This week has been full of fantastic blog posts. Better writers than me are saying things that I have been thinking for months or years, and it’s delightful to read their clear, succinct essays on these subjects. I’m not Emerson, so I don’t have a problem with hearing my thoughts in another’s words.  Happy reading!

Why the kill-your-lust and modesty culture is just as bad as slut-shaming: Beauty vs. Sexuality, by Hugo Schwyzer

“. . . we shame men by insisting they’re fundamentally weak, constantly vulnerable to being overwhelmed by sexual impulses. We shame women for not being better stewards of that supposed weakness. That shame doesn’t just lead to unhealthy sexual relationships (including between husbands and wives); it leaves too many men feeling like potential predators and too many women feeling as if they’re vain, shallow temptresses.”

An incisive argument for true compassion in Christianity: Dear Me and You and You and You, We’re All Screwed Up, Forever and Ever, Amen, by Max Dubinsky

“Why are we as Christians so obsessed with nailing the perfect relationship? . . .  Every single example of a relationship we have in the Bible is totally jacked up. They all deal with infidelity, same-sex attractions, multiple sexual partners, lying, cheating, and stealing. Not to mention the very first couple in the history of couples is responsible for the fall of the human race. And we think we’re going to get it right? All I know is there is no absolute instruction manual for dating and abstaining, and what to do with your pulsating libido if your 40 and single. We are all going to screw it up, one way or another.

Wasn’t I supposed to be building orphanages in Africa, or choking the life out of Kony with my girlishly-soft and moisturized bare hands? Shouldn’t I have been starting underground churches in China? Or was I called to just give generously to those specifically called to start underground churches in China? If these are the things Christians are to be doing, why were we sitting around like a college study group discussing theology and dating as if it was the key to saving the human race? Because that’s also what Christians do. I played it safe within my community because the world out there was a scary place and hated me. If I could create the illusion of doing what Jesus had supposedly called me to do, and surround myself with likeminded individuals equally afraid of the world, I knew I’d be just fine.”

Why we should believe in the harrowing of hell: More Creed Tinkering? by “Chaplain Mike” [an apologetic for understanding how Christ’s humanity makes this part of the Creed valuable]

“Among the errors feeding rejection of this creedal affirmation are an insufficient doctrine of Christ’s humanity, an opposite error that Christ actually completed his suffering in hell, and an insufficient appreciation for the Beatific Vision and how it applies to Christ. In Marshall’s article, he gives eight verses from the Bible on the descent into hell and concludes by challenging evangelicals who want to excise this point from the Creed . . . “

When a psychologist does a study of Christians who say that God talks to them:  “When God Talks Back” To the Evangelical Community, by NPR.

[This hits on some of my carefully-guarded skepticism about people who say that they feel that God tells them to do thus and so, or to have some sort of special insight into God’s plan for my life. Like that one time when two different guys told me that God gave them each a vision/word that they were supposed to marry me. I told them that I’d talk to them about it if God ever gave me the same message. He didn’t. I married someone else.]

In these classes, congregants were taught to discern thoughts coming from their imagination with thoughts that were coming directly from God, says Luhrmann.

“What I was fascinated by, was that when people would enter the church, they’d say, ‘I don’t know what people are talking about. God doesn’t talk to me,’ ” she says. “And then they would try praying in this interactive, free-form imagination-rich kind of way, and after six months, they would start to say that they recognize God’s voice the way they recognize their mom’s voice on the phone.”

Congregants in the prayer classes at The Vineyard are taught that they are unconditionally loved by God. Luhrmann says she saw prayer groups in which a group would pray over someone who felt inadequate in some respect and remind that person that God loved him or her unconditionally.

“People practice experiencing God as a therapist,” she says. “They have a sense of God being wise and good and loving, and they talk to God in their minds and talk about their problems, and then they are seeking to experience themselves as seeing it from the perspective of a loving God who then reflects back on their anxieties and interprets them differently.”

The terrifying future of self-publishing: Birth Control is Sinful in the Christian Marriages and also Robbing God of Priesthood Children!! is now available on Amazon.com for only $132.48!



I’ve been stewing on this for a while.

