Women in Leadership

Women: “The Devil’s Gateway?”

LouJimmy Carter recently said, “Abuse of women as the primary human rights issue in the world today.” 

We don’t have to look far into the global plight of women to see the truth to this statement. 

He goes on to say that religion (and the misuse of it) is a major contributor in perpetuating the oppression rather than leading to liberation and healing. For those of us in the Christian tradition, we aren’t obsovled from this critique. 

Influential “Church Father’s” have said things like “women’s are the devils gateway (Turtullian).” Others have argued that women don’t inherit the image of God in the same way men do. Perspectives like these have subtly built themselves into theological constructs and church structure. 

While the Church has often gotten it wrong, Jesus models what is right. Jesus life and message is one of liberating women into their sacred vocation as equal participants in God’s mission of reconciliation.

Further, throughout the gospels, women are continually portrayed as the ones who actually understood Jesus message while the disciples struggled to keep up. They were the first to know the good news (birth and resurrection) and the ones entrusted to share it with the world. 

How might a renewed understanding of our sacred text (the Bible), Jesus life and teachings and the history of the Church help us understand women not as second class citizens in the Kingdom, but as equals who often lead us to a full understanding of God and the gospel in today’s world?

The reality is that women are the source of life in the world. They are the primary conduits of God’s continuing story of new life and rebirth. They are the one’s most in tune with the flourishing of others at their own expense rather than the ones who often pursue their own flourishing (men) at the expense of others. They are willing to bleed so others find life. 

As part of their morning prayers, ancient rabbi’s (and some modern ones) would pray, “Thank God I’m not a woman.”

On this international women’s day, we pray, “THANK GOD FOR WOMEN.”

As a father of three girls and a husband to a women I’d follow to the ends of the earth, I couldn’t be more grateful. We named our youngest daughter Lou (renowned warrior) Sojourner (abolishionist who gave her life for racial equality). 

May Lou (and all girls/women) live in and contribute to a world where she is free to lead us in abolishing inequality and remind us of the beauty, strength and leadership of women.  

Raising Girls In A World Where They Are Less Than Human

I have two daughters. 

They are little spark plugs of utter joy and complete chaos. They make me laugh. They make me cry. They remind me to view the world through child-like wonder. They remind me that I am not what I do, but who I am. They teach me what selfless love actually looks like…everyday…day after day…early morning after early morning…nasty crap diaper after nasty crap diaper. They make me realize how much I have to learn about parenting and our place in the world. 

Most every night from the moment they were born, I have quietly held them in my arms or rested my hand on their back while they sleep and prayed for them. 

I pray for their continued breath. I pray for their development as little, unique human beings. I pray the Spirit of God to fill them and empower them. I pray the Lord’s Prayer over them. I pray for them to be protected from evil. I pray for them to love those who aren’t often loved. I pray for them to live confidently into who they have been created to be, free from the pressure of imposed reputation and expectation. 

I pray for their past, present and future. 

In learning to love these little girls, I began to ask more and more questions about the place of women in the world, in the Church and in everyday life. So many realities that I could have ignored in the past (not that I should have!) are now front and center as I think of my babies becoming little girls who become women apart of a diverse global village. 

IMG_7749As in most things (parenting, theology, the Church, hospitality, etc), my wife, Janny, is about two years ahead me in asking these hard questions about the place of women in the world. Watching her study, teach and advocate on issues pertaining to the flourishing of women, I have been convicted, challenged and inspired.

Evaluating my own complicity and ignorance led me to realize that for a guy who advocates so strongly for the value of a global kingdom worldview, I am radically narrow in who I consider authorities in my life. In other words, most scholars, thinkers and practicioners I have studied are white males. No offense to my white male friends (thankfully I dodged that label with my Scandinavian heritage…I’m technically a “pale male.”), but I needed to spend a lot more time learning from the life, teachings and perspectives of women around the world. As a father of two girls, a husband and global citizen seeking the shalom of God in and among all of humanity, I have no choice.

So, this year I have committed to intentionally learning from women (authors, teachers, neighbors, etc.) any chance I get. In fact, The Global Immersion Project Learning Lab I’ll be leading to Israel/Palestine this Fall will solely focus on the role of women peacemakers in the Holy Land.

As I began to crack the surface and open my eyes to the plight of women world-wide, I quickly discovered that many scholars, faith leaders and advocates would consider the treatment of women as the leading injustice in the world. From rural villages in the majority world to urban centers of the West, when there is dysfunction, brokenness and abuse, it most often falls on women.  

The dysfunction, brokenness and abuse isn’t reserved to far off villages or traditions, it extends to our doorstep. From systemic poverty to sex trafficking to employment prejudice to disempowerment and shame within the Church.  

RoseBdayParalleling my learnings, my little girls continue to grow, develop and form their view of the world, God and humanity each and every day. Our youngest, Rosie, recently turned one and we invited our close friends, neighbors and family to celebrate and bless her young life. 

