38: Gender. So, what now?

Summary

Part 9 (conclusion) of the gender series. We talk about what we've learned, what we can do, and respond to your questions. Oh, and a poem from Tim set to music - you don't want to miss it!

Transcribed

Nate: Welcome back to Almost Heretical. This is our conclusion to the Gender series, and we’re going to open it with a poem by Tim.

Tim: Here goes.

Rage rage mothers and daughters
into the night the last light of which
is yours I know it
I can feel it in my bones
and the stars are aligned to show it
but when that’s no hope
remember our God made an oath
the first will be last and the last will be first
and one great day
you’ll be given your place
at the table which we men have blockaded
in the name of Jesus
which we’ve gravely mistaken
as a means to making our masculine kingdom
but the kingdom of heaven
belongs to the women

For so long we’ve been so trapped
by us, the hermeneutical weakest link
banishing sister kin to the kitchen sink
for a hundred mistaken generations
that feel from here less Spirit-breathed
than God-forsaken
and here we are living and persisting in
an unnecessary and unending degradation
of the sacred womb source
and warm breasted soothing-strength
of the very soul of this human race 

How could this catastrophe be our history?
long were women banished from the altar
and the front rows kept for those
the patriarchs chose for male-only honor
distorting the good news as an age old ruse
to procure for ourselves yet a bit more power
and today the same sort of men
make the same desperate moves
wielding abortion and divorce like sharpened tools
in the name of an authoritarian game
we call good moral order

ignoring Jesus’ words not to do as the rulers do
- to serve instead of lording over -
but our only gender rules
are codes about where authority goes:
men rule and women are constrained
to the home or the school
and thus two whole millennia
of so-called Christian men
have used the Bible to make women liable
to abuse and silence
rape and defilement
to risk of death and exile 

It was only on page 3
drowning in insecurity
that Adam grasped for control and named her Eve
as if his one and only friend
were just another beast of burden
to be captured and chained
tamed and given a name

But it’s to all our shame
that here today
we men of the dirt
police their skirt
length and birthrights
while we commoditize
their sexuality
for our own arousing profitability
and then abandon them
to bear the shame and pain
of our unwanted pregnancy

And then we have the balls (literally)
to say thus sayeth the Lord
and thus steal Jesus like Judas
for a shoddy endorsement
of unwanted patriarchal enforcement
like a band of misogynistic bandits
betraying our own siblings
for thirty bits of silver
an hour of feeling powerful

Instead of standing up on behalf
of the women abused in our pews
and the little girls whose worlds
are burnt down and souls turned inside out
by the dads and stepdads and uncles and brothers
who value two minutes of pleasure
over the lives of others
we defect to the men with the mics
who demand loyalty and silence
while questioning victims’ motives
and monitoring modesty

But honestly
these are our mothers
our sisters our daughters
and one day their justice
will be our judgment
as James Cone said of racism then,
“Isn’t it time the theologians get upset?”
what is #Metoo and #Churchtoo
but a message to men
that we too live in an age
calling for reckoning and rage

So find your anger brothers and fathers
but practice the way
of the Lamb unto slaughter
who though righteous, was silent
in defense of himself
showing how a good man can
bear the burden
of a history ruled by men

One day the table will be rearranged
take the lower place now
or be later arraigned
that is the promise
of justice and hope
this is the blessing
already bestowed

So rage rage mothers and daughters
and all you Christian husbands and fathers
into the night and into the day
until every woman makes her way
to the table,
but if you find that table
pervaded by men
flip that shit over
and rage on again
until they’re given an equal share
in the kingdom

Nate: Okay, so we’re doing a wrap up episode for the Gender series. There’s lots of little bits of pieces and questions and thoughts and comments that we’ve received from you, and we have a couple as well in our heads that we want to get to. And so that’s sort of what this episode is. Don’t skip it, I think this is going to be really, really important. It’s lots of questions that maybe you have also been asking, and we’re going to address those today. But first, Tim, I just want to ask you a question, I guess, and maybe we can just jam for a little bit about this series and what it’s kind of felt like and what it’s triggered in you, any thoughts. And I think the way to do this is to ask, what have you been most surprised by in maybe the conversations that we had, that episode—which if you haven’t heard that, go back and listen to the conversation episode. If you’re only going to listen to one episode in this series, listen to the conversation episode, which we did with five women—maybe in the conversations or the emails, or just in the response that we’ve gotten, what have you been most surprised by? And then I guess, this is kind of negative, but what kind of discourages you about this whole topic in general?

