Saturday, January 25, 2014

This Isn't the Way to Debate an Issue

Professor Denny Burk, on his well-known blog espousing a hierarchical view of male-female relations in Christianity, recently wrote a rebuttal of a post by Sarah Bessey (author of Jesus Feminist) in which she pushed back against the view of marriage that says "the husband is head of the home."  Here is a series of quotes from Burk's article that highlights the general stance he took:
The unblushing error of this statement is breathtaking. It is a stark denial of the straightforward teaching of scripture. . . I simply want to point out that egalitarian hermeneutics are not benign. They cater to the egalitarian spirit of the age by suppressing what the Bible actually teaches. . . We are not playing games here. The hermeneutics of egalitarianism are serious error and are harmful.
Retha at Biblical Personhood and Greg at That's It on a Cracker! have done a great job of responding to Burk's actual arguments.  But I would like to talk about something else.

Here are some of the things Sarah Bessey said in the post Burk was writing about, to voice her disagreement with Candace Cameron Bure's new book:
I believe that Candace Cameron Bure is wrong here. . . This method or strategy may well be how her marriage works – and if so, lovely – but it’s not necessarily biblical. . . Not only is the idea that wives alone are to submit to their husbands poor exegesis, it is damaging. It is damaging to the image of God carried in women and in men.
Notice what Burk does that Bessey does not.  Bessey voices in no uncertain terms that she disagrees with the hierarchical (aka "complementarian") way of reading the Bible when it comes to men and women. She states unequivocably that she believes the hierarchical view is "wrong" and "damaging." But what she does not do is attack the moral integrity of the person she is disagreeing with.  She says she believes Bure is in error; she does not call that error "unblushing."  She does not accuse Bure of being in "stark denial" of what the Bible absolutely says. She does not imply that Bure's Christian faith is somehow compromised by "catering to the spirit of the age."

The problem is not that Burk disagrees with Bessey.  The problem is that Burk couches his opponent’s arguments in such terms as “unblushing error” and “stark denial,” indicating that the opposing view isn't just disagreement or even error, but moral failing. And Burk is not the only one to use this method of debate. It starts by assuming there is only one possible way to understand Scripture unless one is actually being morally dishonest– and then uses words of righteous shock at the immorality of those who read the same Scriptures but understand them differently.  This puts the argument on a false footing from the start. The reader is encouraged not to simply examine each argument on its own merit, but to take one side because to do otherwise is sin.

Here are a few other examples, taken at random from various comments on blogs I frequent:
Paul is very clear in his writings about the role of women.Twisting his writings and trusting in feelings is unbiblical.
[The egalitarian author] has let surrounding culture influence her view rather than the bible. Falling away takes many forms and this article is one of them.
And another article that blatantly distorts the issue that the Bible clearly states that women are not (repeat: NOT) to be pastors in the churches.
You ladies have really twisted scripture to fool yourselves that women can preach/teach in an official church setting. . .
This is actually a logical fallacy known as prejudicial language, which is defined as "loaded or emotive terms used to attach value or moral goodness to believing the proposition."  Words such as "twisting scripture" or "blatantly distorts" turn the simple fact of a disagreement on the meaning of a text into a moral crime.

Now of course egalitarian Christians do sometimes also use prejudicial language.  They might say a hierarchical Christian is "throwing his weight around" or "ranting" about authority and submission, for example. But it is hierarchical Christians who seem to be particularly inclined to language that implies or even states outright that those who disagree with them are in rebellion against God or the Bible or are even leaving the faith.  This may have to do with a particular approach to the Bible which theologian Roger E. Olson identifies as Christian fundamentalism (which is the position hierarchical Christians most often adhere to):
To fundamentalists, there can only be one right “biblical” belief about every given important issue of Christian life and thought. The Bible is viewed as a comprehensive source book of revealed doctrines (and ethical rules). Thus, when two Christians disagree about the Bible’s meaning as it pertains to a doctrinal or theological issue, the fundamentalist believes one of them (or both) must necessarily be misinterpreting and even perhaps dishonoring the Bible.
As I have said before, I think this way of looking at the Bible is a foundational misunderstanding of what kind of divinely inspired text the Bible actually is: that it is actually a narrative about God's redemption of mankind, inviting us to become part of the truth of that story by entering that redemption through Christ.  When we look at it that way, we become free to allow differences in belief and practice, because what really matters is Christ's redemption.  As the Bible itself says:  "Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. . . [but] neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is the new creation." (Gal. 6:12-15.)

