I am a Jesus Feminist Because of my Dad

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My dad was a feminist before I was. I don’t think he’d have used the term then, and I don’t know that he’d use it now. It has different connotations for many people of his generation than it does for me.  But label or no label, he has championed me, my mother, and my sisters for as long as I can remember. If I believe that the Gospel is truly Good News for everyone (even–or perhaps especially–for women) it is in large part because of my dad.

 

My parents never really used words like “lead” or “submit” to describe their relationship dynamic, at least not to us. When I began to hear those words in Sunday School or in church (or, more than likely, in my own Bible reading), I simply assumed that they looked in practice like what my parents had: a relationship of equals. I don’t remember ever seeing my dad pull rank on my mother. He valued her wisdom, and to get his way simply because he was the man, rather than because they were both convinced that they were making the right decision, would have been unthinkable to him. This was nowhere truer than in my parents’ spiritual leadership of our family. To this day, I can’t think of a better example of two people using their own gifts to accomplish a task well together. In many ways, my mom was the one who performed the tasks generally associated with “spiritual leadership” of the family. She initiated family devotions, prayer and Scripture memorization. My mom’s personality, like her faith, was more pragmatic and devotional, and ideally suited to those tasks. But none of this means that my dad “abdicated his responsibility” as the spiritual head of our household (whatever that even means). Instead, he provided us with spiritual leadership in other ways, ways better suited to his own personality. My dad has always had a strong theological bent. He loves to know and to learn, to ask questions and to read widely. He provided us with a model of how to pursue truth humbly, and to appreciate the wealth of truths about God found in the myriad of existing Christian traditions. When I had questions, or doubts, I brought them to my dad, and no one was better at encouraging me to wrestle with them while reminding me to focus on Jesus first, and not let lesser questions overshadow Him. The way my parents worked together, each brought their gifts to the table, and respected each other has always been my model for marriage. I respect my father more, not less, for the humble way in which he shares the leadership of the family with my mother.

 

My father also believed, before I did, in the fullness of God’s plan for women in the Church and in the world. For as long as I can remember, he has chosen to read the Scriptures in an open and expansive way, one that builds up women and celebrates the many ways in which they contribute to building God’s kingdom. When my gifts turned out to be more intellectual than domestic (although I’ve since learned to bake a mean cookie), my father encouraged me to pursue them fully. “You know, Christina, you could get your PhD.” I laughed at him then, I guess he gets to laugh at me now. “You could preach, you know? You’d be good at that.” I’m not sure I realized, when I was a young teenager, how rare it is for an evangelical girl to hear those words from her father. My dad never taught me that there was anything I had to do or couldn’t do because I was female (nor, for that matter, did my mother). He allowed me the freedom to eschew the ideal of “the perfect woman of God” and to simply seek God as Christina. It’s in large part because the freedom he gave me and the example he set for me that I still do.

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This is a contribution to Sarah Bessey’s “I am a Jesus Feminist Because…” synchroblog in honour of the release of her book (which just came in the mail. Yay!) Be sure to head on over to her blog to check out some of the other contributions.

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Books That Have Changed My Life (Link-Up)

Cardigan Way

I found this link-up on The Cardigan Way while browsing through the submissions for this month’s What I’m Into link-up over at HopefulLeigh (which I participated in over on my other blog).   Anyway, I love the idea, so I thought I’d share a few books that made a deep impression on me.

The Last Battle by C.S. Lewis

I still consider Lewis’ depiction of Aslan’s country the most compelling picture of heaven I have ever read.  I had seen heaven as a place that, while certainly preferable to hell, would lack many of the things I loved in the world (I remember being particularly bummed when I was little at the thought that there might not be ice cream in heaven).  Lewis’ picture freed me to see the things I loved on earth not as things I would lose when I went to heaven, but as foretastes of heaven’s awesomeness.

Ella Enchanted and The Two Princesses of Bamarre by Gail Carson Levine

Mostly, Gail Carson Levine just writes kick-ass female heroines.  They’re real, and flawed, and courageous, and resourceful, and I can’t wait to introduce any daughters I might have to them.  I have to say, though, that the film adaptation of Ella Enchanted with Anne Hathaway was an absolute travesty.

