I see the same essential marriage advice given time and time again: “be self-giving, not self-seeking”. Depending on who you listen to, and in what context, the message ranges from the quite helpful to the incredibly toxic.
It can push for balance and mutuality — if both spouses seek the other’s wellbeing, then both will also be on the receiving end and good things tend to happen. But it can also give the impression that marriage is about work or indeed ‘sanctifying’ your spouse. Throw in false assumptions about what men and women need for their well-being (e.g. women need security, men need sex) and it’s a recipe for abuse.
That said, it’s hard for Christians to shake the feeling that marriage is about more than one individual and that marriage shouldn’t come at the expense of one spouse. So, you can see why Christians might encourage self-giving rather than self-seeking for good marital relations.
But I think this approach is fundamentally flawed.
Over the last week or so, a #poemfortheresistance by Kaitlin Hardy Shetler has been making waves on the internet. Both stark and poignant, it contemplates whether Mary’s experience of breast-feeing Jesus was anything like the author’s earthy experience. (Its text is at the bottom of this post.)
The poem has many layers but it lands the author’s view that the coarse image of a teenage girl, with cracked nipples maybe, breast-feeding Jesus, says far more about the truth and relevance of the Christmas story than the many sermons you might hear from privileged male preachers who gate-keep women from the pulpit.
At the time I write, the poem has garnered over 40,000 reactions on Facebook and 29,000 shares (not counting the ones where people copied the text into their own posts). It’s clearly resonated with a lot of people, however it’s also been deemed silly or irrelevant by some, offensive to others.
In particular, Rachel Jankovic criticises the poem for misstating the scandal of Christmas as “some kind of woman power thing” when the real scandal (in her view) is obedience to God.
Complementarians, egalitarians and kinksters are three groups of people who all frequently talk about submission in the context of a sexual relationship but using different words with different meanings.
John MacArthur was recently asked what he thought of Beth Moore. In addition to telling her to ‘go home’, he said: “There’s no case that can be made biblically for a woman preacher – period – paragraph – end of discussion.” (Video here.)
The story of Esther, a Jewish orphan who became queen of Persia and saved her people from annihilation, is loaded with intrigue and drama. But that doesn’t necessarily make it comfortable reading.
Even in its earliest days, it had mixed reception. The Jews at Qumran ignored it; the Alexandrian Jews added extra passages to make the story more normative to Jewish ideology; and whoever translated the Hebrew into Greek “corrected” the original by (for example) pervasively inserting references to God.
Likewise today, the book’s reception amongst Christian audiences faces tension. However, the topics now seem less concerned with whether Esther kept Torah, and more concerned with the justice (or otherwise) of patriarchy and warfare. Even so, the story remains immensely popular, with commentaries and Bible studies vying to interpret how Esther and Mordecai’s actions are exemplary for the modern Christian.
And in the middle of this, every now and then I see someone drawing attention to Vashti, who was queen before Esther, and they commend Vashti for her thoroughly feminist refusal to be a spectacle for the drunken king.
In fairness, no one has actually come to my blog and ranted about the Old Testament laws. So, this post probably isn’t aimed directly at you.
That said, I want to get more and more into writing about them and I could easily imagine many egalitarian Christians looking at me baffled and asking why I would bother at all. That in itself is not so much a problem; it’s great when people ask genuine questions. The difficulty I want to avoid is people saying things up front like, “Yeah, but we’re under grace now,” or “Moses was a misogynist.”
I have no problem sharing a high-five with anyone who believes women are equally as capable of leading as men are; I have no problem sitting with someone who believes that Jesus was the fulfilment of the Old Testament law. But I don’t think egalitarians need to disregard the Old Testament, or the Torah (or those deeply uncomfortable Deuteronomy laws) in order to make their case.
Instead, I think the egalitarian standpoint (that’s the idea men and women might be different but are still equally capable of leadership) is stronger when it has an integrated understanding of the Old Testament, its stories and its laws. This is why I want to write about them.
How you treat me has a huge influence on how I feel emotionally. But you’re also in a position to influence my behaviours towards others.
That means your reach goes way beyond the Facebook groups you manage; the advice you give me today might carry years into the future, as I interact with people both online and offline. (No pressure!)
I wanted to write to you because when I make mistakes, you can greatly influence how much my mistakes end up costing people. I’ve had some great admins who’ve steered me away from pitfalls. On the flip side, there have also been times when much pain and stress was avoidable.
On Tuesday (11th December) I received a message from a friend about a recent post on Medium titled The Ezer Rising Story.
The friend was Sierra White, who founded and runs a small social media platform called Ezer Rising. The post was an account from six people, five of whom were former members of the Ezer Rising team, about how Sierra was abusive and the platform wasn’t a safe space.
Sierra said she was “just floored.”
It wasn’t the first time she had messaged me and others in this way. Like the previous times, I encouraged her not to respond. Though, unlike the previous times, I decided I would.
