Category Archives: christian sexism

on Ishtar, myopic Anglocentrism and sloppy ‘scepticism’…


Ishtar‪Like last year, there’s a meme going around about Easter being the feast of Ishtar. Some people seem to like to share it to make fun of Christianity, but it actually makes no historical sense at all (especially if English is not your first name) though it’s going viral. It is (according to wikipedia) thought to originate from the Richard Dawkins’ Foundation for Reason and Science. I’m quite disappointed by that actually, I would hope to be able to expect more from a ‘Foundation for Reason and Science’ than  an argument just based bad wordplay that only works in English, combined with an even more sloppy history lesson.
The weird part of all of this is, that if you want you can find enough pagan and other influences in a lot of Christian tradition, including Easter. Why people would make these kind of things up is just beyond me…

See here, here and here for some intelligent reactions to refute the claims of this meme, of which the last one contains some very good advice:

The general rule of infographics and similar fare is that the more deliciously it skewers people you don’t respect very much, the more likely it is to be a fake.  Always good to consider before you click that “share” button.

To be short and repeat some things from those sources (you better read them yourself before your read on here though): There is no known connection between Ishtar and Eostre, which lend her name to Easter. There is only one ancient source about that second goddess anyway:  Ēostre is attested solely by Bede in his 8th-century work De temporum ratione, about the calculation of Easter in this quote (All other sources are 18th century -Grimm, the one of the fairy tales indeed- and even more recent, and include academic speculations and  neo-pagan reconstructionism with not much connection to pre-Christian times):

15.  The English Months
In olden time the English people — for it did not seem fitting to me that I should speak of other people’s observance of the year and yet be silent about my own nation’s — calculated their months according to the course of the moon.  Hence, after the manner of the Greeks and the Romans (the months) take their name from the Moon, for the Moon is called mona and the month monath.

The first month, which the Latins call January, is Giuli; February is called Solmonath; March Hrethmonath; April, Eosturmonath; May, Thrimilchi; June, Litha; July, also Litha; August, Weodmonath; September, Halegmonath; October, Winterfilleth; November, Blodmonath; December, Giuli, the same name by which January is called. …

Nor is it irrelevant if we take the time to translate the names of the other months. … Hrethmonath is named for their goddess Hretha, to whom they sacrificed at this time.  Eosturmonath has a name which is now translated “Paschal month”, and which was once called after a goddess of theirs named Eostre, in whose honour feasts were celebrated in that month.  Now they designate that Paschal season by her name, calling the joys of the new rite by the time-honoured name of the old observance.  Thrimilchi was so called because in that month the cattle were milked three times a day…
(source)

So what does the only ancient source say? the feast is named after a month, which is named after a goddess which seems to be faraway and whose rites are replaced by ‘the new rite’, which was imported from Rome and Byzantium and does not originate with the Germans at all anyway. No connection to the new rite and the old goddess is made, nor is there any connection anywhere closer to the middle East between Ishtar or other ANE fertility goddesses and Christian easter celebrations.
The Easter bunny (which is a hare in Dutch, ‘de paashaas’, rabbits are not originally native in N-Europe nor Britain btw.) is indeed a fertility symbol which might be from Germanic origin, and seems indeed associated with Eostre, but not with Ishtar at all. There are no ‘bunnies’ in the middle East anyway, just hares and hyraxes. And I don’t think any intelligent Christian has ever considered the Easter bunny to be a biblical Christian symbol anyway. Eggs are another matter, they are certainly a pagan symbol of new life, but also an old Orthodox symbol (the Orthodox tradition has eggs that are painted red…) It’s very logical to use such symbolism of new life in a feast of the resurrection. But the placement of the feast is still from the Jewish passover (Pesach/Pascha), from which it has borrowed the name in all non-English languages except for one…

If it was based on the feast of Ishtar, it would be very unlikely that all Christians (including the middle-East which should still have a connection to those older gods, and the Romans including the Constantine guy named in the meme) except for some Germanic barbarians who were later to the party of Christianisation anyway to use the Jewish name… Those people are not important for the history of Christianity or for defining it anyway in that time. (If English-spraking Christianity has a role in the history of religion, it will only be in the last centuries, before that it’s just a  local business  anyway…)

Now back to the meme and why it irritates me, it’s not just and extremely sloppy argument, that only makes sense for English- (and German-) speaking people anyway. All other people including those using other Germanic languages name the feast after Pascha/Pesach, after it’s Jewish roots. So this very discussion can even only exist in English (and German-)speaking places…

Which brings me to the problem of Anglocentrism. Some people seem to think that the English language is the key to understanding the world, and this meme is a good example for that. This puts the people who share this meme on the same page as for example those weird KJV-only Christians. It’s not because some things do work in the English language, that they are true. Some things do only work because of the English language anyway. I’ve argued before that certain forms of Christian sexism wouldn’t even exist without the peculiarities of the English language and some discussions can’t even exist in other languages (including the ones in which the bible is written..) Pushing those things unto other people is just a weird form of intellectual colonialism.

I know there’s a lot of Anglo-centrism in the world (we have mainly English music on the radio in Flanders) but such an argument from a bad wordplay the English language is just bogus. Sorry, I won’t even consider it…

Another thing: Even more worrying to me is that this kind of stuff is shared mostly not by neo-pagans, but by atheists and self-proclaimed sceptics like Mr. Dawkins, which prove here to be not sceptical after all, but just happily accepting anything that goes against the traditions they don’t like, whether it’s accurate or not. One could not go farther away from the meaning of ‘scepticism’ than that actually.
It’s not because one claims to be a potato knife that one is a potato knife, even if you say it a hundred times, and the same is true for being a ‘sceptic’ of a freethinker, no matter how much people agree with you … You need to be sceptical and think for your own, not accept all the dogmas of a tradition that calls itself ‘sceptical’ and ‘freethinking’… Such a thing will easily slide astray into Orwellian doublespeak…  (see also my post scepticism about the age of scepticism about this)

The world does need a lot of healthy scepticism (a questioning attitude against every status-quo, not a rusty tradition that kicks against other traditions while unquestioningly accepting nonsense like this as a weapon in that fight!) indeed, but this is exactly NOT what’s needed then. If you critique something, please be truthful. If not, you do a disservice not only to the tradition you attack, but you undermine your own credibility too!

So please, can we stop making and sharing sloppy memes in any camp? Can we all please try to stick to as much truth as we can find and not spread lies, sloppy memes and nonsensical slander?

Or do I ask for too much here?

peace

Bram

Man as an automatic leader and/or utterly untrustworthy animal?


cavemanWhen I read certain Christian publications, especially from American sources, I get the weird notion (tell me if I’m making straw man arguments here, I’d be glad to hear that all of this is a criticism of something that does not exist) that man, as opposed to woman, is both ‘hardwired’ to be

A.) The natural leader, who should lead in the family and in society!
and
B.) An utterly weak creature, who cannot control himself, even the sight of a strange woman in bikini will make him stumble.