 I Kissed Dating Goodbye and Boy Meets Girl by Joshua Harris (also Authentic Beauty and When God Writes Your Love Story by the Eric and Leslie Ludy)

I have mixed feelings recommending these after reading about some of the fallout, and I would certainly add some serious caveats if I recommended them to someone today, but I’m kind of a poster child for these books.  I married my first boyfriend a year and a day after we started dating (we’d been friends for a few years beforehand), and I don’t regret it at all.  I realize that for many of my contemporaries these books were anything but empowering, and I can see that to some degree—I certainly felt more than my fair share of guilt for having even a crush on a guy.  However, as a single teenager and young adult I did glean several positive messages from these books: I learned that I could make the most of my singleness, that I was not less of a person for not being in a relationship, that I had the right to set physical boundaries in a relationship and have those boundaries respected, and that I was absolutely entitled to have high expectations of any man I might enter a relationship with—not necessarily in terms of wealth, looks, and popularity, but in terms of character.

Redeeming Love by Francine Rivers

I first read this mid-high school, and it drove home for me that no one is beyond redemption and that not all sex workers are in their profession by choice.  I even thought for awhile after reading this book that I might be called to run a halfway house for former sex workers.  Then I started university and realized that I much preferred history and Latin to sociology.  Oh well.  I did lead a Bible study on Hosea in my dorm room first year because of this book, so there was that.

Why Not Women by Loren Cunningham and David J. Hamilton

I read this book midway through my first year at a co-workers recommendation, and I can’t even describe my reaction without resorting to clichés.  It was like water to my parched soul, or something.  I had always felt instinctively that women were fully equal to men, but hadn’t known how to reconcile that belief with my belief in the Bible as the inspired word of God.  Why Not Women showed me that such a reconciliation was possible.

What’s So Amazing about Grace by Philip Yancey

I distinctly remember sitting in Dairy Queen and reading chapter 13 (Grace-Healed Eyes) for the first time with tears just streaming down my face.  I was vaguely familiar with Mel White’s name, knew he claimed to be both gay and Christian, and was pretty sure that was just not a thing. Hearing Yancey talk about his friendship with Mel both before and after his coming out humanized the man behind Soulforce for me. I read heartbreaking quotes from men and women Yancey interviewed, and they punched me in the gut.  It was the first time I realized that something was deeply wrong with the way the church was currently interacting with the LGBT community—I mean, one interviewee told Yancey it was easier for him to find sex on the streets than a hug in church.  To borrow Yancey’s own words, What’s So Amazing About Grace “strongly challenged my notion of how grace should affect my attitude towards “different people,” even when those differences are serious and perhaps unresolvable.”

Church Mother: The Writings of a Protestant Reformer Sixteenth-Century Germany by Katharina Schutz Zell (edited and translated by Elsie McKee)

I came across Schutz Zell in a third-year course on the history of the Protestant Reformation, and became fascinated with her insistence on creating a ministry for herself, regardless of whether she met with the approval of male church leaders.  Katharina is on the short list of names for my hypothetical future daughter.

Slaves, Women, and Homosexuals by William J. Webb

If I had to pick one book that changed the way I read the Bible, it would be this one.  Webb’s redemptice movement hermeneutic gave me a consistent framework for reconciling passages of Scripture that seem horribly unjust with my belief in a just God.

When Helping Hurts: How to Alleviate Poverty Without Hurting the Poor…and Yourself by Steve Corbett and Brian Fikkert

This book should be recommended reading for every church leader in North America.  It’s an important reminder to make sure our good intentions toward the poor and underprivileged are supplemented with good judgment, sound practices, and a constant recognition of the innate dignity of every human being.

These books have been some of the most influential in my life.  Feel free to leave a comment sharing some of your favourites, or participate in the link-up yourself.

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Dear Christian with a Sign

Dear Christian with a sign,

 

Remember that sign?  You know, the one you brought to the rally for traditional marriage last week?  The one that read “Homosexuals will not inherit the kingdom of heaven .  1 Corinthians 6:9-10”?

