Forced Gender Roles Ignore Our Christian Lineage

“Bad” women often advance God’s work in the world.  Or so the bible tells us.

Here are just a few:  Tamar, Rahab, ruth, Bathsheba, and Mary mother of Jesus.  

These women would not be considered “well-behaved” or fit the role of what many Conservative Christians today would consider a “proper woman.”  Four or five of them had improper sexual relations according to the standards of their time and could have fallen victim of dangerous consequences. Four were the “wrong” bloodline.  All of them fell outside the societal norms for what a woman should be.  

Why do I bring this up?  Because there is a strong belief in many conservative circles that woman are limited to a specific role.  It includes being submissive to their husbands even to the point of enduring abuse.  Some claim that women are unhappy today because they are given too much of a role outside this tradition.  

When she found out she was to be an unwed mother, Pastor Desiree Allen found herself considered about the judgment of her congregation: “If you’ve been in church for any period of time you’ve heard or witnessed the aftermath. Shunning, slut shaming, being sat down from your position, having to go up in front of the church and confess your sin, etc. etc. No one can be naïve enough to say this type of stuff doesn’t happen in church.”

Here concerns are justified.  She lists types of control over women’s behavior. This patriarchal noose around women’s bodies has tried to tighten in forms of restrictions on their rights to proper health care.  

Now in the name of full disclosure, I was raised by a devout feminist.  My mother was a devout feminist because she had to be.  A single mother in the 1970’s of four children forced to work multiple jobs and denied things like insurance because she was a single, divorced woman.  The fact that her first husband was an abusive and controlling alcoholic who literally almost shot my mother and my siblings with a shotgun did not matter.  She did not fit the role of a dutiful housewife and mother.  Society continued the abuse her husband attacker started.  

It is from here that I have learned that forcing gender roles upon women is an infringement of their rights; it subjugates them to a misogynist worldview, it forces them to inequality; it puts them at risk to abusive husbands; it requires them to relieve sexual assault without justice; it ignores their contribution of the Christian lineage.  

We cannot continue to abide by the misinterpretation of certain scriptures calling women to be submissive when our Christian lineage celebrates those who stand outside of societal roles.  

May we be as brave as those women in Christ’s family.

When We Question Our Own Divine Image

Psalm 139 reminds us all that we are “fearfully and wonderfully made.”  It’s an affirmation of reminding us that each and every one of us is created in a fully divine image.  

With the changing public square and the legitimate fears many minorities have, we need those affirmations to remind us that each and every human is divinely inspired.  

A couple of weeks ago, my seminary education and my queer identity took me to the dedication of a historical marker in downtown Kansas City, MO that commemorated the start of what we now call the LGBTQ movement.  It celebrates a national meeting of 40 organizations who met to create a strategy to strive for full inclusion of the LGBTQ folk in our society.

The dedication featured the typical pomp and circumstance with speeches from local politicians and activists as well as a performance from the Heartland Men’s Chorus, the local gay men’s chorus that I have been a member.  

That night a friend from that chorus took his own life.  A light in this world, one who was one of the first people I have met who demonstrated contagious, spiritual joy.  He performed in concerts specifically designed to combat bullying and prevent suicide.  Yet, he died by his own choice! It was a shock to all of us who mourn him.  Worse, his reasons are not clear.  Instead, those who loved him were left with only questions:  Why?  He was always so happy; how can this be?  After the questions came the if onlys and what ifs:  If only I had called him more, seen him more, been there for him.  What if I had just sent him a message?  

In my own processing of loss, I found myself wondering if he suffered internalized homophobia –that feeling of self-doubt, shame or worthlessness that comes from believing homophobic rants of others.  It is believing those things that question our own Divine image.  

In the reality of the recent election, I think that is why positive visibility of queer individuals in media is so important.  How we show the complexity of television show characters, for example, is vital to show the normalcy of being queer.  GLAAD just put out a report showing the percentage of characters on major network TV shows who are LGBTQ.  They are at an all time high however, it could be better pointing out how these shows fall short in their portrayals of queer women. 