Maybe this sounds logical to some people, but I do fail see any logic in it myself, and I find both options completely incompatible with each other, and also forms of quite unhealthily exaggerating and generalizing. If man is such a weak creature as B says, don not in a million years let him lead, please! Or let him and the woman lead together. But sorry, to me this makes no sense at all.

Old-fashioned patriarchy in the highly praised classical cultures may not have been the best system to live in if you were a woman, a slave or a child (a Roman ‘Pater familias’ sometimes even had the right to kill all of those whenever he wanted!), at least there was some kind of internal logic, although based on false facts: The old Greek (and some of the Church fathers influenced by them) believed that man only was a rational being, who could exercise self-control and virtues, and for that reason man was seen as superior to woman, who was seen as irrational, weak, lustful and dangerous. So it was the man who was seen as strong and virtuous, and therefore the man was the leader.

(Note also that the Christian religion was looked down upon by Romans exactly because it was considered, as Celsus said, “a religion of women, children and slaves”! Never heard any of the ‘masculinity in the church’ preacher ever talk about that though… )

Now compare this to the supposed logic of modern fundamentalist neo-patriarcy: The woman is seen as almost asexual in a way (the man is always initiating, the woman follows) and having no sexual desire of herself sometimes except in bad cases, but just dangerous by being what she is. In talk about relationships it seems to be always the boy who wants to go to far and too fast and the girl that needs to be the one who slows down.
Okay, some women can be dangerous seductresses, but apart from that it’s mostly even ignored or denied that women have a sex drive and are actually a lot like men. And anyway, according to this idea, above all it is the man who is weak, without self-control, and ultimately powerless against temptation, even unwilled temptation from a woman who dresses too short, so no woman should show some skin to not tempt this poor weak creature. Nor would the Greek or Romans recognise this as a man of any sorts…

What a weak wimp of a creature this man is, and how pitiful such a weak-willed being is. I wouldn’t let such a being even babysit my pet mouse if the poor thing would still be alive. And yet it still is this man who is supposed to always be the leader according to those who hold such views, apparently.

One would ask why, if we men as ‘visual beings’ are not even in the possibility of seeing a ‘sexy’ woman without having lustful thoughts or even controlling our deeds. (Note that here we go into very dangerous territory, this way of thought could lead to rape apologies and other abominations) Should he even be allowed to walk out alone on the street, with billboards using half-naked female bodies to sell random product not related to female humans at all on every corner? Maybe men should be protected and kept at home, and kept away from all women, and all women who would enter a place where men are should cover up.

We’re just to weak people, sorry. Lock us up, it’s not the women’s fault, they just are what the are. But men are just weak, keep them away from civilized humanity, and please, don’t give them any power at all.

(A side note, I never understood how people stressing an ‘every human is completely evil and cannot be trusted’ form of the theology of ‘total depravity’ can believe in strong hierarchical structures where fallen human beings are given quite a lot of power and responsibility and no-one should question them. The more depraved man is supposed to be, the more we need a system in which no man has too much power. No man (and I use it in a gender-inclusive sense here) can be trusted if we really are completely depraved! Balancing, dividing and delegating power should be a first concern for anyone who takes total depravity serious!)

Now, as we all know, luckily both thought systems A and B are quite wrong on some points:

To start, men nor women are completely weak creatures who have no chance of ever exercising self-control. And yes, I do believe men can have more self-control than post-Freudian-synchretizing Christian fundamentalists make them out to be. Although this might be not the easiest thing in a world where men are indeed conditioned like Pavlov’s dogs to react to images of women’s bodies with sexual interest. We will indeed become very visually and dominated by what’s called ‘the male gaze’, and those things might not be originally ‘hard-wired’ in our brains, but our habits and conditionings do have form us and even alter our brain!

Ah, neuroplasticity is such a great thing, isn’t it? We aren’t hard-wired as some believe at all, but our wiring system forms when we grow up, and could develop in a lot of different ways. And even if we’re adults we can make new patterns and brain connections (Yes, it’s better to learn to play music as a kid, but sometimes there are examples of people who get an instrument later in their lives and learn to play music and make amazing stuff, like blues singer T-model Ford) and re-wiring is possible, but not easy, and in some cases it will always be a weaker spot and a temptation. I once read somewhere that people might need half of the time they spent in a bad habit or a relationship to really get over it…

This also means that a man who’s ‘trained in virtue’, or for example a Kung Fu master, who has been working on self-control, is a wholly different being than us postmodern Western wimps who believe the lies that we cannot say no to temptation and only know a world in which people just ‘follow their instincts’, (Even that expression is nonsense, most of the time we have a lot of incompatible instincts telling us to do completely opposite things, and it’s still our reason or something else that chooses between them, not our instincts themselves that lead us!)

And indeed, feeling attraction in itself might be unavoidable sometimes, but we can choose how it develops and what we do. If all patterns we have made are to just ‘go with the flow’ it might seem irresistible, but that’s because we’re trapped in a self-fulfilling prophecy that might even have been written onto the hardware our internal system. Which makes it not that easy to fight, but still that doesn’t mean it’s an impossibility…;

Also, as a Christian, it’s nonsense to say that we are to love everybody, be good to everyone, and then make an exception for those whom we find attractive in the wrong situation. Aren’t we supposed to be mature enough anyway to cope with such things without running away from such a thing? No, they are human beings made in Gods image just like us, and we have to learn to see that, and respect them just like every other person. Attraction should not trump anything, au contraire, love, and respect, and friendship should trump whatever wrong intentions we might have when we feel misplaced attraction.

After all, attraction without love should not be acted upon because it dehumanizes. And if we are led by love and respect, we will see more interesting things in a person than that misplaced attraction alone.

So, man is not a creature to give absolute responsibility, but neither is he the untrustworthy animal some make him out to be. And a man in Christ, and even a virtuous man in any tradition who has formed the right habits, is not going to be led by the first impulse or instinct that comes up, and can do some quite impressive things sometimes. But it’s the same with a woman.

(And if you noticed that I didn’t say much about  A, I find the ‘every man is a leader’ idea so ridiculous that I didn’t even put much energy in it; and that  even apart from the ‘every woman is a follower’ bit that’s equally stupid. Let’s just note that the idea of a leader becomes quite devalued when 50% of the population is said to be one. Especially when there’ a lot of women leaders too… And a lot of men who should never in their lives be ‘leaders’ of anything at all)

And in the end it depends on our personality, our character and our calling whether we are to be a leader or not. Some men and women are good leaders, some are not, and will have other callings. Which is not something lower at all. The body needs both the eyes and the kidneys, and the nostrils and the pancreas…

Let’s all take up the responsibility we’ve been given, and do it together, and not be fooled by fundamentalism of pop-Freudianism that paralyses us and says we can’t do it, nor by any false ideology that says we shouldn’t be working together in this. Together is how it goes, as brothers and sisters! And whatever we do, let’s do it in love for the other, respecting the full humanity of each other. (Even the ones we don’t agree with that have despicable ideas!)

