Sunday, May 01, 2016

Prophets, Priests, Apostles, Elders, and Women

This is going to be a shorter article, because I have much more research and study to do on it. I'll put out my thesis, but I have not yet done the full survey of Scripture that I need to do to come up with final conclusions.

Thesis: By conflating the roles/offices of priest and prophet in the Old Testament and elder and apostle in the New, modern evangelicals (particularly around the Young, Restless, and Reformed resurgence) have conflated roles in which women were used in Scripture with roles in which they were not, the result being that all roles are open to women in egalitarian thought and none to women in complementarian thought. Both of these systems of thought miss the Biblical model which had women robustly used in ways involving verbal proclamations (prayers and prophecies) but limited them in authoritative/pastoral roles involving sacrifices in the Old and sacraments in the New.

Points to consider: 

1. It's a presbyterian/reformed thing to see Scripture as connected and coherent. The Old Testament is not a disjointed set of antiquated Laws and stories. Instead, it is the foundation for the New Testament, the first buds of the gospel story that blooms in earnest in the gospels. For instance, in reformed thought, the New Testament practice of baptism is closely tied to the Old Testament practice of circumcision.

2. What if New Testament elders are tied to the ministry of Old Testament priests and New Testament apostles more to Old (and New) Testament prophets/prophetesses? How would this change our understanding of what women can and cannot do in the Church?

3. The church polity of individual churches and denominations are varied. Rather than considering how different churches use the words apostle, elder, and pastor, we should start by simply considering how the Bible uses the words.

4. Women were clearly prophetesses in both the Old and New Testament (Ex. 15:20, Judges 4:4, 2 Chron. 34:22, Luke 2:26, Acts 21:9).

5. Women clearly spoke (prayer and prophecy) during worship gatherings in the New Testament church (I Cor. 11:5).

6. Women were forbidden from either all speaking in services or a certain type of speaking in I Cor. 14: 34 and I Timothy 2.

7. A woman, Junia, may have been an apostle, depending on how you read Romans 16:7.

8. Priest in the Old Testament and Elder in the New were official roles with very specific qualifications. Only men are named in either role. New Testament qualifications for elder are less strict than Old Testament qualifications for priest.

9. Neither prophet/prophetess in the Old or apostle in the New have clearly specified qualifications (at least not on par with priest and elder). There are no qualifications in Scripture around their gender. 

Points 5 and 6 are important – either Paul wrote a convoluted mess of instructions to the church at Corinth, or he didn't. I personally don't think he did, and I think we can use the different things he says to refine what each instruction means, using the Bible as commentary on itself. Whatever keeping silent means in I Cor. 14 and teaching with authority means in I Timothy 2, it apparently doesn't mean a woman can't pray or prophesy publicly in church. I have seen churches which don't allow women as elders that are more and more asking women to lead in prayer during worship service. I think that is closer to the practice of the New Testament church.

In general, I think the conservative gender resurgence of the last few decades involved a charismatic element that conflated the office of elder with the general gift/role of apostle. Mark Driscoll saw himself as receiving direct words from the Lord. He believed the charismatic gifts were still for today and, in my humble opinion, played loose with the phrase, “God told me ….” C J Mahaney and John Piper, I believe, are both open to charismatic gifts for today. I personally don't have strong convictions either way – I see in Scripture both the argument for and against apostolic/charismatic gifts for today. I tend toward a belief that direct words from God were shut off when the canon of Scripture was set.

This conflation of the priestly and prophetic serves the egalitarian argument that everything is open to women. My friend Jeremiah says it this way – “Complementarians who maintain the lazy conflation of priestly and prophetic don't realize they've conceded the argument to egalitarians if they won't begin to distinguish the two roles from the OT forward.”

Personally, I have no problem that Junia is talked about like she was an apostle. I can concede that to egalitarians and still believe the authoritative office of elder in the church is for qualified men only. I also don't have a problem with the ministry of women like Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer, at least not because they are women (in contrast, I disagree with how both handle Scripture). Neither has attempted to take a spiritually authoritative role of elder (that I know of). They don't exercise church discipline. In fact, I watched an episode of Joyce Meyer speaking with her husband and noted the deference and respect she gave him (whom I think actually oversees her ministry).

