Healing the Church, Men and Women Together as Followers of Jesus, Sexist Misunderstanding and Inauthenticity, What Jesus and Paul Really Said and Did For Women, Women and all the gifts of the Holy Spirit
Love and Thanks to John Piper and Mark Driscoll for Revealing the Undue Force of Masculinity that Continues to Fragment Christianity
When it erupted online a couple of years ago I missed the John Piper/masculinity/maleness Christianity brouhaha. But the tentacles of its anti-female bias persist in Piper protégé and bestselling author Mark Driscoll, and preachers, priests and popes (however well-intentioned they might be) who would relegate the female half of humanity to a subordinate position of putting men in the place where only God and God’s call can fairly be.
This post, by the way, also credits the countless men and women expanding daily in numbers who today practice and preach an egalitarian understanding of Jesus Christ and authentic Christianity grounded in love. To all of you, a special thanks.
And… special thanks as well to John Piper and Mark Driscoll for calling out in explicit 21st century terms the largely unspoken male sexist biases of Christendom that have plagued it since the Emperor Constantine adopted and co-opted the faith to the imperial masculinist culture of the Roman Empire. Yes, I say plague. And I say it lovingly, because disease can be a call to healing. Masculine dominance is a major problem of religious disease just as in need of Christ’s healing in 2014 as misusing the Bible to approve American slavery was in need of healing in the 1800’s. It’s not just about labeling positive spiritual attributes “masculine” as if males and not God originated goodness. It’s also about the broader disease of relegating those not embodied as males to second-class citizenship within Christianity.
The Call to Healing the “Masculine” Church
When we don’t heal this, on one side of the divide women who know their real worth in God’s eyes are continually run out of male-dominant churches, or even worse run away from following Jesus. On the other side of the divide, women inside the church who know Jesus are blocked overtly or subtly by the male leadership from using their gifts of the Holy Spirit. These women gradually grow smaller, sometimes petty and bitter, in their illicit subordination. We all know what I’m talking about if we’ve been in male-dominated churches.
By male-dominant church ideation, what Christ is to the man as head of the church, the man is to the woman as head of her, with the “headship” inaccurately interpreted in an Anglocentric way as dominant authority not intended by the original ancient language of scripture inspired for a new egalitarian society in Christ. Any misguided even if well-intentioned deification of human masculinity and maleness is idolatry. It needs to be faced like any other sin, and healed.
Jesus and the Teaching of the Reign of God (Not Man Over Woman) by the Original Languages
Jesus never taught this dominating reign of males over females. He didn’t bring up the story of Adam and Eve. His new covenant ended the curse for followers in God’s “rule” and “reign” (non-gendered translations of “basiliea,” a Greek written word in early texts, or “mulkuth,” the Aramaic word Jesus would have spoken). It was an artifact of English male-dominant cultural translation in a time of kings to have rewritten these words as “kingdom,” as if God can only be pictured as a male king.
By the simple, profound teaching of Jesus, God’s reign occurs through all people (women as well as men) whose hearts and relationships are in subordination to the reign of not man, not earthly kings, but only God.
Jesus Broke the Curse of Male Domination through the Triune God
Jesus taught of males and females made in God’s image from the beginning of creation, Matthew 19:4, Mark 10:6, because He came for our salvation and to break the curse of male domination and female subordination. He gave us the dispensation of the Holy Spirit to help us in the ongoing work of Christianity toward the reign of God. Any idolatry of sexism inside the church (all of those churches where it exists, not just the Catholic Church) means that we lose too many of our sisters who know at core that a loving Jesus intends not to make men their false idols. Jesus broke the curse and we reign with Christ under God, not men, but joint heirs with men under divine reign.
Idolatry puts mortal men in the place only the Father, Son and Holy Spirit can divinely occupy. After too many centuries putting Father and Son into a male-shaped box of primacy, we might today honor the femininity of the Holy Spirit as a divinely co-equal Person in the Trininty. “Ruach Ha-Kodesh” is the feminine Hebrew and “Ruah Qudsha” is the feminine Galilean Aramaic for the Holy Spirit rendered into English. Even in the more masculinist cultural language of Greek, the word “Pneuma” for Spirit, as it appeared in New Testament texts, was not male but neuter. Perhaps the Holy Spirit, as finally named in the Trinity, calls us to position Her by language as a corrective action against Christian sexism in our time. We can also transcend quibbling about divine gender by a non-sexist appreciation of God’s mystery through the Trinity.
The Holy Spirit is Feminine or Neuter Scripturally, but Never Exclusively Masculine
We can choose to follow Jesus who left us the Holy Spirit as comforter, counselor and dispenser of gifts: feminine or neuter but not exclusively masculine. We can pray for but choose not to follow the later men who have profited in celebrity funding sourced from sexism by perpetuating the human male headship that Jesus instead came to end with the reign and rule of the triune God.
