I Choose

Yasmine Mohammed (ex-Muslim, author, woman of valor, google for more info) tweeted a photo of a woman disfigured by acid this morning, with this comment:

“Please stop equating hijab with a nun choosing a career or a woman choosing to wear a scarf or men choosing to wear a kippah. You sound dumb. People are abused, attacked with acid, imprisoned and killed for not wearing hijab. They are not the same.”

I think she was pushing back at some people on the left side of politics who, in their zeal to battle Islamophobia somehow end up supporting pro-hijab campaigns. But what she said also challenges those within radical religious communities who claim to embrace lifestyles and beliefs out of free choice.

The way to discover whether you have actually CHOSEN a behavior or belief, versus it having been imposed on you, is to ask yourself: if I stopped doing/believing this, what would happen?

Would I

  • Be shunned by my family?
  • Be given the cold shoulder by close friends?
  • Lose my job?
  • Be barred from/asked to step down from ministry?
  • Be publicly shamed in congregation?
  • Be excommunicated?
  • Be told I am going to hell?
  • Be beaten by my father/husband?
  • Be threatened with divorce?
  • Be threatened with the loss of child custody?
  • Be arrested?
  • Get acid thrown in my face?

The thing about choice is that it can only happen WHEN THERE ARE GENUINE OPTIONS and WHEN COERCION IS NOT A FACTOR. And you don’t have to be a member of a radical Muslim community to need to hear this. Let’s bring it right into our own “New Testament church” experience. Let me tell you I have no lack of examples, especially as a woman within the Plymouth Brethren tradition, but I’ll stick to a couple:

I remember being fully convinced that I chose to wear a headcovering. I was equally convinced that I chose homemaking over a career, and I showcased these things, along with others, as personal choices.

But what would have happened if I had chosen NOT to wear a headcovering, or if I had said that what I really wanted was to pursue a career?

The answer, quite simply, is that my father would have cracked down on me and that our community would have stood by him. There was never a flying chance I would have gotten away with sitting through a church meeting without a headcovering, or that I would have been allowed to continue studying after high school.

And yet I believed that these were my choices.

I thought about that when my daughter told me about one of her classmates, who (during sweltering weather) insisted that she loved wearing hijab and did so out of free choice. I think about it when I hear friends toting headcoverings or dress codes as matters of personal conviction. I think about it when I see LGBTQ Christians saying they choose a life of celibacy.

Could they choose not to?

Male and Female Created He Them

Despite our (western evangelical) obsession with “biblical manhood and womanhood”, God doesn’t seem to have had any particular interest in spelling out or even highlighting the differences between the sexes. When you come right down to it, if you’re looking for prescriptive Scriptures on gender differences/roles, you won’t find much of a leg to stand on.

When Eve came on the creation scene, both God and Adam emphasized the SIMILARITIES, not the differences, between male and female (“a corresponding strength”…”bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh”).

I really doubt binary gender differences are the great central feature of marriage, or society, or church. However, the other day I was thinking about two complementary proverbs and it occurred to me that if you wanted to find, say, an emblematic virtue for each sex, this might be your ticket.

Proverbs 20:6, A faithful man, who can find?
Proverbs 31:10, Who can find a woman of valor?

A truly masculine man is … fill in the gap. Tough. Athletic. Assertive. Masterful. Bearded.

A truly feminine woman is … fill in the gap. Sensitive. Nurturing. Delicate. Tender. Aproned.

Sure, men and women can be those things. But isn’t it interesting that what God chose to spotlight as particularly masculine and feminine virtues were, respectively, FAITHFULNESS and VALOR.

Faithful is also translated as trustworthy and reliable. He may be an outdoorsman or a poet, an extrovert or an introvert, shy or assertive, sensitive, energetic, stay-at-home, entrepreneurial – but whatever else, a real man is faithful. Being reliable and trustworthy is his truest expression of masculinity.

Valor is also translated as strength. This – not fragility, not dependency, not servility, not lace or the color pink – is what God chooses as the feature expression of femininity. Pretty remarkable, isn’t it. (Sorry, members of the Misreading Paul Club, but “weaker vessel” doesn’t mean what you think it means.)

Many of our concepts of manhood and womanhood come from history and society, and are therefore fluid. But faithfulness and valor are the enduring gifts men and women give each other.

Darkness Is Present

Frank Peretti’s This Present Darkness and Piercing the Darkness were popular when I was a teenager. We didn’t have them (I think they were a bit too lurid to pass my parents’ vetting) but I borrowed them from a friend. They made for an exciting read, although I do remember being a bit skeptical at the idea that spiritual warfare meant there were demon conspiracies behind everything. At the time, I certainly did not catch the very revealing theme woven through them (see Twitter thread by R. L. Stollar below for specific paragraphs). But then, of course I didn’t… I was well-trained to dismiss women, children and any accusation against Authority.

Accusations were either false – Peretti portrays them as demon-inspired – or, if they proved undeniably true, they were the victim’s own sad fault. I recall a conversation I overheard years ago among some women in our congregation about a murder case on the news, a victim of domestic violence. The comment, which I will never forget and which illustrates how we were taught to think, was: “She must have provoked him. She was probably a contentious woman.”