In conclusion, I think we see women throughout Scripture speaking to God's people—prophesying in the Old (and New) and praying in services in the New. I'm wondering how a triperspective view of elder as prophet, priest, and king, a thought that took off over the last decade in Mark Driscoll's circles, confused us about what women can and can't do by lumping all of those under the auspices of one specific role in the church, the authoritative role of elder.

I have much more thinking and research to do on this, and if you have thoughts or input, please add them. I always grow from reading comments.

(Unless you want to tell me what's wrong with Beth Moore or Joyce Meyer. Please don't do that. That will only distract from the important discussion over what women did and did not do in the Old and New Testament.)

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Thomas Jefferson, Headship, and I Corinthians 11

My writing has taken me down a twisted, rocky path. But it's ended at a beautiful destination – one that is tweaking how I think about gender in the Scripture.

I started with a manuscript addressing hard things in Scripture concerning women. I wanted to wrestle with as many of the hard passages as I could, and none seemed quite as convoluted and unhelpful to women as I Corinthians 11's presentation of headship and head coverings. (If you aren't familiar with the chapter, I suggest you stop and read through it – this post assumes a basic familiarity with it.)

I wrestled. And studied. And talked to others who wrestled with me. No one has helped me think through this quite as much as Hannah Anderson. The thing that finally unlocked I Corinthians 11 for me was applying the number one law of hermeneutics – the Bible is the best commentary on itself. Was I Corinthians the only place the Bible talked about head coverings? No, actually, it wasn't. In fact, there is a highly relevant passage in Scripture that tells us exactly what Paul is referring to when he warned about head-coverings and the shame of a shaved head in Corinthian culture. It's found in Deuteronomy 21.
10 “When you go out to battle against your enemies, and the Lord your God delivers them into your hands and you take them away captive, 11 and see among the captives a beautiful woman, and have a desire for her and would take her as a wife for yourself, 12 then you shall bring her home to your house, and she shall shave her head and trim her nails. 13 She shall also remove the clothes of her captivity and shall remain in your house, and mourn her father and mother a full month; and after that you may go in to her and be her husband and she shall be your wife. 14 It shall be, if you are not pleased with her, then you shall let her go wherever she wishes; but you shall certainly not sell her for money, you shall not mistreat her, because you have humbled her.
There you have it, folks. I Corinthians 11 decoded, and all from a simple cross reference in Scripture. The hair issue is about protection from sexual subjugation in a culture in which women were regularly used as sexual slaves. This was major issue in Corinth. And the entire world really. Women were taken captive, and female slaves were considered the sexual property of their owners. Their head covering was integral to their representation in that culture. A woman's shaved head (and in Corinth apparently even just going without a head-covering) represented her status as a captive.  A recent New Yorker article on the hair styles of the presidential candidates pointed this out as well.

“Ted Cruz would fit perfectly in ancient Rome. Carly Fiorina, absolutely not: short hair was a sign you’d been conquered.

God's children were to act differently. In the Law, if an Israelite took a female captive that he wanted sexually, there was a process. She went through a ritual to mourn her losses, and the Israelite then must marry her. He could not force her to be his sexual slave without the protections of the covenant relationship of marriage. And from the next chapter, Deuteronomy 22, we know that God took the marriage covenant very seriously. Covenant marriage under the Law, especially to a woman who was without family protection, offered the woman much needed protection, provision, and representation (consider also Boaz and Ruth).

Things hadn't changed much between the time the Law was given in Deuteronomy and the time Paul addressed the church at Corinth. A friend of mine recently visited the acropolis at Corinth and learned of its long history of sexual subjugation of female captives. I could recount what she told me of its sexual history, but we really don't need to look much further in the United States than our very own founding fathers to see exactly what the issue was.

My kids and I love the musical Hamilton, and therefore, we've been learning a lot about Thomas Jefferson. I was intrigued last week to read this story in the New York Times about Jefferson and his relationship with his slave Sally Hemings. I knew of Sally, but I researched her deeper. I learned that there are no pictures of Sally, but accounts say that she was a beautiful light skinned woman who Jefferson began a sexual relationship (non-consensual since she was a slave without the ability to say no) when she was quite young. She eventually had six children believed to be fathered by Jefferson. After reading the NY Times article, I went to the Monticello website to read more about Sally Hemings.

And I cried.