 

I wonder if you saw the look on the face of one of the counter-protesters when she saw your sign.  See, she was just starting to hope that God might care about her, that He might hear her when she prayed.  Now she’s reminded that a lot of Christians don’t seem to think He does, and she’s wondering if she was just kidding herself.

 

Dear pastor in the pulpit,

 

Remember that sermon a few weeks ago?  You know, the one where you talked about the decay of society?  And then you talked about how gay marriage proved that society was going to hell in a handbasket?  And then, to end on just the right note of righteous anger, you started in on people who claimed to be gay AND Christian?  “Doesn’t that just prove that even the Church is polluted?,” you asked.  “How can people claim to be Christians, and throw the Bible aside like it means nothing?”

 

I wonder if you saw the look on his face before he wiped it off and smiled bravely.  Your youth group’s 16-year-old wonder boy, the one everyone knows is going to be a pastor someday.  The one who can always be counted on to help with the new ministry, or lead in prayer.  The one who knows his Bible backwards and forwards.  It turns out, he’s also known since he was 9 years old that he was attracted to other men.  He’s prayed and prayed for God to change that.  He’s cried and cried at the thought of being lonely for the rest of his life, and he’s begged God for a way out.  A way to serve Him, obey Him, and still not be so lonely for the rest of his life.  I wonder if you know that he cried again that Sunday morning, after he got home from your sermon.  He’d been wanting to come to you for help, and now he’s afraid you might condemn him if he does.

 

Dear Christian with a sign, Dear pastor in the pulpit, I’m not saying you need to ignore your convictions.

 

It can be helpful, of course, to remember that we’re all fallible, that our interpretation of the Bible isn’t perfect.  It can be helpful to ask God prayerfully to show us when we’ve gotten something wrong, or said something that was right the wrong way.  But that’s not what I want to remind you of today.

 

What I want you to remember, what’s so crucial, and so often forgotten, is this: there are real people on the other side of this debate.  They’re hurting because they’ve been rejected over and over.  They’re people Jesus loves and died for.  So next time you make a sign, next time you preach a sermon, please just ask yourself this: “How would Jesus say this? And how would I say this, if I knew one of them was listening?”

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Why we need to start teaching boys to respect girls as early as possible

This is a link to a Statscan study on sexual assault in Canada.  You’re free to read the whole study, but I want to zero in on one disturbing finding which was just brought to my attention.  If you look on page 13, you’ll find that the most common age range for pepetrators of sexual assault is 12 to 17 years.

12 to 17

These perpetrators are not the creepy middle-aged strangers we were warned not to take candy from as children.  We teach children, especially girls, how to protect themselves in order to decrease their likelihood of becoming victims of sexual assault, and maybe that’s ok as far as it goes.  Certainly, in a world which is broken and violent, self-defense and self-protection can be useful skills.  But it’s not enough.  Maybe we’ve focused so much on trying to keep children from becoming victims that we’ve forgotten to teach them not to be perpetrators.  Maybe we just thought they could figure that out on their own.  Unfortunately, it looks like far too large a number of 12-17 year-old boys have not figured this out.

So what can we do, then?  How do we keep our sons from hurting our daughters in such a devastating way?  With the caveat that I am neither a parent nor an expert on child psychology, I have a few suggestions.  I propose that we can teach boys to start respecting girls long before sexual assault even occurs to them.  From the time they are little, boys interact with female peers and authority figures.  They can–they must–be taught as soon as possible that they have to listen to those women.  Is your little sister telling you to give her back her teddy bear?  Give it back.  Is the neighbourhood girl telling you to stop pulling her hair?  Then stop pulling it.  They also need to be taught to ask a girl’s permission before invading her personal space in any way.  Do you want to borrow your classmate’s pencil?  Ask her permission,  Do you want to give your soccer teammate a high five?  Watch her to see if she’s comfortable, and ask her permission if you’re not sure.  This may seem excessive when the stakes are so low, but the stakes get higher before you know it.