And let us not forget as Christians what the fruits of the Spirit are:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. (Gal 5:22-23)

Are those not one of the basic characteristics of both men and women that profess to follow Christ? (Among other things as loving neigbors and enemies, and caring for the least, and not wanting to be leaders but servants?)

(And let us not mock nor belittle nor disbelieve in them, blaspheming the Spirit is a serious thing!)

Peace

Bram

On the sex-life of aliens and sexism here on Earth…


I like to read science-fiction stories sometimes, and I do like different examples of the genre for different reasons. I sometimes just like good stories, and I also like good use of our human fantasy like speculative descriptions of other worlds, complete with completely other plants and animals, or about people or non-human aliens with totally different traditions. And there is something very interesting too about stories about worlds that are very different from our world, where the people take things for granted that are literally totally alien for us. It’s a good way of expanding my world-view and it also helps me to question the world I live in, and the given things we all seem to take for granted sometimes.

We humans are generally nor less cruel, irrational nor less weird than aliens. We might for example think that we’re so great as modern people with our science and technology and human rights and stuff, but all the while human rights are more theory than real life for a lot of people here on Terra, and our science and technology have only helped us to further the destruction of the planet in a way that can in the end only lead to disaster, while we have in our societies a lot of things that are only logical if you’re born into them and have had them imprinted when you grew up.

This summer I’ve been reading read200px-TheBirthdayOfTheWorlding and rereading some works of Ursula Le Guin, including the  ‘the birthday of the world’, a collection of short stories. She’s a writer I do appreciate a lot with her fiction but who also can frustrate me a lot. The stories I’m reading can be classified  as anthropological science fiction, as much of her work. The alien species featured are humanoids quite like us, but still do differ a lot from us humans in the way their societies are ordered, as in their biology sometimes. To make clear what that means I will describe the aliens from the first 2 stories (I leave out the weird 4-person marriage system on O and the even more splintered segregation of all persons on Eleven-Soro in the next one, both societies of humans biologically like us):

The people from Gethen, a planet also featured in her well-known book the left hand of darkness are humans like us in everything, except for the small detail that they are not gendered, except for the few days in the month when they are fertile or ‘in kemmer’, and then they can take either sex, mostly depending on the pheromones of other persons in kemmer that are present. So it’s perfectly possible for the Gethenians to be a mother to one child and a father to another one. They do not have any concept of male/female duality nor do they have marriage like we have. The story of a sexual coming-of-age on Gethen, written in first-person from the POV of a Gethenian, is very weird to read, and not just because the sexually explicit which are a bit awkward to read, parts but just because they are  describing things that are perverse and actually, completely alien to us as if they were the most normal thing on eh, Earth… On Earth the everyone with everyone sex in the kemmerhouse, in which everyone can be of another gender next week just is strange…

The people on Seggri, a planet whose name probably is derived from the English word ‘segregation’ in Ursula’s mind, are on the other extreme: they are humans in a more or less late medieval society, but they have an enormous gender imbalance: only one in sixteen or of of them is male, and both sexes live in very different ways completely segregated from each other, with the males in castles having all the privilege, and the women living in a more normal society. The only encounter between the sexes is to have sex, and the women do pay the males for that, and they pay them even more afterwards if a child is conceived. Marriage does exist between women sometimes, even more than two, but it is not seen as something men are capable of. The story is made up of reports, fragments and short stories that show the evolution of gender relations over a longer time, and also when influence of aliens with less alien gender relations becomes more.

In the last fragment of the Seggri-section we see a young man, a man who has been to college even, like traditionally only a woman did on his world,  after the revolutionary moment when men could go outside of their castles and live in the normal world. He desires a thing unthinkable to anyone who has ever lived on the planet, a thing for which there is no word in his language: a marriage relationship with a woman as equals, or in his own language, t0 be ‘a wife’ and have a family. Something unthinkable for men, who are seen as only good for sex, not for any other kind of meaningful relationships with women. Even a man speaking with a woman is considered not done. (In the end he does break all logic and rules and everything people on Seggri have ever known, and indeed has an equal romantic relationship with a woman, even though it doesn’t last and he does move to the planet Hain afterwards.)

Like you can imagine these kind of stories are not the easiest to read. Trying to follow the thoughts of an alien whose ideas on sex and relationships are so different from our, for whom completely other things would be taboo and perverse as for any human, especially for a Christian who believes in lifelong monogamous marriage relationships. It can be quite a challenge to just take this stuff in…

Another thing, which is also one of my frustrations with Le Guin, is that her stories can be so hard and merciless for the people in certain of her societies. She invents new types of sexism and other forms of injustice and oppression that are really bad for the people living in it. The Gethenians don’t have any chance of sexism (except that they seem a bit discriminating towards the ‘perverts’, those who are always ‘in kemmer’, and thus are constantly male or female. The male alien observer in ‘the left hand of darkness’ does share in those prejudices) but I really wouldn’t want to be a man in Seggri who is only good for competing games and having sex with women, and does not have any chance to partake in ‘normal’ (female) society.

But alas, those aliens are not the only people who have weird forms of sexism that are completely illogical from any outsider… Some forms of patriachy and other gender-imbalanced system do sound as weird and unhealthy as those aliens to me, like this story about patriarchy among an Asian tribe from Lana Hope . The idea of sexual segregation alone in which friendship between men and women are taboo (as exists in some Muslim countries) is quite alien to me, as the bot who always tended to friend girls easier than boys.

I must say, my own society can be quite weird too, and other of our Western countries can be even weirder. The person that I am as a man would not be able to exist in American fundamentalism as described by this guest-poster on the ex-fundamentalist blog  broken daughters for example, just as I couldn’t live on Seggri.

If there’s anything I take away from stories like this is that we as homo sapiens are not better than Le Guins aliens, or that Western people are not better than anyone else. And that the simple idea of love for everyone apart from gender, and the idea of committed loving relationships  (as I know them and live it) which we commonly call marriage it in which a family is formed  can be quite alien, even for people in this world.

