Part 4: Redefining Family Structure in the Church, AKA, “*But it Wouldn’t Be Nothin’….Without a Woman or a Girl.”

*I couldn’t just mention that song in my last blog without finishing the line in this one, right?

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Natural-Order-of-The-Family

Hey, look at that! The Pesky Umbrella Graphic got an upgrade!!! Well, it may have brighter colors and a few changes in the wording, but hey, guess what?

It’s still missing the mark.

Before I jump into all of that, though, let’s recap:

  1. The intro: His Banner Over Me is Love (AKA, “I am NEVER on the bottom of the totem pole”)
  2. Part 2: “Married/Single: There’s a Place for You
  3. Part 3: “This is a Man’s World

And after weeks (maybe months) of sitting on it, I think I’m finally ready to write the part of this series that’s the most difficult to me: “Redefining the Role of a Woman.”

I want to state again very clearly before I tackle this topic that I am NOT a feminist. You won’t find me wearing a “P” hat, burning my bra and screaming about the patriarchy (okay, you MIGHT find me burning my bra, let’s be real here). You will find me, however, more than willing to engage in discussions about respect and expectations, and I think that’s really at the crux of it all. People want to be respected, and treated well. No one wants to be treated as “less than” for any reason, especially if it’s because of facts that are out of their control. I recently blogged about why I’m grateful for Title IX training in my place of work, and why I think Christians have failed in getting and staying educated in such matters. Sexual harassment and improprieties stem from an overall lack of respect for another individual (& from an overdeveloped sense of entitlement & lack of humility). Last January, I blogged about hoping for a day when we rise up and instead of saying, #MeToo, we say, #IAm. What if we went from being victims and from being victimized, to being a people that are aware of the great Love with which we are created? A people that recognize that greatness in each other, and respect it? It would be the death of the #TimesUp movement, because the time for improprieties and inappropriate behaviors would TRULY be “Up.”

More than just respect, however, comes a need for people to seek God and ask Him the question, “Who do You say I am?” When we start…just to start…to ask Him that question and wrap our heads and our hearts around His response, we find ourselves shell-shocked by GRACE.

A leader in our Church told us we needed to ask God that question a few weeks ago. Since he made that statement, there has been a seismic shift in our church body that we’re all reeling from. We’re all processing, and a lot of people have been deeply wounded by the actions of another…yet in the midst of that, the question remains: “We are wounded. We’re bloody on the battlefield, God, but who do You say we are?”

He looks back at all of us, and His answer is the same: “You Are My Beloved.”

His banner over us as a corporate body, and as individual people, is still, in the midst of it all, Love.

When we look at each other the way HE looks at us, what choice do we have but to treat each other with grace and forgiveness? With love and respect? And in that treatment, where is there room for inequality or hierarchies?

I’m not a feminist. I’m an equalist. We are different in our roles and our responsibilities, but we are not worth more or higher than another. The only One that’s above any of us is Jesus. He’s the only One Who is worthy!

When we look at this Pesky Umbrella Graphic, it really does defy logic. It doesn’t make any sense!! WHAT’S HOLDING UP THE UMBRELLA, PEOPLE?!? It requires a central line and support pieces. What’s that supposed to be, in this graphic? IT’S NOT DEFINED. Whoops. There’s an artist somewhere who’d flat-out failed.

When I wrote the blog on them role of the husband in the household, I didn’t have the updated version of the Pesky Umbrella Graphic (the PUG) to work off of. I am not going to tackle the role of children in thein the household at this time; that may come later. For now, I am sticking to husbands & wives.

For the man, it states that role of the husband is to:

  1. To Protect the Family
  2. To Provide for the Family
  3. To Lead the Family.

That’s similar enough to the older version of the PUG that I’m not going to recap it for the sake of comparison. You can check out the link that’s listed above if you want the breakdown. I’m focusing on women in this blog.

The PUG graphic is basing itself on Ephesians 5. The older version of the PUG states that the role of a woman is:

  1. To Be a Helper to the Husband
  2. Raise Godly Children
  3. Submit to Husband’s Authority

The newer version of the PUG states that the role of the woman is:

  1. To Comfort
  2. To Teach
  3. To Nurture

I have to say, the older version of the PUG makes the hair on my arms stand up, and in fact, by omission, so does the newer version. This kind of thinking–this hierarchical system–is what belittles women and devalues their contributions to the household. It creates a system that opens doors to abuse and to second-guessing the unique roles that God designed us as women to take on.

I did a lot of thinking and questioning regarding this topic. I mean, the Word is the Word, right?