I'd been studying I Corinthians 11 too long to miss the significance of her story. For what I learned was that, beyond just being the mother of six of Jefferson's children, Sally Hemings was also likely the half-sister of Thomas Jefferson's wife, fathered by Jefferson's white, respected father-in-law John Wayles. Wayles had a daughter by a covenant marriage that he recognized who became Jefferson's legal wife. Wayles educated that daughter and saw her married to a brilliant, powerful man. But John Wayles had another daughter, Sally. This daughter was born from a relationship of captive sexual subjugation. Her mother was a slave with no rights. Her father provided Sally and her mother food, shelter, and clothing. But he didn't claim either as his own. He didn't take responsibility for Sally the way he did for his daughter of covenant relationship. Neither Sally's mother or Sally herself carried his name or the protections and privileges that went with it.

Jefferson continued this generational sexual subjugation. It is thought that Sally was pregnant with her first child by him at the age of 16. There is no record of Wayles objecting to this relationship. Jefferson never freed Sally but did eventually free her living children. His daughter of covenant marriage, Martha, who bore Jefferson's name and inherited his estate, freed Sally after his death. 

Martha Jefferson and her descendants claimed Jefferson's name freely. Eventually, the family of one of Sally's children added Jefferson to their name. They had every right in my opinion, yet in the culture at the time, they were Jefferson's slave bastards. They had no legal rights to his name. He certainly never claimed them.


Egalitarians argue that head, gr. kephale, in I Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 means source – the husband is the source of the wife, as Eve was made from Adam's rib. Complementarians emphasize that it means authority – a wife is under her husband's authority. But both of those meanings miss the point. Jefferson was an authority in Sally Hemings life! But he wasn't her head. He didn't take responsibility for her. He didn't represent her with his name. He didn't steward his role in her life or the lives of the children he created with her. He used her. His authority over her resulted in her abuse and misuse.

Headship in I Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5 isn't primarily about authority. At least, if you look at how Scripture uses the word throughout the Bible, it isn't. Headship is about responsibility and representation. It's about entering covenant with someone and following through on your God-given commitments to them. It's about owning your relationship with them, both the rights of relationship and the responsibilities. It's about covering them in ways that protect them and provide for them.

The Greek word for head is used most often in Scripture to refer to the literal head on a body. But there is one other time it's used that has nothing to do with the head on a body, and I find that use of it especially helpful when we consider I Corinthians 11 and Ephesians 5's figurative use of it to refer to a husband.
Matthew 21:42 Jesus said to them, “Did you never read in the Scriptures, ‘The stone which the builders rejected, This became the chief corner stone; This came about from the Lord, And it is marvelous in our eyes’?
The stone which the builders rejected became the kephale cornerstone. If you think about the difference in cornerstones and chief cornerstones, you start to understand the nuance of headship. And when you then apply that nuance to I Corinthian 11's application of headship to women caught up in a culture of sexual subjugation, the whole concept breaks open. And it doesn't break open through some extra-Biblical secret cultural decoder ring. Scripture itself is the tool that breaks it open for us.

What was a cornerstone in the ancient Mid East?
The cornerstone (or foundation stone) concept is derived from the first stone set in the construction of a masonry foundation, important since all other stones will be set in reference to this stone, thus determining the position of the entire structure. (thank you, Wikipedia)
Jesus is the kephale, the chief, cornerstone of the entire building that is the universal Church. And Christian husbands are called to reflect this in their family of influence. Lots of men have authority. But how many men own their covenant commitments, their responsibility and need to represent their family? Well, if you're privileged by race or economic status, that entire question likely sounds ludicrous. But if you travel down the economic ladder just a rung or two, you will easily see how this matters.

From my article on Friday –

Another root problem in complementarian thought is that the movement was fundamentally a reaction to 2nd wave feminism. It's obviously a problem to build a system of teaching from Scripture as a reaction against any cultural movement. But it is even more of a problem when you realize that 2nd wave feminism itself was in many ways a white privileged movement. First wave feminism was not, in my opinion. But 2nd wave feminism hasn't impacted other cultures the same way it has middle and upper class whites because other cultures and other income brackets struggle with a different set of gender issues than those traditionally associated with 2nd wave feminists (like equal executive pay). Gloria Steinhem and other feminist leaders have long been criticized for their overemphasis on equal pay in the upper echelons of the privileged while only paying lip service to the types of gendered abuse that occur throughout the world among the poor. 

No wonder we've been off center in our discussions of headship.