Let us be a witness of love and respect, in all aspects including our relationships whether they’re sexual or not,  to all people, even the aliens if they ever visit us…

peace

Bram

A purity culture I don’t know…


Seems like there’s a lot of critique of the ‘evangelical purity culture’ in the blogosphere lately.  I grew up here in Belgium as a pentecostal/evangelical Christian, and I always thought I’d seen a lot of talk about sexual purity and stuff in my life. But when I read critiques of the North-American version of ‘purity culture’ (Very interesting ones from the latest blog storm are Sarah Bessey, Elizabeth Esther for example, or find a bigger list in Scots challenging article at faith and food, and some more commentary from Richard Beck) and  I must conclude that I don’t seem to know much about it myself when I see some of the details mentioned. Seems like there are 2 possibilities:

A) I’ve never been paying attention and did get a slightly different message than what was communicated.

or

B) What I’ve been taught is not at all as toxic as what appears to be taught in certain corners of the Christian subculture in the good ole Us of A.

What I’ve never heard  in all of this was stuff like the following, all of which I would’ve disagreed with then as much as I would do now:

- female virginity is for some unclear reason much more important than male virginity.

- Men are supposed to take the initiative and always be the leaders, otherwise you have some kind of abomination going on.

- purity rings or rituals for girls involving the father.

- Non-virgins will by definition have a bad marriage.

- Never be alone with someone of the other sex that you’re not (yet) married to.

- if you’re single after a certain age something is wrong with you.

- You must give your first kiss on your wedding day, not earlier.

 (Okay, the last whole ‘first kiss on your wedding day’ idea  was something that some people might choose to do I suppose, but not at all something that anyone (except maybe for some teenagers who never had had a relationship but liked to talk about those rules a lot) would ever see as normative over here. It’s quite an exotic idea in our culture actually, not even recognisable as ‘conservative’… Maybe something for followers of Joshua Harris)

(And oh, the rule of never being alone with someone of the other sex might also be something I read in Joshua Harris, but which I rejected as otherworldly, as being someone who had all his life had female friends and had never had any problem hanging out with them alone at all the idea just didn’t have a chance with me…)

Even though I might disagree with  some details of what I’ve been taught and the way it was communicated, I never encountered most of what those people and others I’ve read are critiquing. What I picked up from sex-talk in church, on teenage camps, and even from the people of wareliefdewacht.be, with was the local true love waits* but does not seem to exist anymore, and from imported  wisdom from people like Rebecca st-James (the Christian rock-singer, who was very clear about both ‘true love waits and her intentional singleness at the moment) was something like:

- Sex is something important that you need to wait with until you’re married. Sex is beautiful in the right context and it is powerful, so it will do much good in the right context, and damage people in the bad context.

- Speak about boundaries in a relationship, which was mainly about the ‘how far will you go before marriage’, but the issue of consent and not being pushy was also communicated clearly…

- Virginity and sexual purity is  equally important for boys and for girls.

- Love and friendship are very important in romantic relationships and marriage.

- Singleness is something to be embraced, and does not have to be a problem. For most it will be a season in their life that they will learn from, for others it might be a calling.

- Sexual sin might be serious, but there is always forgiveness, whatever you have done. (The weird term  ‘recycle virgin’ was also used.)  Anyway there’s no need in shaming those who have made mistakes.

ongekust en

When I was in my early twenties that Joshua Harris’ ‘I kissed dating goodbye’ (a book of which the Dutch title can be translated back as ‘unkissed, but not a frog’) was making the rounds, and that most people I knew found it ‘too American’. I can’t remember much of it, actually, I just know I wasn’t impressed at all.

Now I don’t say I would agree with everything if I’d have to hear one of those sex-talks again that I heard as a teenager, but I do not recognise the big problematic things at all… And really, I do not understand the asymmetry in which rules for women would be different from those for men. That’s just nonsense… (especially in a heteronormative frame, where sex requires both a man and a woman…)

So, my question is; those things that I do not recognise, how common are they?

And how do we frame talk about love, sex and marriage? I do believe that sex belongs in a lifelong monogamous family-forming relationship (which is not necessarily the same as a state marriage, I would think the sacramental part and the reality -2 people form one life-unit- more important), but there seems to be so much ballast on the concept of marriage and on all this ‘no sex before marriage’ stuff…

Bram

* they have nothing to do with this beautiful radiohead song.

Nothing more natural than cross-gender friendships?


This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”. The list with the contributions , which I recommend you to read too, can  be found at the end of this post.

I am one of those calvin-and-susie-25895people whose mere existence can be a threat to some peoples worldview…

I really don’t get certain (sub)cultural taboos for example, and they actually are quite unnatural and illogical to me. One of them is the way American conservative people are offended by the word ‘shit’, but that might be for another time. Today it’s about the idea that ‘men and women can’t be friends’. This is something that seems to be a doctrine in certain Christian circles, but I’ve also encountered it in other places that were completely unchristlike, and actually have thought it  to be misogynist worldliness for a long time. And moreover, everything I know in my life points to the obvious fact that this is just nonsense…

If we skip the discussion about the segregation of the sexes that exists in certain Muslim context for example, and just look at the cultures I more or less align with, we still find enough examples. I remember as a teenager that I was watching a Flemish talkshow on the subject, and there were people for whom it was natural that such friendships were possible, but also some kind of weird loud working-class guy who said that it was impossible for men and women to be friend, with some reasoning about sex and gender roles and a lot of stuff I could not relate to. I think that was the first time I realised that some people had the idea that cross-gender friendships are impossible, or even harmful.

Maybe for some personality types it is harder, I don’t know, I suppose so. I also wonder if you’re used to watching women as lust objects it is harder to relate to them as friends… at least that was my explanation for the phenomenon that some people were unable to be friends with the other sex. I had noticed early enough (and seen it again and again) that the type of man who likes to boast about watching porn and make remarks about women passing by on the street was less likely to have ‘just’ friendships* with women (the sort of women they found attractive that is, they might be friends with the old lady behind the bar or so…)

The thing is that I was the kind of boy who always found it easier to make friends with girls than with boys. And there was no ‘hidden agenda’ for me, I’ve always tended to friend girls whose presence I liked, but to whom I did not have romantic attraction. (At that age I was too shy to friend girls I was in love with anyway, it made me uncomfortable and stuff. Poor me…) So anyone who ever tells me it’s impossible to have friends of the other sex is like someone telling a Martian that aliens don’t exist. Not in a million years it will ever be convincing unless you destroy my identity…

As a Christian teenager I  liked to hang out with girls more than with boys, and was friends with several of them, and never heard (or at least did not understand from what I heard) that it could be wrong. I heard a lot of stuff about relationships, but since I’ve been single until I was 21 or so, that stuff wasn’t relevant. what I did hear was that friendship was important in a relationship, and I never conceived that a friendship with a person of the other sex not leading to a romantic relationship or a marriage could ever be a problem…

Maybe I sometimes encountered stuff like stories of pastors who wouldn’t even be alone with a woman not their wife, or of the dangers of meeting other women alone if you had a relationship, but that did not apply to a single person who was not at all such an exotic thing as an American pastor… And to be honest, not much difference happened (except for a shift in priority) when I started a relationship, or even when I married.