Ephesians 5–let’s take a look at it, because it’s really what this whole hierarchical system comes from:

Wives and Husbands

21 Honor Christ and put others first. 22 A wife should put her husband first, as she does the Lord. 23 A husband is the head of his wife, as Christ is the head and the Savior of the church, which is his own body. 24 Wives should always put their husbands first, as the church puts Christ first.
25 A husband should love his wife as much as Christ loved the church and gave his life for it. 26 He made the church holy by the power of his word, and he made it pure by washing it with water. 27 Christ did this, so that he would have a glorious and holy church, without faults or spots or wrinkles or any other flaws.
28 In the same way, a husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself. A husband who loves his wife shows that he loves himself. 29 None of us hate our own bodies. We provide for them and take good care of them, just as Christ does for the church, 30 because we are each part of his body. 31 As the Scriptures say, “A man leaves his father and mother to get married, and he becomes like one person with his wife.” 32 This is a great mystery, but I understand it to mean Christ and his church. 33 So each husband should love his wife as much as he loves himself, and each wife should respect her husband.

I can’t, and I won’t, argue with the Word of God. My issues are not with what the Bible says. My issue is how it’s been interpreted, and how that interpretation has been twisted to manipulate women in particular. I want to be very, VERY clear, once again, that I AM NOT ARGUING WITH THE WORD OF GOD. Even when it uses words that rankle me in today’s retaliatory feminist construct, I’m not disputing it. I’m disputing the misinterpretation. Women were NEVER meant to be on the bottom of anyone’s list. Period.

The old PUG states that we are to “be a helper” to our husband, while the new PUG says we’re to be a “comfort.” I am not going to deny that we have a job to be a helper to our husband….but we share that responsibility. He is our helper, we are his helper. We are co-helpmates. It may be something as simple as, “I’m going to load the dishwasher; you can put the dishes away,” or something as complex as, “I’m confused as to my role in the church and I don’t understand what God is doing right now; would you listen to me and help me sort this out and get some focus?” When you have a relationship where there are medical issues, where you can’t keep up with what you need to get done, your spouse has to jump in and help you. Marriage is not about one person leaning on the other all of the time. Marriage is about two people leaning on Jesus, and working together for His common goal, whatever that looks like. It’s not co-dependent; it’s two independent people recognizing their weaknesses and learning the strengths that God put in the other to make the family work together for His purposes!

To be honest, I’m not as bothered by the new PUG stating that it’s our role to be a “comfort” as I am by the old PUG stating that it’s our job to be “a helper,” because I can see how one would assume that we as women take on that role of being a “comforter.” I get it, even though I know it doesn’t apply to all (having a uterus does not mean one is automatically a naturally-comforting person). I’m more bothered at the inequality of the old PUG stating ONLY for the women, is it a job to be a helper. Genesis 2:18 states that from the very beginning of Creation, God recognized that Man was not meant to be alone, and that he needed a helper “fit” for him. We’re designed to work together. One piece of a puzzle does not paint a picture; it takes pieces fitting together to make the whole scene come to life!

The second part of the PUG states that the role for women is to “raise the children,” or in the new PUG, “to teach.”

Please allow me a second to get up on my soapbox, & turn up my microphone so I can Bless God’s People.

STOP. DEMEANING. FATHERS. BY. ASSIGNING. GENDER ROLES. TO PARENTING.

It is NOT the role of the woman to raise the children all by herself!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! (how many exclamation points can I add without it becoming obnoxious?)!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

This goes back to the blog about the role of a man, and the things I said about the cyclical treatment of women by men, and of men by women.

We love our spouses. We set the example. We teach inherent sexism by making it out as though only one gender can be responsible for certain things in the household. By saying that women are responsible for raising the children, we strip men of their contributions and their value in the parenting process, thus teaching our boys how to be absentee/uninvolved dads, and our daughters to never learn to respect and value a man’s worth in the home outside of his wallet.

I married a man who is an EXCELLENT father to our son. He does it without pause or resentment; never once have I heard him say, “You do it, that’s a woman-thing”. He loves that little boy with his entire heart, & he’s proud to be for him what he didn’t have in his own life. We each contribute toward the raising of our child, for better or for worse. We don’t always succeed, but we’re trying, and we’re doing it as a joint effort.
If the role of a woman is to be a comfort, and thereby, set the stage for a child’s relationship with the Holy Spirit, than that reiterates that a father & his relationship with his child sets the stage for that child’s relationship with God the Father.