I could (and will) write more. But to summarize this post, I think that I Corinthians 11 presents headship as a husband in a committed covenant relationship with his wife in which he protects her by owning his relationship with her, taking responsibility for her, representing her and their children with his name and protection, and much more. Does authority play a role in the husband/wife relationship? Certainly it does. But there are so many authorities and leaders in life that have nothing to do with headship and marriage that focusing on authority as the point of headship causes us to miss what it's really about.

Looking at their absence in society helps us understand what God created husbands to be to their wives. Any wife who has had a husband abandon his responsibilities (and there are many) and walk away from covenant relationship with her can tell you exactly what her family is missing, what she has to make up in his place, the weight she has to bear and the triple work she must do. I've watched my best friend do this. And she did it! She was strong, and by God's grace and a lot of help from her earthly father, she raised her sons to love God. She was faithful in church, paid her bills, and raised her children. But it was hard, and she felt the gaping hole left by the abandonment of her husband daily. I get disgusted by the headlines around the discrepancy in women's pay in Hollywood. It's hard to muster up outrage that Jennifer Lawrence made $3,000,000 less than Bradley Cooper in their last movie when nationally, $108 billion dollars is owed mostly by men to their children's mothers in back child support.

The feminist response is to downplay the vulnerability of women. Be strong. Be powerful. Don't let men define your identity. The problem is that women's statistically smaller size than men and their bearing of children inherently puts them in a vulnerable position. Short of all women taking steroids worldwide, we are not likely to average out to the size and strength of the average male. Ever. And the human race will die out if women don't allow themselves into the vulnerable position of childbirth and rearing. The Bible recognizes this vulnerability, and Peter specifically addresses it and the inherent role of husbands in this vulnerability in I Peter 3.
7 You husbands in the same way, live with your wives in an understanding way, as with someone weaker, since she is a woman; and show her honor as a fellow heir of the grace of life, so that your prayers will not be hindered.
The stakes are high – that a husband's “prayers will not be hindered.” A husband's protection, representation, and responsibility at a woman's weakest and most vulnerable time is a non-negotiable with God.

In conclusion, this probably sounds very much like old school headship. And in a sense it is. It's an age old concept, arguably put in motion since creation. And though western culture is working like crazy to minimize it, in my opinion, the foundational need for husbands to bear their responsibility in their homes in order for the home to be set straight will never go away.

Why then is there so much dissonance around this concept in today's churches? There is a very big problem, in my opinion, with how headship has been handled in the complementarian movement. I have loved exhortations to men to “man-up” and bear their responsibilities. But it has been the lip service paid to protection and responsibility without the hard actions in reality, particularly around the topic of spiritual and sexual abuse, that has really undermined this teaching. Instead of their headship elevating the status of the vulnerable, a number of complementarian leaders abused their headship to walk over the vulnerable. They confused headship with authority and forgot to protect and represent the vulnerable under their care. They made it unsafe to be vulnerable, and that is a travesty in God's design. It is serious enough that their prayers will be hindered.

There are a few men speaking and acting on abuses. In our presbytery, there are godly men speaking out particularly on the topics of racial prejudice (which included much spiritual and sexual abuse). But again and again, there is another story of a conservative man who in theory believes in headship who allowed his daughters to be molested, or molested them himself. There are pastors who look away again and again when men in their church use a young woman who is not in position to give consent, men like Thomas Jefferson with an air of respectability who still see women as sexual objects. What should be a load bearing cornerstone that contributes to the full functioning of other stones instead becomes a stone that crushes others under it. If the leaders who put forward headship can't call out those who abuse it, their moral authority to speak on the subject erodes away. 

NOTE -- I haven't addressed the functioning of wives in the concept of headship – I'll point out now that the cornerstone doesn't consume or subsume the other stones. It contributes to their best use, and the other stones bear weight and contribute to the alignment of the building as well. In my next post, I'll talk about the interpretation problem of conflating apostle and elder in the New Testament and prophet and priest in the Old which has made correct interpretation and application of what women can do in the Church nearly impossible. This has contributed to a de-emphasis of women's essential role in the health of local conservative churches and resulted in closing off opportunities to women in conservative churches that were clearly given to women in Scripture.

