it's a helluva lot of people being influenced

its a helluva people being influencedwhen it comes to church, i firmly believe that the “best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.”  at the same time, i think it’s sometimes worth calling out its inconsistencies when it comes to the so-contrary-to-the-non-oppressive-ways-of-Jesus as a reminder and to gain resolve & clarity on why we feel so passionate about change.

yes, i recognize “the church” is a flawed system made up of imperfect human beings.

it also has an incredible ability to influence people.  it possesses a wild amount of power to sway us certain directions.  many often believe lock, stock & barrel what leaders say from the pulpit, TV screens, books, and most any other medium where someone is “teaching”.  we assume the ones talking must know what they are talking about and just go with it.

their charisma is intoxicating.  their clarity and certainty is comforting.

when it comes to issues of equality and inequality, this means a helluva lot of people are being influenced to believe in complementarian theology and practice.  so many sit in the pews and nod their head when they hear about biblical manhood & womanhood and how men just need to step up and be the head of their households and women just need to support them properly. book after book gets written about this topic; the truth is that on the whole–the ones that sell like hotcakes–are those that adapt this hierarchical theology to contemporary culture in a slick, inviting way.  don’t even get me started on mark driscoll’s new book & ed young’s new gimmick (i couldn’t bring myself to include the links).

but like it or not, people are listening. these guys are strong, clear, certain, charismatic communicators.  and thousands and thousands and thousands of men & women are following them.

they are influencing a helluva lot of people.

when i was on a megachurch staff years ago we pulled together a really challenging premarital workshop that was egalitarian & honest & real.  we tried not just to talk about budgets and the number of kids each person wanted.  we shared from ephesians 5:21 (submit to one another out of reverence for Christ), the part of the passage no one ever starts with. i remember all those sweet young couples in there going “huh, i’ve never heard this before.” there were a lot of other things we explored together, but the point is this–the message was new and liberating.  i am still proud that even for a short season we offered another angle.

a chunk of months after i left the staff i saw the premarital workshop being advertised again for the next round of soon-to-be-marrieds.  the wording, the content, and the leadership had completely changed and the new focus was on exploring “biblical manhood & womanhood” and “God’s given roles for marriage.”

we all know what that means.  yeah, it doesn’t go down too good for the women. or the men either, actually.

it broke my heart, but i wasn’t surprised. now, many years later, i feel sad when i think of the thousands of people being influenced by this usually subtle & sometimes direct teaching.  not only in premarital workshops but in the daily grind of church culture where men are in charge, women are serving their butts off, and the power differentials Jesus tried to knock down continue to get perpetuated.   mega-churches influence thousands of people.  add the smaller churches who espouse the same theology and all of the books & seminars & bible studies being written and sold by people with power, and it multiplies exponentially.

it’s a helluva lot of people being influenced.

i’m sad for all the awesome women who are sincere and want to do the right thing before God and will read all kinds of books & go to all kinds of groups to learn to be a good christian women and always come up short.  i know the feeling.

i’m also sad for all those men who will never be able to lead strong enough to be valid christian men and for all the ways they lose out on a strong and equal teammate.

mostly i’m just sad that many people don’t know that there are other options and ways to view the scriptures.  i do not know one mega-church that actually teaches egalitarian marriage. i am sure they exist, but i believe they are very rare.  many will say “we value women” and “we believe in equality.”  but the truth is that deeply embedded in the cultural norms, teaching, and ethos of their bodies is a particular way of interpreting biblical roles for men and women that continually keeps women underneath men instead of in equal, free relationship with each other.

our best hope is to continue to be the change we want to see.

we can create smaller missional communities that teach a better way.  we can play our part in restoring sexual brokenness and being people of change and hope.  we can encourage women to lead more freely. we can model the beauty of equal marriage.  we can blog our hearts out about equality and justice.  we can learn how to bravely practice cross-gender friendships and write challenging pot-stirring books.  all of these things are helping turn the tide, and that is beautiful.  i may be a bit more skeptical than some, but i do believe major shifts are happening, and that’s always how we get to a new place. i think it can happen faster if more brave leaders use their power, influence, and charisma to directly influence change.

there will always be those who hold deeply to their interpretation of the scriptures that support male headship.  i respect that.  but there is a far wider population who only believe it because that is what their pastors, leaders, books, radio & TV shows, and podcasts tell them to believe.  so many have never looked at it from another angle because no one in power has showed them another angle.

God, whether we influence a small amount of people or a lot of people, help us be brave and use our power & voices & lives to show another angle from which we can serve you and others better and actively participate in turning the tide.   

Kathy Escobar

Kathy Escobar co-pastors at The Refuge, a Christian community and mission center in North Denver and is the author of Faith Shift: Finding Your Way Forward When Everything You Believe is Coming Apart and several other books.