Tim: Hmm, yeah. Well, I mean I think going back to, before we recorded this series, going back to the study itself and getting into the scholarship, the first thing that surprised me was that there was the possibility that every single one of the problematic texts relating to gender could actually have been trying to say something not problematic. And now, I know there are those out there that will probably just never believe me when I say this, but I am—I guess I won’t say hundred percent, I’ll say 99%—I am 99% certain, honestly, that this is what Paul was actually trying to say. That Paul was actually trying to get men to lay down their power as Christians and to empower women in a world and a community with all sorts of complexity where that was a very difficult thing to do. I think when I got into the scholarship I hoped that I could find ways to wiggle around texts. I never, years ago, actually had hope that all of the traditional view was entirely backward, and I actually believe that’s the case.

Nate: Yeah.

Tim: So that’s where I get excited. That’s where when I talk about it I get a lot of energy, I can feel it in my body, I get excited to talk to people.

Nate: I know one of the most exciting things for you in this whole series, or that happened because of this series, was a listener that got in touch and you had a really encouraging talk with, pastor of a church in SoCal that is leading the church through becoming fully egalitarian. That was a really encouraging talk for you.

Tim: Yeah, totally. Which actually connects to your second question, kind of both where I find excitement but also where I find some despair. It was, it was one of the most encouraging conversations I’ve had in the last year or so. A pastor called or emailed and said, “Hey, can we talk on the phone? I’m thinking about moving my complementarian church into more egalitarian structure and I want to talk about it.” And so we jumped on the phone. And at that time we were only about halfway through the series, so I first basically jammed through my theological argument around 1 Timothy 2, 1 Timothy 3, and some bigger picture arguments about Paul’s theology, but then basically we talked for maybe an hour or more practically. And one thing I thought was really encouraging was all this study, trying to teach this in podcast form, I found myself finding articulation that I hadn’t had before, which I was thankful for. And one of the things I came to terms with I had intuited for a long time but I’d never really known how to say it. We were talking about the situation where he has basically elders and male deacons who are all going to be making this decision about what women’s roles in the church are, right. So it’s a bunch of men in the church who’ll end up making these decisions.

Nate: Yeah.

Tim: And I basically felt very clear and passionate to just say, hey, you’ve got two potential situations. One situation is those men in those positions of leadership authority desperately want to give up their authority and their ownership of leadership in that world and share it with the women in the church, and some of them just won’t be able to get past what they think the Bible is saying. And I said, if that’s the situation, I understand it, I empathize with it, and this theology, these interpretations, here’s your tools. Go use that. But I said the other possible situation is that you’ll have men who you’ve brought up to be models of Christian leadership in your church who actually don’t want to share that with women in the church. And if that’s the case, regardless of your views on gender, those people should not be in leadership in your church. That is a poor example of following Jesus.

Nate: What do you think that would look like, though? For someone to actually not? What would they be saying? Because I feel like they would, that’d be a hard place to actually articulate. Right? Even if someone felt that way, they’re not going to actually articulate that. You know what I’m saying?

Tim: Uh, maybe not. I mean, some will. We’ve seen and heard some of the uglier versions. But I think you can feel it. I certainly feel this from people in terms of how they talk about gender issues. 

Nate: What you’re saying is you basically need to be in a position where you really, really, really want to find this in the text, even if you eventually get to a place where you just can’t?

Tim: Yeah, I mean, go back to this metaphor which some of the listeners have used this language themselves to talk about their own experience. It’s the metaphor of seats at a table, right? And Jesus told His followers to choose the lower, least honored seat at the table and to elevate others to the positions of honor. And so some of the women who have listened to our show have reached out and said, “We’ve never even been at the table. We’ve never even had a seat, let alone the seat of honor.” The point is, you have to want to lower yourself and go sit at the end of the table so that someone else can sit at the top of the table. If you don’t want to do that, then you just don’t want to follow Jesus. And if you’re not actively living your life as a good example of lowering yourself so that other people can be in power, then you have no business being a so-called leader in a church. The whole point of leaders, the whole vision of leadership with Paul and Peter is to just be an example worth imitating. So to me, I’ve kind of used the language of there are people out there who relish in complementarianism. Just say John Piper. If you actually think that this gender hierarchy is good news, like they conflate this with the gospel, that it’s not just good news for Christians but actually needs to be shared out there in the world, then to me that moves far beyond this idea of trying to be faithful to the Bible and you can’t get past these texts. And you’re actually relishing in male power instead of a lot of us, basically we’re embarrassed by this stuff. We’re embarrassed of the church’s treatment of women; we’re embarrassed with people having the opportunities to grab the microphone, teach, preach, those who got to lead, those who got to be in positions of pastors, elders, whatever. To me there’s a big difference between people who want to empower women and just haven’t had the biblical hermeneutical tools, the interpretive tools, to see how Paul wanted that too, and people who don’t actually want it, so even when they come across this kind of scholarship, they wiggle out of it in a thousand different ways to deny it. So for instance, we’ll probably talk here in a little bit. One of the biggest problems for complementarians in their theology is Romans 16 and other places where women get named as prominent leaders in the church. And so we mentioned Phoebe was a deacon, and Junia gets clearly called an apostle.

