Peace, Unity, and Pot Stirrers

The Gospel of Jesus Christ is very much a Social Gospel. To some of you, that may be the most controversial thing you’ve ever heard someone say about the Gospel. I suppose if the phrase “Social Gospel” just doesn’t sit well with you, we can say that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is very much saturated in social issues. Rarely do we see Jesus not entangled in the social issues of His day. I don’t think there could have possibly been anything more socially scandalous during this time—when the Roman Empire reigned and the Jewish people were prosperous—than someone coming along and being heralded as the King of the Jews and the prophesied Messiah. It only took one scandalous incarnation to completely upset and upheave two massively powerful social orders of political and religious persuasions.

Often times, Jesus puts Himself purposefully and directly in the middle of social issues. He chose to hang out with prostitutes and tax collectors. He chose to associate with the Samaritan woman at the well. He chose to heal on the Sabbath. He chose to drop the stones and pardon the woman caught in adultery. Things seemed to be going just fine in the Temple before Jesus walked in, flipped the tables over, and called it a “den of thieves.” And, dare we not forget, He chose to go to the cross—a social issue of Roman execution through the pressure of the Jewish leaders. Jesus died on a Roman cross with a sign detailing His crime as “King of the Jews.”

It’s interesting because the Jews had been awaiting the arrival of a Messiah who held political power and would rise up as King of the Jews to save them from Rome. Maybe the sign above Jesus’ cross could have just as easily read “Jesus of Nazareth: Social Justice Warrior.” Wasn’t that His true crime—shaking up the social issues of His time? Jesus preached a Gospel that set the captives free from social injustice: the poor and oppressed captive, the marginalized captive, the female captive, the gentile captive. The Gospel of Jesus is ultimately about freedom from sin, but when we realize that the root of all social injustice is sin, we see why Jesus and His Gospel can’t be separated from social issues. Jesus certainly wasn’t interested in keeping the peace when doing so would have been at the expense of inequality and those being oppressed and mistreated.

It’s amazing to me how much flack social justice advocates are forced to take these days; just for advocating in churches that have clear social justice problems. My foremost area of advocating is for egalitarianism: the theological and biblical belief that men and women are equal in essence as well as in authority and leadership. There is no such thing as “gender roles.” This is sometimes known as Biblical Feminism.

When people like myself speak out in churches that embrace the false beliefs of male-headship, wifely submission, and all other things complementarian; we are accused of causing disunity. Jory Micah, in her blog post entitled “I Will Not Conform to Make False Peace,” hit the nail on the head for me when she wrote, “The thing is, I am not interested in unity that is at the expense of the oppressed. I am not interested in staying silent on behalf of the girls and women who are being treated unjustly so that I can make privileged [Christians] feel more comfortable.”

I have found myself in a similar situation. Before finally leaving, I was constantly being accused of causing disunity in my church due to my strong advocating of women’s rights and egalitarianism in a church that strongly embraces male-headship and complementarianism. The ultimatum given to me was that I needed to silence my advocating or leave. I was told that my advocating was causing disunity and that being silent about such things would be the way in which I would live peaceably with those in that church. I wasn’t interested in catering to their whims of false peace or disillusioned unity. Unity is a noble goal, but so is separating truth from error. Some things shouldn’t be “agree to disagree”—like gender equality and equal rights between men and women.

True unity isn’t the sound of silencing half of the church and leaving them voiceless. True unity isn’t leaving half of the church out of the decision making process. True unity isn’t dismissing half of the church from positions of authority and leadership. True unity doesn’t diminish the gifts of half of the church. True unity cannot coexist with the oppression of half the church. When I began thinking about ways to accomplish cultivating unity in the church, I realized that true unity will only come when we embrace women as equal leaders in our churches. Only when we remove the idea of patriarchy, and instead see men and women standing side-by-side as complete equals, will we be able to fully achieve true unity.

Jesus abandoned His place of privilege in order to become a servant of the oppressed.

May we do the same.

*This blog was originally a guest post for “Unsilenced,” and was first published on August 22, 2018. Here’s a link to the original post. Check out more while you’re there!*

God Ordained Harm or God Redeemed Harm? A Short Read Concerning Gender Theology.