As an English major, I’ve studied some Feminist theory and think it’s a fascinating mental exercise (I also think it’s lazy academics, most of the time, but that’s another issue). As the daughter of conservative Christians attempting to revive/reinvent orthodoxy (“reinvent” in the sense that they didn’t grow up in the Church and were trying to create a coherent theological praxis for life) in an age marked by the Church’s decline, I grew up reading books like Let Me Be A Woman by Elisabeth Elliot, What’s The Difference by John Piper, and reading magazines and blogs which highlighted the beauties of femininity and the home.

Some of that reading was handed to me by my parents, some was required study for church groups, some was just motivated by my own earnest hunger to learn more about God and what it means to be a Christian. I’m almost always hungry to think things through and study issues that pique my curiosity, and “Biblical gender roles” has always been high on that list.

From an email I wrote to a friend last month:

My husband and I had a silly fight last night. [edit: It was my fault. This is not uncommon. I am a girl, I have a temper, I tend to over-think everything, and I tend to over-think everything out loud. Poor guy. Good thing for me, he’s patient. Anyway, we had this fight.] And I was being irrational and ranting at him, and he made reference to Proverbs 21:9 (the contentious wife/better to live on the corner of the housetop, etc.). It was fitting, I admit.

However, my retort then was, “If the Bible had been written in any part by women, there would have been verses about hard-hearted husbands in it, too!” …which was silly and rude, but the thought had never occurred to me before. And I sheepishly admit that I still think it’s true–the Bible is a male-dominant text, and if women had been educated enough to be in a position where they could have contributed to the Canon, there might just have been proverbs about husbands, and there might have been a lot more poetic books.

I was musing about how my husband and I have a relationship that’s really not based on “headship” and “submission”  or even “initiation and response” (key phrases for those subscribing to “Biblical Complementarianism”). As I wrote to this same friend:

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the word “helpmeet.” Apparently the original words  [in Hebrew] mean something more like someone who is a highly skilled and practiced partner in battle–like in a partnership where both understand and respond to each other fluidly and adroitly, and they are working strongly together for the same end.

“Mutual submission” is a phrase that the proponents of “egalitarian marriage” like to use–the husband and the wife are equals, each submitting to each other to complement each other’s strengths and weaknesses. Maybe the wife does some typical “manly” jobs around the house (or vice versa), because she’s just better at them than her husband–maybe she’s an accountant and he’s an artist, so she manages the finances and he decorates. Or maybe he cooks breakfast for her every morning, and she keeps the schedule moving.

Complementarians like to be specific. They tend to like stereotypical gender roles as patterns to emulate. Vision Forum’s catalog is a pretty standard example of this played out to its logical extremes. Blogger Libby Anne does a nice job of picking this apart. This gender role specificity in conservative America/conservative Christianity can result in weirdly stiff ideals or models for marriages, parenting, and relationships in general. Girls who are tomboys feel out of place and stifled, boys who are more bookish or indoorsy feel insecure and unmanly.

The same sort of thinking about “gender roles” results in experimental gender neutral schools. An ideal of a certain sort of gender role (here it’s none and all) is held up, and kids are raised in ways that encourage them to be just like that ideal.

I suppose what I’m trying to get at is this: gender roles in the Bible were partially social constructs (that is, defined by cultural norms and assumptions) and partially God’s design–women couldn’t own property, women weren’t well-educated, women weren’t respected (the Pharisees regularly thanked God that they weren’t “born a woman or a slave.” Oh, yeah, and slavery isn’t directly condemned by the Bible…).

Gender roles in the 1950s or 1980s (yes, opposite ends of the spectrum) were partially social constructs and partially God’s design. Even those gender-neutral schools are exhibiting something that’s attempting to be largely a social construct  (homosexuality/any sexuality is cool) and a little bit of God’s design (everyone is unique).

God did design men and women to be different. God did design all humans to be equal. God did design all humans to be individually unique. God didn’t design women to be subservient doormats, and God didn’t design men to be tyrants. Conversely: women are not to be power-hungry bitches, and men are not to be whiny couch potatoes.

Perhaps the phrase “Biblical gender roles” ought to be laid aside. After all, no two women will quite be alike in skills, interests, or character. And no two men will mirror each other closely enough for there to be detailed rules about how a Christian man ought to act. There are definitely Biblical guidelines for how to relate to other people, and there are Biblical guidelines for how men and women are to care well for each other in marriage–Christ is the model there.

But I’m just a little tired of tidy “Biblical gender roles” being the answer to all relationship problems. And maybe I’d like to remind patriarchal Christians that there was at least one female bishop/regional elder in the early church. Her name was Junia.  What do you make of that?