To be fair, there are hierarchical Christians who do allow differences and don't resort to prejudicial language; see for example Kathleen Nielson of the Gospel Coalition addressing "My Egalitarian Friends."  Her willingness to admit that egalitarian Christians are simply "different voices . . . affirming love for the Lord and his inspired Word, as well as a desire to see that Word proclaimed with gospel faithfulness to the ends of the earth" makes her continued adherence to complementarianism look stronger than it would if she buttressed her own view by taking verbal pot-shots at the other side.

I myself believe that egalitarianism is a justice issue-- that placing men in a permanent hierarchy above women is fundamentally unjust, and I make no apology for that.  But I will admit that many Christians don't see it that way, and that many of them are sincerely trying to be as faithful to what they believe the Bible teaches as I am trying to be faithful to what I believe the Bible teaches.

The point is that if we truly believe our point of view is right, we should be able to trust it enough to let it argue for itself.  If someone feels the need to make opposing views look immoral and sinful, it can actually make their own view appear weak.

I'm hoping that many complementarians can agree with me (and with their own Kathleen Nielson) about this.  We can, as my grandmother used to say, "disagree without being disagreeable."

In the end we're all disciples of Christ, doing our best to follow Him, right? So let's not bite and devour one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in this: "you shall love your neighbor as yourself." Gal. 5:14-15.

Let's permanently lose terms like "unblushing error" and "twisting scripture."  They're not doing any of us any good.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

"Women Are Not Permitted to Teach" - But Real Life Just Won't Cooperate

I just finished reading How I Changed My Mind About Women in Leadership:Compelling Stories from Prominent Evangelicals, edited by Alan F. Johnson.  In the individual stories, each written by a different evangelical leader, one recurring theme began to stand out in my mind.  Here it is articulated by John H. Armstrong, former pastor and current church consultant, president of a ministry known as ACT 3:
[In my childhood in 1950s America] Mom was a gifted teacher of the Bible.  She was, in fact, the best Bible teacher I ever heard until I went to college.  I honestly think she was the best Bible teacher in our town.  Jealousy among local pastors, who knew how gifted (and popular) she was, surfaced when her Bible classes for teens drew large numbers of young adults from every church background to our home. . . I soon learned that the real question was not whether people like Mom could use their gifts. Most agreed about her gifts and their importance. The pressing troubling question came down to this: How should my mom have used her gifts in relationship to the men in the church? Should she have been encouraged to actually teach men? Many years after I became an adult, she was given a dying Sunday evening women's class in a megachurch.  The class began to grow rapidly. The women then began to bring their husbands, who gladly listened to Mom teach until the pastor stepped in to stop it! [Emphasis in original.]
Here's a similar story by Olive Liefeld, former missionary to Ecuador, author and speaker:
I had been home from Ecuador for a few months after my husband, Peter Fleming, along with four other missionaries, were killed by the Auca (now properly known as the Waorani) Indians. . . [This] was one of a number of incidents that made me realize that there were many inconsistencies and ways to get around some of the strong beliefs about women speaking in front of men. . . Being [Plymouth] Brethren, I was not used to doing public speaking. . . I was asked to speak at women's conferences and at their missionary meetings, but never to the church assembly.  
In some places the men were determined to hear me. After one of the meetings, a door opened behind me and a group of men came out. They were listening to me behind the wall.  At one women's conference several men came and asked me if it would be all right if they listened to me in the lower auditorium. In other places, if they couldn't hear me in the assembly building, then I was asked to speak in a home.
Again and again I saw this as I read. Devoted Christian churches trying to follow what they sincerely felt was God's prohibition against women teaching men.  Women trying to obey the rule that they were only to teach the Bible to other women or to children.  And an odd side-effect, arising out of the simple fact that what these women had to give was actually beneficial and enriching to more people than those they were supposed to be ministering to.

