Saturday, December 22, 2012

Of Jesus, Feminists and Chewing Your Food

Lately I have had a few links to articles come up on my Facebook feed.  Articles which tell me JESUS IS A FEMINIST!!  And yes, they get that excited about it.  To be honest, this disquiets me.

I love passionate people.  They are fantastic.  They get stuff done, they get super excited about their ideas and nobody has better debates and arguments than a passionate person.  However one thing I have discovered about passionate people, specifically passionate Christians, over the years is that sometimes their passion can eclipse the thing they are passionate about.  Then, sometimes, they begin to re-create Jesus in their image.  The scenario I have seen goes like this.  Christian discovers an aspect of Jesus, their faith and/or the Bible which revolutionises the way they see themselves and the people around them.  Christian gets passionate in the application of this insight and finds others with whom to share their conclusions and the resulting life changing impacts.  All good here so far.  This, however, is where it starts to get kooky.  Christian becomes so devoted to this new insight that they begin to paint Christ and Christian living as a caricature, placing emphasis on this newly discovered aspect and de-emphasising other aspects which balance or do not directly support their own soap-box issue.  Over time this can lead to recreating Christ in their mind.  Like those who love the law who oft quote James, but neglect to open Romans.  Like the Christian who seeks the emotional highs of worship and espouses Grace but avoids those parts of the Bible that may make them feel bad about their week-day choices.

The truth is, neither law and justice nor grace are absent from the nature of Christ.  The Bible speaks long and often about the terrible and unattainable beauty of the law being a refuge and a safe guard to those who love God - a light to our path.  Grace is beautiful.  Amazing in fact, even awesome - as in inspiring true awe within my soul.  Without it I would have no hope.  The more I learn about these aspects of Christ and the Bible and discern how they apply to my own life, the more I realise that they are in no way contradictory, but complementary.  In fact, without grace the law is terrible and frightening, without the law we do not understand our need of grace.  When I am presented with caricatures of Christ which emphasise either the Law or Grace I recognise the Jesus I know within the presentation.  By their very nature, caricatures take easily recognisable features of the one they are trying to portray and emphasise them.  However to stop at the caricature is to deprive yourself of knowing ALL of Jesus and to risk starting to recreate Him in your own image and begin worshiping yourself and your own ideas - labelling them as Jesus.  These are two big ideas about Jesus, but the same applies to other doctrines and insights.

This brings me to disquieting point #1:
When we apply emphasis to one aspect of Christ to the neglect of the other aspects of Christ and continue to do this long term, we risk missing who Christ really is.

There are many who would call me a feminist.

I believe in women's right to vote, to an education, to equal pay and equal rights under the law.  I personally support and spread knowledge of causes which defend women's rights and health such as the global outlawing of female circumcision, the provision of medical treatment for women suffering fistulas or prolapse in countries where they are neglected or treated as cursed, women's refuges to provide a haven for victims of domestic abuse.  I keep myself informed of the current statistics concerning the trafficking of women and girls and support the rehabilitation of sex workers and protect vulnerable girls in Thailand.  I think women, by nature, are powerful and influential - far more so than most actually grasp.  There are many, many other ways that I support, promote and protectively work toward rights and protection for women.

However there are many who would call me anti-feminist.

I do not agree with abortion, even in cases of incest, rape and (perhaps especially) handicap identified by prenatal testing.  Not an opinion I hold lightly.  I believe women should submit to their husband (one day I am going to write something about the definition of that word "submit" - it's interesting).  I believe men should hold most of the leadership positions in churches.  I no longer preach to mixed congregations as I do not feel that, as a woman, it is Biblically appropriate for me to do so unless under direct instruction from God.  I believe in taking reasonable responsibility for the sexual impact you can have on others in the context of dress and conduct.  I believe in saving sex for the marriage relationship.  Hang, there are plenty of feminists who would throw me out of the club for believing in MARRIAGE!

The thing is, feminist is a very loose term open to interpretation and what I mean when I use the term may be completely different to what you mean.  There is so much diversity within this label that perhaps they only unifying characteristic of feminists is that they believe in and are committed to defending`and promoting the rights of women.

In this broad definition of feminism, of COURSE Jesus was a feminist!  He treated women with respect.  They financially supported his ministry.  He specifically reached out to them.  The early Church had highly influential members who were women (Lydia, Priscilla, Tabitha - just to name a few).  Paul wrote in Galatians that men and women are one in Christ.  However, with a slippery, ill-defined label which is open to interpretation comes a whole lot of things which Jesus was not.  I believe great caution should be used with labels such as this.