Particularly if you are a man, be a model for your children when it comes to respecting women.  Never undermine their mother in front of them.  Solve disagreements in such a manner that both parties are treated respectfully.  If any of your actions do become disrespectful, apologize in front of your children.  They need to be able to see that it is ok–good, even–for a man to admit when he is wrong, make amends, and be willing to change.  If you are given to spontaneous displays of affection with your wife, you may want to take the opportunity to explain to your children that “Daddy is only allowed to come up and surprise Mommy with hugs because Mommy has given him permission.”  Seize teachable moments as they arise.  If your children overhear a story on the news about domestic abuse, take the opportunity to talk to them about how sometimes men hit their wives or girlfriends, and this hurts them and is not ok.

I’m sure there are things I’ve missed.  As I said, I’m not a parent.  However, I firmly believe that respect for women is a crucial value for parents to instill in their sons.  As they hit puberty, new conversations will need to occur, but the core of these values can be instilled long before sex becomes an issue.  Perpetrators of sexual assault start young, parents and role models of children need to start younger.

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What does it mean to wait for a husband? Or anything really?

Sometimes it feels like we evangelicals are taught to spend a lot of time waiting.  We wait for a husband or wife, for children, for the next stage in our lives.  And there is definitely a biblical component to the injunction to wait.  According to biblegateway.com, the word “wait” shows up 129 times in the New International Version.  Even excluding the times it shows up in connection to ritual purification in Leviticus, that’s still a lot.  And certainly waiting and praying, seeking God’s advice on next steps in our lives rather than rushing ahead blindly is advisable.  But I wonder sometimes if we’ve misunderstood what it means to wait, and how we should go about it.  I’m especially concerned with the rhetoric surrounding the idea of waiting for marriage, particularly as it’s fed to women.  I can’t really speak to the way it’s fed to men.  Nearly everything I read, or heard in sermons at youth rallies and the like, talked about the “when” of marriage.  When you get married, you’ll be glad you waited.  When you get married, you’ll understand what it means to put another person first.  Marriage would come one day, I just had to wait for it, and then my husband and I could serve God together.

Now for me, despite my overly neurotic fears to the contrary at times, it was a “when,” and not an “if.”  I did get married, and I was glad I waited, and I am learning what it means to put another person first, and Aaron and I are going in the same direction in life, and excited about where God has us.  So for me, those messages were true.  The fact is, though, that marriage is not a “when” for every woman.  Apparently, 40% of women in the US have never been married.  Of those, some will never marry.  Ever.  So what does it mean to wait?  Are they doomed to spend their lives regretting the fact that they’re missing out?  I don’t think so.  Now, I’d be the last person to deny that marriage to the right person at the right time is a pretty awesome thing.  However, life does not begin when you marry.  Her.meneutics, Christianity Today’s blog for women, recently posted an interview in which Lee Grady spoke of women like Amy Carmichael and Mary Slessor, who went onto the mission field as single women, and the need for women to keep doing so in today’s church.  There is too much need, at home and in the world, for the church to squander the resource it has in its single women.  So if I was asked to speak to a group of teenage girls about waiting for marriage, here is what I would tell them.

“Many of you will get married.  Some of you may not.  All of you, however, are called to obey God through every now you experience.  So find out what He wants from you, and what gifts He’s given you, and go out and use them.  Let God grow you.  Let him teach you through everything you experience how to face disappointment, how to handle conflict with grace, how to give and forgive unselfishly.  Learn what it means to grow up and live in the world, to serve it and love it the way Jesus did.  Don’t be afraid of where obeying God takes you.  Sometimes, his plans may diverge so far from yours that you’ll wonder whether they will ever meet up again.  Don’t worry about it.  The best place you could ever be is at the centre of God’s will.  Dwell there.  You may find one day, as you are obeying God, that you find someone else who is serving Him in the same ways, and that you want to spend the rest of your lives serving Him together.  If this does happen, you’ll find that everything you learned when you were out serving God on your own was just what you needed to know.  But until that happens, and even if it never does, you are not half a person, and you are not confined to waiting passively.  Wait on God, not for a possible future.  The latter paralyzes you, but the former will renew your strength and give you wings.  The church and the world need you go out and be obedient to God today, and tomorrow, and throughout the days and years that follow, wherever that leads you, and God has promised you that He will provide everything you need on the whole journey.”