Beneficial and enriching, in short, to men.  And the men ended up as the ones losing out.

In the same book John Stackhouse, Jr., former professor of religion, currently Chair of Theology and Culture at Regent College in Vancouver, Canada, summarizes the issue:
My actual experience with women of faith raised further questions. . . I encountered female Christians who were the spiritual equal of men. Indeed, they seemed the equal of men in every way pertinent to leadership in church and society, and also to partnership at home. . . examples of women who simply were not inferior to men, who seemed to me in their respective ways to possess all that was necessary for full partnership in every social sphere. They were certainly feminine in classic ways-- warm, nurturing, encouraging, patient and gentle-- but also rational, discerning, insightful and pragmatic. So why . . . couldn't we benefit from their leadership? [Emphasis added.] 
You would think, if God really intended women to be limited to teaching their Bible insights and spiritual knowledge only to other women and to children, that the teaching of women would in all practicality be incapable of truly benefiting or lifting up men-- at least, not in those venues where women are apparently forbidden.  Shouldn't God limit the abilities of women to what would suit their proper sphere?  Shouldn't men find, since God never intended women to have anything spiritually authoritative to teach men in a church setting, that they as men don't actually learn anything valuable when they listen in on women teaching in church?

And yet the Father seems to keep on creating women who are so creative, intelligent and capable that they reach, almost despite themselves, outside that supposed proper sphere.  And throughout Christian history, when it comes to divine giftings, the Holy Spirit has just never seemed willing to obey the rules.  As I have detailed on this blog in the past, from Marcella of Rome in 350 AD, to Hildegard of Bingen in the 12th century, to Margaret Fell in the England of the 1600s and Jerena Lee early in 19th-century America-- a divine anointing for Bible ministry, uplifting people of both sexes, has been apparent in the lives of many women.

In 1711-1712 Susanna Wesley conducted evening gatherings at her home during the absence of her minister husband, which quickly escalated into community-attended Bible services.  As she put it:
Other people's coming out and joining with us was merely accidental.  One lad told his parents. They first desired to be admitted; then others that heard of it, begged leave also. . . With those few neighbors that then came to me, I discoursed more freely and affectionately. I chose the best and most awakening sermons we have. And I spent somewhat more time with them in such exercises, without being careful about [i.e., without paying active attention to] the success of my undertaking. Since this, our company increased every night; for I dare deny none that ask admittance. . . Last Sunday I believe we had above two hundred. And yet many went away, for want of room to stand.*
Even in the pages of the Bible itself, Christian women are mentioned who seem to be commissioned for more than just the teaching of other women and children, such as deacon Phoebe and Junia the apostle, both mentioned in Romans 16.**

So what it comes down to is this. Many churches restrict women from teaching men.  But men are finding many women's teachings so good that they really want to hear them.  Who, then, is actually being restricted?  Who has to sneak around and listen behind walls and pretend they're not breaking the rules?

The men.

Has any church in history ever taught or preached that men should be restricted and constrained from hearing good, anointed, life-changing Bible teaching?

Obviously not.  Churches have taught only that women should be restricted and constrained from teaching men.  And women who feel called into ministry have felt the restriction, and wept over it. They have wept particularly when they tried to speak to men and men have turned their backs.  But women haven't stopped teaching those they are allowed to teach.

And when the men won't listen, or are told not to listen, or are shamed for listening, it's the men who are losing out.  Somehow I don't think this result was anticipated or intended by evangelical gatekeepers who thought they were keeping men and women safe from the dangerous consequences of women overstepping authority.

The problem is that the dangerous consequences have somehow failed to materialize, while the real blessings of women's giftings have.

When real life just won't cooperate with the way a religious rule is suppose to work, doesn't that mean the rule has somehow become more important than the people it was meant to help?  And has the original purpose of the rule somehow gotten lost?  Was the Sabbath made for man, or man for the Sabbath? (Mark 2:27)

If even the Pharisees would pull their donkey out of a pit on the Sabbath (Luke 14:5), and Jesus used this as a reason to do good on the Sabbath even if it seemed to break the rules, then should male Christians be deprived of good teaching in Sunday morning church just because it's coming from the mouth of the other sex?

