A few weeks ago, I had an unfiltered discussion with an old friend from college. We hadn’t seen each other in 20 years; we reconnected over Facebook quite a while ago, and randomly decided to host a yard sale together. During the down times of the sale, we caught up on all of the stuff that we HADN’T put on social media since Bible college, and needless to say, it got real.
It was cathartic.
We both agreed that the Church, in our experiences as Midwestern Gen-Xers that were raised in denominational/non-denominational upbringings, had done a crappy job of directing us as Christian women in what a “fulfilled” life should look like:
Follow the rules. Make sure your life is Better Homes & Gardens-worthy. Keep your voice low, your head lower, and remember your station in life. Love Jesus, love your husband, pop out babies, and live the American dream (God help you if those babies don’t come on the regular, you Barren Woman. You MUST be in sin).
Be bland, be meek, and for the love of God, never mention sex in any casual conversation…or ever. That’s for procreation, not fun, and any other perspective is just sin (especially for women). Never voice what you need or want (oh, and don’t have any wants) in the bedroom. After all, you exist for the pleasure of your husband and for his needs.
Do as your told. Submit, submit, SUBMIT.
Oh, and if your life doesn’t look like what we tell you it should (complete with a picket fence), you’ve FAILED. You’ve failed as a woman, and you’ve certainly disappointed God, you horrible thing. Go sit on the back pew (if you dare to show your face in church), and do not think for an INSTANT that you’re ever going to be fit for ministry again in this life. You don’t speak in church, you don’t question things in church, and you spend the rest of your life lamenting every missed opportunity. You’re JUST a woman, and you’re a second-class citizen, at best.
I’ve watched the first season of The Handmaid’s Tale (and read the book), and it was uncomfortable…the mind control and “biblical” structure they use is familiar to me, although highly dramatized. The concept, though, of owning a woman and of valuing her based on her fertility, all in the Name of God, is NOTHING new. Christianity has long been twisted and perverted to control family structure and the role of a woman. When I watched THT, my most recurrent thought was how easily everything flipped over to such oppression, and how easily it could happen today (I haven’t seen any of the new season, so no spoilers!).
Sexism is rampant in the American church, even in today’s world, even on a collegiate level (ask me about being a woman in a ministry program in Bible college, and why I couldn’t take Hermeneutics class), and I think it starts with a foundation of a jacked-up “understanding” of the structure of a family, which then turns over to jacking up the roles of men & women in the family.
(I want to clearly state that I am NOT a feminist. I’m an equalist: Equal rights, equal pay, equal roles, in Biblical context. I think my explanation of that term will present itself in the course of these posts…Save your “you’re a liberal!” torches for after I’ve finished the series. 🙂 )
After the conversation at the yard sale, my friend sent me the following graphic, with a caption that expressed her discomfort with the tiers:
I agreed with her discomfort. I’ve seen this reposted a few times, and every time I see it, I inhale reflexively. Everything in me as a Christian and as a woman has issues with this graphic. For this first blog post, and because I believe it’s hugely foundational for the conversation, I want to focus on the importance of Jesus being at the forefront of the discussion…but not as an overlord or as some kind of oppressive umbrella. I want to focus on Jesus as the Song of Solomon portrays Him to be…as the Lover of our Souls. Bear with me, and let’s rethink this design…
I cannot say it enough: Jesus has to be at the forefront of the family structure. A personal relationship with Jesus Christ—not a relationship where you do all of the talking, not a relationship where you follow a routine and a protocol, but a true, genuine, personal relationship with Jesus is foundational for any relationship we have with other human beings. It’s foundational for how we treat ourselves, our friends, our spouses, our kids, our pets, whatever. There is no relationship without a relationship with Jesus Christ. How does that happen? What does that look like? I’ll tell you right now, in my house, we get it wrong on the regular, and that’s okay. Jesus’ first priority isn’t looking at how we’re doing things wrong. He’s looking as to whether or not we have a desire and a want to TRY TO DO IT AT ALL. Eventually, we’re going to get it “right.” but in the meanwhile? Do you WANT to serve the Lord? Do you want to be His friend? Do you care about what He thinks? Do you read His Word (ouch—that’s a huge hurdle for me)? Do you WANT to read His Word? Do you know that He loves you with all of His heart? That His love goes beyond His death and resurrection 2,000 years ago? That His love is a daily, confounding, life-altering thing that will render you unable to ever be the same person, the more you learn about it? Do you know that you are His perfect Bride, the one His heart beats for? The one He chases, chastises, embraces; the one He longs for, the one He truly desires? He LOVES us, collectively and individually, and that Love is greater than any Umbrella graphic, any stereotype, any sexism, feminism, or –ism at all. We are so, so loved, and it goes so far beyond our ability to put words or thoughts around it. It’s REAL, and it’s amazing, and every day, I marvel at it. It makes no sense, but there He is, and there is no place we can hide. There is no cosmic “smite” button that’s waiting to hit us with a lightning bolt whenever we screw it up; there is gentle conviction (NEVER CONDEMNATION) from His Holy Spirit, but He’s not waiting in Heaven to take us down. He’s waiting for us to talk to Him, to have a relationship with Him. I can’t stress it enough: Jesus loves us. The Umbrella graphic makes the Name of Jesus seem like it’s ominously looming over us. It couldn’t be farther from the truth.