Later when I was in my late twenties I saw some signs that it was actually a taboo, especially for married people, to have cross-gender friends. But I was actually married by that time, and both me and my wife still had good friends of the other sex, so I just found it weird, and couldn’t relate to the idea. Upon investigating the subject it turned out a lot of people would find my life and friendships unnatural and dangerous, or just not possible. (Americans seem to like to quote some movie about Harry and Sally on the subject, but I’ve never seen it, and I don believe in the cannonisation of Hollywood movies at all… I also find it quite nonsensical from the viewpoint that a lot of people are bisexual. Should they have no friends?)

But it became a subject that held my interest. I learned a lot about the subject from the blog of Dan Brennan, (and his excellent book sacresacredd unions, sacred passions) who did come from a point of view where he had to defend his positive views about cross-gender friendships all the time, which was not always as relevant to me, but he also laid out a beautiful history of cross-gender friendships, and a quite interesting positive theology of cross-gender friendships in the already-and-not-yet Kingdom of God.  He only confirmed my conviction that friendships are part of the command to love one another, and that this does not exclude people of the other gender.
(Something that’s quite obvious in the way Jesus relates to women in the gospels, sometimes completely contrary to the culture he lived in!)

So, what’s my conclusion: cross-gender friendships should be natural to those who followed Him who called us to love our neighbor as ourselves. It is part of the already and not yet of the inbreaking Kingdom of God in our world. I also think that learning to develop friendship-love towards the other sex is a very good antidote to the toxic tendency to  objectify women (and men!) in our society as sex-objects. My life and my faith would be poorer without them, and even my marriage would never have been what it is without what I’ve learned through cross-gender friendships.

shalom

Bram

The other synchroblog participants:
Chris Jefferies – Best of both
Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible
Lynne Tait – Little Boxes
Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age
Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs
Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine
Alise Wright - What I get from my cross-gender friend
Liz Dyer – Cross-Gender Friendships and the Church
Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships
Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers
Amy Martin – Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstands about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women
Maria Kettleson Anderson- Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships
Bram Cools - Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?
Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women
Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul
Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship
Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight

Doreen Mannion - Hetereosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendships–Learning from Gay & Lesbian Christians
Jim Henderson – Jesus Had A Thing for Women and So Do I

Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship



See also on this blog:

Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
On cross-gender friendships and Christians…
teenage flashback: I’m not flirting, but I might need a hug…
christians and cross-gender friendships
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit
sacred unions, sacred passions (musical prelude)
sacred unions, sacred passions I: beyond the romantic myth
Sacred unions, sacred passions II: Freud and the irresistible sex drive
on sexy porn models and human dignity

* There is no such thing as ‘just’ friendship. A real friendship is a very valuable relationship that is not at all less valuable than a romantic relationship or a marriage. This expression just shows that our culture has a too low view of friendship!

you and your tradition cannot choose what words mean for others…


[trigger warning: quotes that could be percieved as more than  rather misogynistic]

Yes, I’m still alive. I’ve been in a quasi-internetless place with a lot of trees, bungalows, and a subtropical swimming paradise, in a French-speaking part of this little kingdom by the sea. (Well, internetless is exagerrated I can always go to the bar where they have free wifi, but I choose to be almost disconnected this week.) I will be back this weekend and there will be some blogposts lined up for the following week.

And now I’m here in the bar reading up some blogs that I’ve missed (backsliding into my regular addictions…) And I’m back in the fireline of a very frustrating discussion again again when I’m reading a Rachel Held Evans post reacting to the Gospel coalition, and a reaction from TGC that I find quite weird. The issue is (again) patriarchy and complementarianism perceived as pure misogyny.Still Wilson says:

Here’s a question for critics of the piece: You want these words not to mean a forceful, degrading domination of women, yes? And here is Wilson saying he does not mean them in that way. So why not accept that? Or, instead of insisting they mean the opposite of what he says he meant by them, why not just call him a liar? That’s a quicker line to draw.

And when I try to understand both sides, I’m afraid that no matter how your defending exegesis is, a sentence like this will be sexist, misogynist and quite problematic to most people I know:

however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts.

I does not in any way describe my views or experience with marriage nor sex, and it sounds not like anything biblical to me either. Maybe in certain neo-reformed or fundamentalist worldviews these words can be taken as non-sexist, as Wilson thinks he does. And I do know there are complementarians with good marriages…

But honestly, no matter how hard I try, I cannot read this kind of statements otherwise as sexism towards both sexes (yes, as a man I find this way of thinking degrading towards myself as much as to my wife!), and as the description of a mentality that would describe everything I know about loving male-female relationships. The only way I can interpret this is as pure one-sided dominion from the male side.

But I really try to understand how people could think otherwise, and I can’t. In the end we come to the same problem with words as with stories, like I noted in an earlier post. Whoever you are, you and your tradition cannot control how words will be perceived by others. You and your tradition cannot decide on what a word means, and what connotations it bears to others...

Which reminds me of a discussion about the world ‘tolerance’. Some see it as the most desired goal in society, and as a very positive mentality everyone should have, while others see it as unloving, merely tolerating everything because we have to. So, define your terms if you speak to someone with another worldview, but don’t expect that they read or hear something the way you do. And yet, no matter how you try, there’s a limit to understanding someone else worldview when views are opposing. And I’m in no way able to read that quote otherwise than sexist rapist-mentality. And I did try… It just conflicts with everything I know about love…

(And I’m not speaking as a feminist here, but merely as the lover and friend I am in my marriage, and as someone who tries to find a way to live out Christian self-giving love in every relationship… I just am not able to see how it would go together with what those complementarians describe…  )

what do you think

shalom

Bram

Not a post on sexism, but a post on the uncontrollable power of stories…


Don’t ask me what kind of narrative this picture communicates…

I’ve been following an online discussion between my feminist blogger friends Sarah and Dianne, and some guy called Cory Copeland, a Christian blogger that I don’t know much about. I basically agree with Cory that, whatever the story is, there is always redemption for the fallen sinner. And I agree with Sarah and Dianne that the described story is quite troubling, and full of abuse, and that the difference between consent and coercion is way too important to not be see here. I can even add from a masculist angle that I find it quite sexist to bring up the ‘boy as a dangerous sexual predator’ stereotype, and a flat character in the story. Is there any chance for redemption for him? (And I’m not even speaking of the weird ideas surrounding her virginity here)

But that’s not what I want to address here.  There is another problem, which is quite important, that comes up in the discussion under Cory’s post. Sarah comments on the part of the boy in the story, and I find Cory’s answer quite troubling:

The story wasn’t about the boy. It was about the girl and her struggles. That’s the story I chose to tell. Respect that.