Nate: Right.

Tim: Or even prominent amongst the apostles. But recently there’s been this whole honestly crazy-making wave of scholarly debate—

Nate: Junias.

Tim: Yeah, that either this was an abbreviation of a male name and really the name was Junias, which is just completely academically lacking integrity, or then secondarily, a grammatical move to say that Junia was considered prominent by the apostles, but she wasn’t herself an apostle. And it just seems so strained to me. Like, at that point, you realize, you’re trying really hard, you’re reaching to arguments and interpretive stretches that to me clearly indicate a desire to hold onto a certain interpretation. So at that point, to me, I go, if you aren’t displaying as a Christian the desire to fully share your leadership power with everyone else around you, you aren’t actually acting as an example as a Christian, and therefore you shouldn’t be a leader in a Christian setting.

Nate: Will we be talking about this in fifty years?

Tim: So that’s where I go to despair. Yeah, I sort of believe the rubber’s hitting the road and you look at new empowerment movements and even ChurchToo, MeToo stuff, but I also see we can put this tool in people’s lap to say, “Hey, these interpretations are possible,” and we can talk all day about the harm that the traditional interpretation has done. And I mean, just try it on Twitter, you know? Just see how tenacious people are in holding onto the traditional ideas. And we touched on this in the last episode, part of it because people have lived their whole lives being trained to think this is the only interpretation, partly because the texts have been written to make it sound this way.

Nate: So it sounds like we’re the ones that are trying to go against the Bible and just go on our feelings and what we want to believe and pit that against “the truth” on the other side. So people feel like they’re standing up for “the truth.” But here’s why I say, will we be talking about this in fifty years. This happened to the church before, even if you go back to Galileo and the flat earth stuff and the Christians… he got killed, right? They see something, “This is clearly what it’s saying in scripture,” and they go to the extreme to defend that, and then they adapt and they change. The church doesn’t actually die, it adapts and it changes, and now when we read the Bible, we’re like, “Oh, yeah, of course it’s not saying that. It’s saying this other thing.” Same thing happened with slavery. The Christianity that defended slavery in the U.S. and other countries, they go to the most extreme, and they’re defending it and defending it and defending it, and now it’s the furthest thing from anyone’s head that you would use the Bible and you would use Christianity to defend that. And so the church once again adapted and changed and it lives on essentially because it’s able to adapt and change. And I know Rachel Held Evans talks about these kind of ideas a lot. So I just really believe, I don’t think we will be talking about this in fifty years. I think the church will once again adapt and change to where when we read the Bible, that’s where I love Cynthia Long Westfall’s work and so many other scholars that you guys have brought up to us on Twitter and other places. It’s so cool to see the actual really, really good scholarship being done to hopefully start changing minds and changing hearts. But again, so much of the church has gone this way and does read the Bible this way. So I don’t know, I just don’t think we’re going to be talking about it in fifty years because I think the church will adapt and change and grow. There’s so much of this, and I want to do a whole episode on like, going the way of culture and how as Christians we often are scared of that. But the church has done this throughout its history. It’s “gone the way of culture,” and that’s not a dirty, bad thing to say. It stays alive. And Brian Zahnd uses the line of, “Making Christianity possible for the next generation.” It stays alive by adapting, by changing, to where now we read the Bible and we don’t see a support of slavery, but just 150 years ago people did.

Tim: Yeah. I hope you’re right. I mean, one of the first sad realities about what you’re talking about is the reason you’re talking about the church changing is because it’s never historically been the church to get it right. The culture ends up changing and the church is forced to change or lose its relevance in the culture. And so we’ve talked about the analogy between the Jew/Gentile relationship, the slave/master relationship, and male/female relationship. And the church got it right on including fully non Jewish people into the church, but it took multiple miracles to get it through people’s heads, and then still, Paul talks about Peter standing condemned for sliding back into an exclusionary form of Christianity that was making things difficult on Gentiles to be included. So they were slow to get that right, and it seems like potentially, even in the early church movement, it was maybe a minority of people who actually wanted to fully include the Gentiles. Then with slavery, it was the church that perpetuated it, the church that promoted it, and then the church tried to take credit for abolishing it, even though it was a small minority of people, many of them Christians, but it was a small minority of Christians who stood up against the majority. So I think what’s always been true, what will probably still be true, is when you say in fifty years the church won’t be talking about this, I agree with you if you mean a small percentage of people who call themselves Christians. Right?