Song of Solomon 2:4 says that Jesus (portrayed in the story as the Bridegroom or the Beloved) leads us into the banquet hall, and “His banner over me is love.” He’s not looming or oppressing; He is pouring His love over us, and that is a foundational concept for Biblical family structure.
When we say, “His Banner over me is Love,” do we think about the actual definition of the phrase? Banners in today’s world are hung as ways to identify celebrations, and the word has lost its luster. Banners were signs carried like flags over troops in times of war; they identified the clans or tribes that were fighting, and allowed allies to spot each other from a distance. It also allowed the enemy to get a broad scope of just how many people they were dealing with. Banners showed unity & cooperation in battle! People carried the banners either on their own, or in groups where they EACH took a pole, and walked the banner out in front of the troops to guide them into the battlefield. Banners were carried off of the field, sometimes in tatters, to lead the troops into celebration and to rest. The banner was the biggest inspiration to the people that were fighting, because as long as it waved, THE FIGHT WASN’T OVER!!!!! Think about the history of “The Star-Spangled Banner:” Francis Scott Key wrote the song because during the war, “whose broad stripes & bright stars, through the perilous fight, over the ramparts we watched, were so gallantly streaming?”?!?!?!!?? Bombs bursting in air! Gunshots! Fire! BUT THE AMERICAN FLAG STILL WAVED, so he knew the war wasn’t over, and we are still singing that dang song to celebrate!!!! (I’ll never sing it live again; I’m forever traumatized over accidentally butchering it in college)!!
The banners of the enemy in battle were DESTROYED…taken down, burned, erased, because they LOST. They were BROKEN. The U.S. Military uses the phrase, “Loss of Colors,” meaning that when troops lost, their flag was captured by the enemy (remember playing, “capture the flag?”), so the losers had no banner to wave over them on their return to their base. They went back to their barracks in shame, unable to be identified by their people from a distance! There was no celebration, because no one could see them coming, because they LOST the FIGHT!!!!! The Banner of Jesus is Love, and Love is VICTORIOUS.
Jesus goes before us as an Advocate with the Father. He goes before us, before we go into judgment, and He stakes His claims by identifying us as His own…by proclaiming His Love for us over all. Song of Solomon 2:4 says He leads us to the banqueting table–that’s a place only the victors are welcome to be. Losers don’t get to feast. We are His Beloved, regardless of the state we’re in. We’re His treasured, and we get to celebrate with His banner over us, leading us into the party, leading us into freedom without judgement…leading us away from sadness, from desolation, and from failure.
When you take a look at Biblical family structure, and you throw that picture of an oppressive, encompassing umbrella away and replace it with the idea of a banner, you open up a world of hope and of possibility. You throw away judgement, and you walk under a banner of love and freedom–no ceilings, and nothing holding you back from embracing everything He has to offer: Peace, rest, and eternity with Him. There are no limits to the love of Jesus, and there is no limit to how He embraces His children….
So, that’s Part One of redefining so-called Biblical family structure. I’m starting at the top, and I’m building a foundation of identity. When you start to rethink this thing, and you start to reidentify as a free Child of the King, as a Child that wears His Name, you start to see that your concepts of this structured, cookie-cutter, Martha-Stewart fantasy life of picket-fence perfection does not have to hold you back. You don’t have to be valued or categorized by your gender in the home, or by whether or not you’ve procreated, or by whether or not you bring home the bacon, or run the household. Don’t get it twisted–Jesus values gender, and I’ll get there. He loves us and He created us as men and as women, and we each have multiple roles to play in our families…but one is NOT better than the other, and one is not oppressively looming over the other, nor sycophantically fetching the coffee for the other. As spiritual beings, our spiritual lives take precedent over our physical bodies, so once we understand His love for who we are, and for how we draw near to Him, then we can discuss boys and girls, their physical/mental differences, and how those best equip us for various roles in the home. If you go into rethinking Biblical family values and you focus on the physical (boys vs. girls, for example), you’re already starting off on the wrong foot.
We start with Jesus. We start with His Love, because it’s Who He is. And we go from there.
Let’s throw the umbrella away.
Let’s run together under His banner of love.
To be continued….
*Note: I’m writing this from my own mind, my own prayers, and my own research. Occasionally, I’ll come across a resource that I like or dislike, or that I feel is worthy of note. I’ll usually link such things in the blog, but this deserves a separate shout-out. I found this after I was 3/4 of the way through writing this:
Seminary-types as a rule tend to freak me out, because I sort of feel like once someone’s gotten to that level of academia, their brain gets bigger than their spirit, and they start waxing uber-philosophical. However, I enjoyed reading this, and I plan on digging a bit deeper…