Saturday, April 28, 2012

Gender Roles and Responsibility – Part 1

This question was recently asked in a comment on my blog:

Q:  I had a discussion with my pastor and his wife today about some of the issues I've been thinking on. They are strongly complementarian and are adamant that 'at the end of the day' - judgment - the males will be held accountable for decisions effecting both home and church.
Is it wishful thinking on the part of the woman to think that she isn't accountable to God, for the direction a family takes? I can't hear a specific answer from them, re what particular thing a husband will be responsible to for, that a wife won’t. What would you say to this-- what decisions does/will God hold each Christian responsible for?

I always like to start with definitions of terms:

Responsibility:  A duty or obligation to satisfactorily perform or complete a task (assigned by someone, or created by one's own promise or circumstances) that one must fulfill, and which has a consequent penalty for failure.  

Responsible: Able to make moral or rational decisions on one's own and therefore answerable for one's behavior.

Accountable:  subject to the obligation to report, explain, or justify something; answerable.

Accountability is related to responsibility in that we are accountable to get done what we are responsible to do.   To have responsibility, one must be “responsible.”  This means we must be competent adults.  Children and persons who are mentally disabled are not considered legally responsible.  Their parents or guardians are held responsible for them.

The Spiderman comics and movies are famous for this quote: “With great power comes great responsibility.” There can be no responsibility where there is no power.  A child is considered to have no power to sign a legal document, and therefore incurs no responsibility if she does sign.  We have no duty or obligation to perform any task which is beyond our power. 

When God created humankind and gave them “dominion” over the creation in Genesis 1:26, God was giving humans power, and therefore responsibility, over their environment and over themselves.  Everyone has some measure of power.  Children can’t be held responsible under the law, but their parents and teachers hold them responsible to do the duties they are capable of doing.  When we have power over others’ actions, we are also held responsible for the things they do.  This is why bosses have the ultimate responsibility over their businesses—because they are the ones with the power to do (or cause to be done) what they are responsible to do. 

James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my fellow believers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.”  In Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt 25:14-30), the one who was given five talents was responsible for all five, while the one who had three talents was responsible only for those three.  We are responsible according to the amount of power we have and the use and influence of our power over others.

So the position taken by the pastor and wife described in the question above, is a logical outgrowth of the position called “complementarianism” --  that husbands have God-given authority over wives, and that church leaders have God-given authority over congregations and therefore must be male.  If husbands can tell wives what to do, then husbands have power over their wives, and consequently they are accountable for what they tell their wives to do and how they use their power.   I prefer to call this “male-hierarchalism,” since I think it describes the position better than the somewhat misleading term “complementarianism.” (Christian egalitarians also believe that men and women complement one another, but without hierarchy.)

Because male-hierarchalists believe husbands are the ones with final authority to make decisions affecting the home, and male church leaders are the ones with final authority to make decisions affecting the church, they believe God will hold males more accountable than females for these decisions.  However, nowhere in the Bible does it say that women, because they are women, are less responsible before God than men— it is, as I said, only a logical outgrowth of the position that God denies women decision-making powers in the church and home.  At the creation God gave the man and the woman both “dominion,’ and with it responsibility—and God never said He was giving the man more dominion (or more responsibility) than the woman.   If the proof-texts that are used to support male hierarchy in the church and home are being misread (which many of my posts on this blog attempt to prove), then there is no reason to conclude that God, purely on the basis of gender, holds males more accountable than females in this life or in the next.

Furthermore, even when Christian male-hierarchalists take responsibility away from women, our modern Western societies continue to consider them full adults and to hold them accountable as such.  If a woman goes along with her coercive church and husband in denying a child medical care, for example, both parents are still held responsible if that child is harmed.  The courts will not respond, “Oh, that’s ok, then,” when a woman explains that she believed she had to submit to her husband.    Courts might find a mitigating circumstance if a woman could prove she was being forced into child neglect by her husband, but if she claims she was submitting of her own free will, they will not understand!  Women have power in our world over their children, and therefore they are responsible for the well-being of those children.