God really isn't that schizophrenic and arbitrary.  And if our view of the Bible is making Him so, perhaps its time we found another way to look at it.

*Words of Susanna Wesley quoted by her son John Wesley in The Works of John Wesley, Vol. 1, page 386; requoted in Daughters of the Church, Tucker & Liefeld (Zondervan,1986), p. 238.
**Support of Phoebe and Junia as authoritative ministers in the church can be found in Dr. Scott McKnight's book Junia Is Not Alone and Dr. Philip Payne's book Man & Woman: One in Christ.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Christian Cliches: "Don't Be Lukewarm"

When I was a member of Maranatha Campus Ministries in college in the early 1980s, we used to drive five hours to Seattle every few months for a regional "Maranatha Leadership Training Seminar," or "MLTS."  Maranatha considered every member of its churches to be in training for some sort of Christian leadership.   If you were called to Maranatha, you were supposed to be part of a special rank of Christians-- God knew who His leaders were and deliberately called us into this ministry.  We were meant to stand out, to be a cut above.

I remember one particular MLTS where we were all told to split up into groups and march around several college campus blocks where the seminar was being held, singing at the top of our voices a Christian song called "We Are Taking Over."

The lyrics were, as far as I remember them, like this:
We are taking over
We are moving out in God
We are lifting up our Jesus
In the power of God
There is none to hold us
No more shall we be afraid
He has given us the victory
In His mighty name
Please don't ask me who wrote it; I have no idea.  If I had a name to attribute it to, I would.  But maybe it's actually a kindness that the writer remain anonymous.

Aaanyway . . . 

Imagine standing on the steps of your fraternity or sorority house or college apartment building and listening to a group of 20 or 30 college kids singing this in unison as they march past.  

Even back then I was pretty sure what they were thinking was not, "Oh, look how bold that group is! Look at the fire in their eyes!  I want to follow Jesus like them!"

I was pretty sure that they were really thinking something more along the lines of, "Aren't those Jesus dorks ridiculous and arrogant!  Good thing they can't really take over!" 

But I sang and marched on doggedly, remembering Luke 6:36: "Woe to you when everyone speaks well of you, for that is how their ancestors treated the false prophets."  I had to be willing to bear shame for the name of Christ.  If I didn't, I would be lukewarm. 

That was the one thing no one wanted to be.  Jesus couldn't stand you if you weren't on fire for Him.  Like a mouthful of lukewarm water, He would spit you out in disgust.  That's what Revelation 3:15-16 said.

To be lukewarm was to care what other people thought.  To be lukewarm was to be unwilling to give it all for Jesus-- to hide your light under a bushel.  On-fire Christians were bold and courageous, like God told Joshua to be in Joshua 1:7. Didn't Proverbs 28:1 say the righteous were as bold as lions?

So we held our heads high and sang as loud as we could, taking courage from one another's volume. Oddly, what most people did when our group came into earshot was not to smile (which would have shown they were Christians too) or scowl (thus revealing their apostacy).  No, they just put their heads down and hurried past as if they were embarrassed by us.  Or was it for us?  No matter.  Deep in their hearts they were under conviction by the Holy Spirit, right?

Looking back on it today, my husband commented that what we were actually being taught was that devoted Christians were supposed to act like the people Jesus described in Matthew 6:5 and 23:5 - 
[T]hey love to pray standing in the synagogues and on the street corners to be seen by others. . . Everything they do is done for people to see.
Doing religious acts boldly and publicly was what you did naturally when you were "on fire" - because you were so lost in your love for Christ that you didn't care what anyone thought.  People in love don't hide it, our leaders said.  A man in love will carry a dozen roses down the street while telling everyone around him how beautiful his girl is.  If we're really in love with Jesus, won't we act like that too?  We'll want everyone to see!  We'll want everyone to hear!  If we don't, there's something wrong with our relationship with Christ.