Nate: Yes, that happens, the small percentage happens, the other ones… I mean, they die off and so then the small percentage becomes the majority. I believe that’s what will happen.

Tim: Yeah, I think part of the reason I don’t feel all that hopeful is we have seen a lot of progress in our lifetime and our parents’ generations around the feminist movement and women’s empowerment, but our world is still incredibly sexist and patriarchal. And that’s just always been the case, right? And so until the culture gets so far beyond where it is, which I hope it does, that you just can’t be a John Piper anymore, you just can’t be a John MacArthur anymore and still have anyone give you any respect or clout, then my sense is it’ll still be a minority within the church. And I hope that happens. I wish, my real hope, is that the church would lead the way on that. And of course some people are. But that’s why we will get pinned, and any others who advocate for ordaining women will get pinned as “letting modern culture sway us” away from biblical fidelity, because people actually out there—I actually saw an article from I think it was Detroit Baptist Seminary talking about the gender scholarship debate, and it was touching on whether or not Paul was implying that women are more easily deceived than men.

Nate: Right.

Tim: And the article actually said, “While we’re not sure that that’s what Paul meant to say, that interpretation certainly has merit or a point in its favor because of how offensive that idea is in our culture, because we’re supposed to be persecuted, right?”

Nate: Geez.

Tim: So literally they were saying the more offensive their interpretation was, the more likely it was to be true. So we’re going to have whole other podcast episodes on that whole dilemma that we’re in, but my take is there will always be so many people that are in this culture war that want to fight feminism that they will die on that hill rather than go with it. And so you’re right, it probably will just be waiting for one generation or the next to outlive older generations. But I mean, it’s this dilemma where we literally have two worlds, two churches, reading two different Bibles. You know, you and I and so many that listen to the show, we really see as clearly as possible that Genesis 3 describes male hostility over women as one of the first symptoms of the fall and sin. Right, like that is one of the first things that has gone wrong and needs to be reconciled with the world, or needs to be restored and fixed in the world, that Jesus is trying to undo patriarchy. And then there’s a whole other world that sees patriarchy and gender hierarchy as written into Genesis 1 and 2 as part of creation order, and feminism is this sinful rebellion against God. So literally it’s two opposing forces, right, and we can ask who’s going to win or whatever, but I just totally despair that that’s… that we can’t get more people to see and persuade them to see women’s empowerment as a good, beautiful thing. Whether or not somehow and someday that side will die off, that’s not a very hopeful vision, in my mind at least.

[transitional music]

Tim: So on that, we’ve talked about how some of this is so messy because our translations literally are writing into the English Bibles their interpretations of how we’re supposed to interpret these texts. And so we pointed out how the whole conversation around women in leadership is kind of messed up before we even get started because of this whole language of elders and deacons, and especially this deacons piece. I pointed out just how crazy it is that in an English translation, we have multiple words that are translated in three different languages in our same Bible. So the word diakonos in Greek is transliterated in the Greek word deacon, it’s put into the Latin word minister, which is still in there too.

Nate: And transliterated just means they didn’t do anything, they just brought that word straight over. So deacon is not an English word.

Tim: Exactly. And you do that when you think it’s a special term, like apostle. So ‘apostle’ means essentially someone who is sent, but we think that’s a special term and so we preserve it as this unique title by not translating it. And so you can see this. I forgot to mention this in our past episode. I want to bring it up here because it’s just so egregious to me. 1 Timothy 3:10, it’s talking about sort of the ethics applied to deacons, and it says, “They must first be tested, and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.” And I just read the NIV. And there’s no footnote, there’s no italics there to let you see that there might be anything strange in this translation. I literally just said the word ‘deacon’ just means servant, right? So literally they’re saying, if this is what Paul’s writing, he would be saying, “Let them serve as servants.” But then the crazy piece is, you look at the Greek and the word servant isn’t there twice! It’s just a verb that says, “Let them serve.”

Nate: Wow.

Tim: A verb based on this word diakonos. And so they’ve just filled in for us that to serve clearly in their minds means to serve in some official title. But they’ve added words to the text! It literally says just, “Let them serve,” and we write in there in a way that makes it sound to anyone reading this like your Bible is talking about this official role as deacons. So I think we promised before, we’re going to try to do a whole episode on kind of deconstructing these different church titles and looking at, basically trying to show that Paul was not nearly as hierarchical as he sounds like he is. But it’s just tough when most of us aren’t reading in Greek. We’re reading in English, and it just feels unfair, almost unjust, that that would be how our translators lead us to read.