I think women are also fully accountable to God as responsible adults.  But when they are coerced or shamed or otherwise convinced to give up adult power and abdicate adult responsibility, I think God is able to consider the woman’s heart in ways that courts of law cannot.  Therefore our merciful Father will hold more accountable, the ones who convinced her it was His will that she give up her self-determination. 

Ultimately, we are all responsible at least for ourselves and our own actions.  We also have responsibility for the way we use any additional power we may have.  But in male-hierarchical Christianity I have seen some worrying things happen regarding personal responsibility and who is held accountable for what.  The potential for crazy-making responsibility issues in Christian male-hierarchalism, will be the subject of next week’s post.  

Friday, April 20, 2012

Why I Hate "That's So 30 Seconds Ago"

You've probably all seen the commercials; I don't even remember which cell phone company airs them.  I wouldn't mention the name even if I could remember, because I might have to pay royalties to someone or other-- so I'll describe them as generically as possible.   Somebody in the commercial is using their new, totally top-of-the-line SuperAwesomePhone, and when someone else receives a news feed this SuperAwesome user has already seen, he or she sneers, "That's so 30 seconds ago," or some other number that indicates how utterly more Cool it is to be that many seconds ahead of the dweebs who don't have the product.

Whereupon, instead of staring in shock at the utter rudeness of dismissing their news with "that's so 30 seconds ago," the recipient of the rudeness smiles wistfully, obviously secretly planning to go out and get a phone just like that tomorrow, or the next day at the latest.

I hate these commercials.  They seem to me to encapsulate much of what's wrong with our culture.  I'm old enough to start being  curmudgeonly about things like this, so here's a list of my gripes.

First, how exactly is my life impoverished by receiving a bit of information 30 seconds later than I would have received it with a SuperAwesome phone?  If I had that extra 30 seconds of knowledge, would I be able to alter my reality so that in some new universe I'll be mind-blowingly happier than I would be without that 30 seconds?  Do we really need to know things 30 seconds faster today than we knew them yesterday, or last week?  Why?

Today's culture is all about frantic speed, at the expense of patience, tranquility and the care it takes to make things that will last.  We rush from one event to the next, from one piece of technology to the next, from one relationship to the next.  When do we breathe?  Have we forgotten how?   And whatever happened to building things that will endure the tests of time?

Second, keeping up with the Joneses used to mean occasionally eyeing the cars in one another's driveways or wishing we could go on a trip to Hawaii like the neighbors did last year.  But now it seems that one-up-manship has become a way of life.  Commercials capitalize on our desires to be better than everyone around us, until we view every purchase as a win or a loss in a huge competition.  "The one who dies with the most stuff, wins,"  is replaced by, "The one who dies with a life full of the most constantly updated stuff, wins."   Why do we have to compete at all?  Does this really make us better, in any sense, than those who "lose"?  And how much new stuff do we really need to be happy?   Are we miserable creatures and to be pitied, if we don't have the very latest "app"?

Third, rudeness seems to have become a way of life.  No one really notices any more the disrespectful, dismissive things we say to other people, or about people behind their backs.  When a friend comes running to us with a piece of news that is important enough to them to want to impart it, how are we justified in shutting them down with a sneering, "Oh, I already know all about it!"  Wouldn't kindness alone lead a person to at least pretend they didn't know, so that their friend can have the pleasure of imparting it?  But apparently it's now funny to watch someone silence someone else with superior, 30-seconds-earlier knowledge.  Maybe we ourselves wouldn't be so rude to a friend's face.  But what about what we're thinking inside?  It's normal in our culture to write people off as losers if they don't measure up to standards imparted to us by commercials like these.  Do we have to own the very latest gadget to be respected?  Why?

Finally, updates to technology come so fast that it's impossible to become comfortable using a gadget, an operating system, or even an app.  By the time you've learned everything you can do with it, it's already obsolete.  Even to write this post today, I had to upload a new Internet browser, because someone at Google decided I needed an upgrade to Blogger whether I wanted one or not-- and the new Blogger won't work with my usual browser.  I'm at the mercy of upgrades.  I have to use the new stuff even if I was perfectly happy with the old.  Whatever happened to "If it ain't broke, don't fix it"?   But all these tech companies apparently know better than I do what I actually want or need-- and I get dragged behind, trying to catch up, and wishing I could just go along comfortably the way I did before, until I'm ready to change.