Disquieting point #2:
"Feminist" is open to interpretation and is imprecise language therefore when applying this label indiscriminately to Christ, you are opening yourself, and Jesus, up to misinterpretation.

Another thing I have noticed within these JESUS IS A FEMINIST articles, there are often wild generalisations or outright inaccurate statements made.  Please note the irony of fact that the previous statement did, in fact, contain a wild generalisation.  The internet is a fabulous place with the exchange of ideas and thoughts made easier and more free than ever before  No longer does a writer have to go through the long process of editing and fact-checking in order to get their writing into a publication.  No longer does a person have to purchase a book or journal or newspaper to read the ideas of others or send an article via the mail system.  In a few simple clicks information can be shared and ideas explored.  But by the same token, misinformation and misinterpretation can be shared with a few simple clicks.

Source: via Jess on Pinterest

Don't get me wrong, I respect the intellectual courage it takes to put your ideas out there.  In my experience, inaccuracies often are not intentional.  In internet land, an idea is put forward with the preface "I wonder if..." then it is cut and pasted, but someone leaves off the "I wonder if..." part.  And it is quoted.  And it is quoted again.  And next thing you know there it is, gone viral across the internet.  An idea which is now a "fact" quoted in numerous places.  Ridiculously, in the age of the information super highway, fact checking is not all that easy.  Especially if you have to go to the second or third page of your google search (seriously, who does that aside from parents of kids with rare syndromes...).  Yes, writers need to be careful what they write.  They need to fact check.  They need to take their time and do their research.  However, as readers, we have a responsibility to think about what we are reading.  If a statement is being made that women were not allowed to learn about the Torah in Jesus time, yet we know that Mary, mother of Christ, paraphrased  Hannah's song from 1 Samuel - maybe we should think on that a bit.  If we are being told that women in Jesus time were not allowed to hold property or conduct business, yet we know that Lydia was a "seller of purple" and women financially supported Jesus ministry, perhaps we should take pause.  Perhaps the role and status of first century women was more complex and nuanced than it first appears.  I guess what I am saying is, reading with an open mind is not the same as reading with your brain in neutral.  Maybe there are more shades of meaning within an idea than may first appear.

Disquieting point #3:
People seem to be building whole doctrines and belief systems based on internet articles and books without reading critically, fact checking, examining the Scriptures or testing the spirit.

This is not to say that I don't believe Jesus was counter cultural in his treatment of women.  He clearly was .  And in his treatment of tax collectors, prostitutes, unclean women, adulterers, lepers, demon possessed, Gentiles, Samaritans, blind people, children, religious authorities, EVERYONE.  But Jesus wasn't some Ancient Palestinian hipster who was cool before it was cool.  He didn't have 21st century "enlightenment" in the first century.  He has ETERNAL enlightenment, always.  Can I be right out there and suggest that perhaps, if Jesus walked the earth today, his treatment of people would STILL be counter cultural?  I have this weird feeling that if today's feminists were to ask Jesus "are you for us, or for our enemies?" He would answer "Neither, I am for me"

Disquieting point #4:
Perhaps if we find Jesus always agreeing with us and never challenging us, we should check that we aren't just talking to ourselves.

I am going to come right out there and say that there are parts of the Bible that I do not completely understand.  I don't get why they are in there and I don't see how they apply to me and my life.  But I know that they are in there for a reason.  Over the years, my understanding of scripture has deepened and scriptures which baffled and confused me once are now beautiful to me.  Am I any more saved now that I have come to an understanding of those scriptures?  No.  Will I be any more saved when I understand the scriptures that now baffle me?  No.  So I am not afraid of my ignorance, but I am humbled by it.

I had a lecturer once who, at the start of the semester, told us that if we were uncomfortable with the idea of going to bed with questions and without a full understanding of things, we were to leave his class right then.  But if we were OK with not knowing all the answers and were able to trust that God has them, even when we don't - we were welcome to stay.  I think sometimes we are afraid to admit that we don't understand something.  Scriptures that don't fit with our understanding of God get dismissed as "culturally specific" or "for a time and place" rather than us standing back and admitting that we don't always fully understand God.  That is no shame, to admit that we don't fully understand God.  Given all of eternity, I will still be learning more about God.