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What on earth does a woman’s appearance have to do with her opinions on politics, or anything else?

Earlier today, I came across this video.  In it, a young woman details her reasons for voting for Romney.  (The first reason: “he’s hot, and we haven’t had a hot president since, like, Kennedy, and we all know how that ended.”)  Now, the video isn’t exactly an articulate and thoughtful contribution to political discussion.  Despite suggestions to the contrary, I continue to hope that it was an attempt at satire rather than a serious list of reasons this woman is voting for Romney.  Nevertheless, I was less disturbed by the video itself than I was by the video itself than I was by some of the comments it generated.

“You’re ugly.”

“You’re fat.”

“How can you be Catholic when you dress like a slut?”

“Did the silicone in your breast implants leech into your brain?”

“Dumb blonde.”

And just like that, before you even have time to criticize the ideas she put forth (and there was definitely fodder for criticism) her opinion is dismissed because of her face, her weight, her outfit, her cup size, and the colour of her hair.  What bearing do these things have on her political ideology?  And furthermore, what gives complete strangers, with Youtube accounts as their only qualification, the right to comment on these things?  What business of theirs is it what colour a woman dyes her hair, or what size her breasts are, and what she weighs?  I think what saddens and angers me most is that she could have posted a rational, well thought-out explanation for her political choices, and she would still receive some of the same hateful comments.  People weren’t just attacking her ideas.  They were attacking her.

I’m disturbed by the prevailing rationale–sometimes stated, more often simply assumed–that as soon as an individual, especially a woman, places themselves in the public eye, any comment on their appearance is fair game.  And you can’t win.  You can be ignored or maligned for being too pretty, and for being too ugly.  There will always be someone who claims the right to criticize your appearance.  You don’t even have to deliberately place yourself in the public eye.  You could be going about your life (shopping at Walmart, perhaps) and someone with a camera phone could snap a picture, post it to the Internet, and start jeering or leering away.  WHY ON EARTH DOES OUR SOCIETY THINK THIS IS OKAY?  Seriously, why?

Commenting on women’s appearance rather than their statements, actions, and ideas always has the effect of marginalizing their voices in various debates.  It completely bypasses the contributions they’re attempting to make, and tries to ridicule them or disqualify them from speaking based on completely irrelevant criteria.  Furthermore, in virtually every situation, those who criticize a woman’s appearance are overstepping their bounds.  When a woman places herself in the public eye as a politician, she gives the public the right to comment on the policies she advocates, not the size of her breasts or the colour of her hair.  When a woman places herself in the public eye as a news anchor, she must be open to criticism about how she reports the news, but she is not required to endure criticism about the shape of her body.  When a woman places herself in the public eye as an actress or singer, the public has the right to comment on her skill as an entertainer, but not the right to watch her constantly for signs of weight gain, plastic surgery, or wrinkles.  Our appearance is part of who we are, but it is far from the most important part, and it has absolutely nothing to do with what we can contribute to the betterment of our world.

So my challenge is this.  Even when we disagree with women, let’s do them the favour of treating them like human beings rather than mannequins, and let’s judge them based on the value of their contributions rather than the amount of makeup on their face.

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About me (and this blog)

Hi my name is Christina.  This means two things.  First, it means follower of Christ, Christian.  Second, at risk of stating the obvious, it means that I’m a woman.  Both these things are important to my identity.  This blog is my attempt to sort through my thoughts and join (or start) conversations I believe are important–for the Church, for women, for everyone really.  Sometimes I might volunteer answers, mostly I hope to ask the right questions.

A final note: The contents of the posts reflect my opinions at the time of posting.  When I look back on my opinions 5 years ago, I notice changes.  The core of my beliefs has remained constant, but a few opinions have been discarded and still more have been nuanced.  It’s entirely possible that this will be the case again in 5 years.  I don’t believe that the most important truths are relative, but neither do I presume to understand those truths perfectly.  In light of that, I pray for the humility to be teachable and willing to admit when I have been wrong.  So if you disagree with something I say, do please feel free to (respectfully)point out why.  I can’t promise I’ll change my mind, but I do promise to listen to what you have to say.

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