As a woman, there are times that I have felt invisible.
Maybe some of my female readers will agree with me. But I’d like to talk about this today in a way that, hopefully, will point us back to Jesus.
I actually planned to have a really awesome post on 10 things to know about arousal and women today, and I’m still hoping to write that for next week. But honestly–I had an amazing weekend with the whole gang home, and I took yesterday off and didn’t get the work done that I was planning on getting done, so it’s not written. And at the same time I went on several rabbit trails in my head last night, and I’d like to try to share one with you. This post may be a little stream of consciousness, but I hope you’ll bear with me.
I was watching Special Victims Unit and knitting last night when an actress came on. She was playing a judge, and I knew I knew her from somewhere, but I could not place her. Then, about 2/3 of the way into the show, she tilted her head a certain way, smirked a bit, and said the word “justice” with incredible vehemence, and it all came back to me.
In the early 90s the Canadian government produced “heritage minutes” vignettes about Canadian history that aired on television constantly. Each a minute long, and each really well done, there were some about the Vikings discovering Newfoundland, the invention of basketball, Laura Secord and the War of 1812, Vimy Ridge, and many other Canadian things.
But my favourites were always the ones about the Famous 5. They were a group of women from Alberta and Manitoba who led the fight to get women recognized as persons in the British Empire. I’ll let Emily Murphy tell you about it (it’s only a minute long and worth the watch!):
If I could meet anybody in Canadian history, it would be either Emily Murphy or Nellie McClung, one of her fellow Famous 5 members. Nellie is actually my favourite. A devout Christian, her faith motivated her to fight for women to be given the vote and recognized as people. Nellie was also from Manitoba, the same province that my family hails from. What many of you may not know is that the women in Manitoba got the vote in 1916–the first women to be able to vote in the British Empire (and even before American women). That means something to me, as one whose heritage is from Manitoba.
Anyway, I saw Kate Nelligan (the actress from this vignette) tilt her head like that, and I recognized Emily Murphy. And I rushed to watch this vignette again. Which of course caused me to cry, because in twenty odd years I’ve never been able to watch this one without crying.
“I, Emily Murphy, of Alberta, and all Canadian women after me, persons under the law.”
In watching it last night, I realized that Kate Nelligan never actually said the word “justice” in this vignette. Yet when the actress said that word on Special Victims Unit, I recognized her immediately. I guess it’s because subconsciously, the word “justice” is what I always think of when I watch that heritage minute.
Anyway, I was thinking about that fight those women had just to be considered persons. All five of them were doing amazing things in their communities, yet they were “pooh poohed” and not recognized for it.
And I was thinking this on the day after Easter–a day when, all too often, we completely forget and ignore women.
How many sermons have you heard about how “everybody abandoned Jesus” on Good Friday? How many times have you heard that nobody stood with Jesus? That all of his friends deserted him?
I’ve heard plenty (though not from my current church, which is wonderful!).
Yet not everybody deserted Jesus. All his disciples did, yes. But the women who followed Him never did. They were with Him all the way, lining the street as He carried the cross. They were at the foot of the cross when He died, trying to give Him some emotional comfort. And they were the ones who were adamant about preparing His body for burial.
I am not saying that women are better followers of Jesus than men are. I am simply saying that those women should not be forgotten. We make the main story about Easter being the men deserting Jesus, but should not part of the story also be that it is possible to stay devoted, even in stressful times? These women are an important part of the Easter story who also have much to teach us, and they should not be erased, made invisible, or considered afterthoughts.
We know that the women were not afterthoughts to God, because it was to Mary that Jesus chose to reveal Himself and it was Mary who was chosen as the first missionary.
After the women showed up at the tomb and discovered that Jesus was not there, and spoke to the angels, they hurried back to tell the disciples. The women’s roles could have stopped there. John and Peter would have run out regardless, and Jesus could have appeared to them first.
But Jesus didn’t choose to appear first to Peter or John. He chose Mary (John 20:16). In fact, He even called her by name (which is how she recognized Him.) Mary, as an individual, mattered to Jesus. And Mary was chosen as the first missionary–“I have seen the Lord!”–to teach men that Jesus had risen from the dead. In Jewish tradition, testimony from women was often excluded. Yet Jesus wanted to upend that. Jesus appointed Mary to that task, even though she was a woman, partly, I think, because He wanted to show that women’s words mattered.
It’s interesting how much the Easter weekend story features women prominently being faithful to Jesus. Yet we rarely hear of that. (and more on that in just a minute).
In fact, too often Bible stories are interpreted in a way that minimizes women’s roles or maligns women.
Yesterday, I was also watching a debate unfold on Twitter between Dee from The Wartburg Watch and a whole slew of people. She was making the case (very strongly) that the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) is one of sexual assault and abuse. Think about it: David sends people (likely soldiers) to get Bathsheba for him. He then has sex with her. Did she consent? Could she have consented? You’re not allowed to say no to a king, after all–and he summoned her with soldiers.