If we don't, we're ashamed of the gospel, and He will be ashamed of us when He returns.

Somehow the idea that the people Jesus was describing who acted like this were "hypocrites" never quite registered with us back then (and I'm not saying, nor do I think He was saying, that every spontaneous public act of religious devotion is hypocritical).  But for us, being on fire meant that we could thank God, like the Pharisee in Luke 18:11, that we weren't like other people.  Except that unlike the Pharisee, this was really true when it came to us.

Matthew 6:5 didn't apply to us.  We weren't doing all this "to be seen by others."  We were just so in love we couldn't help ourselves.

Except that these supposedly natural, supposedly spontaneous outbursts of public love for Christ were so often staged-- so often planned and executed in advance to make the biggest impact possible. So often what we were doing had everything to do with not getting rebuked by our leaders or despised by one another, and almost nothing to do with how we actually felt about Jesus.

Here's what the "don't be lukewarm" verse actually says.  In context, it's part of one of the letters from Christ to the seven churches in the early chapters of the Book of Revelation:

Revelation 3:15-20 -
I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.’ But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest and repent.
Was Jesus really talking about what we thought these verses meant?

Many Christians today think so.  The most common idea still seems to be that "lukewarm" means "not zealous, not passionate."

Christianity.Net explains it this way:
[B]eing lukewarm is akin to comfortable Christianity. One in which we think we are rich and prosperous and need nothing but fail to realise [sic] that we are wretched, pitiable, poor, blind and naked. It is this type of Christianity that causes Jesus to say that he wants to spit him out of his mouth! And God’s counsel to us is in Rev 3:19, where he says to Laodicea and to us; ‘those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline. So be zealous and repent’. Lukewarm Christianity is one that has lost its sense of being zealous.
The word translated "zealous" or "earnest" in verse 20 is the Greek word transliterated "zelo'o," meaning, "to burn."  This does seem to be a play on words with the word"hot" in the same verse. To stop being "lukewarm," one can heat up to a state of zealousness. But there's a problem with thinking that what Jesus is talking about is simply emotional passion.  The problem is that in verse 15 Jesus also praises those who are "cold."  He isn't saying the only acceptable state is "hot."  "Cold" is also good.

Eric M. Pazdziora at the Quivering Daughters blog sets this out very well in his post  Myth of the Lukewarm Christian:

[T]his is a bit confusing, given the standard interpretation. If the “hot” people are those who are “on fire” for the Lord, then the “cold” people must be… atheists? Flagrant sinners? Crooked politicians? Richard Dawkins and his merry band of infidels? Could be, but then why does Jesus say “I wish you were cold or hot” like they’re both equally good? Surely He doesn’t consider it the same to be on fire for Him and stone-cold against Him? . . .
And what does the passage actually say the state of being "lukewarm" is about?  It doesn't actually equate lukewarmness with lack of emotional passion; it equates it with believing we don't need anything, that we're spiritually just fine.  Lukewarmness in the actual Bible text is about not noticing our need for God.

Since this is so, both "hot" and "cold" must refer to differing states of noticing our need for God, both of which please Christ.  "Hot" could be a reference to the warmth of love we have when God's presence is felt, or the zeal of wanting to do something for the One who has done so much for us. "Cold," on the other hand, could refer to the need we feel in prayer, when we seek God in hunger and emptiness. Or they could mean something along the lines of what Pazdziora goes on to describe in the same blog post:
 If you’re “hot,” then . . . you’re seeing your need of Him and depending on Him to burn away your impurities and kindle your love.  If you’re “cold,” you’re apart from Him—and you feel it. . . Being “cold” is just as good as being “hot,” from a salvific standpoint, because in both cases you’re seeing your need, insufficiency, and helplessness, and coming to depend on Jesus for His grace, forgiveness, and righteousness.
The Pharisee who thanks God that he is not like other people is actually being lukewarm.  So is the one in Matthew 6:5 who prays aloud on the street corners.  To be lukewarm is to feel that you've got some sort of inside track with the Almighty; that your careful piety or public devotion have put you on velvet.  That God really should be grateful to have a devotee like you.