Friday, April 22, 2016

A Unified Field Theory on Gender

There's been a number of posts this last week defending complementarian thought. Most notably, Kevin DeYoung wrote 9 Marks of Healthy Biblical Complementarianism. I've had this post in the works for a long time, but Kevin's post and Aimee Byrd's response to it reminded me anew of a long unsettled feeling I've had with complementarian language.

Many reformed conservatives feel dissonance with the Counsel of Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. Though we generally identify aa complementarian, this is more a function of the fact that we DON'T identify with egalitarian thought than a hook, line, and sinker support of conservative presentations and applications of complementarian thought. Furthermore, we generally identify as complementarians because we've been greatly influenced in other ways by the old leaders of the movement. I was deeply influenced by John Piper's Desiring God. I find D. A. Carson's exegeses of various passages incredibly helpful, including passages on women. Tim Keller's writings on social justice transformed how I think about the gospel applied.

I really don't want to be at odds with any of these guys whom I respect and from whom I have learned life changing truths. But some of their language around the Bible and gender and the applications of the groups they support leave me uncomfortable. I go back again and again to the word dissonance. Something is not quite right. Something doesn't fit the rest of Scripture. I think often of a science conundrum that well illustrates the problem (in my humble opinion) with the last 30 years or so of discussion on gender among evangelicals.

 Note: if you are of the personality type that curls into the fetal position at the mention of a science conundrum, I'll try to explain this in a way that is empowering, not frustrating, to you. If I fail, let me know in the comments, and I'll try harder next time. 

Consider for a moment Newtonian physics. Most of us are familiar with it -- even you artists and poets who don't think you are. At least we all live according to it everyday. It centers around the concept of gravity. An apple fell on Sir Isaac Newton's head in the late 1600's, causing him to figure out gravity. Large objects (like our earth) pull smaller objects toward them (like an apple being pulled back to the earth or the moon being held in orbit by the gravitational pull of the earth), and the foundation of Newtonian physics was laid. Much in our world fits Newtonian physics, and it has become a great tool for understanding the universe. We all stick to the earth because of Newtonian physics. The moon orbits the earth; the earth orbits the sun. From satellites transmitting data to the earth to ants crawling along the ground, it seems that our universe is fundamentally held together by gravity. I was even taught in high school that electrons orbited around neutrons in atoms similar to the planets around the sun. The idea was that the neutron held the electrons in orbit through the gravitational pull of the neutron.

The problem is that scientists later discovered that electrons and neutrons don't actually work like that. In fact, you can't even measure how an electron travels in an atom. All of our world does not in fact obey Newtonian physics, particularly at the micro level. So we have a universe that follows one principle while the tiny parts that make up that universe defy it. Atoms don't fit Newton's model. Albert Einstein and others after him sought for a Unified Field Theory, something that explained how the universe worked on a macro and micro level. How could the big parts of the Universe work together in a way that the small parts making them up defied? There has to be a bigger principle at work, one that explains both.

Can you see where I am going here with gender?

In the 70s and 80s, a new conservative model on gender in the Church was codified. Statements were written, councils were established, and books were published. And these statements, councils, and books spoke into a number of problems around gender in the Church. They highlighted the fact that God created two distinct but overlapping genders (though the overlapping part has been sorely under-emphasized), two genders that complemented each other. Complementarian thought was born, and it caught on with many because it explained a lot of our experience to us. For those who value a straightforward reading of the Bible, especially when it comes to submission in Ephesians 5 and male-only eldership in I Timothy 3, it gave us a systematic way to look at gender. It also fit what many Christians were seeing in their homes. Among my generation, it gave many a counterexample to their upbringing shaped by parents of the 60's who were putting off the conservative social constructs of the previous generation. Ozzie and Harriett accidentally raised the Woodstock generation. Who raised my peers. And many of my peers wanted more stability in the home for their children than they had experienced with their Woodstock parents. Complementarian constructs resonated with children of Woodstock parents.

The problem is that while the complementarian movement explained a lot and defended important Scripture, it still has underlying root weaknesses. The primary one in my opinion is its foundational misinterpretation of Genesis 3:16 that believes a woman's root problem after the fall is that she wants to take control from the man and dominate him in return. That view put termites in a corner foundation of complementarian thought. You can't build a solid structure on gender with that kind of foundational misinterpretation of the root problem from the fall for women.

