acknowledgement of the pain Driscoll has caused.  And as Donald Miller tweeted:

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 09.33.19

It is fair to offer advance judgement when there is no acknowledgement of the broken, vulnerable and hurting.   It is fair to offer a chance for people to be heard.  There are ex-members of Mars Hill signing, like this person who says:

Screen Shot 2015-04-18 at 09.37.12

Conveniently for a PR person, not offering “judgement” until after the event, allows Mark Driscoll’s career to be relaunched on one of the biggest Christian platforms in Europe.  And afterwards, the voice of (perhaps) the majority of people will be silenced by the swathe of media reports coming out of Hillsong, rewriting Mark Driscoll’s choices as “challenging circumstances” and his PR apology as Full Repentance.  And before I’m labelled as cynical, in advance of Mars Hill church being dissolved, Driscoll had already launched a new website, complete with opportunity to give to his ministry.

I will continue with the petition, and as I told Warren Throckmorton, am considering organising a peaceful protest at the Hillsong Conference because, when I finally have the opportunity to stand before Jesus and account for my actions, I can say that I stood with the broken and hurting and created space for their voices.  I did not walk by on the other side or as has been suggested, simply “vote with my feet”.

For another useful and important perspective, have a read of Jem Bloomfield’s blog: “The Punishment of Mark Driscoll”

Thoughts on Steve Chalke and Yoder: until women are free, nobody is free.

When men commit violence against women it rarely impacts their credibility, status or value in society.  Someone I know who works with men in prison commented that men imprisoned for abusing children are seen as pariahs, whereas men imprisoned for abusing women are sympathised with, “it’s only because they were unlucky enough to get caught”.

John Lennon, Mel Gibson, Roman Polanski, Woody Allen, Chris Brown, Sean Penn, Nicholas Cage, Steven Segal, Paul Gascoigne, Christian Slater, Ike Turner, Glen Campbell, Ray Rice.  All men arrested and/or charged with choosing to hurt a woman.  All men for whom their actions and choices towards women and girls have not negatively impacted their careers.

Jean Hatchett’s tireless work to campaign against Ched Evans’ becoming re-employed after being released on license to serve the rest of his sentence for rape is likely the only reason he has not yet begun playing professional football.  Before the dawn of social media sites and online petitions, it’s almost certain Ched Evans would have returned to his old club and life would have continued for him.  As it is, he may not be working as a footballer yet, but the woman he raped is living with the horrific impact of sexual assault alongside being harassed and forced to change her identity.

Over the last week another serial offender who violated and abused what is thought to be over 100 women has been given a new platform.  Theologian John Howard Yoder features in Steve Chalke’s new book “Being Human” released last week, coinciding nicely with the Open Church Conference he was leading about how to more fully include LGBT* people within the church.

Blogger Thomas Creedy made public concerns about Chalke referencing Yoder within the book, especially where he refers to Yoder as a “theologian and ethicist, best known for his pacifism”.  I have Storified some tweets about the situation HERE.

Christian Today have done a piece giving more information about Yoder, including a response from Steve Chalke, who explained that he didn’t know about “Yoder’s personal history before referencing him in the book, but wasn’t inclined to make any changes to the book in light of the information.” 

He said of Yoder’s book “The Politics of Jesus” that he “think it’s a fantastic piece of theology,” and “acknowledged that there was a “clear gap” between “who Yoder is revealed to be and what he espoused” but added “There’s always a huge gap between our aspirations and behaviour.”

He mentioned cases from “history of leading theological figures who had morally questionable personal lives, pointing to the widespread influence of Karl Barth, despite his unconventional domestic arrangements (he lived with both his wife and his theological assistant Charlotte, to whom he declared his love in letters)” and said that “King David was hardly sweetness and light,”  

He explained that “although he appreciated Yoder’s theology, it was not a defence of the allegations against him. “Just as I consider Karl Barth an extraordinary theologian… But it’s his theology I’m reading, and I understand there’ll always be a gap between who we [say we] are and what we do.””

Although Steve Chalke knew nothing of the allegations against Yoder when referencing him, his response since is of great concern and continues that age old tradition of ignoring, minimising and silencing women who have been abused in favour of the men who abused them.  Preferring the gifts the men bring over the reality of the hurt they have caused.

One of Yoder’s victims was Sharon Detweiler.  Her story can be found HERE.  She talks of the impact of Yoder’s abuse on her, of her struggles with intimacy and trust, her inability to stay in a church for more than a few years.  Of the hurt of being ignored, even with taped evidence of Yoder’s behaviour.  What a disturbing irony!  An author who has written a book about “Being Human” not being able to see or consider Yoder’s victims, talking about a pacifist who violated 100 women.