Nate: Yeah, totally. Alright we’ve promised questions, so let’s do some questions now.

[audio recording]

“Hello, Nate and Tim. This is Cynthia Hester in Weatherford, Texas. I wanted to thank you so much for doing your Gender series, it’s been tremendously encouraging to me and I’m sure to many, many other men and women. My question relates today to 1 Timothy 5:9-10. I wondered if you have noticed how you can compare that list of the older woman or the widow with the list in 1 Timothy 3:2-5 and the overseer. There’s so many similarities between those two lists, and so I’m just wondering what you think about that, if you’ve done any research on the order of widows, if that speaks to the older man like the father and the older woman like the mother leading the church. That’s so much!”

Tim: Okay, yeah, thanks Cynthia. I think she’s making a good observation here. So I made the argument when we were talking about 1 Timothy 3 that Paul isn’t creating offices at all and he’s not telling Timothy, “Here are the job roles, and here’s what you need to tell people to do when you recruit for these job roles.”

Nate: This isn’t monster.com job postings?

Tim: [laughing] Correct. And we’ll post a link to an article by a scholar we love. Her name’s Marg Mowczko, if I’m saying that right, and she just points out, “Listen, Timothy was Paul’s closest coworker who went with him everywhere who was his most trusted ambassador. Paul’s not describing to Timothy some role that Timothy wouldn’t have already known about.” Whatever he’s talking about, these roles, these people are something he’s assuming Timothy already has new knowledge on. So he certainly wouldn’t be writing a prohibition, right, to say “Hey, by the way Timothy, women can’t be in these roles.” This is not their first go at this. If there were such a prohibition, if that was what Paul was writing, it would be a really awkward way for him to explain this to Timothy, either because especially, the point being especially if this is Paul making a universal rule in churches that women can’t be in leadership, why would he write that to Timothy? Timothy already knows all of Paul’s universal rules about churches, or his norms. So anyway, the point I was trying to make is this is Paul addressing different sets of people in the community. He’s not creating roles, he’s not creating rules around those roles. He’s addressing different sets of people and he’s giving them Christian ethics. And so Cynthia’s point, I think, is spot on, is the ethics applied to the older widows, whether they’re going to get on this list, is very similar, sounds a lot like the ethics applied to both the overseers and the servants in 1 Timothy 3. It has to do with hospitality, raising good kids, being faithful to your spouse, having a good reputation amongst the outsiders, all that. So I think that’s further support that Paul’s not trying to create some ecclesial structure. He’s just addressing different people groups he knows are in the community. And remember, all of this is taking place in the context of this church in Ephesus dealing with sort of this strange set of rumors and false ideas related to the Artemis cult and women trying to avoid unwanted pregnancy, basically. So that has to be considered when we think about it. But I think what I pointed out last time is that clearly from chapter 3 through chapter 5, Paul keeps pointing out differences in age. In chapter 3 there’s the old people, and the younger people are servants. In chapter 4 he talks about Timothy being young, and in chapter 5 he’s now talking about old widows and younger widows. And so to me, this is just evidence that the real differentiation reason in chapter 3 is he’s differentiating between old people and young people in the community with different sets of expectations and assumptions built around that, but that he’s not giving some sort of clear ecclesial orders. So good point, Cynthia.

Nate: Yep. And just, ecclesial, ecclesiology, that just means the church and how the church is structured and works and all that kind of stuff. Okay, next question comes from… which would should we do here? Let’s do Rebecca Bellamy who emailed in this question:

“Is there a reason why God spoke to Joseph and not Mary about hiding out in Egypt? My current pastor uses that as proof of male leadership in the home.”

Nate: So yeah, so why did God talk to Joseph and not Mary about hiding out in Egypt?

Tim: Oh man. This is another one I wish we could do a whole episode on. Nate, I’m gonna throw this back to you, put you on the spot real quick.

Nate: [laughing] We’ve said that like four or five, we have four or five episodes we’ve said we’re going to do a whole episode on that just in this show alone. 

Tim: Guys, it’s because people’s theology is so wack, and theology has a major effect on world history!

Nate: It’s, that’s really true. Because you take these things that this person in leadership says, and they say, “This is what the Bible, this is what God is telling you,” and then they say it, and then people make decisions for their life and large groups of people based on what God is saying. It’s like, really important. That’s why leaders are going to be held at such a higher—and we’re not saying all leaders are bad and the motives are bad. We’re not even going there, but we’re just saying, it’s really important what you’re saying to people and what the fruit of those ideas are. Sorry. I’ll get off my soapbox.

