Monthly Archives: April 2018

The sexist umbrella that makes no sense at all


The subtitle of this blog is ‘My book of the damned’, because I sometimes touch on subjects that are completely off the radar for most people, even though they might be rather interesting or important.

Today we have the opposite, instead of saving something from the realm of damned and shining light on something interesting that is ignored by the mainstream I’ll shine some light on something that should be banished to far beyond the realm of the damned because it’s both harmful and stupid.

I’m speaking of the so-called ‘umbrella of protection’ diagram here, which seems to be used in certain ‘Christian” environments to explain how the order of the family is supposed to be. According to someone in my facebook list it’s even used in Flemish churches, although I’ve never encountered it myself luckily.

Just look at it for some seconds. Think about how umbrellas work. This is not how umbrellas work. Not even my little ponyland or Utopia are there laws of physics and logic that could be bended to make an umbrella work like this. No matter how you twist the whole thing, all umbrellas except the biggest one will always be redundant.

Now I know that a bad metaphor does not necessarily make an idea invalid,  and neither does a bad explanation of it.  So I know that I have to say something about the ideas behind the whole thing. But I can be rather short.

If the idea that the man is the mediator of God for the wife, and the wife is the mediator of God (through the man?) for the children, then the basics of Christianity are denied here. And the basics of protestantism too (the priesthood of all believers. Making the man a priest for all of his household members has some very weird theological implications outside of Christianity (like nullifying the idea that Christ brings is the one who connects us to God for women and children). And it’s as nonsensical as the ‘all men are leaders, all women are followers’ trope. No, most men are not leaders (and some women are). If everyone is a leader the word doesn’t even have any meaning anymore. And even though they are a minority, the bible certainly has a lot of women leaders and a lot of men who are not leaders.

If this is solely about protection then even psalm 23 doesn’t make sense in this worldview, and is only for me. Women should pray ‘my man is my shepherd, mediating the Lord for me’, while children should say ‘my mother is my shepherd, mediating my father who is mediating the Lord for me’. This is pure nonsense. God will protect anyone, and needs no authority over us to do so.

Hagar in the Desert

Think for example of Abraham, one of the most notorious figures in the history of religion, and certainly a man of God even though not always the best example in family relationships. When his wife Sarah kicks out his pregnant second wife Hagar the angels protect her, even though she just lost her ‘male umbrella’ according to this umbrella paradigm. Later the same thing happens with her son Ishmael when he’s 13. (Picture Gheorghe Tattarescu, 1870, Romania, I doubt angels actually look like that though)  God can protect any of us well enough without having any ‘umbrella’ of any authority over us. And for sure, we should protect the ones we love, but the whole hierarchy chain of the umbrella theory is very cramped and weird.

Where does it come from? It appears that this scheme comes from some bloke called Bill Gothard, who’s also leader of a homeschool movement and seems to be a rather weird cult leader (A FB-friend of me has been hurt and traumatised severely by his influence when growing up). His institute has even turned the theory and other rather weird authoritarian things in very cute but rather brainwashing songs for children and as you see from that link and the comments, more people have been very much hurt, damaged and traumatised by his approach.That alone should be enough to just discard the whole thing, and watch out for his influence in Evangelicalism. Here’s a good introduction to the story of Gothard (although not a super readable website) for those who want to dig deeper, and the afore-linked homeschool anonymous site has interesting stuff too.

To add a layer of irony, this whole Authoritarianism-gone-wrong stuff thwatchmanat is so pervasive in American Christianity is partly a Chinese import. Like the creepy extreme shepherding movement, Gothard is influenced by Watchman Nees ‘Authority and submission’ paradigm, which puts extreme emphasis on absolute submission.  (sample chapter from Nee here) Watchman Nee as a Chinese Christian was influenced by his culture -as anyone is- and imported a bit of Confucius here when it comes to the role of authority and hierarchy, which was taken to an unbalanced extreme.  For those who like to check for themselves: Here’s the whole reasoning behind the theory of ‘umbrella protection’ which is very clearly influenced by Nee if you’re familiar with his way of thinking.

But let’s go back to the diagram and look at it as it is drawn.  if we just open our eyes, the diagram itself cannot hide the truth that all of this is plain nonsense and the truth is still plain and open for anyone with eyes to see. The only ‘umbrella’ we need is the protection of God Himself. No other umbrella under it would ever do anything at all and they are all useless and unneeded…

Yes, we all are a blessing to each other, and we all help each other, but we’re all under the same umbrella together. It’s a basic Christian truth God is available to all of us through Christ.

peace

Bram

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The friendship is the benefits (on Christian egalitarianism and cross-gender friendships)


I haven’t been blogging much lately apart from last weekend, but I seem to be full of thoughts that need out, and I’m trying to rely less on Facebook than I used to do -battling an addiction and winning?-, so I might return to blogging here more.

