Is Gender A Part of Being Created Imago Dei?

As I was preparing to present an argument for Egalitarianism at my church’s Elephant in the Room series (last night’s topic was gender roles in the Church and home), I came across this quote from N.T. Wright’s paper Women’s Service in the Church: The Biblical Basis from CBE’s conference in 2004:

Many people have said, and I have often enough said it myself, that the creation of man and woman in their two genders is a vital part of what it means that humans are created in God’s image. I now regard that as a mistake. After all, not only the animal kingdom, as noted in Genesis itself, but also the plant kingdom, as noted by the reference to seed, have their male and female. The two-gender factor is not at all specific to human beings, but runs right through a fair amount of the rest of creation. This doesn’t mean it’s unimportant, indeed it means if anything it’s all the more important; being male and being female, and working out what that means, is something most of creation is called to do and be, and unless we are to collapse into a kind of gnosticism, where the way things are in creation is regarded as secondary and shabby over against what we are now to do with it, we have to recognise, respect and respond to this call of God to live in the world he has made and as the people he has made us. It’s just that we can’t use the argument that being male-plus-female is somehow what being God’s imagebearers actually means.

Now, I had read this paper before but somehow I missed this point.  It really stuck out to me when reading over it again this past weekend.  So, what do you think?  Does Genesis 1:28 demonstrate that male and female are part of what it means to be created in the image of God?  Or is Wright right (ha!) in his observation that (from this passage at least) one cannot argue that maleness and femaleness are specifically unique for God’s imagebearers?

Further along in his paper, Wright states:

When humans are renewed in the Messiah and raised from the dead, they will be set in authority over the angels (6.3). In worship, the church anticipates how things are going to be in that new day. When a woman is praying or prophesying (perhaps in the language of angels, as in 13.1), she needs to be truly what she is, since it is to male and female alike, in their mutual interdependence as God’s image-bearing creatures, that the world, including the angels, is to be subject. God’s creation needs humans to be fully, gloriously and truly human, which means fully and truly male and female. This, and of course much else besides, is to be glimpsed in worship.

This is something I am still working through as I attempt to solidify my understanding of gender roles.  While I agree that men and women are different, and that being female is different from being male, I also recognize that some women are different from other women, and some men are different from other men.  This is in large part because of my own personal experience.  Surprise, surprise, I do not always easily identify with what is typically characterized as ‘Biblical womanhood’.  Nothing aggravates me more than being told that men want most to be respected and honored while women want most to be loved and cherished.  I, along with Aretha Franklin, heartily disagree.  And isn’t Don Draper’s big life question “Am I loved?”  It’s frustrating to be told women are more emotional (with the implication that this is a weakness) and social than men while men are more goal-oriented.  Have you ever met a female introvert? We aren’t really that social. I also know lots of women that are goal-oriented and very good at achieving said goals. Sorry to burst your stereo-typical gender bubble!

I think qualities like bravery and the desire to protect are not masculine traits, nor is nurturing a feminine trait.  They are human traits that humans naturally have to a varying degree, both male and female, and that all Spirit-filled people should work to develop in themselves as the Spirit works in them.

What do you think?

Here’s a video with highlights from Wright’s lecture:


Feminism Isn’t A Bad Word…

As a part of Rachel Held Evans’ A Week of Mutuality, blogger Julie Clawson over at One Hand Clapping has been writing on her journey to Discovering Christian Feminism, a worth-wile read for all I think.

Today Clawson focuses on why the label “feminism” need not be a bad word:

“Patriarchy continues to encourage fear of feminism by spreading the lie that it is about dominance and not equality.”

Clawson has provided an informative and eye-opening look at the rich history of feminism.  Whatever your position on feminism, I heartily encourage you to read through her series of posts to help inform your understanding of what feminism is/can be/should be, and perhaps you might even change the way you think about some things.  I know I did!

Let’s not be afraid of the word “feminism,” rather let’s talk about what it really means.  In an earlier post where I officially out myself as a feminist (as if it were a surprise), I linked to a pretty clear-cut and basic definition of the word feminism.  Here it is again from Merriam-Webster’s dictionary: feminism – the theory of the political, economic, and social equality of the sexes.

Please! Someone!! Tell me how that contradictions our Christian story?

I appreciate Clawson’s comments on our tendency as Christian’s to want to shy away from this label:

“Wanting to release women from oppression, to allow her to be who God made her to be does not mean that others must be hurt in the process. These are fears and misunderstanding that are sadly encouraged in our culture, ensuring that feminism remains generally reviled. But as a Christ-follower who cares about truth (not to mention justice), I believe it is necessary to oppose these lies and dismantle misunderstandings with the light of reality. That’s why I no longer fear being called names like feminazi, I would just rather help others see that the message of freedom feminism offers is the exact opposite of Nazi Totalitarianism…

Some Christians believe that the negative connotations surrounding feminism are reason enough to shun the label… There are some labels I want to claim even if they have negative connotations for some. Like the label “Christian,” for instance.

This is just a glimpse at some of Clawson’s thoughtful remarks.  Hop over to her blog. Read. Learn. Discuss. Let me know what you think.

I’ve Got Your Back, Deborah…

I’m a fan of Deborah. The prophetess and judge appears in one of my favorite passages of Scripture, Judges 5, The Song of Deborah. This passage was the focus of my second Hebrew reading class many years ago. It’s a fun chunk of text because it is really, really old.