The thing about complementarian theology is that I have to ask myself why any Christian would believe that such an abusive, toxic, and unjust system is of God? I understand their arguments, but I just can’t wrap my head around believing that God created and upholds a system that hurts His children so badly.

The complementarian idea of man leading woman is rooted in the curse God placed on the earth after the Fall (Gen 3). Why would a group of Christians uphold part of God’s curse when we understand that Christ died to redeem us from the effects of the curse?

The serpent is a representation of Satan. In Gen 3:15a, God says that He will put enmity between the woman and the serpent. Have we ever considered that this is what complementarianism isthe enmity between Satan and the woman? What better way for Satan to get back at women than to limit women in the Church? The worst part is how many Christians are deceived into believing that this theological system is God ordained. I can’t imagine that God would willingly use any method to limit half of His Church.

Gen 3:15b, as God is still speaking to the serpent, is what is known as the “protoevangelium.” It’s the first mention of the gospel. “He will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” In other words, Satan’s feeble attempts to limit Christ’s Church will be met with a defeating blow as Jesus redeems this curse on the cross.

This is why egalitarianism is rooted in redemption. Gal 3:28 solidifies this when it says, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (NIV). Or, as the CEV states it, “Faith in Christ Jesus is what makes each of you equal with each other, whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a free person, a man or a woman.” Christ’s work on the cross brought humanity back to its pre-fall state of equality within humanity.

God did not ordain a harmful system. God redeemed a harmful system.

The Road Isn’t Always Easy

Be prepared for the not-so-nice side of advocating for equality.

I think this particular post may resonate with some more than others, and that all depends on where we each find ourselves in this journey towards equality. Where ever you find yourself, I hope that you find this helpful and eye opening.

I’m here to be honest with you and to let you know that the road to gender equality isn’t always an easy one. From my experience, this has been the rockiest journey that I’ve ever embarked on. Some of you come from traditions where gender equality in the church, home, and society was the norm. You have a difficult time imagining the set-up to be any different, because this has always been your normal. Some of you come from, or are currently in, backgrounds similar to mine. For my entire life, my church membership has been at a Southern Baptist church with a very complementarian leaning. At almost 24 years old, I still have never seen or heard a woman speak or preach from the church pulpit. I have only ever heard women speak and teach the Bible in conference settings or something similar.

Whether you have come out of a complementarian background and embraced gender equality, are still in the complementarian tradition and are here to engage and learn more about egalitarianism and biblical gender equality, or have been in the tradition of equality for quite some time; I hope that you find the following to be beneficial in understanding that this road will almost certainly not be an easy one. It may be easier for some than others, but I want you all to be prepared for the not-so-nice side of advocating for equality.

I came out of the complementarian tradition. The more I studied Scripture and examined the life of Jesus, I was led to embrace the theology of egalitarianism—the belief that men and women are equal in authority and leadership in the church, home, and society. When I became a vocal advocate for gender equality, the backlash began to come in full force.

  • I’ve been called a heretic.
  • I’ve been called a Jezebel.
  • I’ve been called a Satanist and a promoter of Satanism.
  • I’ve had strangers tell me that I’m not following the true God, rather, a false god inside of myself.
  • I’ve have strangers tell me that I haven’t actually experienced true salvation.
  • I’ve had a (now former) church friend tell me that I need to focus more on “finding a real relationship with Jesus” and less on “advocating my own agenda.”
  • I’ve been told that my ministry is not God ordained because it is “outright condemned in Scripture.”
  • I’ve been told that I need to set aside my “ego” and “humbly re-read the Bible for God’s instruction.”
  • I’ve been told that I’m “misguided and need to turn my eyes to the Lord’s Word; because my tradition is blinding me from the Bible, and I am in rebellion to the order God has placed on me. I am directly violating His Word.”
  • I’ve been told to “actually read the Bible for myself,” and that my stance is “not to further the Gospel but my own self-interest.”
  • I’ve been told that I’m only about promoting “my equality agenda” over promoting the Gospel.
  • I have an undergraduate degree in theology and some seminary schooling, yet my education is constantly attacked and degraded.
    • I have too much education.
    • I don’t have enough education.
    • I need to invest in a “real education.”
    • “Degrees don’t matter,” and just because I have a degree in the field doesn’t mean I have more knowledge on the subject than those who don’t.
  • I was told by a stranger that she would “love to be at my judgment day so that she could watch me argue with God.”
  • My home church (complementarian) of 23 years, asked me to leave due to my vocalization of gender equality.