Tim: [laughing] Okay Nate. I’m gonna put you on the spot. And I’m going to time you. In thirty seconds, I want you to do your best job trying to summarize the Jesus Advent story, in terms of the story we tell every year at Christmas and have the church play on stage. Fill in as many pieces of info about that story as you can in thirty seconds. Go.

Nate: Okay, okay. Um, well, there’s Herod? And so Jesus—okay, wait, let me go back. So an angel comes to Mary and says, “You’re going to have a baby.” She’s not married, she’s just betrothed to this guy named Joseph. And is it then that the angel says they’re supposed to go away because Herod’s going to kill the firstborn, because he heard word that there’s a messiah figure coming up? And so they leave. I thought the angel told—no, the angel tells Joseph that they’re supposed to go. But anyways, it’s because Herod’s going to come through and wipe everyone out, wipe out the firstborns. And so they leave, and then there’s more after that, but—

Tim: [laughing] Ding! Okay, gosh there’s so much I wanna say. You know what, I’ve actually been wanting to plug this book for a while, so I’m just going to throw this book out there, especially for those of you guys who like reading fiction, and the audiobook’s pretty good. There’s a book called The Fifth Gospel. It’s not a novel, it’s not nonfiction or whatever. It’s like a Vatican crime thriller. But this novel was a sort of anti-epiphany for me in terms of, it riled me up so much because it’s a crime thriller novel that does better biblical theology than the entire seminary that I went to. [laughing] It was literally based on better gospel scholarship just to write an entertaining novel than most of evangelical Christian world I’ve ever experienced. So actually you could go read a book, have a fun time reading a thriller, it’s not a violent thriller, just kind of like crime drama, and actually encounter some better theology than you would get in a $30,000 seminary degree. So here’s what made me think of that, is one of the pieces he draws attention to. The main character is a gospel scholar in that book, that’s kind of why it happens. But here’s the thing, our nativity scenes that we do every year are a complete fabrication. Nate, do you know why I would say that?

Nate: Have you heard the, have you ever seen the—I see it on YouTube, these little clips of Adam Ruins Everything? And he takes a topic and he tells you how it’s not that, and it’s the opposite thing? I love that show, and I feel like that’s what you just did, what you’re doing now with the nativity. 

Tim: [laughing] That’s Malcolm Gladwell’s whole living. It’s like, “You thought you knew!”

Nate: Oh yeah! Revisionist History is one of our podcasts.

Tim: Yeah. Well, there’s all his books, too.

Nate: Okay, why? Because they usually show white baby Jesus instead of brown baby Jesus?

Tim: [laughing] True, true. It’s because the story told in our nativity scenes isn’t told in any of the gospels. The story told in our nativity scenes is an amalgam created by jumbling all of the gospels together to try to make one story of the history of baby Jesus, which once we do that, it’s no longer fitting with any of the gospels. So for instance, why do the gospels say that Jesus ends up in Egypt?

Nate: To… I don’t know what it actually says. [laughing] But the Nate gospel… Isn’t it to get away from Herod?

Tim: Yes, half correct. So Matthew says Jesus and His parents end up in Egypt because Herod was trying to kill Him, so they flee as refugees to Egypt. And then there are these Magi that show up. Why? Because Herod sends them out to try to find Jesus so that Herod can go kill Him. But in Luke’s gospel you don’t have any of that. Herod’s not trying to kill Jesus, there are no Magi. Instead you have Caesar Augustus decrees a census, and therefore they’re required to leave and go to Bethlehem. So why does this happen? It’s because the gospels are literarily depicting Jesus as somehow fulfilling, very interestingly here, two messianic prophecies in the Old Testament, one which says the messiah’s going to come from Bethlehem, and one which says the messiah’s going to come from Galilee, which is not Bethlehem. Galilee’s the outskirts essentially associated with the northern tribe. Bethlehem is the town of David in the southern tribe. So what do they do? They both tell different stories of somehow Jesus is born in one place but raised in another place, creatively. So one is Herod’s trying to kill Him, the family runs away, and because He runs away, ends up basically having a split childhood. The other one is there’s a census, so because there’s a census He’s born in one place but ends up going to live in the other place. They’re two separate stories. They cannot both be historically accurate.

Nate: We have a really hard time with that, don’t we?