What Paul Really Said about Women
Since 1991’s publication of What Paul Really Said about Women by Dr. John Temple Bristow (Disciples of Christ pastor), everyday Christians have had good reason in a readable form to stop the female subordination by males within the faith. For instance, Dr. Bristow with straightforward scholarship translated the English Bible’s version of Ephesians 5 (the part about the husband being head of his wife, subjecting women to their husbands) into the Greek language that Paul used for writing. When Dr. Bristow compared his English-to-Greek translation with the Greek text of Ephesians itself, there were surprising differences. If Paul had meant to dictate male domination of women, he would have chosen different words when he wrote in Greek. Dr. Bristow also showed that using the Greek language for writing, Paul in Christ sought a liberation movement for participants of Greco-Roman culture — the true gender reconciliation for both women and men that Jesus and the cross offers through redemption of the fallen-world curse against Adam and Eve.
Paul’s words became radically misinterpreted through the sexist eyes of the early Church Fathers of the Roman Empire. Later translators of the Bible carried forward the blindness to thwart the intention of Jesus for Christian women and men, boys and girls.
This is not to detract from the good that God worked through the early Church Fathers of the Church or through the Bible otherwise in an era of discriminatory abuses against women and girls generally. No one can confirm intent to distort (although scripture on devilish powers and principalities, e.g., Ephesians 6: 10-18, confirms as possibility that evil worked in them to twist the intentions of both Jesus and Paul about women in Christ until truth could win through the unfolding of God’s reign and credible scholarship about the Bible today).
No Good Excuse for Sexism Within Christianity, and the Call for Forgiveness
We the people (pastors, priests and popes especially) have reason to know better today, and do not have good excuse for sexism within Christianity. At the same time, my prayer and love go out to all Christian women who have been caught (conditioned, brainwashed) unawares by modern men to take a subordinate hierarchical position here on earth. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Likewise my prayer and love to all Christian women and men who have been caught unawares by misguided discriminatory teaching. We will best thrive in the Body of Christ through all of the Holy Spirit’s gifts to all of God’s children if we embrace the loving, non-racist, non-sexist divine reign inaugurated by Jesus Christ.
How did this human idolatry of masculinity arise among faithful Christians? Human reasons are always multilayered but from lived experience among various Christian modes of practice, I’ve noticed that idolatrous domination within professed Christian practice mirrors the prevailing sinfully dominating society of global culture generally. Just as all sinning is comfortable (until it starts to hurt), the mirrored domination is comfortable for many professing Christians. (A predominant cultural circle feeding on itself.) Gendered church hierarchy’s low-grade sadism and masochism in social arrangements is, however, not part of what Jesus taught even if the practitioners enjoy it (or have good intentions in its practice).
By the import of the Bible’s telling of the teaching of Jesus, only the Syrophoenician woman (and mother of a daughter) ever convinced Jesus to change His mind. Mark 7: 24-30. Was this to elevate females over males? No, only part of the ministry of Jesus to overturn among believers the sinning social norm in all cultures by which the men lorded it over the women, the rich over the poor, the hypocrites over the sincerely faithful. The message of change to God-reliance in Christ subverts the social order, available to all, freely given.
Sidestepping the import of the ministry of Jesus, many pastors today rely for their “higher” authority on a literalist English translation (or cultural mistranslation) of the Bible. Then their congregation (filled with people acclimated to domination culture) need not question what’s printed on the page as translated into the English which arose as language in cultures of dominance. (More predominant circularity feeding on itself.)
The Example of “Authentein” (or “It’s All Greek to Me”) in Misusing the Bible Against Women
We don’t have to throw up our hands as non-scholars of ancient languages and blindly trust the untrustworthy to translate or interpret scripture for us. For example, “authentein” (Greek) as translated in 1 Timothy 2:11-15, could be translated as “originator.” (Google pulls up scholarship in a postmodern resurgence of interest in Christianity and the direction of faith.) Thus translated it would be clear as a Pauline caution against lapsing back toward temple sex-priestess dogma of males’ origination from females (as their originators) by a corrupted earth mother goddess religion in Ephesus where Timothy pastored. Apparently the translators into English of the Greek texts didn’t want look at the whole truth several hundred years ago. Most readers of English Bibles fall back on “it’s all Greek to me” even today.
From the mid-1800’s until now it has not been easy for slaveholders or dominant persons of any type to give up the thrill and/or profit of controlling another human being especially when the Bible in English has condoned the practice.
Praying for changed hearts by those who believe differently (about domination and otherwise) helps me extend the radical love of Jesus. Facing my own lapses from Christ’s radical love helps me forgive myself and those in Christendom who might castigate me for even daring as a woman to write this. Can we not have the revolution for Christ instead where we honor one another and our respective gifts of the Holy Spirit without man-made obstruction?
Jesus calls us to dare greatly for one another, worshiping God in spirit and in truth, John 4:24, as Jesus told the Samaritan woman at the well who served as the first Gentile missionary proclaiming Him as Messiah. Jesus appeared to women first after the resurrection in an era where the predominant culture found the witness of any female to be inherently untrustworthy. Our Lord trusted us, women, when nobody else in the world did.
During His walk Jesus also taught, and the Holy Spirit today teaches, women and men about wisdom and her children (the feminine Sophia in the Greek language), Matthew 11:19, Luke 7:35, as well as about Abba, Father (Mark 14:36), Beloved in the Aramaic. Now we can learn to trust ourselves in Christ, men and women together, equally yoked, married or not, cf., 2 Corinthians 6:14, in primary relationship with God.
Oh Lord my God, “Thy ‘kingdom’ come,” where gendered language is irrelevant to the radical love of Jesus. At last it’s time.