last week i was at an evening centered on rape & the old testament, and it was really powerful to look at the texts through a new lens. the most interesting part to me was that in the conversation afterward somehow, some way, we ended up in the same place i always do when talking about almost any hard and systemic issue in the church–how friendship and equality between men & women changes everything.
and it’s one of those things that’s probably taught the least in church.
we are taught, subtly and directly, that life (especially the christian life) is like this:
where people are over or under another. where we have align with certain roles based on a very narrow biblical interpretation. where power differentials are loudly reflected. where men are over women (or sometimes women are over men). where there’s a stronger and a weaker, a lesser and a more. a wiser and a more foolish. a whole and a broken.
this is part of our genesis 3 humanness that desires order & systems & control.
it also perpetuates violence.
and power differentials that strip dignity in all kinds of weird ways.
i get the practicalities of hierarchy. it makes things clearer. cleaner. easier on so many levels and i think it can be helpful in organizations trying to make money.
but i just don’t see how it is a reflection of the kingdom of God, the kind of “on earth as it is in heaven” that Jesus talks about, the new reality that entered the scene 2,000 years ago. the kind that reflects freedom for captives and love above all things. the kind of culture that you’d think followers of Jesus would be known for cultivating in our own lives & in the communities that we live in.
i believe the hardest task for us as individuals, and as communities, is to learn how to live like this:
as brothers & sisters. as brothers & brothers, as sisters & sisters.
real equality is much more vulnerable, much riskier. i’m struck by this every day, how it’s so much more comfortable to live over or under each other. equality requires far more grace & patience & love & mercy & justice in relationship with each other than hierarchy ever does. but goodness gracious, isn’t that what Jesus was calling us to–bold and brave and world-changing relationship? to freedom instead of fear, to love instead of disconnection, to wholeness instead of fracturedness?
equality & friendship changes everything.
it changes how we see ourselves, which is a pretty core problem for many of us as christians. almost nothing grieves me more than so many people who have an image of God and a spiritual framework that causes us to believe we are unloved, unlovable, and unworthy. equality & friendship helps restore some of that brokenness and insecurity.
it changes how we see others. christian mission is pretty broken. it has a bad reputation for a reason, primarily because we have modeled so many of our methods on the top picture–where one knows more, has more, is more, than another. this disempowers instead of empowers, strips dignity instead of restoring it. practicing friendship & equality & with-ness instead of to-and-for-ness is radically transforming. also, less-than, more-than thinking is what creates violence, abuse, and domination.
it changes systems that desperately need changing. systems do matter and they reflect the heartbeat of the people who live in them. it’s also this is why it’s so important to remember that attempting to pour new wine into old wineskins will fail. putting a few women in the same old hierarchical systems won’t change anything although it will look like it is. the way to shift power & topple the stronghold of patriarchy is to bravely foster meaningful friendship between men & women so we learn how to live, work, love, learn, serve, and create together as equals.
this will take a lot of practice. this will take guts. this will take time (but remember, there’s never a “right time”). this will take God’s stirring. this will ruffle so many feathers who like the comfort of old ways where the lines are clear and the rules are black and white and one particular interpretation of “but the Bible says…” trumps change.
i believe so many people are leaving the church for this exact reason. we are tired of the lack of real equality and friendship between men & women. we are tired of the lip service or the biblical justification of oppression. we’re tired of sitting & listening to someone talk to us and want to begin to practice & try & learn & engage in brave ways. i’m so grateful there’s a huge and growing group of people across ages & shapes & sizes saying “this is not how it’s supposed to be.”
the image of God in us is crying out from beneath the rubble of generations-upon-generations of inequality and hierarchy.
and it’s getting louder.
let’s listen to it. let’s put our toe in the water or dive in the deep end. let’s have hard conversations that we need to have with leaders who are afraid of change. let’s be willing to plant new trees. let’s do anything we can to begin to model a different way so that it won’t feel so far away, so elusive, so much-bigger-and-harder-than-it-really-needs-to-be.
it’s really not that complicated in so many ways. it’s just that we haven’t been taught how to.
we were meant for equality & friendship.
the image of God is deeply embedded in all of us, calling us to the way it could be.
yeah, it changes everything.
let’s be part of that change.
* ps: i am so grateful for the humble & amazing men in my life who are dedicated to living this out–my crazy awesome husband, my noble & true teammates, and my dear-and-faithful-friends who are with me through thick and thin. these shifts have changed my life forever and i get a little taste of heaven every day. this is also why i love the bold boundaries conversation and intentional work on how equality & friendship between men & women can change so much. i will be part of it this friday & saturday in chicago & would love to see you there!