Tim: [laughing] We have a really hard time with that. So what do we do? We cover it over for everybody by putting on an Advent and a nativity scene where we—

Nate: But no one’s trying to! Okay, I get why we have a hard time with that! And I think it’s like right, in a way, why we have a hard time with this, because when we go to this book, we’re not asking the same questions that the writers were answering. And so when we go to this book, we’re looking for, “Okay, what happened? Tell me what happened. Tell me about Jesus’s life historically and what He taught historically. Okay, four different people did that? I will just pull the pieces and put it together.” This is like the harmony of the gospels type of stuff that you see. There’s nothing wrong with that in the sense of, there’s no motives that are necessarily wrong. They’re just wanting this picture, this complete picture. We do the same with the Old Testament, we do the same with the whole Bible. I have this in my notes for this week, and I want to do—[laughing] I can’t believe I’m saying, I want to do a whole episode on this! But when we go to the Bible, and we’re actually talking about doing this whole series on what is the Bible? How does this thing work? But when we go to the Bible, we treat it kind of like a Constitution. This is the word that came to me. I was listening to some other podcast this week when they were trying to look at this specific law in the Constitution and how it then fits in with the rest of the laws in the Constitution to interpret what that law means, and I think—this is getting a little bit away from the historicity piece, but I think that’s sort of what we are doing. We are trying to take all this whole thing and say, “What is it all saying together?” Instead of, we miss the pieces, we miss that Matthew is telling, he’s trying to tell us a story and probably cares less about the—[whispers] this is okay, guys—he probably cares less about the specific historical facts and more about the story he’s trying to tell. It doesn’t mean Jesus wasn’t real, okay? It doesn’t mean He’s not the savior, it doesn’t mean He’s not God, all those things. But he probably cares more about the story He’s trying to tell, and we miss that story when we try to fit that in with a bunch of other stories that are saying different things, so that we make sure our Bible isn’t inaccurate, “It’s infallible, there’s no contradictions!” That’s, we’re missing… contradictions are good because you need to look there, because that’s where you’re going to find something that you haven’t found before.

Tim: Right. So take this back into Rebecca’s question.

Nate: Sorry, got a little fired up there.

Tim: That’s okay, I like fired up Nate.

Nate: [laughing]

Tim: No, but it’s not off topic at all. So if we go back to Rebecca’s question, she asked the question because her pastor is using this one little piece. It’d be like one sentence in one of the amendments of the Constitution, to use your analogy, and somehow making up that because an angel spoke to Joseph in Matthew’s gospel that that means somehow there’s this idea of biblical headship. So how is he allowed to do that? Well, for one because he missed the meaning of why Matthew wrote his gospel the way he did, which is to layer the story of Jesus’s life over the story of Joseph’s life, drawing attention to the fact that in Judaism there were multiple strains of ideas in the Old Testament that saw a messiah who would be like a son of Joseph, a son of the guy who suffered, got sent into exile in Egypt, who then experienced a kind of a death and burial and a kind of a resurrection and exaltation to power. Matthew is intentionally mapping Jesus’s story onto that, so he’s the one who has Jesus go off into Egypt, into exile, because someone’s trying to kill Him amongst His own people, just like Joseph’s brothers, and then Herod becomes the Pharaoh figure, and then Jesus’s return or exit out of Egypt into the promised land is the beginning of Jesus’s ministry. And he’s drawing attention to the fact that, wait a second, there was supposed to be a messiah who would be like a son of Joseph, and Jesus’s dad’s name is freaking Joseph. Okay?

Nate: Right.

Tim: He’s drawing attention to that significant theological meaning, really rich profound meaning, and it’s possible that he has the angel speaking to Joseph to highlight that aspect. Well, what happens in Luke? That’s not the theological point that Luke is trying to latch onto. He wouldn’t necessarily disagree with it. But what does Luke have? This exquisite moment between an angel and Mary and then what we call—

Nate: Oh, so that’s why I was confused there, right? Because the angel says it to two different people. Two different—okay, gotcha.

Tim: Yeah! So in Luke’s gospel we have this moment where the angel approaches Mary, and you have this beautiful, what we call the Magnificat, the song that Mary sings, which is modeled after the song that Miriam sings in the Old Testament by the Red Sea. By the way, Mary is just the name Miriam. So you have these names connecting, you have similar actions, repeated behaviors.

Nate: Oh, geez.

Tim: So like, we miss all of that meaning, and then on top of missing all that meaning, you get to come up with the B.S. and be like, “See? Jesus is pro-men. See, the angel talks to the dudes.” It not only misses the point, it allows you to create a whole set of B.S. And that’s where like, the first one, it’s like maybe you don’t see all that, maybe you’ll see it next time. But the fact is it allows a pastor to stand up on a stage, misuse the Bible as a weapon to disempower women, all the while missing that the reason Matthew actually has an angel talking to Jesus’s [dad] is to highlight that we’re all supposed to suffer and die and give away our power to empower others. It just makes me go crazy!