Too often I am hearing and reading about Christians dismissing scriptures which do not fit with their personal understanding of God, rather than questioning either their interpretation of the scripture or their understanding of God.  The lauding of personal "revelation" over scripture is becoming insidious within the modern church.  Of course, we DO need to question the interpretation of scripture when it does not seem to fit with our knowledge of God.  For example, I once knew a Christian woman with a fabulous sense of humour and an effervescent, cheery disposition.  She could talk to anyone and when she laughed, which was often, it was usually loud and long.  Then she was confronted with this scripture

"You are too loud," she was told "you are not being what a woman of God should be."  I was young and did not have the words to put together why this felt so wrong to me.  But I watched this woman.  I watched her struggle to quiet her loud laughter and heard her laugh less and less often.  I watched her hold back from talking to people and withdraw from the sparkling conversation she used to bring to every room.  I watched her struggle to be quiet, and her spirit become more and more stormy.  I wish now I had the sense to simply pull out a dictionary and show her that "quiet" is not always the opposite to "loud".  Sometimes it is the opposite to "stormy".  I wish I had the courage then, to suggest that perhaps God wasn't talking about volume control, perhaps He created her to have a loud mouth and a quiet spirit.  This experience taught me that not only is it acceptable to challenge the understanding and application of scripture - sometimes it is our duty to do so.  I do, however, believe that we need to question the understanding of scripture, not dismiss it as irrelevant to our times.

There is nothing wrong with challenging our understanding of scripture.  There is nothing wrong with saying "I don't fully understand that bit yet".  There is nothing wrong with admitting that we still have questions.  There is something wrong with just never turning to that part of the Bible.  There is something wrong with dismissing certain scriptures that don't fit with our ideas as irrelevant.  There is something wrong with exalting our own understanding and "revelation" over what is written in the Bible.

Disquieting point #5
Like many enthusiastic supporters of a particular doctrine, some of those in the "JESUS WAS A FEMINIST" camp are selectively using scripture and/or trying to make scripture fit with their own ideas.  I believe our ideas need to fit with scripture.

So where does this leave us?  What am I driving at with all this?

Personally, I am uncomfortable with applying a political or ideological label to Jesus.  It smacks of trying to make Jesus like us, rather than make us like Jesus.  It leaves Christians and Jesus open to misinterpretation.  It feels like putting Jesus in a neat, 21st century package made palatable to the modern world.  A TV dinner Christ.  I get why people do it.  Labels are a way of using shorthand to communicate ideas.  Regardless of my objections, there are still going to be people who feel this label communicates what they want to say.  My hope in writing this is that readers, and perhaps some writers, will stop and think about what is being said and what it really means.  While I have written here primarily about the term "feminist" being applied to Jesus, what I am really concerned about is bigger than this.

We have become a consumerist society and all to often ideas and rhetoric are being swallowed without deep thought or questioning on the part of the consumer.  This has the power to significantly damage the Church, which is perhaps the most disquieting thought of all.  While I will continue to, at times, be uncomfortable with the thoughts and questions of others I am OK with that.  Being comfortable in this life has never been an objective of mine and if I am never being challenged to think, ask questions or put my thoughts and beliefs into words and action, that is a sad state of affairs for me.  But for crying out loud, brothers and sisters in Christ, please use the brains God gave you.  The conversations we are having among ourselves should be of a higher standard than those found out in the world.  Instead ideas are pushed out into cyberspace and either swallowed whole or outright rejected.  Does nobody chew any more?  Disputes seem to descend quickly into unlovely exchanges.  Instead of bearing the mark which is supposed to distinguish us to the world, a love for one another, personal attack and accusation seems to be the norm when Christians disagree.  This creates discord in the body of Christ, meaning we spend more time fighting each other than we do ministering to this hurting world.  It also means that we do not discuss and explore ideas rather accept or reject them without exploration.  This leaves us vulnerable to false doctrine and heresy.

I have a friend who once, in frustration, yelled at me "You think you're ALWAYS right!" my reply was "Of COURSE I think I'm always right.  If I thought I was wrong I would change my mind!  If you have evidence that I am wrong, tell me.  Then I will change my mind and be MORE right!".  Yes, she still speaks to me over a decade later.  I believe I am right on this feminist thing.  I would love it if people agreed with me on this and stopped using the word in the context of labelling Christ.  The likelihood of every Christian writer out there who does this reading a semi-retired Mummy Blog and agreeing with me is not huge.  Perhaps a more realistic aim is that one or two people will read this.  That they will really think and pray about what they believe.  And in the future, when they read or hear something, they will chew well before they swallow it.

Chew your doctrine well, it is good for the Body of Christ.