Later on, David shows us what a tyrant he has become by having her husband murdered. Would she not have known he was this kind of tyrant at the time? It sounds remarkably to me like when Saddam Hussein’s sons would pick pretty women out of the crowd and have soldiers bring them to them. You couldn’t exactly say no.
When Nathan the prophet confronts David about this incident, he does not blame Bathsheba one iota. He lays all the blame at David’s feet.
Yet growing up, I was taught that Bathsheba caused this “adultery” by bathing where David could see her. It was her fault, you see. She asked for it. In fact, I even remember a sermon at a summer camp where they were saying that Bathsheba was deliberately enticing David. It reminds me of rape victims being grilled: “What were you wearing?”
Last year I wrote about how Queen Vashti, in the story of Esther, is commonly thought of as “the disrespectful wife”, when really she was simply refusing to be treated as a sexual object and was rejecting the king’s attempt to sexually harass and abuse her.
Too often, when women are the victims in Bible stories, they have been portrayed instead as the vixens. Or, when they are the heroes, their efforts have simply been forgotten or overlooked.
It is as if women are invisible.
And this is really what I want to get at:
When we treat women like they are invisible, we hurt the cause of Christ.
You see, to me, this is not about women and it’s not about men. I don’t want women to be elevated and men to be limited. I don’t want this to primarily be about women. What I want is for all of us to realize that when we make women invisible, when we discount their contributions, when we put them under men, we actually malign God.
Let me explain.
So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (NRSV)
Both men and women are created in the image of God. And God created us to show different parts of who He is. God is not masculine; He contains the traits of both masculine and feminine.
To paraphrase my friend Joshua Pease on Twitter last week, you can’t say:
- Both men and women are created in the image of God
- God created the genders to be different from each other to show us different aspects of God’s character
And then simultaneously say:
- But we should minimize women’s contributions and elevate men’s needs and wants because that best shows us God
No, if both genders are needed to help us understand God, then when we minimize one gender, we lose the picture that God wanted to give us of Himself. And that matters.
That’s what I’ve been struggling with over the last few months, and it’s really been burdening me.
I always knew that too many aspects of Christianity minimized women, but until I read Love & Respect, I never realized how toxic it was. I’m sorry I keep harping on that book, but I cannot explain to you enough the effect that it had on me. For about a month after writing that series I was first stunned, almost in a stupor, then drained, then defeated. Since then I have been motivated to do something about it. I’ll be sending out everyone who is on my email list my final report about all the comments that came in, and a package that you can give your church about the book, if you so choose (if you’re not on my email list, sign up now to make sure you don’t miss it!). And last week I finished a book proposal for a series that I hope will put some of this bad doctrine to rest.
But this stuff is important, because of the role that we want God to have in our lives. Here’s why:
When we tell women that they must follow and obey their husbands, then we put husbands in the place of God in women’s lives. All of us, regardless of gender, should follow God’s will. When we equate a husband’s will with God’s will, then we actually put husbands above God, and that is more than wrong. That is idolatry.
When we tell women that they must “win their husbands without words” rather than speak up about something that is bothering them, we take one verse out of context in Scripture and ignore so many others. God says that “iron sharpens iron”. God tells us in Proverbs and Ephesians and throughout the gospels about how we should point people to truth and how we should deal with issues that arise. When we tell women that they must keep silent, then, yes, we tell women that their needs are less important than their husbands’ needs. But more than that, we also take away from husbands the biggest tool that God has created to shape us into Christlikeness. Instead of a woman truly being a “helper”, we ask her to become an enabler. That, again, takes Christ out of the relationship.
When we tell women “do not deprive your husbands” of sex, then we reduce sex to something merely physical. When we talk about sex as if it’s only about a husband’s physical release, and that it’s not about a woman’s satisfaction or about any other kind of intimacy, then we take God out of the sexual relationship. God created sex as a mirror to show us how passionate He is about knowing us. Sex is supposed to be a deep, mutual knowing. When we equate it with giving a man an orgasm, then we take away one of the tools that God has given us for understanding true passion with Jesus. And we take away one of the best vehicles men have for learning to be attentive and caring of their wives, and instead point men towards selfishness.
It was way back in 1916 that Nellie McClung fought for Manitoba women, including my great-grandmothers, to get the vote. It was in 1929 that the British Empire recognized that women were persons. I wonder how long it will be before Christians realize that by minimizing and ignoring women, we actually deny God.
Both men and women are created in God’s image. Both men and women are needed to show God’s character. The relationship between men and women is supposed to demonstrate a mutuality and intimacy that points us to our relationship with God.
This is not about women and it’s not about men. It’s about God. We do need to get this right. And Easter seems like a good time to start doing something about it.
What do you think? How can we get people thinking beyond women and men and thinking about mutuality and putting Jesus first? Let’s talk in the comments!