It is NOT the job of a woman alone to teach their child.

We teach our children by how we treat each other, together, and by how we individually treat them in their role in our household.

The link above is to a blog that a man wrote in the Washington Post about the whole, “It’s not babysitting if it’s your kid” movement.

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This picture infuriates me. Two people create a child. Two. Society has allowed women to take on the roles of both mother and father, and women have succeeded. We CAN do it all…but it’s at a tremendous sacrifice, and a very, very high price. It’s not the way it was designed to be. God made us to be together to raise our children…and two people can be together in a household, but only one who will raise the child. It’s a terrible imbalance that has spiritual, physical, and mental consequences.

Single mothers are amazing, strong, ferocious women that have taken on the collective responsibilities of the household. They’re the spiritual, physical, and financial leaders of their houses, and THEY ARE EXHAUSTED. But THEY. DON’T. STOP.

Because they can’t.

And in caring for their children to the best of their abilities, they sacrifice so much of their hearts and minds, only for the Church to come in and constantly remind them of why they’re just not good enough.

That’s crap.

The Church is designed to be a supply house, both physically and spiritually, for the widow and the orphan, and women that are single parents are women that have been abandoned by their helpmate (or have had to abandon their helpmate), so I believe they more than qualify. We’re to be a place of open hearts and arms for these women, yet far too often, all we are is a house of judgement. That’s junk, and we’ve missed the mark. We need to support single mothers in such a way that they are spiritually sustained to fill both roles of leadership in their household, not to drain them by pharisaical false theology.

There was a set of books that were so popular in the 90’s & early 2000’s, called Men are from Mars, Women are from Venus. The book was a broad-spectrum definer of why women and men think in such different ways from each other, and I find myself referencing it when I can’t figure out the Why in David’s DO. In the book, women are considered to be the broad-spectrum thinkers, where men are the ones with a singular focus. We branch out, while they go in for the on-site kill. They’re the hunters, we’re the gatherers–caveman stuff. I see these differences in my husband and I, to perfectly answer the book’s stereotypes (and I’m normally not a huge fan of stereotypes). 🙂 I will converse about an issue for DAYS. David will make his point once, and be done with it (and be frustrated with me, because I’M NOT FINISHED!!!!!). He will go to the grocery store and get milk and bread, while I will go in and get $200 worth of food for the month, without a list, but with an entire calendar in hand. Neither of us is wrong–we both needed groceries. He’s just got a completely different way of thinking than I do, but it still works. Again, we are made to fit together, to help each other, & to balance each other. Sometimes (okay, a lot of times) our different ways of thinking frustrate us to no end, but it’s all part of the process of coming together as a team.

Single mothers have to have both sets of brains–they have to be both the hunter and the gatherer, the person of a single focus, but also the broad-spectrum thinker. That kind of duality is exhausting. The Church should be an oasis to challenge the spirit, but to also allow the mind to rest. The single mother should find no greater refuge than the church, and no greater resource to help her find her value as a woman, than in the church.

The third part of the PUG states that our role as women is to “submit to the husband’s authority” in the old graphic, or to “nurture” in the new graphic. Um…okay…..here we go….

When you nurture a plant, you feed it, you water it, you give it sunlight, and you give it the tools it needs to be healthy. “Nurture” is one of those words that evokes mental images of softness and of comfort, words that are not typically associated with men. We think of a mother nurturing their child from the womb and throughout life; our very physical body was made to nurture our children…but we weren’t made to do it alone. Mothers and Fathers work together to create a nurturing environment for their children. We need both the softness and the encouragement, as well as the firmness and the defined boundaries. I don’t think that just a mother, or just a father, should be one of those things at all times. I will say that in both of these graphics, giving the “duties” of nurturing to the woman makes the most sense to me, and it’s the least-irritating concept under the umbrella (ella. Ella. A. A. A.). I get that. It works. I’m not mad at it. The biggest, baddest, most aggravating concept on this entire umbrella (besides the fact that the old graphic puts women at the bottom of the patriarchal totem pole) is that word, “SUBMIT.”

When I hear the words, “submit!” I always hear it with an exclamation point, followed by an internal gif of an old white guy banging a judge’s gavel. The word “submission” has such a negative context; it’s because it’s been abused and misused so badly. I think it’s a word that’s been destroyed in the wake of misappropriation, and as Christians, we need to correct our interpretation and pull it back from this dictatorship-mentality that we have. If my entire series of redefining the Christian family does one thing, my hope is that it succeeds in changing perspectives on the word, “submit.”