Another root problem in complementarian thought is that the movement was fundamentally a reaction to 2nd wave feminism. It's obviously a problem to build a system of teaching from Scripture as a reaction against any cultural movement. But it is even more of a problem when you realize that 2nd wave feminism itself was in many ways a white privileged movement. First wave feminism was not, in my opinion. But 2nd wave feminism hasn't impacted other cultures the same way it has middle and upper class whites because other cultures and other income brackets struggle with a different set of gender issues than those traditionally associated with 2nd wave feminists (like equal executive pay). Gloria Steinhem and other feminist leaders have long been criticized for their overemphasis on equal pay in the upper echelons of the privileged while only paying lipservice to the types of gendered abuse that occurs throughout the world among the poor.

This movement has also allowed for other wrong interpretations in Scripture, for instance that women were created to image the church (Nancy Leigh DeMoss, Mary Kassian) and that all women should submit to all men (John Piper).

Most of all, this movement hasn't allowed for women to serve in the modern complementarian church the way they served with Jesus, Paul, and Peter in the New Testament church. 

So what to do? Well, we need to re-examine some key teachings from Scripture. Personally, I've been looking at this from two angles.

1) Re-examining headship through Scripture. I think headship is an incredibly important teaching because it starts in Genesis and extends all the way through the Epistles. Understanding how the Bible uses the concept unlocks a lot around gender. I've been looking at headship particularly in reference to I Corinthians 11's instructions on women and head-coverings. I feel like the light has come on in my head, solidified after reading an article on Thomas Jefferson and Sally Hemmings. THAT STORY IS I CORINTHIANS 11 PERSONIFIED – it is everything Paul was trying to warn the church in Corinth about. The competing definitions of headship as source on the egalitarian side and authority on the complementarian are equally weak choices. Headship in Scripture is deep and beautiful, and I'm looking forward to publishing that article on Monday -- Headship, I Corinthians 11, and Thomas Jefferson.

2) Looking at all the women in the Bible. Conservatives have come up with an idealized womanhood that fits about 50% of the women affirmed in Scripture. Every woman used by God in Scripture gives us a data point for understanding what God did and did not mean by certain words He used. Deborah, Phoebe, Priscilla, and Abigail. Euodia, Synteche, Lydia, and Junia. These ladies aren't outliers. They are part of the normative plan for women made in the image of God. We must couple them with Sarah and Ruth, Mary and Rachel for a holistic understanding of what God created women to be and how He uses them in His story.

Of course, Einstein never figured out a Unified Field Theory, and maybe we won't around gender either. But I do believe that God is sanctifying His Church, and I think the next step may be moving us to a better understanding of male and female in the image of God, one that contributes to the flourishing of both man and woman in the Body of Christ as God intended in Eden.

Tuesday, April 05, 2016

The Kingdom Coming through Believing Black Community

The phrase gospel community denotes the community brothers and sisters who were formerly alienated from God and each other now have in Christ. Consider related words. Community. Communal. Communion. Common.

Gospel communities hold something in common. They share something, holding equally in it. This thing they share is based on Christ and held together by Christ. Those in gospel community are IN Christ, who breaks down barriers between people who were formerly alienated from one another. In Paul's time, it was Jew and Gentile, slave and free, and male and female. These groups were alienated from each other, one oppressor, the other oppressed, but in Christ the alienation was put away, and they were reconciled. Reconciliation between unequal powers is an interesting thing. In the end, every last time, it is the oppressed that receives the greater grace, for they have more to overcome in reconciliation. They have more to forgive. They lay down more in sins against them. They lay down more in deserved retribution. But where sin abounds, grace abounds much more.

In the United States, there are two particular groups who have been systematically oppressed for generation after generation – the Native American community and the black community. Honestly, I don't have much first hand experience with gospel reconciliation among those in the Native American community, though I am sure it exists in places. But I have been watching carefully gospel reconciliation in the black community and, by extension, the black and white community.

I started taking special note of this phenomena listening to the families of the Emmanuel Nine last summer. I watched and wept during the arraignment hearing for Dylan Root, who gunned down nine faithful church goers at Bible study and prayer service. BECAUSE THEY WERE BLACK. The black church members had welcomed the white kid with nazi tendencies into their little service, and he killed nine out of the twelve of them. Their family members confronted him at the hearing, and several offered forgiveness. There were no riots in the city, no looting of streets. There was profound grief at the weight of what Root brought upon those families. There were rounds of Amazing Grace. And there was forgiveness.

