jezebel, eve, and the baggage we keep carrying.

I was out of the country in Peru last week on a fun spring break adventure with our twins, and when I got back and turned on my computer I saw a flurry of posts related to Vice President Mike Pence’s application of the “Billy Graham Rule.” Never being alone with a woman other than his wife. No lunch, no dinner, no coffee. No nothing alone. Ever.

I saw comments on Facebook that were all over the place. Ones that praised his “wisdom” and ones that talked about how much it harms women in different ways, perspectives from men and perspectives from women.

For me, as much as I strongly disagree with him, I really appreciate that he said it out loud instead of hiding it (which is often more of the case).

I’m also glad it’s getting a lot of press because we need to talk about it.

Because underneath it all is a story that women are not to be trusted, somehow “dangerous.” Women can’t be equal to men because they are some kind of threat. Women have a certain place in the world and it’s not at the same tables as men.

And most of all, women and men will never be able to be equal until these kinds of codes are broken and healed.

Oh, almost all my strong female Christian friends have a story of being accused of having a Jezebel spirit, of hearing about the curse of Eve, of being taught “biblical roles for womanhood” are God’s design, of being called self-focused if we have aspirations of leading, of being coached on modest dress and not causing our brothers to stumble, of trying to play nice because we didn’t want to be labeled bitchy or controlling, and most of all–of being more qualified, more educated, more pastoral, more ________ than many men and never getting the ministry position or job or equal pay or responsibility because we are women.

I also know many women of all ages who are not Christians, and most everyone has a story of sexism, discrimination, or some painful experience based on their gender.

It makes me so sad.

But it is real. I’m just one woman, and oh, I can tell you some wing-dinger stories over the years, some I’ve shared here and a whole host of other ones in the pile of baggage I’d call “the realities of women in the church and world.”

Mike Pence’s position is pervasive in many of the ministry circles I used to be in.

The part I struggle with the most related to it is how fear and shame-based it is and how much it tilts towards the place that power always tilts–those with it! This rule isn’t somehow bad for men when it comes to their jobs and roles. It doesn’t keep them out of certain conversations or affect their footing or influence or ability to contribute or live into God’s calling or raise the money they need for ministry support. It doesn’t affect anything in that department, really, because they hold the power and keep on keeping on.

For women, however, it’s a whole different story.

We’re never in certain conversations. We never get the chance to be healthy friends. We never play in the same places. We never get to just be “us” because there’s an invisible fence we cannot cross.

I would add, too, that while it keeps power securely positioned in the place it’s always been, it is indeed very bad for men on the relational front and ultimately affects healthy power. It limits relationship skills. It limits community. It limits learning how to be friends, which in my opinion, is one of the most important skills we can possibly learn, especially as followers of Jesus.

All the way around, these kinds of hard and fast rules don’t help us grow.

They keep us stunted.

They keep us stuck.

They keep us immature.

They keep us separated.

Above all, they keep us in the place we’re not supposed to be–one above the other. One more, one less. One with the power, one without. One safe, one dangerous.

In my opinion, the kingdom of God does not have men and women separated from each other out of fear. It does not have big tables behind closed doors with women never sitting at them. It does not have men in one room and women in another making the food. It does not have microphones that only half of the population gets to use while the other half has to listen. It does not have immaturity at its core cloaked as “wisdom.” It doesn’t tilt power in a way that consistently keeps another entire group underneath. And it sure doesn’t have a bunch of only men in a room making decisions about women and children.

Women have been carrying this baggage for a long time.

I am extremely grateful for the men in my life who are brave and do everything they can to create spaces for equality and friendship. Who pay a cost for it. Who are at least halfway awake to our realities and want to learn.

It does help lighten the load, and my life is better because of male friends and colleagues who text me and email me and call me and have lunch or coffee with me and partner on projects with me–because that’s what we do with friends and co-laborers and people we want to live, love, and learn alongside

But oh, we’ve got a long way to go, my friends, and when we hear it from the second most important position in the United States of America, it definitely makes the baggage feel heavier.

We’re not Jezebels or Eves.

We’re women created in the image of God, worthy of dignity and respect and friendship and space at a dinner table with a colleague and friend.

And, yeah, we’re tired of carrying baggage that’s not ours.

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.

11 Comments

  • Honestly, this one is hard for me. I’m completely on the fence about it. God is working on me. I see it the other way around. It’s because our men don’t know how to control themselves around us. We need to raise our men better. I still can’t get over the Viagra commercial only showing the woman’s face and never the young, well polished man’s face. It makes me feel like women are the sex symbol and the ones who “want it” which is why men have to succumb to taking Viagra. And that makes me feel like rubbish. I think I’m rambling. I have so many thoughts. Thank you for this post and thank you for your heart and your passion. So glad I came across you. Have a blessed week.