You see, Deborah has gotten a bad rap over the years, one that, as far as her story in the OT is concerned, is unwarranted.

How often have you heard someone say that Deborah was used as a means of judgment, because God only puts women in leadership in order to judge a nation? Maybe Deborah was usurping authority? She certainly must have had some character flaws. I’ve heard this said on one of the largest news networks on television. And it irks me.

Deborah is often disregarded despite her presence and position in Scripture demanding at least some consideration as to what it means for women in the church. She doesn’t fit the framework of complementarianism and so she is considered an anomaly, or a judgment sentence, or whatever, because she’s a woman. Because she’s in the Old Testament. Because 1 Timothy 2:12 trumps Judges 4 and 5. Because every piece has to fit together. Because, because, because.

Read the text of Judges 4 and 5.
There is nothing there to condemn her.
And if the Scriptures don’t condemn her, then I certainly won’t.

What Judges 5 does says is that Deborah’s leadership resulted in forty years of peace (verse 31).

I Tried To Be A Good Complementarian…

A few years ago, my husband and I went to visit a seminary to get some information on their graduate programs.  We spoke with a woman who worked in the front office and informed her we were interested in getting our master’s degrees.  We had pulled some pamphlets and were discussing some of our interests.

I tell her I am interested in any degree that has an emphasis in the Greek and Hebrew languages.  I ask if the school offers reading courses in Greek and Hebrew.

“Oh, well, those classes are hard,” she says.

Yeah, Greek and Hebrew are hard.  I already knew this because I had received my bachelor’s degree in Biblical Languages three years prior to this conversation.  And I had done really well.

I wasn’t the only one taken aback by her response.  My husband, too, is certain that if he had asked about Greek and Hebrew classes he would not have gotten the same response…. because he’s a man, and I’m a woman.

This moment will stick with me forever–a moment when a judgment was made about my abilities and intellectual aptitude and academic pursuits based on the fact that I am a woman.  Even worse, the assumption was made by a fellow female.

I have since started (and nearly completed) my Master of Arts in Biblical Languages degree at the university where I originally got my bachelor’s.

I am a student at Houston  Baptist University and I am incredibly proud to be a Husky.  I have been taught, discipled, and encouraged by some of the most amazing men, both egalitarians and complementarians.  I have met and studied along side some of the most amazing women and men, both egalitarians and complementarians.  I have never once felt like I didn’t belong when I was among them.  I have found the world of academia to be a safer (and less exhausting) place for women like me.

But I have been studying Greek and Hebrew for almost eight years now, and I have faced some internal struggles and some outward opposition.

Right about the time I started Greek and Hebrew, I joined a wonderful church that held to a complementarian position and so I had to grapple with what I was going to be able to do with my degree.  I have always been a feminist, came to faith in the Methodist tradition, preached my first sermon at sixteen, and knew early on I was headed for full-time ministry. 

My gifts and calling were never in question until I had to face complementarianism head-on.  I loved that church, and the one that followed, and having always held a high view of Scripture, I desperately wanted to obey, to be in the right.  And so, I struggled during my college years, up until fairly recently, with who I was supposed to be in light of this view.  I spent hours with professors, pouring over the texts, begging for their help in understanding.  I dialogued with pastors and pushed back as much as I could.**  I prayed that God would change my heart, my mind, and take away these desires that were “unfit” for my gender.  I tried to be a good complementarian.  I promise you, I tried.

But I am left with questions.  There are holes and gaps and often “well, in this case it’s acceptable” arguments.  I am left wanting.

And worst of all, complementarianism has left me feeling like God made me wrong.  Surely I should have been born a man.

Because I, too, know what it feels like to have fire shut up in your bones!  I, too, feel that unquenchable desire to stand before the Body you love and hold up the precious jewel of Scripture and share the beauty that God has shown you through hours of study, prayer, and doing the difficult dance of interpretation.

Why let me get this far, Lord?  Why have me learn Greek and Hebrew at all?

But Jesus doesn’t make me feel like a mistake.  When I read the Scriptures, I don’t feel like a mistake.  I search the texts and I realize there are difficult passages and questions that are raised.  But I’m convinced that the Spirit gifts all the members of the Body, regardless of gender, race, or position. 

I just don’t look like the “biblical woman” that complementarianism says I should be.  And honestly, I don’t want to model myself after her.  I want to conform to the image of Christ.  I want to be like the Proverbs 31 woman insomuch as she is like Christ.  I want to be like Ruth insomuch as she is like Christ.  I want to be like Sarah insomuch as she is like Christ.

And I hear the voices of my sisters… Phoebe… Junia… Priscilla… Thecla… Amma Theodora… Dr. Karen Jobes… Rev. Dr. Katie Hayes… Rev. Dell Tamblyn… saying, “Look and see how God is using me for his kingdom.”

I’m going to be a professor. I’ll teach men and women Greek, Hebrew, and Theology, and hopefully how to read their Bibles better than they did before.  And maybe some day I’ll be a pastor.

Either way, I’ll be preaching and teaching about this Jesus who I so want to be like.  In the classroom.  Behind the pulpit.  On my couch.  In Africa.  Whoever wants to listen, I’m excited about what I’ve got to share.

**I dearly love my complementarian brothers and sisters.  I have great respect for them and I am thankful that they dare not go against their consciences and their understanding of Scripture.  Nor do I dare go against my own conscience and convictions, and I hope that is apparent in what I have written.  I want to follow Jesus and I am doing that the best I know how.