And when it comes right down to it, that was the attitude we were taught to have in Maranatha.  We were "God's Green Berets."  We were His special warriors, separate from common, complacent ordinary Christians, elite because of how very "on fire" we were.  If we were actually managing to feel what we were supposed to feel, we thought He was so pleased with us, that we were rich in devotion, wealthy in spiritual capital.

We didn't realize we were actually just over-stressed young people struggling with a spiritually abusive form of religion.  That our knowledge of our own devotion* had rendered us exclusionary, judgmental, and (especially when marching and singing about taking over) just plain obnoxious.  And that we were hurting not just those we found wanting, but ourselves too.

Pazdziora puts it like this:
[I]f you know about Spiritual Abuse, you recognize a few other all-too-familiar themes lurking in the subtext. 
There’s a strong temptation to elitism there—you want to be better than all those “lukewarm” folks, don’t you? Legalism’s waiting to pounce, too; it blends in perfectly as long as you define “On fire” as “Doing our things” and “Worldly” as “Not.” All that’s left is for us to spin “I will spit you out of my mouth” as “You might be eternally lost if you don’t do our thing” and we’re practically in cult territory.
 When "don't be lukewarm" is interpreted to mean "be emotionally hyped up at all times for God," the result is spiritual abuse.  Jesus never said we had to be constantly "on fire."  No one can actually live like that.  To think we can is to become self-righteous when we're feeling the "right" feelings and self-condemning whenever we're not.

The New Testament actually acknowledges that Christian people move in and out of many different emotional states.  Joy and sorrow, excitement and rest-- all are natural and expected parts of Christian life.  All that is asked of us is that we remember that He is the vine and we are the branches, and we need Him (John 15:5).  When we do that, when we let go of spiritual pride and self-righteousness and trying to drum up the right emotional state in ourselves-- that's when we stop being lukewarm.

We need to stop using "don't be lukewarm" as a cliche that means exactly the opposite of what the Bible is really talking about.  We're not doing anybody any good.

Especially not ourselves.


*I should add, in all fairness, that the devotion was often quite real-- and we were often prevented from truly feeling we were above needing God by the sheer weight and volume of the expectations placed upon us.  But self-righteous complacency still was a common result of understanding ourselves as "on fire for God."

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Favorite Blog Reads of 2013

For New Year's again this year, I'm remembering the past year by highlighting what I think are the best things other people have said on their blogs during 2013.  These are the things that moved me, that made me think, or that made me shout, "Yes!"  Things that uplifted me, or humbled me-- or both.  Things I needed to read, and I'm so glad I did.

In roughly chronological order, then, here are my favorite blog reads of the year, with a quote from each:

The Missionaries Brought the Bread of Life, but We Choked on the Packaging by Jenny Rae Armstrong.
I grew up ultra-aware of two important facts: It’s extremely rude to talk about a group of people as if they’re all the same, and if you try to make people act the way you think they should act, you may actually drive them away from Jesus. The shudder-worthy image of someone choking, gagging, and suffocating as a well-intentioned outsider shoved a loaf of cellophane-wrapped bread down their throat was hard to shake. The gospel can be deadly if you don’t remove the cultural packaging and offer it freely, instead of forcefully.
The Day It Got Broke by Jessica Clemmer.
Imagine with me, if you will, splitting a piece of wood, via a good ‘ol karate chop, to the middle. When the wood breaks, what happens? The middle pieces drop downward, and the ends fly upward. Summary: when something breaks, one part goes down, the other part goes up. It’s the natural result. 
I propose to you the same result occurred when sin snapped the one-flesh relationship of that first husband and wife. 
One went ‘above’ the other.
When It Matters Because of Two Gardens by Preston Yancey.
I think of how one little verse, one little verse of a redemption in the twentieth chapter of the most beautiful Gospel, the story of us, could mean all this. 
Could mean systemic patriarchy has been overthrown. Could mean that equality is now. Could mean that the Law of Moses would be overcome by the law of grace. Could mean that a woman is a person not a thing, joy of father or husband, and that her word is worth, her voice use.
This Doesn't End with Salvation: From Inspiration to Disabled Superhero, But Never Human by Hel Gebreamlak - a guest post on Black Girl Dangerous by various authors.
The heroic and inspirational tropes assigned to acceptable enough people with disabilities and ‘successful’ people of color, albeit in different ways and inseparably intertwined for disabled folks of color, is not simply the result of unawareness of well-intentioned white and nondisabled people. It is a way to deny their entanglement in our oppression by individualizing our experiences, removing it from the context of identities and social group membership. It is away to justify the ones who were thrown away, because they couldn’t plan their way out of the danger. Besides, everyone can’t be a superhero, and the families we left behind were living proof of that.
Feeling at Home in My Smallness by Jonathan Martin.
There is so much weight assigned to us to be special, to be unique, to distinguish ourselves. There is a great deal of pressure to be “great.” But what if, today, I want to enjoy my status as my Father’s awkward, backward son, absurdly treasured and irrationally loved?
The Day I taught How Not to Rape by Abby Norman of Accidental Devotional.
If you want to keep teens from being rapists, you can no longer assume that they know how. You HAVE to talk about it. There is no longer a choice. It is no longer enough to talk to our kids about the mechanics of sex, it probably never was. We have to talk about consent, what it means, and how you are sure you have it.
The Most Difficult but Greatest Lesson I've Learned in One Year of Marriage by Lauren Dubinsky at The Huffington Post Online.
I have looked around at the empty faces of the women around me, knowing that their hearts are crying out to hear that they are okay if they don't fit every gender role, every gender expectation. That their husbands are okay if they don't fit every gender role, every gender expectation. That they are not screwed up women with broken femininity, and their husbands are not being 'girls.'
"Defrauding" or how men can keep women from stumbling! by Hopewell Takes on Life!
Women cannot respect a man who is defrauding them with a brazen display of thick, luscious chest hair or smooth, freshly waxed bare chest. Don't be fooled! At church, your white shirt maybe crisply starched and ironed by a loving wife or sister, but it can still DEFRAUD. This then is your essential "shade shirt." There's a reason Mormon's have special underwear beyond it's spiritual uses! This shirt shows a girl you care and shows her, more importantly, that you know modest really IS hottest. Save that sexy Godly chest for the wedding night please.
'In Which I Know, I'm Sorry, and I Hope I was Kind" by Sarah Bessey
These are just two seasons of my life: I also had my anti-instutitional church season, my I’m-not-a-Christian-season, my agnostic season, my angry feminist season, my new-wanna-be-theologian season, my screw-it-let’s-knit-things-season, my I’m-a-new-mother-and-I-know-everything-now season. I have had seasons for my marriage, for my work, for my processing, for my mothering, for my relationships, for my writing, and so of course, I’ve had them for my journey with Christ. I imagine I’ll have a dozen more, I’ll look back on the me-right-now with wiser eyes someday, I’m under no illusions.
Everyone's a Biblical Literalist Until You Bring up Gluttony by Rachel Held Evans.
In short, we like to gang up. We like to fashion weapons out of the verses that affect us the least and then “clobber” the minority with them. Or better yet, conjure up some saccharine language about speaking the truth in love before breaking out our spec-removing tweezers to help get our minds off of these uncomfortable logs in our own eyes.
It's Not the Rules That Are the Problem by Samantha at "Defeating the Dragons."
Because this system is built on an ugly foundation of power, abuse, domination, and control. The people who perpetuate it aren’t there because they genuinely love people and want to protect them. Legalism gives them the power to wield massive control over entire groups of people– but they can only do that not because of the rules, but because of belief.