Submission was never meant to be taken as a boot on the chest of women, holding us down or stripping us of our will. It was never meant as a constricting thing, never meant to confine us or to force us to do anything we didn’t have a desire to do or to be a part of. Submission is not abuse.

Say it again for the people in the back of the room: SUBMISSION IS NOT ABUSE.

We are not dogs, that we should roll over and expose our weaknesses for men to exploit. We are not victims, and they are not our captors.

We are not weak, that we should be parasites off of the strength of men because we lack the capacity to do it ourselves.

We are not at their beck and call, either in the boardroom or the bedroom, and we are not “less than.”

Back to Ephesians 5:24–“Wives, submit yourselves to your own husband as you do to the Lord.”

And there it is….”as you do to the Lord.”

There is quite a bit of instruction in this chapter; Paul runs through a list that’s pretty long:

  1. Do imitate God
  2. Do walk in love (some translations say, “Let Love be your Guide.” I like that.)
  3. Don’t be perverted or inappropriate
  4. Do give thanks.
  5. Don’t be deceived
  6. Do learn what is pleasing to the Lord.
  7. Do not participate in shady deals, but instead, expose them.
  8. Do make the most of your time, and walk in integrity.
  9. Do seek God’s Will
  10. Don’t waste time by being drunks
  11. Do be filled with the Holy Spirit and focus on worship
  12. Do submit to one another
  13. Wives, submit to husbands as you do unto the Lord
  14. Husbands, love your wives
  15. Church, submit to Christ
  16. Wives, respect your husbands

Of course, you can get super-exegetical and break all of this down, but that’s a volume. I’m focusing on those last 5 things. I can break down this section verse-by-verse and tell you the ways it’s been used to malign women. I think every one of us can think of a way that women have been shamed by the concept of submission. I think we can all see ways these verses have been misinterpreted….but look at the verses through the filter of that opening line. “Let Love be your guide.”

Working in optometry, I’ve learned the huge change that can come over someone when they get a properly-measured pair of eyeglasses. The entire world changes!

luna

We’re to look at the world through the love of Jesus. We’re to read the Bible through lenses of the Love of Jesus–not through lenses that are clouded by misinterpretations and oppression. When we as women read these verses in particular, we need to stop and put on those lenses of the love of the Lord. We need to read them as though He were saying them to us, to our face. How would Jesus speak these things to us?

As women, we have a responsibility to seek Jesus first and foremost. We have a responsibility to establish that relationship on our own, before we go looking to another to establish it for us. Our relationship with our husband should strengthen our relationship with Jesus, but our relationship with Him cannot be dependent on our relationship with him. Get it?

If only we could undo 2,000 years of negative connotations for that word…

When you love Jesus, you trust Him. And when you trust Him, you allow Him to direct your life. That’s submission. That’s what He wants.

He doesn’t want to bruise us, or to crush our spirits. Jesus wants the absolute best for us, which doesn’t always line up to what WE think is His best, so we have to submit our will to His. It can be a difficult process, but it’s SO worth it in the end!

Our husbands have a responsibility to love Jesus, first and foremost. They’re human; they’re flawed, and they fail. It doesn’t say they have to be perfect. They just have to maintain that heart that remains focused on Him. When they do that, they exhibit His character. When WE do that as women, WE exhibit His character.

We move in harmony with the will of God when we’re both focused on serving Him.

When we love Jesus, and we love each other, we each want God’s absolute best for the other person. We are willing to humble ourselves and to seek God’s will; we put our own egos aside and we go before God as a unified household. My husband is to love me as Christ loves the Church–that’s that Song of Solomon love, that love that goes before us and behind us. That’s the love that declares to the enemy that I am his, and he is mine, and you won’t come against our marriage or our household.

It isn’t easy for me to submit, & I can’t do it on my own. It’s not easy for me to say that word. I don’t like that word–“I am Woman, hear me roar!!–but submission is not a sign of weakness or failure.

Submission doesn’t mean that I go blindly, or that I haven’t put up an argument or asked my husband to explain himself. I’m not expected to acquiesce in obsequiousness. I’m not a blow-up doll, and God didn’t create us as women to be such. GOD MADE US AS WOMEN IN HIS IMAGE, and He loves how we think and work and function!!!! He made us to communicate the way we communicate, with reason and with intelligence for a PURPOSE! He thinks our brains are beautiful, and He loves us! He doesn’t expect us to suppress that in marriage—He expects it to improve as “iron sharpening iron!!!!!!” (Have you ever seen iron sharpen iron? It’s a really messy process.)!