When I first read the interview in which Christian singer-songwriter Vicky Beeching came out as a lesbian (after a substantial performing career in the USA’s Bible Belt), I found myself faced with a number of challenges. Perhaps surprisingly, the biggest one for me related to how she had undergone an attempted exorcism. It had been aimed at converting her sexual orientation from gay to straight and she had been traumatised by this experience.
I wanted to understand why this was the case. (In all honesty, this wasn’t obvious to me.)
Now, reading her recent memoir-cross-apologetic Undivided, where she defends both her gay identity and LGBTQ+ identities in general, I still have questions, but I also have more answers.
And one thing above all is clear to me: this attempted exorcism ought not be described as merely ‘spontaneous prayers that could have undoubtedly been worded better’. This is what Peter Lynas said whilst writing for (and on behalf of?) the UK Evangelical Alliance. There is much that can be said about his review, but for this post I’ll focus on just these words. I expect many LGBTQ+ advocates would say these words demonstrate a lack of understanding regarding the nature of the offence that conversion therapy presents to them. I think there is something to that, but what I want to show here is how these words fail to take responsibility for beliefs and practices around healing ministries.
I’ll try to explain my reasons as gently as I can.
CONTENT NOTE: This post describes Vicky’s experience of attempted conversion prayer (using details from her book) as well as some anti-LGBTQ+ rhetoric.
Last week, I met up with a good friend, also a blogger, whose areas of interest overlap with mine particularly in regard to consent and feminism. Though she’s not a Christian, a few months ago I had asked if she would read chapter 6 of Tim and Kathy Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage (Hodder & Stoughton, London, 2013). For those less familiar, this is where Kathy Keller squarely sets out her complementarian theology and how she found joy accepting the ‘divinely assigned’ role of her gender by submitting to her husband Tim.
I asked my friend Amy to read it because I wanted a second opinion. I felt Kathy sounded eerily like a woman who’d been conditioned to believe she was a ‘submissive’ in the BDSM sense, even though she wasn’t one – much like Ana in Fifty Shades of Grey (click here for what I mean by ‘BDSM’ and ‘submissive’).
Amy had been through an abusive 24/7 dominant/submissive relationship and she blogs regularly about BDSM, so I was interested to know her thoughts. Also, as someone who isn’t in the church, and who hasn’t exited the church, she didn’t have any theological axes to grind.
I got a flavour of her reaction when she messaged me the day before we met up:
So… it’s okay that my notes on this book contain a lot of RAGE CAPS, right? 😀
When we met she read her comments to me a little hesitantly, in case she was being too scathing in her criticisms. She needn’t have worried. From my perspective it was satisfying to hear her name several of my key complaints against this chapter and complementarianism in general.
But what surprised me was her take on the Trinity.
Anyone who knows me or has worked with me knows I am not someone who would intentionally offend or knowingly make anyone feel uneasy. I apologize to anyone who felt uncomfortable or disrespected — that was never my intent.
Still, the story didn’t go away and a few days later he issued a second statement.
Having a job where the boss of the adjacent department is someone who discriminated against you (and you’ve never received an apology).
Being amongst extended family members who habitually crack jokes that demean an aspect of your identity (and you’re never sure how serious the jokes are).
Attending a church where the pastor has systematically tried to silence your voice.
Being in an online forum where its leader states repeatedly and categorically that an experience of yours did not, and does not, happen.
They’re pretty uncomfortable scenarios. The question is: what do you do with them?
At work, my boss is someone who is streets ahead of me in terms of professional experience, organisational nous and interpersonal savvy. I can barely begin to go into how much I’ve learned from him. When it comes to music though, it’s the other way round. Aged in his fifties, he’s struggling through his grade 3 guitar exam, whereas I had grade 8 piano when I was fourteen. It makes for some interesting conversations.
Recently he described how his teacher had been telling him that part of the art of being a performer is learning how to handle an uncomfortable environment. What do you achieve if you go into the room and the lighting is a bit off and someone’s looking at you awkwardly and you say you just can’t play?
1 Corinthians 11:3. Ephesians 5:22. If you’ve been anywhere near the arguments about complementarianism you’ll probably know what these verses say about women without having to look them up. Even if you don’t, you’ll definitely be familiar with what people have said they mean.
Several of my reads in 2017 were about the role and place of women. There were moments I was ready to write very long thank you letters to the authors; other times, I filled the margins with angry scribbles. Here are some short reviews of:
The Rise and Fall of the Complementarian Doctrine of the Trinity
From theology to anthropology to fiction, these are my books of 2017. I didn’t like all of them, and I didn’t read all of them from cover to cover. But in this post (and the next three), I’ll share some thoughts on what I made of them.
The number one spot belongs to The Twilight of Cutting and it warrants a full blog post in its own right.
Written by a Bosnian woman who works as an Assistant Professor of Anthropology and Feminist, Gender and Sexuality Studies at Cornell University, it is a stunning study of the complexities of discourses surrounding female genital mutilation (FGM), which is also known as ‘cutting’.