The problem is that a story tells itself, and it can show things that even the narrator isn’t aware of. And the boy in the story is quite problematic:

This girl met a boy and that boy had a way about him. He scaled rooftops and smiled like the sun. He captured the good girl in his madness and she soon fell in the deepest of love. The girl held strong at first, tossing away her boy’s hands as they searched her body, seeking satisfaction. Again and again, she dissuaded him, turning a stone cold cheek and halting heavy breaths before they had pushed too far. But the boy was relentless and vile in his objections to her goodness. He bombarded her wits with fallacies of unrequited love and lacking attention. He had played this game before and he was good.

Soon, the good girl could take no more, so she stripped herself of the righteousness she held so close and took her boy into her bed. Now, she felt emptiness where love used to grow; loneliness where hope once flourished. (please read the whole story here)

You can say what you want, but this tells us a lot about the boy, even if he is just intended a flat character used as a plot device. It tells a lot about how boys are viewed, and (for an outsider) some very troubling things about American ‘purity’ culture. What is described here is a very problematic relationship. I would even say this story tells a lot of unintended things, because of all the unspoken stereotypes and expectancies that drive the 2 characters.

Stories are a powerful and even dangerous device of communication, because they’re not always tameable. If you tell a story, you have to listen yourself too. It might tell you things you didn’t know yourself. And people with other backgrounds might hear completely other things. Like with Jesus’ parables: we think we can pin all of their meaning down, and then someone from another culture sees a lot of details and makes conclusions you didn’t even know where there. And someone like Henri Nouwen has spent a whole life exploring Jesus’ parable of the prodigal son, and even he could go deeper.

So, with every text we write, we should be aware with every story that we use to convey a moral, that we create an ‘entity’ that will stand on it’s own, and that will lead a life of its own. We cannot control what it will communicate to other people. The story will just tell its own story. And people will recognise the nuggets of Truth in it, but different people will see different things in it. And there is the possibility that people will see problems in it that are in a ‘blind spot’ of the authors worldview. But that does not mean that anyone outside of that worldview will not see them very clearly…

I do think telling stories is important, and a very powerful way of communicating in postmodern times. But we as Christians don’t have to repeat the same stories of the world over and over again. We need to reframe the stories in the light of Gods Kingdom. We need to tell new stories. We need to go beyond the blind spots of the cliches, and tell stories of salvation, of fallen people of both sexes who find not just forgiveness, but shine redemption in the darkest places of our world. It is darkness that dissappears where light shines! How strong is the light that we posses?

And we need to consider the implications of what we are exactly saying with every story that we tell. We do need to not further propagate the lies of  darkness that bind and destroy people, but dismantle them, and destroy light with darkness. So I applaud Cory for using story to communicate, it’s what Jesus did. But I’d ask him to be more cautious about how powerful stories can be…

what do you think?

shalom

Bram

Meditating on sexy models


Note: I write as a straight white male, and I do write from my own perspective. I do think a lot of what I say could be relevant to other readers that are not straight males, but for readability I don’t make everything gender-inclusive. If you are a person who is visually aroused in a sensual way by male bodies, or by both sexes, just read the sex you’re attracted to instead of female and your own gender instead of male.

I’ve been thinking a lot about some discussions I had on my facebook wall after I posted this next cartoon:

(Probably irrelevant note on this cartoon: I must confess that I do find sunglasses more unattractive than the Niqab the woman is wearing. I also find that sunglasses + bikini make it easier to turn a woman into something abstract than anything that shows the eyes)

I have the creepy idea that both our Western pornification and the Eastern way of hiding women are 2 sides of the same rotten coin, in which women (and more generally humans) get reduced to sexual objects that can be either pursued as such (in our heads or in real life) or should be avoided as a cause of sin, and this covered up and hidden from sight.

I’m not a fan of what I’ve just called the ‘Eastern’ view because I find it completely dehumanizing. I’ve read about ‘bleeding Pharisees’ who were alleged to be so afraid to see a woman that they did look away all the time when walking on the streaky and so bumped into everything that stood in their way in the street. [I hope that this is just a dumb religious urban legend] I also remember a conversation with a Muslim colleague in a former job, who explained to me that women had to be covered up because men just can’t control themselves when seeing one.

All of this is not just sexist towards women, I’m also quite infuriated by the low view of man that is espoused here, and I am afraid that men who are trained to think like this might indeed grow into the type of man that cannot watch a woman without having wrong sexual thoughts about her. As a Christ-follower I do try to take the words of Jesus in the sermon on the mount serious:

 “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery. But I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to desire her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. Matthew 5:27-28

Yes, looking lustfully at a woman, using her as a sex-object in your head, is adultery of the heart. Auch; Note also: Jesus clearly speaks to the watching man as the responsible party, not about the woman. Our thoughts, and the way we look at women, are our responsibility. Jesus himself never practised the ‘run-away-from-everything-female-that-might-seduce-you’ tactics at all. He speaks with the woman at the well as an equal for example,  which goes against his culture. Even his followers are surprised by that. And in other places in the gospels we see that Jesus nowhere treats women as sex objects or dangerous sources of sexual sin, but as human beings.

anyway, let’s not blame just the oldschool guys and the Muslims faraway, and their Christian counterparts in certain more fundamentalist corners. We enlightened neoliberal capitalist Westerners are even worse. Billboards everywhere with sexy bodies on it, that are made to make us spend our money on completely unrelated crap. And I’m not even talking about porn here. The line of thought is scarily similar: men will not control their thoughts when seeing a sexy female body. Only we do not at all attempt to control it, we cultivate it, and some industries use it to make a lot of money. And I suppose the porn industry is making even more money than the advertisement industry that I’m criticizing right now.

Let’s go back to the billboards with half-naked women that I talked about. We are not able to avoid advertisements that are put there for everyone to see sometimes, and I do not believe at all that the ‘bleeding pharisees’ are a healthy model to copy at all…;We as Christians should exhibit a scandalous love towards all humans, including those abused sisters on those pictures!

The solution is not to always look away, we don’t do anything about the root problem then: women remain just something that makes us sin, instead of human beings made in the divine image. We have to learn HOW to look if we can’t avoid it.

Just running away solves nothing. Forming character is important. Which means sometimes that you actively have to form your habits, and that’s not always an easy task. But what I’ve been doing lately when I saw such female figures that I couldn’t avoid looking at was a small meditation, which did open my  eyes.