Belief in a God whose most dominant, over-riding characteristic is a demand for absolute righteousness, for the acknowledgement of his children that they are completely broken, miserable, worms, barely even worthy of his attention.
In Which Love Looks Like an Empty Parking Lot by Sarah Bessey.
Could we have imagined? Could we have imagined the life we now live and the choices we’ve made? Could we imagine the places we’ve gone and the tears we have wept together and the babies we’ve lost? Could we have imagined the way we smile at each other in such perfect knowing when our son – our son! – raptures over a plane ride? The way you make our daughters laugh until they shriek over tickles and the way we sleep altogether at night on our family holidays? Could we have imagined even something as simple as family holidays together with your parents and your sisters and their families? 
We could not. But here we are, nearly fifteen years later , kissing in an old abandoned breakfast restaurant parking lot while the rain falls and we remember?
400 Years of Blinders, Counterintuitive Solidary, and the Epistemological Advantage of the Oppressed by Drew G. I. Hart.
What we are moving towards as a solution is completely counterintuitive. It is to trust the intuition of oppressed people over against one’s own gut and experience, which is proven to lead you astray when operating from a vantage point of dominance. Privileged people must do something very absurd and unnatural, they must move decisively towards a counterintuitive solidarity with those on the margins, while allowing the eyes of the violated to lead and guide the way.
I Am Not a Sex-Fueled Robot by Micah J. Murray
It doesn’t have to be this way but when these systems are reinforced and repeated from the time we’re teens, we tend to assume that it’s just the way it is. Men just give love to get sex, and women just put up with sex to get love. 
Then fear and suspicion become the common factor in all our interactions, and we go along with it. Men just give up and allow themselves to become the slaves of their sexual urges, which women are then forced to accommodate and avoid and control. We eventually realize we that we have emotional and sexual desires that don’t fit neatly into categories, but we keep quiet because we know our roles and we play the game. 
Let’s be human again.
Come Hither Men, For I Have Sex Demons by Grace Biskie at A Deeper Story.
When a white-haired, 60 yr. old, married, white dude practically broke his neck trying to stare me down last week, I walked it through: “Grace. You look normal today, you aren’t showing cleavage, you aren’t communicating sexually, your proverbial demons aren’t hanging out, you are walking to your car, in flats with a laptop bag and his nasty ass has nothing to do with you. Ignore this stank hoe and keep steppin’.” 
“This has nothing to do with you,” I say to myself now. ”You have no responsibility for his lustiness.”
Learning the Words: Love - guest post by Timothy Swanson at Defeating the Dragons.
Thus, the series of half-truths twists the meaning of “love” as it is commonly understood until it is unrecognizable. I actually had a Reconstructionist friend of a friend make the claim that forcing people to obey God’s law was the same as sharing the Gospel with them. Not “as important as,” not “similar to.” The same as. Because forcing people to follow the rules is now defined as the best way to show love.
25 Biblical Roles for Biblical Women by Marg Mowczko at New Life.
Our culture and customs in western society today are vastly different to the culture and customs of the Ancient Near East and Greco-Roman world of Old and New Testament times. Differences in culture are factors that must be considered when trying to extract biblical principles from the text for application today. Not everything that was done in the Bible has a universal, timeless, or useful application.
On Labelling Women "Crazy" by Harris O'Malley at Huffington Post.
At its base, calling women "crazy" is a way of waving away any behavior that men might find undesirable while simultaneously absolving those same men from responsibility.
Love is the Basis of Everything by Metacrock.
When I say love is the basis of everything, I mean it really is. I believe that when the Bible says "God is love" it means it literally. In other words, we should put an "itself" there. God is "love itself,": the thing that love is actually the essence of what God is. Now you may ask how can God be both being itself and love itself? Because these two are inextricably bound up together.
What Women Want from the Church: Voice, guest-posted by Rachel Haas at Preston Yancey's blog.
They didn’t hear the words that were coming out of my mouth. They heard the words that my neckline expressed. They noticed when I said something that might not have been the most “fitting.” I was a child. I was a rebel. They had to fix that. There was duct tape on the shelf, and it found a place across my mouth.
Cultural Exchange in the Multicultural Church - a guest post by John Farmer at By Their Strange Fruit (various authors).
Cultural exchange is a way we move towards knowing our brothers and sisters. And cultural exchange is a way that we move towards knowing our God, whose image can only be represented by a mosaic of many different cultures.

So that's it for this year.  I could have gone on, since there were many more blog posts I read this year that impacted me-- but these are the ones that impacted me most.  I highly recommend spending some time clicking these links!

And happy 2014, everyone!