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Friday, February 10, 2012

How We Failed Sarah Moon... and ourselves

A couple of weeks ago I started my series on how I felt that we (complementarian men) have failed women (see "For the Love of Women" for the beginning of the series). Since then I began following a couple of blogs from women who would describe themselves as feminists. My thoughts were that perhaps listening to people with a different perspective could help me think through the issues a bit more thoroughly. In the process I have begun to realize that the problem may be even more severe than I had realized. 

Sarah Moon's Important Point
One blog in particular really caught my attention. Sarah Moon, whom I have never met, wrote a thought provoking critique of the language we use to criticize modern Christianity. In her post titled, "What The Effeminate Christianity Crisis Says About Women," she refers to Tim Challies' blog post titled "Soft, Effeminate, Christianity." Though I have never met Tim Challies, I have generally appreciated his sharp mind and helpful insights. However, in this case I think Sarah did an excellent job of demonstrating a significant error in his language and his thinking.

Sarah quotes Challies' post, which is predominately a quotation of the famous hymn writer Horatius Bonar. The quote began like this:
For there is some danger of falling into a soft and effeminate Christianity, under the plea of a lofty and ethereal theology. Christianity was born for endurance... It walks with firm step and erect frame; it is kindly, but firm; it is gentle, but honest; it is calm, but not facile; obliging, but not imbecile; decided, but not churlish.
Sarah points out that there is a real problem with labeling the bad kind of Christianity as effeminate. It suggests that women are all the things a Christian shouldn't be. It suggests that women aren't able to endure. They lack firmness and honesty. They are facile (simplistic or superficial), imbecile (stupid), and churlish (boorish or rude).
This leaves Sarah with no choice but to conclude:
So what’s a woman to do? It’s a lose-lose situation for us, according to the CBMW. If we aren’t “manly,” by CBMW’s definition, we’re betraying our faith and can’t “taste that the Lord is gracious.” If we are “manly,” we pervert God’s “perfect design” for the sexes. We already know that evangelicals certainly don’t want us doing the latter, so what we’re left with is the final implication that women are not really Christians.
To be fair, I don't believe that Challies would actually suggest that these things are true of women. I think it is unlikely that he realized the implications that Sarah is bringing out. However, he does demonstrate that the church is guilty of communicating to women that this is how we think of them. We (complementarian men) have, perhaps unintentionally, told women and the world, that they are too weak and stupid to be true Christians. 

Avoiding a Dangerous Response
The way we have insulted and discouraged women is certainly a major problem. It is something that we must realize, and repent of. However, I am concerned that it is only a symptom of a deeper problem. The problem lies beneath the surface of this entire debate. The problem is that by presenting Christianity as a religion for the strong or macho we have distorted the very nature of the gospel. We have suggested that Christianity is for the strong rather than for the weak. We have encouraged people like Sarah to prove their strength rather than to boast in their weakness.

There seems to be different streams of the feminist movement. The good thing about Sarah is that she represents a stream of feminism that has not walked away from Christ, His Church, and His Word. Instead of walking away from Christianity, Sarah has chosen to fight for a seat at the table. She challenges women to follow her lead saying,
Women, let’s show the church how wrong he is. The church needs to hear our stories of strength and endurance. Stories that display our capacity for intelligence and discernment and leadership. Stories that prove we can stand strong.
Or in another post titled "Tell Us We're Not Strong Enough. But You're Wrong."
A few weeks ago, I put out a call for all women to challenge the mainstream definition of a “feminized” church.  To share our stories and show our intelligence and our strength and our importance in the body of Christ. I did that because I know a lot about women.  I know we are strong.
It seems that Sarah, offended with the idea that women are not strong enough, has bought into the lie that Christianity has something to do with strength. She is representative of a feminist Christianity that has entered into a competition to prove their strength, when the Bible suggests that Christians should be doing the opposite.

Consider Paul's words in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31
For consider your calling brothers: not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many of you were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even the things that are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it was written, "Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.
A Christian's pride should never be in his or her own strength, or his or her right to be at the table. We are the weak and the foolish of the world. Our seat at the table comes from God's grace and power, not our own. Consider, for instance, Paul's reflection on his own physical weakness in 2 Corinthians 12:8-10
Three time I pleaded with the Lord about this, that it should leave me. But he said to me, "My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness." Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am contented with weakness, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
In the world, places such as business, politics, sports etc., a woman's weakness, be it real or simply perceived, may be seen as a hindrance. But not in the church. In the church, our weakness is our boast. Our pride is not that we are strong, but that Christ is strong. It doesn't take strength to taste that the Lord is gracious, it takes weakness. If there is any competition, it shouldn't be over who is stronger, but who is weaker. Consider Paul again in Philippians 2:1-10
So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind. Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others as more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interest of others. Have this mind among yourselves which is also in Christ Jesus, who though he existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name...
My fear is that we have failed women like Sarah by telling her that strength and power has something to do with being a Christian. If this is true, we have pushed women to pursue the very things that keep them from experiencing the grace and goodness of God. We have told them in order to do something good for Christ, they must be strong, when God says My strength is made complete in your weakness. We have told them that to get a place at our table they need to prove their worth, when God says humble yourself and I will exalt you. 

Finding the Root of the Problem.
If we are willing to probe just a little deeper, we may realize that we haven't only failed Sarah and the women she represents, we have failed ourselves. Women have seized on the quest for strength because we truly believe that it matters. Even aside from our foolish and insensitive critiques of women, we show this mindset in our propensity to praise the strong and ignore the weak. We exalt pastors for their celebrity status, not for their humility. We target our church planting and evangelism efforts toward young leaders, not the "least of these." We have become convinced that God needs our strength. We have forgotten that God seeks to show his power in our weakness.

We have created a culture in our church and in our world where being considered weak is an affront. Power and influence are the new mark of a genuine believer. A woman's desire to assert her strength is evidence that we have exalted our own. The unfortunate consequence is that as we engage in our battle for strength and influence, we are continually moving away from the true source of both. We fight over the position of influence, yet in so doing, we put ourselves in danger of an eternal humiliation.

Perhaps it is best to end this argument with Christ's parable from Luke 14:7-11.
Now he told a parable to those who were invited, when he noticed how they chose the places of honor, saying to them, “When you are invited by someone to a wedding feast, do not sit down in a place of honor, lest someone more distinguished than you be invited by him, and he who invited you both will come and say to you, ‘Give your place to this person,’ and then you will begin with shame to take the lowest place. But when you are invited, go and sit in the lowest place, so that when your host comes he may say to you, ‘Friend, move up higher.’ Then you will be honored in the presence of all who sit at table with you. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”