It doesn’t mean that he disrespects me and doesn’t hear me out. It doesn’t mean that he doesn’t miss the mark (or that I don’t miss the mark). It does mean, though, that there is grace.

Submission takes respect, grace, prayer, and support, from both parties in a marriage. We have to respect each other. We have to give each other grace. We have to pray for each other and with each other, and we have to support the decisions that are made. Without support, a structure crumbles.

When it comes down to it, though, biblically, I have to submit to the decisions my husband makes. I don’t always go quietly; in a previous blog, I discussed how during one season, it took me over a YEAR to finally get on the same page as David. In walking that out, though, I found out about the blessings that can finally come when two praying people stand together in unity. It’s still hard, but at least I can appreciate the process, & after that last experience, I’ve learned some lessons.

Before anything in Ephesians is broken down into focusing on marriage, we’re to submit to ONE ANOTHER. In the English Standard Version, it almost uses the words “respect” and “submit” interchangeably, which I love (Ephesians 5:33, “However, let each one of you love his wife as himself, and let the wife see that she respects her husband”). When you respect someone, you submit yourself to their expertise. You trust them, and you trust that you can learn from them–how cool is that? We trust that they have something to say, and they trust that WE have something to say, so we listen to each other! We’re to be respectful and kind to each other (I Pet. 3:15)–Remember that when these chapters were written, they weren’t separated into topics. They were letters written to people groups. We broke these things up in our English translations, and in doing so, put our own spin and focus onto key verses that may not have been intended by the original authors. So, when you read Ephesians 5, read it straight through, without pausing for sections, and think about how it goes.

Submission is a requirement for a successful family dynamic, but that doesn’t mean everything looks like that totem pole/umbrella graphic. Just the visual of that graphic–placing women on the lowest rung?!?!–causes dissonnance and the devaluing of the roles we each play in our household. We’re so beautifully meant to intertwine and to work together for the glory of God…everything is for His elevation, not for our humiliation. I want to rethink this graphic, and take it completely out of the concept of a hierarchy.

The closest thing I can liken it to is a planetary orbit. I love how God gives us the best images of His personality in nature!!!!

The planets orbit around the sun, right? And each planet has their own course, with their own moons–do you see where this is going?

These planets all have different things pulling on them. Magnetic pulls, centrifugal forces, etc., all take part in keeping the planets on the course they’re designed to be on. If one planet decided that it didn’t want to stay the course, the entire solar system would be effected, and it would be cataclysmic. I think instead of a hierarchy, perhaps we should look at biblical family design like it’s own little Solar System spinning around Jesus. When one person stops seeking God, and stops focusing on Him, it affects the paths of the other planets.

I don’t like the hierarchical illustration. It reeks of manipulation. I don’t for a second believe it was ever meant to be taken as men are over, or are more important than women, but the Church has interpreted it that way for years. It’s not to be read in arrogance, but instead, in humility and grace. When you read Ephesians 5 in context, you see that it’s a manual for a life of integrity, respect, and kindness, . There’s no pride in the entire chapter. Men set the example of submission for women, by submitting to Jesus. Women set the example of submission by respecting their husbands & by submitting to Jesus, and we all respect each other. Our kids grow up in an atmosphere of SERVICE—what?!? It sounds a little utopian, but imagine how the world would be if we all acted it out?!?

Is that crazy?

In Galatians, the Bible says there is “neither Jew, nor Gentile; nor slave, nor free; nor is there male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” I think it’s fitting that the verse comes in the middle of a chapter that focuses on deception and of being locked in custody. There is tremendous freedom that comes when we put on those lenses of grace, and understand that God sees every single one of us as equal to another, regardless of gender or societal position. We’re all on the same page, at the same level, and we all have the same goal: To love and to serve Jesus with humility and grace…to seek Him first. That is the very definition of what I mean when I say that I am not a feminist. I am an equalist. Every man has a role. Every woman has a role. Those roles together, centered around the mission that Jesus gives each and every one of us, is our entire Focus. There is no competition. There is no struggling for position. There is only focusing on the Lord, and uplifting each other for that purpose.

Ditch the umbrella graphic. Forget the totem pole concept of putting women at the bottom of the list. We all have a voice, and we all have a role in the Kingdom of God. We’ve been created by a God Who loves us so much….Who appreciates us as individuals, and as part of His Body of believers. Men and women are together the Bride of Christ, and He loves us with an immeasurable grace. As Christians, we have no other option but to love each other to the best of our abilities, with grace and with respect to the value our Creator puts on each of us.

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