Jesus said, "Be on your guard against every form of greed, for not even when one has an abundance does life consist of possessions."  Luke 12:15.  I hope I'm not sounding too preachy or negative-- but these are frustrations I've been wanting to express, and it's my blog, so no one can stop me!

In the frenetic pursuit of SuperAwesomeness there is neither peace nor love, nor even joy.  And yet the SuperAwesome cell phone company, and thousands of other companies like it, bombard us every hour or so with the message that what we really need is none of these.  We need to run out and buy.

I for one am sick of the message.

Saturday, April 14, 2012

Book Recommendation: Tattoos on the Heart by Gregory Boyle

Gregory Boyle is a Jesuit priest who lives in Los Angeles.  He has dedicated his life to one of the groups that most of us have long since written off:  gang members.  Tattoos on the Heart is his book.

I started the book expecting a chronological autobiography focused on Homeboy Industries, the non-profit business/ministry Boyle set up to help young gang members leave the gang lifestyle and learn self-respect via unconditional love and a strong work ethic.  Instead, and much more powerfully, Tattoos on the Heart is a set of vignettes, each focused on one or two particular individuals, so that readers like me who have always just seen "gang member: dangerous, scary, stay away!" might see people instead-- young men and women entrapped in a lifestyle that will inevitably end in their early deaths.

Boyle says with regards to his own work:  "If there is a fundamental challenge within these stories, it is simply to change our lurking suspicion that some lives matter less than others." 

With a "no matter what" kind of love, Boyle invests his life in the lives of these people whom the rest of us usually see as beyond help-- and undeserving of it.  He simply meets them where they are, learning their names and stories, letting them know that there is a way out of the gangs, but it must be their decision to take that chance.  If they do, Homeboy Industries will remove their gang tattoos, find them places to live, employ them or find them employment, and teach them how to work, earn and wisely use their money.  "Here is what we seek," says Boyle:  "a compassion that can stand in awe at what the poor have to carry rather than stand in judgment at how they carry it."

Boyle admits that this is extremely hard to do.  "Kids I love killing [other] kids I love.  There is nothing neat in carving a space for both in [my] compassion."  He does not close his eyes and pretend what gang members do is ok-- but he sees them, boys and girls made in the image of God-- as far more important than the things they do to themselves and one another.   To read this book was, for me, a challenge to learn to see as Father Boyle sees.

A couple of eye-opening (and heart-opening) things:

Many of these kids, when asked their names or where they are from, will respond in surprise, "Me?"  They are simply astonished that anyone would care enough to want to know.  In their own minds they are as worthless and already-written-off as the rest of society sees them.  To have someone simply want to know who they are is often the first step for them in realizing they are too valuable to stay in the gang life-trap, that they are worth their own efforts to begin anew.

These kids aren't like our own kids: looking forward eagerly to prom, to graduation, to marriage and college and careers.  The only thing these kids plan (and plan elaborately) for is their funerals.  They don't expect to live past their early 20s.  They make pre-arrangements to be buried with certain items, or have certain things said at their funerals, in much the same way our own grandparents do. 

How would I be different if I had grown up like this?  As Boyle writes,

"It is safe for me to declare that as a teenager growing up. . . it would have been impossible for me to join a gang.  That is a fact.  That fact, however, does not make me morally superior to the young men and women you will meet in this book.  Quite the opposite.  I have come to see with greater clarity that the day simply won't come when I am more noble, have more courage, or am closer to God than the folks whose lives fill these pages."

The stories are both heart-wrenching and uplifting, with a liberal dose of gentle humor sprinkled through the pages. Reading them was another step in learning one of the things I believe Christ wants most to teach me: no one should ever be defined by their label or rendered a non-person or beyond hope.  I need to learn "no-matter-what" love better than I do it now.