Jimmy Saville is another man whose crimes were not made public until after his death, but my guess is, his charitable work would not be something Steve Chalke would begin applauding.  In fact those who did celebrate Jimmy Saville, before knowledge of his offences were made public, were very quick to distance themselves from him after knowing about the horrendous crimes he had committed.

In a similar way to Saville, Yoder used his position of power and authority to prey on women, using excuses of gender theology to abuse them.  He never denied the allegations against him and only ever offered a politician’s apology, “I’m sorry you misunderstood my intentions.”  Saville has had royal honours removed and all of his good work is tainted by the reality of his crimes.  Yet for Steve Chalke, Yoder’s ethic and pacifism should remain intact because the sexual offending was “personal history”.

Personal history.  It’s a nice idea isn’t it?  As is the world in which serial sex offending is similar to someone having a live-in mistress.  Yet Yoder’s “personal history” isn’t history for Sharon Detweiler is it?  She continues to live with the consequences of Yoder’s choice to abuse her, as do the other women who were hurt by him.  It’s not “personal” either.  It wasn’t something that Yoder did in isolation, on his own.  It affected 100 women directly, then indirectly affected many they know; their parents, children and partners.  Not only that, it will have impacted the churches they were part of, the people they may have influenced if (like Sharon) they left church leadership after Yoder’s offences towards them.  It’s not personal when 100 women have had to live with being hurt by Yoder.

It’s also not personal when it was not just Yoder’s choices.  Leaders across the Mennonite Church supported him, colluded with him, did not challenge him.  They knew what he had done.  And they failed the many women Yoder hurt.  It’s not “personal history” when individuals and communities protected Yoder and did not speak out.

Steve Chalke is the founder of Stop the Traffik which has at it’s core a commitment to challenging abuse of people, the vast majority of whom will be women and girls.  For him to make this statement about Yoder in light of his involvement in this cause is at the very least, deeply problematic.

Yet Steve Chalke is in esteemed company, theologian and ethicist Stanley Hauerwas dedicates all of 29 words in a 3300 word article about Yoder to his sexual offences.  He describes them as “sexual misconduct” and suggests Yoder’s integrity remained intact because he “submitted to his church’s discipline”.  That Hauerwas, a man with such insight could not see that the power structures of the church means that Yoder could submit to that authority, without ever being held to account, is staggeringly ignorant.

I’m sure I’m not the only person saddened and frustrated by these men who are so committed to Jesus and who have such valuable thoughts, yet see women’s violation and abuse as so irrelevant and small.

It would be shocking if it wasn’t the dominant reality across the world.  Even Paulo Freire, liberationary leader extraordinaire recounts a story in his seminal book “Pedagogy of the Oppressed” about a peasant who beats his wife.  Within the story, the peasant is seen by Freire as one of the oppressed, not as an oppressor of his wife.  The man assault on his wife is blamed (by Freire) on the oppression experienced by the man, not on the man’s choices.

A socialist friend of mine who recently turned 60 has shared with me on numerous occasions the ways in which women were simply expected to accept their oppression sacrificially for the “cause”.  The sexual assaults on women in Occupy camps over the last few years show this is not a historical issue.

A while ago I chatted to someone whose husband had studied the leaders of the great revivals throughout history; Wesley, Wigglesworth and others.  He was hoping to find examples of how to be a good leader and a good spouse.  She explained that he couldn’t find one revival leader who had respected or honoured their wife.  Not one.

Over and over again women’s freedom, liberty and rights are discarded in favour of “the greater good”, whether that be Yoder’s theological insights, socialist utopia or Christian revival.  And at that I really weep.

My sisters are thrown in the gutter; raped, violated, dishonoured.  Their lives and stories are trampled on by those who hold the power, their silence requested, nay required, in furthering the liberation of people groups.  Yet while those who birth all the peoples of the nations are trampled on, nobody is really liberated.

It will only be as the power holders choose the voice of the powerless over the Big Thoughts of powerful men that change will happen.  As they address their blindness and the privilege of not knowing what it means to suffer as women suffer.  When as individuals and as a community we hold to account those who erase the suffering of women, no longer will power holders be able to sell books about Being Human while ignoring victims of abuse.  It’s as each of us speaks out and stands up, that change will happen.  Because until women are free, nobody is free.