jesus and gender equality: a new series Posted by Ryan Byrd
EDITORIAL NOTE: this past sunday (10.17), sarah orsborn led our teaching time with a look at jesus and gender equality. it was a great perspective on this vastly important value at eikon and we decided it would be nice to cross-post from her blog. as she works through this series, we’ll update here. enjoy!
I wrote not too long ago about how we’d finally found a church to call our own here in Little Rock, a strange and awesome group of people called Eikon Church. You know they’re strange and awesome, because they asked a loud, crazy, outspoken, feminist like me to teach about Jesus and gender equality at our weekly gathering last night. And I, being a diligent little grad student, set out to research and write the best talk ever. I think I ended up with 13 pages, and I even had MLA citations. I’m a serious dork! And yet they love me anyway!
I have to say, even though I grew up in a tradition (Presbyterian Church USA) in which women are full participants in every aspect of church life, I was still very ignorant of much of the biblical basis for that theology. I thought I’d basically have to throw out aspects of the Bible, particularly Paul, in order to make the case for my belief in gender equality. And, though I’m one of those heathens who believes that the Bible was written in a specific time period to a specific group of people with a specific understanding of the world and can, thus, be outdated or trumped by more modern understandings of the world, it turns out I don’t actually have to ignore parts of the Bible in order to support egalitarianism. In fact, there’s a rich pattern of inclusiveness right there in the Bible, even in Paul.
So, I thought I’d share with you, the Internets, what I learned and shared with my friends at Eikon. Each day this week, I’ll share a part of the story, from the reason this matters to me, to the historic context Jesus lived and taught in, to even the most passing interactions he had with women, in which he always treated women as persons of worth, first and foremost. I’ll share how he had close personal friendships with women, and I’ll talk about the women who were his disciples. I’ll even talk about the women who were leaders in the early church, as acknowledged, named, and lauded by the apostle Paul. I’m really excited by all I’ve learned and so happy to share it!
So, let’s kick it off. To start:
Why is gender equality so important to me as a Christian?
We, as followers of Jesus, are proclaimers of freedom. We are all about forgiveness, and freedom from bondage, and renewal and restoration. And yet, for many women, the message of the gospel comes to them with a message of a new kind of bondage. To many women, the message of faith has also been a message that they are inferior. That they are to keep silent. That they alone are to submit. That they are to obey. That they are to be quiet and gentle and meek.
I can’t tell you how much this has hurt me personally. This may shock some of you, but I have never been quiet or gentle or meek. And I have often wondered if I could love and serve a Jesus, who, I was told, wanted me to basically change who I am in order to be accepted and loved and used in furtherance of the kingdom. I felt this most acutely during the three years we lived in Charleston. We never did find a church to really belong to there, but I did find myself in a Bible Study with a group of women who, like me, were married to medical residents and doctors. I was desperate to fit in with these women, because moving halfway across the country, where I had no friends and knew no one was a very hard and depressing time for me. And yet I always got the feeling that these women didn’t actually like me very much. I felt like they thought I was too loud, too passionate, too independent, too strong. I always felt like I was on my best behavior around them, and this made me feel even worse—if they didn’t like “me on my best behavior,” they would NEVER like the real me, me on a bad day, or me in a vulnerable moment. At one point, I confessed to a fellow member of the group, a woman a few years older than I who already had three kids, that I felt like I didn’t fit in. She invited me over for lunch, and I was so relieved. Finally, someone was going to reach out to me, love, and accept me! And yet when I went over to her house, she basically told me she thought Jesus wanted to give me a lobotomy. That Jesus wanted to make me quiet and gentle and meek, the way she felt a godly woman should be. I quit the group after that. I don’t want to be part of a group that wants me to be someone else because they think Jesus wants me to be someone other than who I am.
And the thing is, I don’t think Jesus wants any of us to be anyone other than who we were created to be. I think Jesus wants each and every one of us to love and serve him and work to make his kingdom a reality here on earth in ways that are appropriate to our personalities, our interests, and our gifts, talents, and skills. And in order to really believe that, I have to believe that women (and people of other races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, and socioeconomic status) are allowed full participation in every aspect of church life.
So, this is what I’ll be blogging about for the next week. Tomorrow, look for some historical context on the world in which Jesus lived, preached, died, and rose again, as a way to set up just how radically inclusive his interactions with women truly were. I’m excited to be sharing this with you!