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Masculine Christianity?

Thomas Whitley

Rachel Held Evans has issued a call to men to write responses to John Piper's comments. At a conference this week he had this to say about Christianity:

“God revealed Himself in the Bible pervasively as king not queen; father not mother," Piper said. "The second person of the Trinity is revealed as the eternal Son not daughter; the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male...God appoints all the priests in the Old Testament to be men; the Son of God came into the world to be a man; He chose 12 men to be His apostles; the apostles appointed that the overseers of the Church be men; and when it came to marriage they taught that the husband should be the head."

“Now, from all of that I conclude that God has given Christianity a masculine feel,” Piper continued.“And being God, a God of love, He has done that for our maximum flourishing both male and female... He does not intend for women to languish or be frustrated or in any way suffer or fall short of full and lasting joy in this masculine Christianity. From which I infer that the fullest flourishing of women and men takes place in churches and families that have this masculine feel.”

I had not seen Rachel's post asking for men to respond until a friend suggested me and a few others should offer our perspectives on the issue. Those of you who have read this site for a while know very clearly what I think. I've done a lot of thinking about this for years now and so I thought my biggest obstacle in writing a post like this would be to figure out what to include and what to cut out. I could, literally, write a book on the subject and have written papers on it.

There is an abundance of information, an abundance of examples of God being portrayed through feminine imagery in the Bible, numerous examples of women in places of leadership - real leadership too, not just Sunday School teachers for children - and innumerable life experiences that have shaped my views on this topic. I thought about laying out the God as Mother motif that is scattered throughout the Hebrew Bible, especially in Hosea 11. I thought about rehashing Romans 16 and talking about what the text really tells us about, for example, the leadership roles of Junia (an apostle) and Phoebe (a deacon). I contemplated sharing stories about how my wife is more of a minister in one finger than I am all-together.

But then I stopped thinking of examples and proofs and logic because I realized that it isn't going to do any good. Yes, I am cynical. I know that I could write a post that would encourage women that they have my complete and uncompromising support (maybe this post actually will, because they do). I could write a post with lists of anecdotes and facts that show the reality of how women have consistently held leadership positions in Jewish and Christian congregations and have done a damn good job of it. I could thoroughly refute Piper's blatant misunderstanding of the text and the socio-historical reality of the ancient world and illustrate that men being in vastly more leadership positions in the Bible and throughout history is evidence of patriarchy and gender discrimination and not evidence that God is somehow masculine, has a penis, or hates vaginas.

But none of this will change John Piper's mind. This conversation is not one carried out on the field of reality and facts, but rather on the field of entrenched worldviews. I know how entrenched these views can be because I used to be right there with Piper, but my faith has always been open for consideration, open to change when new, better, and more accurate information comes along. John Piper's faith simply isn't there. His Calvinists foundations, among other things, make it entirely impossible to step back and consider the influence of men on the writing of the Bible or to actually see the work that God has done and continues to do with and among women or to realize the implications of his views and his words.

So while this is not the long, detailed academic type of post I had in mind I do hope it serves to encourage women who are in positions of leadership now and those who are still being told (and still believing) that they can't be. We should continue to engage in conversation about this topic, but not just in an effort to convince and change minds, because that is, by and large, a futile task. Instead, we need to be more cognizant of the implications of our views and our words and where they do not support freedom, equality, and dignity, we need to change them. Plain and simple.

And for those who think that God does not support unfettered equality, freedom, and dignity, but instead supports genocide, gender discrimination, and willful blindness - well, your God is not a God I believe in. Your God is not a God worth believing in. I can be discriminatory, chauvinistic, and ignorant on my own; I don't need God's help with that.