36 Comments

    • thanks wendy. yep, i love what you said–“we need to use what we have.” so thankful for your voice and example. it is inspiring!

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  • Thanks for this post Cathy. I’m with you on this, and I would love if you’d consider contributing to the Women in Ministry Series at my blog. We’re moving beyond the debate and inviting women to tell their ministry stories so that women will have examples to follow.

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    • thanks, ed, i’d be honored to be part. let me know what you need and i’d love to write something.

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  • Thanks for the raw reminder. I think a change is coming, and right now, the swell is far off in the ocean, and so it is barely noticed. But as it approaches land, it will rise to tidal wave uprising of people who see God, church, and Scriptures in a new, liberating light. Thanks for being part of the swell.

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    • i love that imagery, jeremy, and think it is very accurate. it’s coming, it’s coming..

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  • Beautifully written and well thought out. Thank you.

    This phrase captures it well – “our best hope is to continue to be the change we want to see”

    We can’t be waiting for some angel to appear and make it all better. We are the person who we have been waiting for…(or however that phrase goes)

    Working “Resignation of Eve” has put in the middle of this topic in a way I haven’t been for a while. It seems like my awareness is up and I am bumping into examples of gender bias “everywhere”. The Huffington post on the “Penis Mom” stimulated some conversation on my FB account.

    And I am tired of people (men seem to be leading this one) – saying why are people being so “sensitive”. It becomes that old, go along to get along kind of thing. It hasn’t gotten us very far.

    AND now, I am going to call attention every time I notice that the language, the rules, the culture favors one gender over another.

    I love the Margaret Meade quote, “every time we liberate a woman, we liberate a man.”

    One person, I am grateful to have known in an earlier part of my life, went so far as to say:

    “I agree that refusing to allow women the same rights as men need to be challenged. However, when people are attacked for the use of male and female pronouns in awkward or non PC manner seems to me to show a super sensitivity and lack of grace.”

    And I responded by asking, “Where was the grace when women were left out of the equation totally?

    And then another man, posted that he didn’t most people were bothered by using the masculine personal pronoun as the default.

    I reminded him that when I was growing up, I was taught that the masculine personal pronoun was the norm – and back then I was too afraid to question the teacher. I’m only saying I had to be “taught” that the masculine was the norm…not that it came to me naturally. Now, that I know “someone else” decided that masculine was the norm, I have a problem with it.

    AND here is what I am really seeking “Balance and for all to be treated equally – that means anyone who has experienced privilege has to give up something to give others and equal share. That is not likely to happen without resistance.”

    We are not asking for more than – only to be treated as an equal – where ever a woman shows up.

    You are a great role model, Kathy. Know that I am standing with you.

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    • oh i always love what you share, elaine. you have so much wisdom and insight. our liberation is really tied up with each other & i’m reminded of dr. martin luther king’s statement: “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere”…it does start with us. we have to risk so much to get to a new place but i believe the risk is worth it. it won’t drop out of the sky, that’s for sure. i hope you can come visit us one of these days & play! it’s been way too long!

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  • Thank you! The complementarian view bothered me so much and now I know why. We need more voices like yours to combat the crap we Christian women are being fed.

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    • i love that line “to combat the crap we Christian women are being fed.” that made me smile. yeah, it’s time for some new food! thanks for reading.

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  • As always, Kathy, you are so fresh … I am waiting for my mentor’s book to come out that sets the story of hierarchy and patriarchy on its ear. I continue to be stunned at how the story of Jesus has been twisted. Sigh….one day I will blog about it again. Thanks for the timely word 🙂

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    • thanks peggy, always great to hear from you here. it’s weird, really, how the one who came to set people free has been the one used to keep so many oppressed. twisted is a good word.

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  • kathy, you continue to challenge the way i think about what it means to be a follower of Christ, and a woman, and a woman who is strong and has her own mind about things. thank you. i’m in the infancy of the complementarian/eglitarian debate, and i appreciate what you are saying about the church. but i can’t ignore personal experience, which is to say that i am happiest when my man is leading and i am following. the problem is, leading doesn’t come naturally to him whereas it does to me. If i take a subordinate role and wait for him to do something i find myself growing irritated, but if i just take control and do it then i’m resentful. i think these things have to be nuanced in relationships to find what works for couples. looking forward to delving further into this issue and seeing what God will do in the church!

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    • thanks, cara, for sharing what some of these thoughts are stirring up in you. i think there are many women in your same boat and i think where i land is that it’s different when people “choose” that way than when they have no other choice. it works for some and i personally never want to dismiss each person’s individual situation, but i would also really challenge that when the assumption is “he’s supposed to do this and she’s supposed to do that” we are really limited. what about giftedness that has nothing to do with gender? i sometimes lead, i sometimes follow and my husband does the same. that’s what mutual submission is about. when one always leads and the other always follows, i think something beautiful is missed. yes, equal marriage is messier. it’s definitely not as clear cut. but it cultivates an intimacy and connection that i think is a much deeper reflection of the trinity and God’s image in us. thanks for sharing.