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  • You’re right – this IS something that we need to talk about. I’ve been in ministry for over 15 years. I had one ministry leader tell me “It’s ok, fatties don’t count”. I realized quickly if I kept on some weight and stayed plain, I’d be invited in and fully accepted. The bigger I got, the more like a sister I was treated by the men, protected, invited, respected. And when I began to get fit and lost weight – and grew in confidence, the change was tangible. Another ministry leader said “You’re attractive – but not threatenly so.” I learned to stay plain to be fully accepted. It’s not ok.

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    • Interesting because being overweightI been told also considered a “sin” that prohibits a person from engaging in ministry–Pat Robertson spouts on about this a lot–and so I’ve been limited by that…the game is rigged no matter what. I just don’t play with fools anymore.

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      • I don’t think being overweight is a sin, and it certainly does not prohibit a person from being in ministry. However that does depend on a couple of things: How overweight are you? Is the ministry you are called into require that you keep active? (Traveling worldwide evangelist, Hands on Tent making?) No, overweight isn’t a sin…but if you are extremely overweight it sure does limit your ability within certain ministries. Also, people WILL judge you on your appearance first, and that’s something that we can’t help. But then aren’t we told in the Bible not to give cause for judgement?

        Truthfully a healthy weight always has benefits to the human body. But IF you are heavyset, and HAVE a ministry you can freely perform in, then to God be the glory!

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    • Wow, this is such an interesting aspect of the issue. I’m sorry that you were treated so disrespectfully and unkindly! Thank you for sharing your story.

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  • Billy Graham was travelling about in an entirely different time and culture than we find ourselves right now. I was old enough at the time to see wisdom in his choice, because the difference between the roles of men and women was simply “a matter of fact”. Many of us simply accepted what we were told was “normal” and tried to figure out how to live fulfilling lives as best we could. Even now — in the 21st century — we are still having discussions about equal pay…

    Having said that, I can remember going to a “charm school” class back in the 1960s so I would know how to “behave like a lady”. I also remember being taught a lot of behavioral rules so I would not be thought of as “trashy”… My mom had died when I was 3 and my dad lived until I was 13. When I went to live with my aunt and uncle, my aunt taught me “first thing” that men could not be trusted. “They only wanted 1 thing.”

    So I understand why Rev. Graham made the rule that he made. However, he never had any rule that I know of where his wife had to be present if… Seems like any old chaperone would do! hahaha – In other words, I think his rule was made as a matter of “appearance”.

    Vice President Pence, on the other hand, seems to want his wife around as a mother figure who keeps him from getting in trouble. Also, he seems to want people to compare him to Billy Graham – which coincidentally is terrific right-wing posturing.

    We live in a time where men and women are working side by side. It makes no sense for men to, once again, limit how a woman can work by citing that it is somehow “dangerous” for men and women to work together.

    Way, way back in the day, the disciples “caught” Jesus talking alone with a Samaritan woman. They were amazed at seeing him with her, but not one of them had the guts to question him about it.

    I may be stretching things a bit, but I think there’s something to be learned from Jesus in this story… And I don’t think it’s a call to put up barriers between Jew & Greek, male & female or slaves & free.

    Reply
  • The Billy Graham rule is a good one for God fearing men and women to follow, especially if you are in charge of a ministry. It protects both the woman and the man. Graham’s rule states that there are to be no “behind closed doors” moments to the point that either side can be taken advantage of. How many pastors have not taken this into consideration and have been caught in the act of adultery?

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  • Men and women working together in some ways is not the ideal situation. There are moments when our flesh can cross the line…and it can happen when the working partner is not aware. When a situation arises, it can lead to complications in the workplace. Sin is very attractive to a lot of different people.

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  • Now when I interview men for jobs, I specifically ask them if they would be willing to travel in a car with me on a day trip to another city, including a lunch out for business. If they say no, I don’t hire them. I work in a small charity. We can’t afford to pay for chaperons to join us in every meeting.

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  • The rule my husband and I have, is that when we’re going to be on a lunch or in a car with someone of the opposite gender we tell the other. “Hey hun, ___ and I are headed to ___ city today and are having lunch out. Just wanted to keep you in the loop”. That way if it gets back to him, he already knew and we can have a conversation about the day later.

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  • Since I was a small child, I’ve had female friends. In high school my second-best friend was a female high school teacher (from another school). We still keep in contact all these years later. I’ve always had female friends and that is normal. The males I’ve known who have issues with this sort of thing are the ones who have the problem. They can’t trust themselves alone with a female other than their wife. Well, they must know that about themselves, just as some people know they should never walk into a bakery or a bar.

    Is it possible the female could be the one causing the male to stray? That may occasionally happen, but in my experience it is not the usual case. If some men know that they have personal problems, be it with being alone with women or wanting to get drunk if they walk into a bar, then THEY should stay away from those situations and probably get counseling. THEY need to own up to their problem and not pretend it is caused by someone else, as in “I’m so fat because the donut shop puts huge pictures of their donuts in their windows and I’m unable to resist the temptation to go in and buy a dozen or two.”

    Reply

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