As I listened to that hearing, I was struck that for all the efforts of young white hipster Christians longing to take the gospel to inner cities (and please do!), it would be the quiet voices of weeping black family members who had descended from slaves and still lived in the area many had served that would ring the bell of gospel grace to a community. And I was deeply humbled. I saw a little burst of God's kingdom light shining through a previously unknown, humble little group of African Americans.

Fast forward to the last two weeks, and I again am humbled, my faith strengthened, through a humble little group of African Americans associated with the Reformed African American Network. For a long time, it deeply disturbed me that the reformed movement (and churches) of which I was a part always seemed so white. In Seattle, they also included a number of Asian Americans, but I could count on one hand the number of African Americans that I worshipped with. Why was presbyterianism so white?! Well, as I look at its history in America, I understand now. But I believed the doctrines of grace, and by extension, I believed them for all nations and all races. I struggled with the disparity between races among my reformed cohorts.

Enter RAAN. Just their mere appearance on Twitter and Facebook encouraged me. The doctrines I believed DID transcend race and nationality, and I praised God to see the growth of African American brothers and sisters who believed the doctrines were true and worthy of embracing EVEN THOUGH the history of the reformed church in America was anything but helpful to their quest for equal rights. In the last few weeks, I've had reason to grow in faith yet again through these folks. A controversy arose when another reformed teacher made insensitive, prejudicial statements about a young black man he saw on the street. His original post pre-judged the young man based on his dress and insolent demeanor toward a police car. And when confronted by African American pastors, this man doubled down justifying his words rather than humbly hearing their concerns. I'm not going to link to his words, because I think they are proud and unteachable, and I don't want to draw extra attention to his sin. But you can read articles on the RAAN website that address it.

There is only so much one can take, right? When the people who believe the same doctrines as you are provoked to pride rather than humility, to judgment rather than compassion, at what point do you throw in the towel? When do you say that there must be something wrong with the doctrines if people believing them can act with such pride and prejudice? But instead, Jemar Tisby of the Reformed African American Network did a podcast to address the situation. And it increased my faith. Jemar isn't throwing away the doctrines of grace, for they are too precious to be tossed aside and too solid to be crushed under the weight of such a conflict. Another brilliant beam of light shone in my eyes as the kingdom of God broke through the clouds. Seeds fall into the ground, look like they died, and then turn into oak trees. Leaven transform an entire lump of dough. Hidden pearls of the kingdom are bursting forth in unlikely places, and it is beautiful and faith increasing to watch. Jemar and other reformed African Americans chose faith and truth, and they addressed sin from that gospel foundation.

My own presbytery in the low country of South Carolina is planting a multi-ethnic church in my hometown. Guess who is going to be a part of it? I'm excited for this opportunity to continue watching God's kingdom coming through the black community to the whole community of faith. I feel as much the mission field as the missionary. I have much to learn from the perseverance through suffering of the black community of faith. To the praise of His glorious grace.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

On Nude Selfies

Kim Kardashian broke the internet last week with her nude selfie. She previously posted a nude selfie when pregnant with her son with a general explanation that it was to quiet the body shamers who regularly criticized her body. Last week's nude selfie made her feel “empowered.”

She said …
"I am empowered by my body. I am empowered by my sexuality. I am empowered by feeling comfortable in my skin. I am empowered by showing the world my flaws and not being afraid of what anyone is going to say about me. And I hope that through this platform I have been given, I can encourage the same empowerment for girls and women all over the world."
Shame and power. Most of us are familiar with the tug and pull of these dynamics, particularly around women's issues. But for Kim, these dynamics play primarily in the space starting right below her neck and ending slightly below her buttocks. At some point in her life—and from my understanding of the rest of her family, it was fairly early in life—Kim learned that particular area of her external body was her currency. It held her power. So when she flaunts her power, she is clear that such power is fueled by her sexuality.

That part of her body also held her shame. She has clearly been shamed over the part of her body between her neck and rear end. She's too fat, too curvy, too whatever. She's been criticized publicly on the Internet. But I imagine she has been criticized privately by her family as well. With this nude selfie, she perceives herself as taking back the power that others have had over her by way of shaming that part of her body.