I’ll start with saying that I’m not following everything that’s going on in the US or in US Christianity, but I’ve been following a bit of the situation with the megachurch of Willow Creek from here. and the possible sexual misconduct of Bill Hybels -a man who always seemed rather respectable to me by the way- .  I am by no way qualified to say something about that situation, but the legendary blogger Andrew Jones has a good overview here with some important questions at the Tall Skinny Kiwi blog. (glad to see him blogging again by the way!)

One of the links that Andrew has collected in his post is a very interesting analysis of Dan Brennan here. Dan is one of the biggest experts in this age on Christianity and cross-gender friendships in the world as far as I know, at least in the English-speaking world. (See all my posts about his book ‘sacred unions, sacred passions’ here) HE has some interesting observations about a certain kind of ‘anxious’ egalitarianism that he sees as quite pervasive in certain American circles:

I was in for a big surprise when I started to go public about my friendships with women a little over ten years ago. I thought evangelical egalitarians would enthusiastically see all the benefits of intentional spiritual friendships out in the open. It was quite a jolt to me when I began to run into skeptical egalitarians.

To say I encountered spiritual anxiety among these unconvinced Christians would be an understatement. It was not that they were opposed to cross-sex friendships. They had plenty of opposite-sex friends.

What, then, were they anxious about? It soon became clear to me: my intention to practice dyadic opposite-sex friendships before a watching world. They were highly anxious in men and women sharing authentic power and risk in one-on-one relationships with no one else around. Friendship was not foundational to any Willow Creek model. It was not even up there on the high priority list.

Again, note here I can’t comment on whether this is actually true for certain circles, and my goal here is not to point my finger to certain groups that are on another continent from me, but to find out what the most Christlike way of living and interacting is, and which examples should be emulated and which examples are lacking. And what we can learn from that, either by seeing what we should do, or what we shouldn’t do.

Let’s first say that I certainly am an egalitarian and strongly believe that cross-gender friendships are a healthy thing, for several reasons. When it comes to the reasons that some Christians want to hear first, the ones derived from the bible and the Christian tradition, both more or less have the same foundation:  Jesus who broke all rules of gender segregation that his culture had is an important one to start with. Think of the Samaritan woman at the well, the story of Mary & Martha, and as I pointed out in my last post Mary Magdalene in the garden-. Paul speaking of ‘no male and female in Christ’ is another one. And just the idea of calling each other brother and sister is also a quite powerful -that’s not just a metaphor, people-. Every person is our brother and sister, and needs to be treated as such, with the same love and respect we would treat an actual sibling. (Yes, looking at our sisters as sex objects would be creepy and evil if looked at it that way.)

I also am naturally inclined by my personality type to friend women as easily as men, and any person who will tell me than male-female friendships are impossible is more or less doing something like telling Mr. beaver of Narnia that animals cannot talk.

I’d also say people who are unable to have equal cross-sex friendships are missing something in their humanity, and that New Testament Christianity quite easily leads to the conclusion that all people of all genders should be treated as friends. And that looking at people as sexual objects, either as a prey in our fantasy or as a temptation that we should get away from at all costs is, is a serious disregard of the humanity of our sister.

(Note that I’m speaking as a straight male here but that you can fill in whatever gender  or sex you are that fits for yourself and whom you’re attracted to. It’s applicable to all genders and sexual orientations)

I’m not the only one who has picked up on Dan’s important observations. The internetmonk blog also extensively quotes his blogpost in a post called “Friends without benefits“. Chaplain Mike ends his post with the following points:

In our sexualized society, it is easy to understand why some people might want to erect strong, rule-based boundaries about cross-sex relationships. I have news for you. Those boundaries haven’t stopped or even slowed down immoral behavior, and if I read Paul correctly, trying to control sin by implementing law only exacerbates the problem (Romans 7).

I believe God calls us to maturity and wisdom in all of our relationships. I have long been “egalitarian” in my theological position (I’d rather say I believe in full partnership and mutuality between men and women). But this article has caused me to question a huge blindspot in egalitarian teaching and practice. We have not truly learned to welcome each other, live with each other, and serve one another as true brothers and sisters until we can learn to be friends. Without benefits.