I owe Father Boyle my thanks for the lesson.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Happy Easter!

It was in church on Easter Sunday in 1979 that the 15-year-old me, in the middle of the singing of "Christ the Lord is Risen Today," lifted my eyes to heaven and whispered, "Ok, God, I'll trust You."  Today I'm going to let Peter Marshall, 1950's Chaplain of the US Senate, be my "guest blogger" to help me express what Easter became for me on that day: the day I first let my own life's story become caught up in the Great Story of the gospel, which Dr. Marshall retold so often and so well.  So here is a section I have abridged from perhaps his most famous sermon.


Three years before, the Master had called them to become fishers of men.  Now that His fame had died away, they would once more become fishers of fish.

Their King crucified like a criminal.  Their Messiah ending up-- not on a throne, but on a cross, hailed as King on Sunday, and dead like a common thief on Friday.

They remained the despairing survivors of a broken cause, as they stumbled blindly down the hill, their eyes filled with tears they could not stop.
They were the very picture of men without any hope.
Utterly crushed. . . beaten. . .
disappointed. . .
In their faces there was the stark, dreadful look of hopeless despair.

Jesus was a dead man now, very much like any other dead man.  The Roman authorities were satisfied that they had seen the last of this strange, troublesome Dreamer.

Thus they left Him on Friday evening-- just before the Sabbath began, His dead body hastily embalmed,
wrapped in bandages on which a hundred pounds of myrrh had been hastily spread. . .
the tomb closed with a huge stone and soldiers standing guard around it.

Then came Sunday morning.

The first rays of the early morning sun cast a great light that caused the dew drops on the flowers to sparkle like diamonds.
The atmosphere of the garden was changed. . .

It was the same garden. . . yet strangely different.
The heaviness of despair was gone,
and there was a new note in the singing of the birds.

Suddenly, at a certain hour between sunset and dawn, in that new tomb which had belonged to Joseph of Arimathea, there was a strange stirring, a fluttering of unseen forces. . .
a whirring of angel wings
the rustle as of the breath of God moving through the garden.

Strong, immeasurable forces poured life back into the dead body
they had laid upon the cold stone slab;
and the dead man rose up
came out of the grave clothes
walked to the threshold of the tomb,
stood swaying for a moment on His wounded feet,
and walked out into the moonlit garden.

We can almost hear in our hearts the faint sigh, as the life spirit fluttered back into the tortured body, and smell in our own nostrils the medley of strange scents that floated back to Him
of linen and bandages. . .
and spices
and close air and blood.

Then came a group of women as soon as they could, bringing spices and materials with which to complete the hasty anointing of their Lord. 

They came with all the materials with which to anoint a dead body,
and when they came to the grave in the garden, they found that the stone had been rolled away from the door of it, and the grave was empty.

Here is John's account of what followed:

"But Mary stood without the sepulchre weeping. . . and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.  Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou?  She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou hast borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.

Jesus saith unto her, Mary.  She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master."

There were two names spoken, "Mary," and "Rabboni."
She heard her own name spoken as only one Voice could speak it-- gently echoing in the garden.
And there was her "Rabboni" -- the breathless "Master!" as she saw His face.

Christ had spoken her name, and all of heaven was in it.
She uttered only one word, and all of earth was in it.

Then, what happened?
Suddenly Peter is facing the foes of Jesus with a reckless courage.  Why, this does not sound like the same man.  The truth is, it is not the same man.  He is different--
very, very different.

The disciples of Jesus were scattered
with a sense of tragic loss
and then, in a few days, they were thrilling with victory, completely changed. 

The were all thrilled beyond fear in the stupendous knowledge that Christ was alive,
and they went about rejoicing in a joy beyond pain.

Happy Easter to my readers, wherever you are.  Thank you so much for coming and reading. 


Peter Marshall, Mr. Jones, Meet the Master, Fleming H. Revell Co. (1950), pp. 101-114.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

What language shall I borrow
To thank Thee, dearest Friend
For this, Thy dying sorrow,
Thy pity without end?

From O Sacred Head Now Wounded
Medieval Hymn