Our community surrounding us, I rested my hands on her sweet little head and prayed this blessing over her life:

Rosie you are so full of life, wonder and innocence. I bless you to live fully into the unique woman God has created you to be. I bless you to be one who is not only empowered, but one who empowers. I bless you with the gift of walking with a community that daily stumbles toward Jesus and participates with him in healing a broken world.  

In a world where women are often demeaned, discredited, abused, oppressed and treated as less that human, I bless you with the courage to be one who reassigns dignity to those who have lost it. I bless you to be a voice for the voiceless. I bless you to have an eye for injustice and move boldly toward it with the practices that make for peace. 

Rosie, my sweet daughter, I pray that you will lead the way in teaching me, us and the whole world what it means to live into who you were created to be while giving yourself to the flourishing of others. 

RESOURCES:

Here are a few resources that I have read/watched recently that have been especially impactful. 

Jesus Feminist -- Rather than offering cynical critique, Sarah Bessey simply invites us to full life in Jesus. The most hopeful, constructive and compelling book I’ve read in years. 

Half the Church -- Helpful theological reflection on the role of women in the Church past and present. Further, a good introduction into the plight of women world wide and the opportunity for the Church to be mobilized as an instrument of peace.  

Half the Sky -- This documentary offers first hand exposure to the global inequality of women. It is so jarring, it makes the film hard to watch. Which is why it’s so important we are exposed to it. 

 

Women, Child Birth and What it Means to be Fully Human Again

Prayer for Baby ChaseMy wife, Jan, was 8 days past her due date when the first signs of labor finally kicked in about 5am. Being past your due date is no fun (keep in mind, I’m a dude talking here, so I really have no idea how hard it really is) as you start to wonder, 1. if this little creature will actually EVER arrive and 2. if your labor will be have to be initiated by powers outside of your control, namely lots of drugs and stuff. After our first babe (Ruby) decided to make her triumphal entry on the very LAST day before we would had to make some hard choices about the road forward, we were praying baby #2 would come along a bit sooner. 

As the contractions strengthened, we celebrated that this was the real deal and Janny locked into this sacred, super-human state of focus and determination like I’ve never encountered.  

Strong. 

Steady. 

Quiet.

At peace. 

It was surreal. Of course, I was a ball of anxiety, fear and anticipation wrapped in the cloak of a “secure support partner.” About 80% of her laboring happened at home when we finally got in the car to head to the birthing center. Trying not to hit the breaks, speed without getting a ticket and keep my mouth shut, we pulled in and got all settled in for the grand arrival. 

Again, surreal. 

Confidently instructing a handful of us on how to support her, Janny was stoic. Not long after we got to the birthing center, our little Rosie arrived in my arms (quite literally!) and we snuggled as a family of four for the first time. 

As I began to process what had just unfolded in front of my eyes, I was struck by the sacredness of the whole birthing event. A women is able to grow a baby inside of her body (with a TINY bit of help from a man), have a full grown baby come out of her body and then offer it all the resources it needs…with her body. 

There is something sacred to this and I don’t think it gets celebrated or near the attention it should. 

When God created humanity, we were made in God’s image. The very nature of God was inscribed on us as God had serious plans for the role humans would play in the Creation Story. There was no sin. No fallenness. No vision for us to become subservient to the constructs that would be assembled around us. In fact, to be fully human was to be quite divine. 

Of course, we know there was a break in the Story. Selfishness, infidelity and violence started to corrupt what was originally created to be in perfect union with God. 

While our faith tradition affirms the reality of sin, it also affirms the reality of God’s image and design being central to who we are as humans. After the Reformation (think John Calvin, Martin Luther and a lot of angry church folk), this portion of our tradition didn’t get as much press, but it is just as true as ever. 

That brings me back to what I saw and experienced in that birthing center. I got a glimpse into a rightly ordered creation. I saw -- quite tangibly -- the way God created us to function…and it was remarkable. It was worship. It was a reminder that the God who created us hasn’t given up on us. No, in fact, he is still very much with us, we just need to have the eyes to see it.

One of our dear friends and neighbors is a couple weeks out from her due date. After losing her first baby a few months into her pregnancy, these moments leading up to arrival seem a little extra sacred. Having lost our first baby at 5 months along, Janny understands the mental, emotional and spiritual weight of carrying a baby to term after such a tragedy. 

As such, Janny transformed our upstairs bedroom into a little haven of blessing, encouragement and renewal. With candles lit and soft music streaming quietly through the space, she invited this woman over for a facial. Having gotten her friend settled into this space, Janny started to reveal a series of surprises that turned an ordinary facial into an experience with the divine. 

One of our other friends came in the room with her harp and began to play next to the bed. Then, one-by-one, women from our faith community came into the room and offered blessings over mom and baby. Instead of leaving after their blessing, most stayed and began massaging her feet and arms and belly. 

Tears were shed, burdens were carried together and the hope of new life became palpable. 

I often talk about the idea of a thin place; a physical space where heaven and earth seem to collide. A place where God’s kingdom is made real.

In this instance, it was a place where we got a glimpse into what it means to be fully human again. A place where God’s intended design actually came about. 