So here it is, as the title promised: a meditation on sexy models, to be performed while looking at a billboard of a sexy body that is used to sell something completely unrelated to the female human. And indeed, maybe it’s not very healthy to go looking for an occasion for such a thing, but when you’re already in the staring situation, this kind of meditation might be a good turnaround:

1.  first ask the Holy Spirit for guidance, for His eyes to look at people… Ask for forgiveness on any wrong dehumanizing thoughts (looking at her as either a sex object or a dirty slut!) if you have had any of those. Thoughts can not always be avoided, but they can be stopped. (The bible even speaks of ‘taking thoughts captive in Christ!)  And if the Spirit would say to look away, ignore this meditation. Your path might not be mine. But even then,

2. Look at her as a whole, as a person. Look for her eyes. Try to find the person behind it. (If possible) Maybe try to think about the photograph, how it was taken. About the fotoshoot, about how she was working and ‘acting’.

3. Think about her as a child, being with her grandparents. Or other very human situations. She is a person just like you, with friends and troubles, with hopes and dreams and little and big frustrations.

4. Remind yourself this: This is a human being, made in the image of God. Try to see it. She might be abused by a capitalist system, she might be abusing her body herself, but nothing of that will take away she still is a human being like you, incredably valuable since SHE IS CREATED IN THE DIVINE IMAGE, just like you are. Let that sink in. She should not be reduced to a sex object, but neither should she looked down upon as a ‘slut’ or whatever categories you have in your head for ‘sinful women’. She is your sister, and should be looked at this way.

5. Pray for her, for her life to be invaded by Gods kingdom.

6. Pray for God to help you look at every woman the way He does.

Remember that rewiring thought patterns is hard. But that does not mean that you cannot change and be modelled more and more to the mind of Christ.

This kind of exercises is also very good with other people that you tend to dehumanize in very different ways, like ‘your enemies’ (only if you love them and pray for them you will be ‘sons of god’ in Matthew 5:45-46)  those with, whom you disagree so much you don’t take them serious as a human being, those far away dying in wars on TV, etc… All of those are Human beings, created in Gods image, of immense worth! Even the worst criminal!

My question now: If those things are so important to Jesus in the gospel (loving our fellow humans, even loving our enemies) why aren’t these the things we train ourselves in as Christians, and train ourselves some more in it, and invite the Spirit to help us grow in it? Why isn’t this one of our top priorities?

so, what do you think? Am I crazy? Unrealistic? any other comments?

shalom

Bram

I don’t understand ‘complementarianism’


I am quite busy this week, and I didn’t plan on contributing to Rachel Held evans’ mutuality week. But eventually this rant had to be written somehow. I hope someone can make sense of it. And even if you disagree with me, take me as an example of someone for whom a lot of traditions seem to be just impossible. Even if I go to far in some directions, from a partial outside blind spots can be seen that insiders will never even would think of…

Warning beforehand: I’m probably naïve, I probably grew up on the wrong planet, and even my own Flemish culture can be alien to me sometimes. So don’t expect me to take American sensitivities and unspoken laws for granted. Being a sometimes rootless postmodern does have a lot of disadvantages, but for a follower of Socrates (Who questioned everything, something which parallels Jewish thought) it has the dubious advantage to easily look through some things that others won’t ever question.

‘Complementarianism’ seems to be a loaded word, if I can rely on what I find when I browse the contemporary Anglo-Saxon Christian blogosphere. If I would not be aware what is meant with it, I would probably heartily wear it as a label: I do happen to believe that not just people in a relationship or marriage, but even most people in most situations, do need to complement each other when they’re doing things together. I don’t think it could ever be otherwise if I’m honest…

But that’s apparently not how people use the word. Christians (mostly of an American evangelical variety) seem to use to word to prescribe role models in marriage that to me are quite alien, and I honestly don’t believe they’d be less alien to a first-century Jew as they are to me. Something that to me looks like old-fashioned Flemish farmers mentality with a bit of lower working-class sexism thrown in. (Accuse me of classism, but when I was working within certain circles I was quite shocked about the sexism and homophobia going on there.) Most descriptions of gender roles that I encountered in this school of thought have not that much to do with the bible, regardless of how much bible verses they use, but more with going back to a historical situation somewhere between the industrial revolution and the 1950′s.

I myself might be lucky. I grew up in a secular country with a liberal Catholicism on the brink of disappearing in atheism. Whatever patriarchal traditions there might be in older communities, I’ve never encountered them as something religious, more like something backwards and primitive. My parents were in the leadership of a pentecostal church (later moved on to the vineyard) and they raised me quite egalitarian, even if I never heard that word. Later I heard that some saw my father as the most woman-friendly preacher of Flemish evangelicalism, but I must say I’ve never seen that much of the ‘woman-unfriendliness’ when I was younger. I always was aware that some Christians teach that women should be obedient to men, or that they should not hold any position in a church or preach. But the pentecostals that I met did allow women to preach as far as I can remember. I can remember having women preacher on all youth camps, and also seeing those women preach .

(I seem to be the lucky man here, and that’s not only due to me being naieve and oblivious. Even my wife has encountered things that I would not believe existed in pentecostal circles, and the last years I’ve seen -thanks to the internet- that the discussion about women in church and their position, one I wasn’t aware of that still existed here is still alive, even among young people.)

I never realised it was that special to hear a woman preach. I don’t know much women preachers, but I’ve also haven’t met any women who aspired to preach. I’ve always had women preacher on the pentecostal events that I attended when I was younger, and never thought anything about it. And I must say that right now in our vineyard church in Antwerp, a lot of people (including me) get to preach, regardless of gender and age, in the spirit of John Wimbers ‘everybody gets to play’ philosophy… So my direct environment only makes it more natural to not see that much differences between the sexes in role.

It is quite logical that different people have different gifts. I know women who are good at speaking, and men who are good at cooking (like me), and this has influence on both roles in a church or enterprise, but also in a relationship. Actually the differences between 2 people of the same sex can be much bigger than between a man and a woman. Generalisations about ‘women are X’, or ‘men are Y’ have never worked for me and always made me feel somewhere uncomfortable and abnormal. Neither the Christian ‘wild at heart’ variety nor the secular ‘Venus and Mars’ ever made much sense for me, my wife, or our relationship. Every person is different, every combination of persons will be different too, and as someone who consistently fails to conform to the lowest denominator I always fail too at this kind of prescribed roles. And I could say the same for my wife, and trying to conform our marriage to some Driscollian theory would just completely destroy our relationship, that has always been very good.

Also, Silencing women is making half of the church passive, which sounds more like the work of Satan to me than like the work of God. I’ve been blessed too much by women who were ‘above me’ in church contexts to ever think it ‘wrong’.

In the end, I can only share what I know. If I am honest, I see no way at all in which the idea of ‘hierarchy in a marriage’ would even work. (I don’t see it working in the trinity either, like Roger Olson says here, pt 2 and pt 3, it’s not just heresy, but plain nonsense) I am a natural mutual person. Yes, there always is hierarchy in certain contexts: if I’m at work I have to listen to my boss, and I have to listen to a police man in a uniform. But I don’t have to listen to my boss outside my working hours, or to a policeman outside his time. Likewise there are moments when one person takes the lead in a marriage, depending on what person is closer to the job that needs to be done. So sometimes I will submit to my wife when things need to be done, sometimes it’s the other way around. But even then, most important decisions could never be made by one of us, but only together after some talking.

