Sunday, January 17, 2010

why it matters: part 1

God is my Father. Christ is my Brother. Christ is the Groom. The Church is the Bride.

How often do we say or hear these things in our churches? We all know it to be true, but what does this really mean to us? The longer I live, the more strongly I believe that God uses the relationships we have on this earth to reveal truths about Himself. Particularly our families.

The Evangelical Church is quick to champion the cause of the family, of marriage. It's on a quest (typically through the vehicle of the Republican party--but that's a whole other blog) to preserve what is held dear and is viewed as godly. I so often hear people harping on the family, family is so important, marriage is sacred, etc. But I never hear any reasons why other than, "God wants it that way/established it that way."

Now, don't get me wrong. I think family is extremely important. I think the sanctity of marriage is extremely important. But I think we've all forgotten why. How can Christians have an impact on the world if even we don't know the reasons behind what we do and what we believe?

In the Old Testament, God established the sacrificial system and gave the Israelites very specific instructions as to which sacrifices were acceptable and how these sacrifices were to be carried out. Now, as someone who lives post Christ's birth, death and resurrection, I understand that this system was set into place to point towards the coming of Christ and the sacrifice that He would make to make a way for me to have my sins forgiven. I think most Christians would be on board with this. However, I can't help but think that those who lived before Christ must have questioned some of the instructions God gave regarding sacrifices, but I can see how God didn't make these instructions just for the heck of it---it all pointed to Christ. A male lamb, without blemish-Christ without sin. Even John points out for us that much like the lamb was not to have his bones broken, Christ's legs were not broken during His crucifixion (a common practice to bring about death sooner):

32 So the soldiers came, and broke the legs of the first man and of the other who was crucified with Him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs. (John 19:32-33)

36 For these things came to pass to fulfill the Scripture, "NOT A BONE OF HIM SHALL BE BROKEN." (John 19:36)

So, all along these seemingly strange instructions would all prove to be prophecies of their own, telling us, proving to us that Jesus was who He said.

Ok, so where am I going with this?

In the New Testament, over and over again, parallels and parables are made based around the likening of Christ's relationship to the Church to a husband's relationship to his wife. We are also given instruction as to what a marriage should be and what it should look like and the role each partner should play. I don't think this should be taken lightly. I think a godly marriage not only teaches us about our relationship to Christ, but also makes us look forward to Christ's return. Again, I say that I strongly believe that God uses the relationships we have on this earth to teach us things about His character. Furthermore, it comes as no surprise to me that the two ways God chooses to describe Himself (Father, Groom) are the two most broken down relationships in our society today (fatherhood, marriage). This is no mistake. This is a cleverly devised attack. It makes us unable to understand God the way we should, and keeps us from demonstrating to ourselves and other's what Christ's love really looks like.

So, what does this have to do with Christian Feminism? Good question. As a child, I grew up in a Conservative Southern Baptist environment and went on to a Conservative Southern Baptist University. In this upbringing and education, I was taught things like women must submit to men, men are the head of the church and the household, women can't be ministers or have any sort of spiritual authority over a man. In college I was even pressured again and again to get married as soon as possible and one of the speakers brought to our University even told us that good Christians should homeschool their children. The next day a friend of mine dropped out of the pre-med program she was in because a "good Christian mother" can't be a doctor AND homeschool her children. Give me a break.

The church has worked hard and has perhaps played the biggest part in establishing our society's rigid gender roles. Is this what scripture really intended? Is this how we want to portray Our Christ? A man who rules with an iron fist, has no consideration for the gifts His bride possesses or the desires she has in her heart? True, the scripture instructs women to "submit" to their husbands... but only after it gives the same instruction to all Christians to all submit to one another, putting other's needs ahead of their own, and before it calls men to love their wives so much that they would sacrifice anything (including their lives) for her. Now, I can recall hearing an awful lot about wives submitting to and obeying their husbands growing up... but I remember very little about husbands being instructed from the pulpit to serve their wives, even if it means their earthly demise. This is also not what I saw in many of the marriages around me. Rather, I saw a man who married a woman who bore him children and then dedicated her life to raising them, keeping his home and making it possible for him to pursue his dreams while totally abandoning her own, and often feeling like she had no way or no right to pursue them. And we wonder why more than 50% of Christian marriages end in divorce. We have added so many things onto the instruction for marriage that never actually exist in scripture. That's dangerous. Thank God among all of these examples, I had the example of my father, who left his job as a pastor and moved to a new state and worked as a waiter to allow my mother to pursue her dreams in publishing. My mom had put in her time as a stay-at-home mom and had worked years to support him and his dreams. She had an opportunity to pursue hers and my dad simply said, "you've sacrificed so much for me, now I will sacrifice for you." As an adult, looking back, I consider this to be the greatest thing my dad ever did. His pride took a major hit going from well-respected pastor to waiter. But he loved my mother. Of all the mistakes he made both as father and husband... he showed me that a man can put his wife first, even if it's hard for a little while. By the way, they've been married over 30 years and they have their problems, but their love is quite evident as well.

The challenge I would like to offer to the reader (whomever you are) would be to stop thinking of marriage in terms of who's in charge, who makes more money, who raises the kids, who washes the dishes, this is my job, that's your job and start thinking of it in terms of how each partner loves the other and what they are willing to do to remain true to that love and make life better for the other person.

A marriage must be a union of equals. If one partner is always striving to assert his (or her) power and authority over the other, someone is always going to be unhappy. Christ may be my leader, I am devoted to Him and I follow Him, but He would never ask me to be something other than what He created me to be, He would never want to see me live my life in a way that does not put the gifts HE GAVE ME into full use, nor would He ever call me to do something that would be harmful to my psyche or spirit. A man can lead his family while still respecting the wishes, dreams, giftings, opinions and well-being of his wife. And a wife can follow a Christ-following man only when he understands that being a leader does not make him greater or more important than those who follow him, but ultimately makes him a servant to them. The notion that one role is greater than the other, or is an excuse for one to become power hungry has led to the destruction of many a marriage, many a church and many other institutions both religious and secular.

I am 25 years old. I am not married, nor have I ever been. Recently, while talking to a married friend of mine about relationships she asked me the question, "Of all the male friends that you have, are their any of them that see you as an equal, as a true peer?" I had never thought about this question before and I stopped to think and realized that of all of the men I know... there were few, maybe even only one or two that I could say really saw me this way, without question or doubt. To be honest, as a woman who works with all men and who is friends dominantly with males... even among colleagues and friends I often feel that my opinion about something is worth less or less reliable because of my gender. I often feel that sort of "pat-on-the-head-isn't-that-cute-she-has-an-opinion" attitude. It's quite subtle, but it's there and I feel it. I have a great desire to be married, but I have no desire to join my life with a man who sees me this way. It's unfortunate that in a group of people who believe we are all made in God's image and we are all fearfully and wonderfully made to further a purpose God has chosen for us that there would still be this sentiment floating in the air like a poison. No wonder marriages are falling apart all over the place.

This matters. Equality matters. If we want to love each other as brothers and sisters in Christ and as husbands and wives in such a way that demonstrates to the world the crazy, amazing, life-changing love that Christ has for us we have to stop thinking of ourselves in terms of labels, stereotypes, assumptions and rigid roles and start thinking of ourselves as equals, selfless partners and mutual servants.

to be continued...

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