Everything I have just listed was either said to me or written to me in response to my advocating for gender equality. I want you all to see this because, depending on the type of people you encounter who disagree with you, I want you to be prepared to encounter these kinds of situations. This is real.

I spend much of my life thinking about the gender equality issue, and sometimes I wonder if it is all just a waste of time and energy. Maybe it is, but I can’t seem to stop; because there are few things on earth which offend me more than the name of God being used to silence and oppress half of His human creation. I see too many women hurt, insulted, abused, and disrespected by complementarian theology to be able to turn away completely. So, instead, I pray that God will use me to help create change wherever I can. At times it can be frustrating to see how slowly things move forward, but for me, it is comforting and energizing to know there are other people fighting for women and their spiritual freedom.

Advocating isn’t always easy. Some people will try to hurt you and knock you down. Get back up and keep going. That’s what we have to do. If I knew this would be the result of my choice to become an egalitarian and advocate for gender equality, would I still choose to put myself in this battle? Yes. Yes, I would; because justice is not an issue with room for compromise.

I didn’t know it was abuse…

Abuse is a word that shouldn’t be flippantly thrown around, so I’ve never considered myself an abuse victim. That is, until I became more aware of spiritual abuse. It was when I finally stepped out of and away from the church that I was able to see things from the outside looking in, and I didn’t like what I saw. I didn’t like having to face the way I was made to feel. I didn’t like having to admit that I was a victim of spiritual abuse.

My gifts and talents of teaching and leading were never utilized in the church, no matter how much I begged to be used; because I’m a female, and females must stay in their places and set roles.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

My voice was silenced every time I tried to speak up about the issue of the inequality and oppression of women in the church.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

I was told that it was “my fault” that the other church members didn’t like me and didn’t want to be around me, because I dared to challenge the views of the church leadership.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

I was told that I was the cause of disunity, division, and strife in the church; because I was constantly trying to hold discussions about the inequality present in the church.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

The church hated me when I dared to correct the pastor when he used his pulpit as a platform to misrepresent and trash egalitarian theology. One male individual from the church even sent me nasty messages on Facebook that called me names, insulted me in every way, and even threatened to “find me” the next time I showed up for service.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

I thought I had an opportunity to discuss gender theology with the pastor one day, but about 15 minutes into the conversation, I was yelled at and commanded to get out of his office.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

After sending the pastor an email with the intention of trying to understand a theological point about marriage and gender roles that was said in his sermon, the reply I received back simply said, “I’m not going to discuss this with you,” but that was followed by several paragraphs of personal attacks against my character and explanations as to why I wasn’t liked in the church.
I didn’t know that was abuse.

Even after going to college for an undergraduate degree in Theology and continuing on to the Master of Divinity program, I was not allowed to openly voice my theological views and opinions; especially if they were contradictory to that of the church leaders. If I did, both church leadership and lay people were ready to rip my head off. When I would explain that I had the knowledge and credentials to adequately speak to an issue, the males with the higher education degrees were the first to tell me that “degrees don’t matter.”
I didn’t know that was abuse.

After quite a few comments “suggesting” to me that I leave the church, I finally left–and I left church altogether. Lately I’ve been on the outside looking in, and what I see is theology and practices and attitudes that are harming real people–people like me. I’ve had to take a good look in my spiritual mirror. What I see are bruises, wounds, and scars. There’s a lot of hurt and bitterness. This is all going to take some time to heal. Why did I let all of this spiritual abuse go on for so long? Because I didn’t know that it was abuse. I didn’t realize that I was being abused, but abuse is exactly what it was.