It’s why Gay and Lesbian choruses, historical markers, and positive media portrayal matter.  They are continuing affirmations of how we as members of the Queer community also bear a part of God’s creation.  We were made in “our mother’s wombs,”  are part of God’s works and, called “good.”

May we see those works in ourselves.  

Extremist Ideas Slaughter the Innocent

All kinds of weapons slaughter innocent children.  They are killed by bombs, guns, hunger, treatable disease, but they are also killed by the weapon of extremist ideas that work to make such horrors just and right.  

Last week, I felt sting of the “Slaughter of the Innocents” in Syria where 22 children and six of their teachers were killed in an airstrikes seeming to specifically target their school.  It is considered the deadliest school bombing since the Syrian civil war started.  What is worse is that these 22 children are the latest in a long line of bombings of schools that cost 591 children their lives in 2015.  

Why did Herod, Pharaoh, or the commanders behind Syrian attack choose to attack children?  Why attack the most vulnerable and hopeful?  They are the most unlikely threat.  Yet, these children and their teachers while learning were deemed worthy of only death, unwelcome in the world.  They shared the unwelcome that some felt for Moses and Jesus.  This long line of school bombings have created sacrificial victims to extremist ideology.  

These ideologies are not limited to the warmongers on the other side of the globe.  Here in the US, we are seeing a war of ideologies.  Some are radical, holding a belief in one right way to exist– white, straight, cisgendered, conservative, Christian–and that only those like them should be in power.  

In his book American Fascists, Hedges mention talks about the dangers of some of this belief:   

“The radical Christian Right calls for exclusion, cruelty and intolerance in the name of God.  Its members do not commit evil for evil’s sake.  They commit evil to make a better world.  To attain this better world, they believe, some must suffer and be silenced, and at the end of time all those who oppose them must be destroyed.”

This attitude is the kind that motivates the massacres in schools, burning of churches, and other acts of hate.  These acts of hate are attempts to intimidate the open forum or hopes for positive change.  Fanatical and intolerant has come to be an acceptable form of discussion.  But as Tony Blair former Prime Minister of Great Britain warns:   

“When we allow the fanatics to define the debate, they win the battle of ideas.”

In the case of our world, the battle of ideas needs to be defined by active tolerance and a look beyond our own insular world.  None of us have the exclusive insight on the ultimate right way to exist.  

Jesus said,”Let the little children come to me, and do not stop them: for it is to such as these that the kingdom of God belongs” (Luke 18:16).  

This is what tyrants fear most.  Tyrants fear the Kingdom of God, the wonderful reign of hope in human hearts that we can live justly and in peace.  Children are targets because they represent hope.  This is why they must be protected: they are hope of the world.   

Even Jesus Had Implicit Bias

Reading the Gospels with liberation eyes is hard but necessary and, it has helped to open the eyes of this seminary student to the bias all around me.

For example, even Jesus had implicit bias and prejudice.  The Gospel of Mark shows Jesus encountering a Syrophoenician woman begging him to heal her daughter.  He dismissed her, calling her a dog, a racial epithet Jews used in reference to Gentiles.

My seminary education has challenged me to face some personally difficult issues. Among these was to realize that as a middle class white, gay male, I still have privilege that some “others” –other races, gender(s), classes, etc— do not share. Sure, I have experienced homophobia, even experiencing some violence. But, I don’t like to compare that to the experiences from differing “others” because, if I wanted, I could hide my orientation in casual encounters with people. I also struggle with the fact that I have an implicit bias favoring those who like me are white.

These realizations triggered me. I was furious, overwhelmed, devastated, sickened. At first with my “accusers” and then with myself.

“I am gay. I am one of the oppressed. I don’t participate in the oppression of others because I know what that feels like.” WRONG! I learned that my reaction is a normal part of “white fragility.”