Very important points again, although I have some quibbles with his title. I’d say that the friendship itself is enough of a benefit, not? I already don’t like the expression of just friendship’. There is something very wrong if there’s an actual friendship going on and you call it being ‘just’ friends, a if being friends is not something worth celebrating in this superficial lonely culture… So as my own title here says, I’d say that ‘the friendship is the benefits’!

In a world where people of the other sex (or any sex you find attractive) are so often reduced to a commodity to satisfy your lustful thoughts actually seeing people as humans like us made in Gods image, and treating them as friends, and sisters and brothers of equal value as we have ourselves might be a revolutionary way of living. But in the end it’s just a very logical application of ‘love your neighbour’.

Not dehumanising people into sex objects -to abuse or run away from as a temptation- and just being friends with them are two extremely basic ways of loving your fellow human I would say… And that’s the core of the question. When we grow on our spiritual Path with Christ -who friended all kinds of women including prostitutes, which were never referred to as sex objects of either category by Him, but as fellow human beings in need of love- we should  be able to go much deeper than that. Just being brothers and sisters is the beginning, like learning the ABC when there are whole libraries to read, and all of us will add our own book to them.

peace

Bram

See also on this blog:
Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, and the Risen Jesus
Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary
10 old traditional and/or biblical Christian ideas that are sometimes mistakenly seen as ‘progressive’…
Some thoughts on the myth that ‘men are visual’
On nudity in game of thrones, and some American bloke again…(the ‘bloke’ being John Piper)
On similar misandry in Christian fundamentalism and consumer capitalism?
‘Male christianity’ vs Mother Teresa
A Christian reaction to porn that doesn’t dehumanise the objectified further?
sexual dominoes vs the fruits of the Spirit
on sexy porn models and human dignity
Meditating on sexy models

Mary Magdalene, Apostle to the Apostles, and the Risen Jesus


On Easter the greatest mystery of the Christian religion is celebrated: the resurrection of Christ. Today I’m going to zoom in on the first witness of the Risen Jesus, who was a remarkable woman.
She was the first person to ever proclaim the resurrection, to an audience consisting of the 12 [male] apostles even. Yes, I’m talking about Mary Magdalene, who is a fascinating woman, even without all the extrabiblical additions to her story, which range from being Jesus’ wife or even secret lover to being a prostitute.

What she clearly was though, if we read the canonical texts, is a devout follower of Jesus the rabbi, not something very common in her culture. Only men followed rabbis, except when Jesus thought otherwise. She also was clearly a woman who loved Jesus a lot. And she was chosen to be the first witness of one of the most significant moments of human history, the resurrection of the Incarnated Christ.
I’m quite sure God has chosen this woman of all people for this task with a reason. In an age where women were taken much less serious as a witness this is an important sign of many in the gospels how women are important to God. God doesn’t care that men don’t listen to women. It is very silly and unjust to not listen to women as men anyway…

The fact that she was the first to ever preach the resurrection gave her one of the most honourable titles possible to the ancients. They called her the apostle to the apostles. The Eastern Orthodox, who generally are much more conservative than protestants and Roman Catholics -they generally don’t care for any idea that’s newer than the ecumenical councils of the first millennium- still honour her with that title.

Let’s end this post with the resurrection bit from the gospel of John, in a translation of N.T. Wright:

11 But Mary stood outside the tomb, crying. As she wept, she stooped down to look into the tomb. 12 There she saw two angels, clothed in white, one at the head and one at the feet of where Jesus’ body had been lying.
13 ‘Woman,’ they said to her, ‘why are you crying?’
‘They’ve taken away my master,’ she said, ‘and I don’t know where they’ve put him!’
14 As she said this she turned round, and saw Jesus standing there. She didn’t know it was Jesus.
15 ‘Woman,’ Jesus said to her, ‘why are you crying? Who are you looking for?’
She guessed he must be the gardener.
‘Sir,’ she said, ‘if you’ve carried him off somewhere, tell me where you’ve put him, and I will take him away.’
16 ‘Mary!’ said Jesus.
She turned and spoke in Aramaic.
‘Rabbouni!’ she said (which means ‘Teacher’).
17 ‘Don’t cling to me,’ said Jesus. ‘I haven’t yet gone up to the father. But go to my brothers and say to them, “I’m going up to my father and your father – to my God and your God.” ’
18 Mary Magdalene went and told the disciples, ‘I’ve seen the master!’ and that he had said these things to her.

(New Testament for Everyone, which is the translation of N.T. Wright, via biblegateway)

Peace and happy Easter!

Bram

See also: Jesus against the sexism of his time: Martha and Mary