To conclude: I do not understand at all what hierarchy-obsessed ‘complementarism’ advocates, it goes counter to all I believe and what I see in the bible, and all that works in my life, and everything where I’ve seen the Spirit at work. I’ve seen it hurt women, and pushed unto me it would hurt me to. I’m not a top-leader, I’m a democratic person. I believe in carrying responsibility together in love.

That’s what I know. And that’s how I see it work. That’s how I see the spirit works. And I don’t want to need to defend myself against some backwards and to me utterly arbitrary and incoherent framework that cannot be mine but wants to push itself unto others as being ‘the biblical way’.

I just want to share that I love my marriage, in which we share our responsibilities in love. I want to testify about all the women who taught me in my life as a believer. Just like the first person to ever preach the resurrection was a woman (Mary of Magdala), who is therefor dubbed ‘apostle to the apostles’ by the church fathers and orthodox church, women are needed in the church as half of the imago dei, and I would not be what I am without them.

Shalom

Bram

Masculine christianity is a privilege of the English-speaking…


A lot of people were tweeting and fb-sharing this article about some American bloke John Piper who on some pastors conference has said that ‘Christianity has a masculine feel’. Now I generally don’t care about what American Calvinists baptists feel about the religion I’m part of, and I don’t even care about the ‘feel’ of things, since that’s quite arbitrary and highly subjective… But some of the things he said are so weird and ignorant that I have to react, since there’s something very important that can be missed very easily by monolingual English-speaking people.

One of Brother John from Americas lines of reasoning why Christianity has  a ‘masculine feel’ is the following:

the Father and the Son create man and woman in His image and give them the name man, the name of the male.

I’ve heard versions of this argument before, in discussions among English-speaking people about gender-inclusive bible translations and stuff… And yes, one can argue about translating ‘brothers’ or ‘brothers and sisters’, and both sides have some truth in it in this case, Piper is  dead wrong, because he is fooled by his own language.

In Dutch, my first language, it isn’t even possible to interpret the bible like this, since we have 2 words where the English has just one: ‘man’ in English can be translated as ‘man’ (male human being), or ‘mens’ (human being, ungendered). And the word ‘Adam’ in Hebrew does not at all mean ‘man’ as ‘human being with XY chromosomes’, it just means, ‘member of the species Homo sapiens‘, regardles of gender or sex that is. Adam just means human, or humanity. Nothing male or female about the word.

Biker Booker, who knows more Hebrew than me and is able to explain it better, says it like this:

There is not to be taken interest in male of female in this stadium of the book of Genesis. The modern translations of the bible confuse. In Genesis 1.26 and 1.27, modern translations speak of “man”, which has nothing to do with sexuality. The Hebrew original word for man in these verses is “Adam”. So the bible tells us that God made Adam in His image, but 1.27 says that He made them male (zakar) and female (nequebah). In Genesis 2.7, man (Adam) is created out of dust (Adamah), indicating the primordial building block, in other words the human DNA string). so God creates the first human DNA structure and blows in His Holy Spirit to give life to Adam, the first “living soul” (Nephesh). But this in Gods image build human soul is nor male nor female! The bible does not indicate that the Adam had any form of gender or sex. All modern translations indicating sexuality are wrong. The Hebrew text does not indicate this. Verse 2.18 also does not indicate that the “ezer kenegdo”, a help to Adams side, is female. Only in verse 2.2 God divides the DNA material into XX (female) and XY (male) chromosomes. And than God decides to call this new creation woman (Ishshah)and thus Adam becomes a man only on this moment too!
(A similar exegesis of Gen  can be found in Scott McKnight’s the blue parakeet at the beginning of his narrative theology)
And btw,  just like man, meaning human being, does not have the meaning in non-English languages, neither is the word ‘mankind’ gendered. So some discussions among conservative Americans are suite weird to non-English-speaking people. They are just a privilege for the English-speaking, and don’t make sense to the rest of mankind, including the female ones…

about the discussion, I’m not going to waste too much time on it. It’s just not worth it, and it’s a distraction from the gospel… But the tetragrammon YHWH is genderless (transcending our gender polarity) and the Spirit is even female in the original Hebrew, and besides the male description ‘Father’ (which is only metaphor) there are also male and female images for God. Even pictures of female animals are used, but in the end God is beyond our genderedness, and all good characteristics of both genders are images of Gods Character.

As for the Christian religion, read in Jesus’ context Jesus was giving women a lot of space that they didn’t have in his Jewish society. Mary Magdalene is even the first person ever to preach the resurrectio  to the apostles (and is for that considered ‘apostle to the apostles’ by the Eastern Orthodox!) And there are a lot of women taking all kinds of roles in the bible. And there are countless stories of women being called by God, and I’ve met a lot of those women too… Stopping these women from doing  their God-given  ministry would be a serious blow to the Kingdom of God, a sterilisation of the bride of Christ.

In the end, even saying that Christianity has a ‘human feel’ to it does not completely do it right. Yes, Christianity is a human religion, and Jesus became human, but there’s no need for speciesism here, the scope is the salvation of the cosmos, the restoration of all of creation! The scope is God self, eternal spirit beyond all of Creation while intimately involved with every little particle of it. The God who became human (in male form, yes, but he came as the new Adam, the new human being, to recapitulate the curse for all of Homo-sapiens-kind, not  just all of male mankind!) came to restore the Cosmos, and in Him there is no male or female. We all have our gifts, our place, and our difference, but they do not at all depend primarily on gender.

(Btw saying all men should be leaders by definition is also nonsense, and in a sense quite misandric too, but let’s not go there…)

If our Christianity doesn’t have a ‘God’ feel to it above all of our human concerns, we are bordering on idolatry… I though someone as obsessed with the glory of God did know that….And frankly, the way this discussion is held never ceased to amaze me. And ‘it’s the US’ is not a excuse, the same day everybody forwarded the John Piper article, people from my own ‘tribe’, vineyard USA tweeted a link to this article about women in ministry, and the least I can say is that it has a quite different ‘feel’…

So please, let’s not waste time with this… Let’s proclaim the Kingdom, free the captives, heal the sick, and bring good news to the poor. Now those things would be controversial and transforming…

Let’s love the hell out of this hurt planet…

Shalom

Bram

related blogposts: ‘male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa, the cultural problem of Mark Driscoll’s effeminate worship leaders, Biblical manhood or the fruits of the Spirit?

edit: the best other post on this controversy, apart from Rachel’s, is this one about the radical femininity of Christ. Must-read!