We do not live in a world of easy categories or simple answers. It is possible to be one of the oppressed and still hold prejudices.

In fact, implicit bias is so deeply ingrained in some it affects their dating and sex life. Now, I am not saying having a “type” is necessarily racist but, how we express our dating preferences can be. Some online dating profiles express preference in ways reminiscent of the 1960’s deep south: “Whites Only: No Blacks.” Some go as far as comparing certain ethnic groups to food: “No rice, spice, or curry” meaning no Asian, Latinx, or Middle Eastern peoples.

The queer community is just of guilty of racist behavior as our straight counterparts. So much so that someone constructed Wikipedia page listing some of our apparent transgressions.

Bloggers have called us to task:

  • Mike Alvear holds that “Racism is just more repugnant when we [gay men] express it because we should know better.” 
  • Fellow public theologian Irene Moore critiqued an article claiming that “the big mistake was thinking that the LGBTQ community could have a civil conversation on race.” 

What is worse is that the dividing us along these lines of race and sexuality ignore the challenges who fall into more than one oppressed category. Not to mention, movements fighting oppression have had history lifting working together. 

Yet, there is hope. Moore points out “We cannot be blamed for misinformation that we have been taught and have absorbed from our U.S. society and culture, but we will be held responsible for repeating misinformation after we have learned otherwise.”

We only have to consult the #BlackLivesMatter website to get good information.  This is like the tenacity of the Syrophoenician woman  with Jesus that made him realize his own human bias privileging his own race and culture over others. It is only after this encounter that Jesus expands his ministry to include those outside of the Jewish faith. Christianity owes this woman for showing Jesus a broader look.  White Americans like me owe a debt of gratitude to #BlackLivesMatter movement and to all other African Americans who have told the truth about their lives for so long.  

We the Children of God, the children whose God’s encompassing promises include the rainbow of colors can be both biased and overcome them in living up to Jesus’ example.

If you would like to test your own implicit bias or would like to read more on the issue I recommend this article from NPR.  

Voting is the Mustard Seed

When Jesus’ disciples encountered a demon possessed boy they could not heal (Matt. 17:14-21), Jesus response seems on point:  “You faithless and perverse generation, how much longer must I be with you?”  Jesus then cast out the demon with ease and when questioned why there was so much difficulty for the disciples, Jesus answered them “Because of your little faith.  For truly I tell you, if you have faith the size of a mustard seed, you will say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move; and nothing will be impossible for you.”  

You may think the values of justice, mercy, faith, peace, and lovingkindness have been so damaged in this election season that they cannot recover.  You may believe these values have been tarnished by those who say one thing and do another like the scribes and Pharisees that Jesus rebuked in Matthew.  They  “do not practice what they teach.  They tie up heavy burdens hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others; but they themselves are unwilling to lift a finger to move on them.”   

That is not a reason not to vote!  It is exactly why there must be faith like the mustard seed challenge and change this.  

A mustard seed?  A small weed?  That’s what we need? Indeed!

We must be the mustard seed because demons abound:

  • DEMON OF SEXISM:  In the home of Lazarus, Mary and Martha, Jesus praised Mary for not living into the gender role set out for her when she was criticized by her sister Martha.  Instead, Jesus encouraged her behavior to be a part of the discussion, to not only to listen but to contribute.
  • DEMON OF ISLAMOPHOBIA:  Jesus got over his own implicit bias of the Syrophoenician woman who he first insulted implying she was a dog begging to be fed.  Listening to her determination and tenacity he eventually healed her daughter and expanded his own ministry to include those outside the Jewish tradition.  
  • DEMON OF HOMOPHOBIA:  Jesus healed the slave and likely lover of a Roman Centurion at the Roman’s request.  

The list of demons abounds but so does the list of parables and scriptures that can guide us through.  With a mustard seed of faith nothing is impossible.  

Will you be part of the faithless and perverse generation? Or will you be the mustard seed?