Randy Greenwald

Concerning Life as It Is Supposed to Be

Category: Sexism

Deliver Us from Manhood

Three and one-half years ago I wrote a series of posts questioning the whole idea of “Biblical Manhood.” My concern was to call men to quit worrying about being “manly,” whatever that might mean, and to embrace decency instead. “Biblical Decency” seems to me to be a far more defensible concept. To be a decent, trustworthy, and compassionate guy seems to me to be something more critical than exercising some dubious quality called masculinity.

Those posts bear reposting. We live in a moment that more than ever seems devoid of decency. Among the many examples that could be named (such as the macho chest pounding that passes as US foreign policy, and is cheered by some Christians) the primary one that leads me to revisit these posts is the one that has landed hard on my corner of the Christian world. In this corner, the one that birthed the idea of “Biblical Manhood,” there has been shown to be great rottenness. That brings shame on us all.

Aimee Byrd, a thoughtful and articulate woman, has written a book in which she challenges some of the assumptions and consequences of the Biblical Manhood movement. The response she has received has been ugly. “Biblical Men” can apparently be mean, which should cast a suspicious cloud over the whole business. The controversy has been well summarized by Ed Stetzer in Christianity Today and discussed by Byrd herself here and to some degree here. It seems that to some men what matters is not that she is thoughtful and articulate. What matters is that she is a woman. Frightened, I suppose, by a strong and courageous woman, they have launched ad hominen attacks on her character, her appearance, and her biblical faithfulness.

This is disheartening to me. (No doubt this is because I’m an effeminate softie.) But I would think it obvious to most that decent men or women do not demean the looks or reputations of others, whether those others be men or women. How can this be such a hard lesson to learn? Boys will be boys, some say, though even that is worth questioning. But men should be granted no pass to be cruel. We will be, of course. Occasionally we will say something mean or disparaging of another. But when called on it, decent men own it and seek forgiveness. So do women. It’s a part of being a Christian.

So, yes, for what it is worth, these things bear repeating and reposting. So, I will repost over the next several days. If you don’t want to wait, you can read them in their original setting here.

I Am Woman, Hear Me

Some months ago, the controversy du jour involved Vice President Pence’s policy of not meeting women alone. Some found his policy appalling, some found it quaint, and some found it proper. I weighed in on it here because it touched a bit of my own history and struggle as a teacher and particularly as a pastor.

In response to my post I received a kind and insightful email from a young woman whom I had had the pleasure of coming to know ten years ago. She is an intelligent and sensitive follower of Jesus who, as a woman, has had a difficult time finding a home in the church. In her email she shared her experience as a woman in churches similar to the ones I have pastored. I think we need to hear her, and others like her. (She has given me permission to post her comments, though I have edited them for brevity and anonymity.)

Neither she nor I bring these thoughts with any kind of agenda. But understanding the experience of others can implicitly suggest necessary agenda. If it does, I’m glad.
I am grateful for her honesty.

When I first started to engage in Christianity, it was really clear to me that I would always be limited in some way as a woman. When [my male friends] had questions, they’d just go meet with the pastor. When I had questions, it was just not the same, even if that’s not an explicit rule. All the pastors were men and I’m a woman. So the natural supposition was to find a woman, but for many reasons that can be difficult.

To just know that’s not really an option when you have a male pastor, to engage as an individual and share your questions and concerns, subtly tells us “this is for men” and that women aren’t priorities here….

To be taught from a young age that my very biology is evil in some way, not because we’re all evil (total depravity!) but because I am a threat to men in some unknown way that I do not control, that I can be responsible for leading men astray, or that there’s a risk I’ll harm their reputation simply by being a woman, the internalizing of those messages is confusing and hard and leads to lots of feelings of self-hatred and questioning of yourself….

I had an experience of sexual abuse from a church leader as a child and so the argument that women are a risk to men is minimized when I know the opposite (that is, statistically more probable).

Going to church as a woman can sometimes be a heartbreaking experience. Every time I went to church with a male, whenever people would come over to say hi, he would be greeted first. He would be engaged in conversation. My presence there was in relation to the man next to me. There were a couple of times that I would try churches for weeks by myself and really wouldn’t make connections and then a guy would come with me and all of the sudden we’re welcomed. You can definitely make the case that the guys were just more outgoing and friendly, but it was definitely not every time.

Yes, these aren’t huge things. I’m not being stoned when I walk through the door or anything, but it is obviously discouraging to feel, even subtly, as if I don’t have a place because of my gender.

I invite others to reflect on this and to share similar, or contrasting, experiences.

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