Maybe it’s just the circles I travel in, but I’m feeling lately that less and less people are willing to put up with misogyny in church. Have we reached a tipping point in our debates about gender, or is it just me?
Take this, for example.
Last week at his annual Desiring God conference, John Piper gave some remarks on the year’s theme, God, manhood and ministry. Among them:
“For the sake of the glory of women, and for the sake of the security and joy of children, God has made Christianity to have a masculine feel. He has ordained for the church a masculine ministry.”
The comments (read them in full here) provoked not a little controversy. One of my favorite bloggers, Rachel Held Evans, decided—wisely, I think—to withhold her own response, instead asking her male readers to write a blog post which “highlights the feminine images of God found in Scripture or that celebrates the importance of women in the Church.”
I’m happy to oblige.
Here’s the gist of it: women are living, breathing witnesses to the truth about human nature who in their very bodies direct God’s Church away from idolatry and heresy and toward true Christian faith and practice.
And here’s why.
The Greek culture within which Paul preached was fundamentally Platonic in its outlook. The Greeks despised the ‘material’ world for the sake of the ‘ideal’. They believed that the immaterial soul was ‘imprisoned’ within the material ‘body’, and that virtue consisted in forsaking the body for the sake of the soul. Along with this worldview came a very specific hierarchy of being: at the top was God or the gods, who were completely immaterial; just below them were men; and much further down were women and animals. The more closely tied something was to its body, the less value it had. Women, because of menstruation, pregnancy, childbirth, and so on, are much more closely tied to their bodies, and so were considered further away from virtue, reason, and truth. In Socrates’ day, the Greeks despised women and upheld men so much that they considered the ‘purest’ form of love and affection to be that between men and boys! Why? Because women were base and impure. It was shameful to associate with them more closely than necessary.
Now. All of the early heresies that orthodox Christianity rejected can best be understood as a misappropriation of early Christian teaching into a Greek worldview. The Greeks simply couldn’t grasp the idea of worshipping someone who had an actual body: the Gnostics, for example, taught that Jesus came to teach us how to escape the body through secret knowledge (gnosis), similarly, the Docetists taught that Christ only appeared to be a human being, and never actually became a human body(the Greek word dokeo means ‘to seem’). Christ’s corruptible, human flesh was, in St. Paul’s words, foolishness to the Greeks.
There’s been a lot of good studies (see Richard Beck’s work here) showing that psychologically, we in the West have yet to overcome our Greco-Roman worldview. We simply can’t imagine a God who eats, drinks, shits, gets the flu, and dies like the rest of us. We don’t want our God to be vulnerable.
Yet that God the Son was actually made flesh is essential to Christian orthodoxy.
What’s this got to do with women? Well, in one respect, the Greeks were right: women (generally) are much more in touch with their bodies than men are. Women menstruate, women give birth, women nurse children. Their bodies are intimately tied into the ongoing cycle of life and death that is an essential part of being human.
Men? Not so much. Men tend to ignore their bodies or think of them as secondary to their actual identity: a vestige of the old Greek way of thinking. Men tend to idolize invincibility, invulnerability, and immortality—men aspire to be heroes, or better, to be gods. We don’t like women because we associate women with limitation, with vulnerability, and with all the trappings of human flesh. (You can still see this in the Church today, where women’s bodies are often considered to be a source of ‘temptation’ which ‘distract’ men from focusing on ‘spiritual’ matters.)
Here’s the point: women remind us men that we, too, are flesh. In doing so, they encourage us men to accept our limitations and our humanity, and thus, to accept the salvation that comes in the flesh of Jesus Christ. It is women who lead men into God’s kingdom.
In communing with women (particularly as spouses, but also as family and friends), men tie themselves more intimately to the rhymes and rhythms of human flesh. And that’s a good thing, because when we do that, we image God more fully.
For God did not consider woman’s flesh as something to be despised or ignored or covered up. No. God selected it to be the very vessel of our salvation in Jesus Christ. God saw fit to honor women by entering the world through one of them. God partnered with a woman, in her flesh, to become flesh.
All that icky uterus stuff the West devalues women for? God was delighted to inhabit a woman’s flesh, to make it the very vessel through which God became a human being.
So, all of this talk about the Church’s ministry being a “masculine ministry”? As if women are primarily ‘alongside’ men (read: nonessential)? Please. In order to bring salvation to all men, even God needed the help of a woman. In fact, God could never have done it without her!
Women are indispensible to God’s ministry. Therefore, women are indispensible to God’s Church. We men need women to show us the truth about our own bodies, to reveal them to us as the very focus of God’s saving love in Jesus Christ.
Can I get an amen?