The underlying point (in regard’s to masculinity/femininity and gender in the church)

Today I am going to stray just a little bit from the intended posting paradigm to pipe in on a bit of internet controversy that has gone on the last week or so.  For those that don’t know (and to be honest, had it not been for this year-long project of mine, I wouldn’t have either) last week, Mark Driscoll of Mars Hill Church, posted the following status on his facebook page:

“So, what story do you have about the most effiminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?”

The response … I am sure was not anticipated.  A flurry of posts from a variety of faith bloggers went out, culminiating, I think, to a point of Rachel Held Evans calling Mark a “bully” and rallying the troops as it were to write, call, and e-mail the elders of Mars Hill in order to correct Mark’s behavior for the sake of the population that his comment appeared to marginalize.

Now, to be perfectly forthcoming, I don’t know really enough about Mark, nor the history of his life, to make any real comment on what was intended by the post.  Some say that Mark is a sexist, among other things, as was so outlined on Rachel’s “calling out post”.  I don’t know enough to comment on that.  I am more interested in the conversation happening under this one, which is a conversation about masculinity, femininity, and gender in the church … and another conversation, even under that one, that I will talk about at the tail of this post.

My main concern with this language (and for full disclosure, you are reading a post by a Caucasian male in his 30th year) is more about what happens when one even attempts to talk about things that “make a man” and things that “make a woman”.  In reading through the mountains of comments in various blogs coming out of this week, there were some common themes (and, I am paraphrasing, for simplicity’s sake):

1. We can be civil on the conversation, without attaching statements of the quality of a person by the beliefs that they might have.

2. When one comments about things that may have been historically and traditionally attributed to “maleness”, what follows are statements about dominance, patriarchy, sexism, and the like.

3. When one comments about how that maybe some “masculine” traits are misinterpreted, and instead attempts to point out things about the femininity of God or of certain traits, these comments are met with high praise for their progressive and relevant meaning.

Let me be frank.  The bible is clear that all good human qualities come from God.  That includes humility, gentleness, meekness, goodwill, kindness, and submissiveness … but that also includes strength, violent action, assertiveness, empowered speech, correction, strength of body, among others.

Our trouble about masculine and feminine traits is rooted in our confusion on how God can contain all these traits, paired with the fact that more times than not, God is referred to as a Him, a Father, and that Jesus took on the gender of a male (the Son of Man) on his time on earth.

Even so, that does not mean that God is “masculine”.  It also does not mean that he is “feminine”.  It means that he IS.  We are the folks that have trouble understanding how that all works out.

What troubles me more is the fact that traditionally masculine ideas (as they are a part of God’s character) seem to be under attack in the modern church.  So, maybe some popular pastors take the wrong hitch, or put too much emphasis on the wrong point, but the fact is, characteristics that are culturally associated with males (maybe wrongly) are seen as negative ones.

My case in point …. violence.  Or if you like the politically correct term – physical action.

From Rachel Held Evan’s response post to Mark Driscoll’s response (I know, it gets confusing).

“Traits like gentleness, peacemaking, self-control, and non-violence are considered by our culture to be feminine qualities, not masculine ones, and so it should come as no surprise that the life and message of Jesus can be a turn off to men who consider such a lifestyle foolish.”

I prefer this quote, because she uses literally two terms side by side that I think illustrate my point.

There is a difference between self-control and non-violence.

Jesus was violent.  He was also gentle.  The terms are not mutually exclusive.

How do I know that Jesus was violent?  This depends on your understanding of Christology.

First, we have classic examples in Jesus’ own words and actions that indicate he was not incapable of physical intervention when necessary or warranted:

Jesus made a whip, and pretty much destroyed the temple grounds in response to the actions of the priesthood there. (John 2. 13-18)

Jesus comments on a specific action that “it was better for” individuals that harmed children. (Matthew 18.6)

We also know, in a very controversial book at the end of the Bible, that Jesus’ return to earth is not very peaceful.  (Rev. 19.11-21)  And, whether or not you see that book as literal, metaphorical, symbolic, or some combination of all of them, it remains a strikingly violent image and book.

Also, if you understand Jesus as one part of the Trinity, you then, by association, link the actions, words, and thoughts of Yahweh (God the Father) to his son Yeshua (Jesus).  Those examples are more plentiful:

The flood of Noah.

The direction from God to Abraham to sacrifice Abraham.

Destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

Death of the Egyptians as the Hebrews fled Egypt.

The swallowing up of idol-worshiping Hebrews at the base of Mount Sinai

The death and slaughter of Goliath and his brothers by David.

These are just a few.  I won’t get into even some of the more distubing Old Testament images.

So, if you understand Jesus to be “all God” and “all Human” you then have to understand that within the person of Jesus was carried with him the experiences of the Jewish people, and God’s corrective judgment towards them and violent defense of them.

Jesus wasn’t a pacifist.  Jesus taught self-control, and to first attempt to love your neighbor.  He also told his disciples to shake the dust off their shoes.  Jesus didn’t like seeing violence … and neither does God.  But we, as Christ’s followers, and grafted into the tree with the Israelites of the Bible, have to work to reconcile the two aspects of God into one.

This leads me to my final point, the one that I think all this is really about, and once again, comes by the eloquent writing of Ms. Evans:

But as Jesus tried to explain to his disciples, the cross is not about indulging oneself, but about denying oneself. Rather than conforming Christ to our notions of masculinity, we must conform our notions of masculinity to Christ.

We are not charged with changing the gospel; we are charged with changing ourselves.

(Italics for my emphasis)

Mrs. Evans is absolutely and fundamentally right, though this conversation is not just about masculinity and feminity … it’s about how we understand and what we do about Jesus, about God, and about what it means to follow both.

That is why it is hard for the “macho” to accept gentleness as a “manly” trait … or feminists to accept that sometimes it is in fact Godly to physically intervene in the defense of others.

It is hard, because just as long ago when we were split into two (man and woman – in whatever way you want to describe Creation) we eternally desire and want it to be one or the other.

God is not that simple.  God is a God of judgement, righteousness, justice, and wrath … and His love and mercy endure forever.  There are those that take an easy path, disecting scripture and tradition to postulate a theology of being on one side or the other, and there are those that will seek to understand how all of the parts fit as the whole of God, and how best to serve Him.

It would certainly be easier to pick a side.  Some have.  It is harder, then, I think to be “ok” with not knowing how all the cogs and wheels work together, but instead being sober in our attempts to understand that God is the whole package, avoiding, in the words of Paul, a certain trap:

1 I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: 2 preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. 3 For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, 4 and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. 5 But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.

2 Timothy 4.1-5

So, while I know that there may be aspects of this post that anger some, and that I am sure I might be called names here on the blog, or over Facebook, or in person, just know that my thoughts on this topic are part of this larger conversation of reconciliation.  Not only of myself to others, but also of all of the variety of characteristics of God. 

My aim is to not remove a single aspect of God to suit my own needs, but instead strive to see how all of His infinite aspects (the comfortable and uncomfortable) come together into a God worthy of worship.

Are there things that you just can’t swallow yet about God?

Have you ever experienced the “candy-coated Jesus”, or the “vending machine God”?

Are you mad at me for some of the things that I have said, and want to refute (please, do!)?

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