R. L. Stollar points out that in Peretti’s narrative, helpers (such as Child Protective Services) are evil and villainous – another very familiar theme. The World™ was always trying to get in our homes and steal the children & subvert the women.

I echo Stollar’s criticism: “These portrayals are cruel, false, and dangerous caricatures of abuse survivors and survivor advocates.”

You can read his whole thread HERE.


Leadership 101

I try to keep away from these Black Hole discussions that start with “Can Christians drink alcohol?” or “Does the church need female leadership?”, I try, but sometimes when I’m scrolling down the newsfeed my eye gets snagged. 

“Many women,” (I read), “possess the moral and spiritual qualities of leadership, but because they are women they lack the biological quality for leading.”

Take your time unpacking that one, you’ll need it. 

Farther down someone had written: “Even men aren’t authoritarian enough to be good leaders”. Ah, and there’s the problem right there. The idea that leadership in the kingdom of God is about being in charge.

You would think that our Lord had made it clear enough that it wasn’t, by a far cry. He did tell the disciples pretty plainly that amongst his followers, leadership was not to be as it was among the worldlings – an exercise of authority. It was to be an exercise of service and giving. 

And that’s an exercise that ALL members of the Body of Christ are called to.

Biblical Submission

“[A woman] is to obey her husband as if he were God Himself. She can be as certain of God’s will when her husband speaks as if God had spoken audibly from Heaven.”[1]

And thus,

“[She has] freedom from having to take the consequences of making decisions.”[2]

This, according to Elizabeth Rice Handford (author of the “classic resource”[3], Me? Obey Him?) is what submission looks like.

The true biblical definition of submission is neither “obedience” nor “exemption from accountability”. Biblical submission does not shape wards, subordinates or dependents. It is not the opposite of strength, competence and maturity. Rather, it is “serving one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13) and “in humility valuing others above ourselves” (Phil. 2:3), and it is a way of living we are ALL called to, regardless of gender or marital status.

[1] Elizabeth Rice Handford, Me? Obey Him?, p. 34
[2] Elizabeth Rice Handford, Me? Obey Him?, p. 67
[3] Typical example of conservative evangelical praise for this book: https://www.thebereancall.org/content/me-obey-him

Protect His Sheep: An Open Letter to New Testament Assemblies

This letter was sent out last week by the directors of the Galilee Program to all the listed assemblies (“Plymouth Brethren“) in North America. It is a call to identify and address the problem of child abuse (sexual, physical and emotional) in our church circles.

This problem, as the authors state, is not limited to a few isolated cases, but is much more prevalent than we realize. Its seriousness has been greatly underestimated and the response has been inadequate.

It is my personal persuasion that this problem is directly fueled by supposedly “Biblical” teaching on child-rearing and by supposedly “Biblical” teaching on authority, and that the problem is by no means limited to children but encompasses women as well. Sexual abuse and domestic violence are a terrible, present problem in our church circles. It is HIGH TIME they were addressed.

The website Protect His Sheep, linked below, contains the letter and helpful resources. May I encourage you to read and share.

LINK: Protect His Sheep

The Model Wife

I like listening to music on a Christian radio station while I’m driving, but they do throw in the occasional pep talk as part of the bargain.  One day the hosts were talking about a friend who was having marriage difficulties. Apparently her husband was behaving in a hurtful way and she didn’t know how to handle the situation. Their advice?

“Your husband is your spiritual covering. You need to be his follower. If something is bothering you, simply pray about it. If he needs to change, God will take care of it.”

I could not help but think of Sapphira’s story. A woman who followed her husband’s lead, supported him loyally and, if she had any misgivings about his decisions, she left them all in the Lord’s hands. The model wife.Christ-Husband-Wife-Covering-Umbrella-200x300

Which is why the Lord praised her and gave her to us as an example to follow.

Oh wait, except that’s not how the story went.

Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.”

At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. | Acts 5:9-10

How embarrassing for the spiritual covering theorists.

This is the thing: if your husband is being a brat, he needs a true friend (Proverbs 27:6) not a groupie. If he is doing something wrong (which includes wronging you, or your children), you don’t get spiritual points for keeping quiet.

It’s a mistake to confuse humility with servility, or gentleness with weakness. The model wife has an opinion and a voice, and she does not act the part of a subordinate (because marriage is not a chain-of-command, and domineering is disrespectful behavior which should not be a feature in any relationship). These are qualities that make her a worthy companion.

We really need to find healthier, saner, more practical and more biblical marriage advice to offer. Here are a few things I came up with:

  • Be honest with your husband because relationships are built on communication.
  • Pampering someone’s ego is not respectful or loving.
  • Remember that although you are a team, you are also two individual people responsible before God. There is no such thing as someone acting as a “covering” for you, or standing in front of you before God.
  • Praying about situations is vital but it does not replace actual relationship work.

We Should All Be Feminists

I have two small daughters and they both covet the position of class monitor and the power it confers. Fortunately, gender is not a deterrent in their school. That’s not the way it’s always been though.

Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie tells her own experience in the following excerpt from her essay We Should All Be Feminists (with which I aspire to hook you and get you to read whole, something you can do in about half an hour). Continue reading “We Should All Be Feminists”