In a world where heroism, success and order are most often defined by men projecting their insecurities on society, I thank God for women. And for far more than childbirth (that just happens to be what deeply moved me recently).

For their leadership.

For their compassion.

For the way they show us what sacrificial love actually looks like.

For the way they guide us to the stuff that actually matters most.

For they remind us that rightly ordered humanity isn’t about who holds the most power, but who is most willing to give it away for the sake of another.

Because, for me, women show us how to be fully human again. 

Women in the Early Church: The “Devil’s Gateway?”

Last year I did some study on the role and value of women in the early church.  I have had numerous people ask me to post my findings, so here you go!  Couple important notes: I am highlighting the Early Church Fathers of the Patristic Period (100AD-600ADish), NOT the early church of the Apostles in the N.T. after Jesus.  Also, this is NOT an opinion piece (that can be saved for the comments!), but an exceedingly brief synopsis based on original sources.

This past summer I had the opportunity to study in a class that consisted of roughly 40 students from very different church backgrounds and traditions.  The reality of our varying traditions culminated when one of the women in our class was asked to read a Scripture passage relevant to the site we were visiting and one of the men walked away from the group in disgust.   A few minutes later he came back and began to argue that women don’t have the right to read or teach the Holy Scriptures in public. In studying and reading the writings of the Early Church Fathers, it is evident that their perspective continues to shape some current church leaders’ view of woman.

In the estimation of most Early Church Fathers the primary way for woman of the Patristic period to gain esteem, credibility and value was by embracing a life of asceticism, which included perpetual virginity and the willingness to die as a martyr.

Starting Point: Women are the “Devil’s Gateway”

To understand why asceticism was the primary way for women to gain value in the eyes of the Early Church Fathers, we must first examine why woman inherited such a low value to begin with.  Such a value originated out of the ECF’s interpretation of The Fall (to use their language) and specifically Eve’s roll within that narrative.  Referencing 1 Tim. 2:14, Ambrose argues, “The woman, therefore, is the originator of the man’s wrongdoing, not the man of the woman’s.” on of his commentary on Genesis, he says, “She even dragged her husband along with her into sin and showed herself to be an incentive to him.”  Before Ambrose, Tertullian made the argument that blame for Eve’s first sin extended to all woman and that God’s judgment and guilt will live in each one forward. In his treatise, On the Dress of Women, Tertullian says, “You are the Devil’s gateway; you are the unsealer of that tree; you are the first foresaker of the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not brave enough to approach; you so lightly crushed the image of God, the man Adam.” In Tertullian’s last line, he makes mention of Adam being the carrier of the image of God.  While not thought by all Early Church Fathers, some believed that women did not contain the image of God because of their order in Creation as being subject to men.

Recovering Value: Procreation, Virginity & Martyrdom

With women carrying the blame for sin, what then shall the role of women be in future generations?  The Early Church Fathers would argue that they are to be man’s helper by populating the world. While this thinking was most likely influenced by Aristotelian reasoning that argued women not having a rational spirit, the ECF used Scripture to make their point.  In his Literal Commentary On Genesis, Augustine gives his perspective on women being man’s “helper” in reference to Gen. 2:18.  He believes God creating another man would have made a much better helper, but another man would not have allowed for children to be born and new generations to begin.  It is for that reason that Augustine finds the only reason for the creation of women, “I cannot think of any reason for woman’s being made as man’s helper, if we dismiss the reason of procreation.”

Virginity. The value of virginity was primarily found in the example the Blessed Virgin Mary.  In his work, Against Heresies, Irenaeus argues that “the knot of Eve’s disobedience was loosened through the obedience of Mary.  For what the virgin Eve bound through unbelief, this the Virgin Mary loosed through faith.” While each woman was born into the curse of Eve, the ECF offered them a chance to redeem their esteem, value and freedom in emulating the Virgin Mary.

It is clear that the women who pursued lives of asceticism were able to find esteem, value and credibility in the Patristic period. Jerome has a close relationship and is outspoken in affirming the ascetic lives of Paula and Marcella.  Marcella was a student of Jerome’s and became a great scholar who carried authority in the church.  Arguing Aristotle’s argument that women don’t have a rational spirit and thus can’t be learned, Jerome says that women can become like men because their asceticism keeps them from temptation.  Having lived as a devout ascetic and after being tortured to death after the sack of Rome in 410AD,  Jerome said this in her eulogy, “She left you as the heir of her poverty, or rather, the poor through you.  Closing her eyes, she was in your arms; breathing her last, it was onto your lips; amid your tears, she smiled, conscious of a good life and future rewards.”

While it is often argued that Christianity benefited woman in general, there is not much evidence of that being true in the writings of the Patristic period.  Do you have anything to add to this retelling of the Early Church Father’s view of women?  Do you see a negative perspective of women still finding its way into the Church?

NOTE: All of quotes are from original writings of the ECF’s.  If you want them, feel free to contact me.  Also, I am not trying to paint the ECF’s in a bad light as there were so many ways they were a positive voice in the Christian story.  Although their view of women was more nuanced than I have the space or capacity to articulate, I believe it is a perspective and part of our story that deserves our attention.

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