It reminds me of something Zack Eswine said in Sensing Jesus about Jesus' interaction with the Pharisees and the sinful woman who washes His feet with her hair in Luke 7.
… the pastors (with Jesus) only saw the “sort of woman” she was. All they saw was her body and her sexual ability in life. In this, they were no different from the men she had slept with. They too, though they were not pastors, saw only her body and her sexual ability. I should say, rather, that most of her body went unnoticed by either kind of man. 
The religious men and the irreligious men had this in common: they looked at the woman, but they did not see her. Edenic eyes gave way again, poked out amid the haze. The religious denounced her. The irreligious desired her. Both were blind.
It isn't just the men around Kardashian who seem not to see past her sexuality but Kim herself. She's bought into others' narrative about her, and she's playing in their system. Many Christians will turn in disgust from Kardashian over this. “Put some clothes on!” “Have you no shame?” And to that second question, Kim would likely answer, “No, I don't have any shame. That's the whole point of this!”

But really she does. Which is why she posted the picture.

Kim operates in a power system run on the currency of big breasts, small waists, and sexy butt. She runs in a power system in which her primary power is her sexuality. She said she feels “empowered by her sexuality.” Though she has money, owns a business, and is famous, those don't make her feel empowered in whatever power structure she perceives herself. The secondary powers of money or fame are based on the one thing that fuels her power, her sexuality. She does not bank alone in this power system. Many women do similarly though with lesser currency and lesser power. Kardashian and Beyonce are two of the most savvy women in our world at exploiting this currency for their own benefit.

The problem in this system is that women didn't create this currency. They have, however, learned how to build their bank account and spend their earnings in it. If a dictator takes over your world and changes the form of money from euros to won, eventually the savvy are going to start operating in won if they want power or influence under the dictator. Satan changed the currency between men and women at the fall. Men oppress women, and women still desire men to the point that they sell their soul (or their body on the internet) to trade in their currency.

Hannah Anderson explains it this way:
“Rather than dismantling male power structures, (nude selfies) are an attempt to gain power through them. They ARE a form of female empowerment but only because they buy into the established system. Feminine beauty is valuable because the people who want it the most (men) hold biological and sociological power. In other words, feminine sexuality is a commodity that can be leveraged to gain power because of the demand that already exists. 
In a fallen world, men hold power, and sinful men hold onto it for their own benefit; women need to gain power both to protect themselves as well as desiring it out of their own sinfulness. The result? Women use the one thing they have that men want to shift power away from those men. The problem, though, is that it ends up harming other women. It becomes a form of competition for the limited resource of male attention, which is the means of gaining power.”
An obvious disclaimer is needed – not ALL men operate in the currency of sex and not ALL women exploit it for their benefit. But a lot of them do (including the grand example of the likely Republican presidential nominee), and it is helpful to understand the spiritual and sociological dynamics going on when they do. I say it again and again that we can not address a problem until we actually understand the spiritual root issue. I am amazed how often some new pop controversy around Beyonce, Miley Cyrus, or Kim Kardashian clearly reflects back on Genesis 3:16's prediction of male oppression and exploitation along with a woman's turning toward the man despite it.

But there is gospel hope in the middle of this. Whether Kardashian will come to a redeemed view of her whole person is up to God, but many of us will have a chance to speak into the lives of women young and old struggling with the same dynamic.

Hannah also says
“… Christian theology doesn't have a place of clambering or holding onto power. That's the whole point of Philippians 2 and the ENTIRETY OF THE GOSPEL.”
There is such freedom in Christ around this issue, for both women and men. In Christ, women don't have to clamor for power in this fallen sexual dynamic between the genders. Charm is deceitful and beauty is passing, but a woman who fears the Lord shall be praised according to Proverbs 31. And ...
I Peter 3:3-4 Do not let your adornment be outward—arranging the hair, wearing gold, or putting on fine apparel—rather let it be the hidden person of the heart, with the incorruptible beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in the sight of God.
While men around us (and women affected by them) may operate on a sexual currency, God does not, and He instructs His children to plow a counter culture, to operate in a new currency. A gentle (strength under control), quiet (peaceful, settled) spirit of a woman in Christ is beautiful and precious (highly valuable like gold or diamonds) in God's currency. We have a spiritual inheritance in Christ that allows us to lift our heads as female image-bearers of God. While we steward our bodies, we are not slaves to others' perceptions of them. They are not our source of power or currency. We have a spiritual inheritance in Christ as daughters of the King of King that fuels our self-identity and interactions with others. May we every day in every way disciple women in this truth.