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  • I grew up in church, but never heard that men and women were anything but totally equal until a few years ago. Neither me nor my wife had ever run across the terms complementarian or egalitarian until then. When we heard this stuff, we thought it an aberration, and still consider it such.

    We unknowingly became part of a “complementarian” group (they hide that info. from new people) and discovered that not only are women “less than” but also poor people, certain races, LGBTs and anyone who disagrees with the “theology” of the leadership are “less than”. (I wonder if this is a common feature among these groups.) Supposedly, all that is somehow “Biblical”. Yeah, right! Biblical my foot! Those guys are stuck on themselves and are looking for some excuse as to why they’re better than certain others. That may be religion, but it looks and smells nothing like Jesus! By the way, we parted ways with that group.

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    • there’s never a time that i don’t read your responses and smile somehow. i think equality issues go far deeper than gender. if 1/2 the population is silenced right off the bat, then what does that mean for all of the others on the margins? that’s why equality in one place always helps translate to equality in others. thanks for sharing.

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      • Sometimes I chuckle when I think of the churches we were checking out where the leadership assumed we we just the kind of folks they were looking for. That is, until I opened my mouth and they learned that I believe we are all equal. Oh well, I didn’t want to be an elder or deacon anyway!

        A better next-to-the last sentence in my above comment would be “That may be their take on religion, but it looks and smells nothing like Jesus!”

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  • Yes! Well done. I’m mulling afresh the question of why I blog, and the need to have one more voice added to the chorus singing, “you don’t have to be complementarian to faithfully follow Jesus” is just about reason enough.

    Thanks for this!

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    • thanks for reading and taking time to comment. it always means a lot and is very encouraging.

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  • Kathy, This is why I love your blogs! They are a fresh perspective and ones that I have been mulling around in my head for years! As a man, I would dread ever having to go to a “Men’s Fellowship”. The freakin’ guilt trips the pastor would lay on men about being the head of your household and he would always seemed to talk about lust. Maybe HE had a problem with it himself(?)And then from the pulpit he would bash the men and made sure the women knew their place–to be in quiet submission. Yuck! I have seen way too many women put in their place by men pastors. What got me is that they thought that they were being disobedient to leadership if they had their own opinion. Even when I would try to explain to them that they were right and he was wrong. They were so “conditioned” by years of church abuse and lies that they couldn’t hear what I was trying to tell them–that we are all equals in the sight of God. I would tell them that Jesus was a total radical because he even had women disciples! He went against the grain of that culture–but it seems the church wants to keep women in their place much like the religious leaders of Jesus’ time.

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    • thanks, michael, for reading and taking time to share. i always like to hear from guys like you who have some of the same reactions that many of us women do, too, from another perspective on just how messed up the system is. recently i stumbled across a church i used to be connected with and there was all this language about “real men do this and that…”and it just made my stomach turn, all the shame those kinds of programs create. peace from colorado. great to connect with you out here!

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    • love coming back at you, too. sending you all kinds of writing love and prayers from across the miles!

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  • Amen! I’ve been convicted lately about how often those of us who don’t believe hierarchies are God’s best for human relationships fail to speak up, for fear of creating division. Of course, we need to proceed carefully and respectfully, but often people never hear about different ways of relating in God’s kingdom because we don’t talk about it! This creates a huge amount of cognitive dissonance for people who sense that enforcing hierarchy in relationships is not Christ-like (or even healthy), but have always been taught that it is what God demands. Freedom is a breath of fresh air for them!!!

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    • jenny, thanks for sharing. yeah, it is really true, so many i know feel strongly that the way things are somehow aren’t quite right, but because it’s so engrained in the culture, it’s scary to rock the boat. i think the only way things will really change is that those who are silent begin to have their hearts stirred and begin to vote with their feet and speak up. yes, freedom is a beautiful thing!

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  • Thanks for the blog, Kathy. I’m a little overwhelmed by the conversation at this point, so I won’t try to offer a lot of commentary. I appreciate that we are hearing from some men on the subject. (such as Jim Henderson – in “The Resignation of Eve”) I am actually one of the women who was interviewed for his book. I have been giving a lot of thought to this matter, and I think that the roots go deeper than theology, and right straight to our tendency to hang on to flesh patterns to which we are no longer slaves (because of Christ’s death/resurrection and our own crucifixion/life by faith).
    Thoughts?

    I love your quote “our best hope is to continue to be the change we want to see”… and we cannot be that change in our own effort either – to try is to become just like those who refuse to consider any other position than their own.

    I would love to continue this discussion.
    thanks again
    Laura

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    • yep, it’s a helluva lot of people being influenced, argh!

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