Nate: It’s like the opposite.

Tim: Exactly!

Nate: Yeah.

[transitional music]

Nate: And this is why we get a little bit fired up sometimes on this show, is because we get these emails, we hear you all talking and sharing your stories and what you’ve experienced. And it’s not all physical abuse, it doesn’t have to be that level for it to be harmful and to be oppressive and damaging. And it’s this Bible that we love and we think is actually saying the opposite of these things. That’s what’s being used, and so that’s why we do this show in the first place and why we are really passionate about this show, because there are thousands of you that listen along and we want to give this Bible back to you and show you that, “No, that wasn’t okay. That was not okay that that pastor used that to say that to you.” And even though we all have different experiences and we all have varying degrees of how we’ve experienced the Bible being used as a weapon, that seems to be one of the things that kind of unites us. And so that’s why we do this show. Yeah, anyway, I had to get that out. Let’s do another question!

Tim: Okay.

[audio recording]

“Hi guys, this is Daniel from Los Angeles, and this probably won’t be my last question, but it’s a good warmup. The things you guys have been talking about, especially with regards to gender, have really opened my mind to new possibilities in the scripture, and I’m wondering if there are churches or groups that you feel sort of model these teachings in the way that you’re describing, or these doctrines or these beliefs. How radical is this sort of theology you’re talking about? And where if I were to look for churches that modeled it would I find those? Thank you guys and please keep it up.”

Nate: Aw, thanks Daniel. Really glad that you asked that. It is, it’s a pretty significant minority, churches that have women pastors, priests in leadership like that. The number I found this week, and I’ll link to where I found this, was 11% of all religious congregations in the United States have women in leadership. I think women specifically as pastors. So it’s pretty small. This article that I’m reading here says, “Many of the largest religious bodies such as the Roman Catholic, Orthodox, and Southern Baptist Convention do not ordain women at all.” So there’s a lot of mixture on a lot of these groups. There are some that are just flat out no like the Southern Baptist Convention. Okay, so that’s kind of a bad answer to your question, Daniel. I’m sorry. And then Josh Peterson emailed in a similar question:

“Given your views, how would you recommend joining the ancient path of Christianity in a way that doesn’t compromise your integrity? In plainer words, if all of Eastern Orthodoxy, Catholicism, most Protestantism is rife with gender inequality and complementarianism, where do we join the Way?”

Tim Yeah. Eek. I mean, Josh, that is the question, one set of questions that I think about every day. And so I think there’s two parts to this. One is which churches ordain women and they invite women into an egalitarian sharing of leadership and power? But I think part of what Willow Creek just showed and put on display is that you can invite women into the power structures of a church but not at all change the hierarchical toxic way of power that we’ve been arguing that Christianity is in clear opposition to. It makes me think of, I’m going to pitch another—this is a two-novel day for me! There’s a book called The Power. I thought it was great. Barack Obama thought it was great, so give it a shot. Naomi Alderman, it’s called The Power. The basic premise is there’s kind of this mutation that starts happening in women where they develop, or small amounts of women start to develop electric powers. And so the book is just basically playing with all of a sudden there’s this genetic change that leads to a biological shift where women have physical power over men. And so it changes what’s been true forever, which is, the only reason patriarchy has existed is because men are biologically bigger and stronger and can get away with bullying and oppressing women. So the book plays around with the idea of what happens if that switches. And the part that I appreciated about the book is it doesn’t glamorize if you keep the same approach to power and you just switch who’s in power, it’s not any better. It’s just as ugly. And actually, if you have a long-oppressed and angry people all of a sudden seize violent power, there’s the potential it’s even worse than to begin with. None of this is, “Hey, don’t empower women.” I hope it doesn’t sound like that. Point is, that’s not what Paul’s doing, that’s not what Jesus was doing. He was saying if we all seek the lower seat at the table, that will always be constantly creating this dynamic where I’m empowering you, and once you’re in power, you’re going to seek the lower position and you’re going to empower me, and it’s this constant cycle of shared power. So to me, it’s much easier to find a church that invites women and more people than other churches do to share in leadership power. It’s really rare to find churches that are actually trying to give away power and aren’t structuring their church as a top-down hierarchical static situation where the person at the top is always getting further and further away, the power differential’s growing between them and the everyday person. And so to me, that’s what I’m looking for, that’s a bigger ask than simply inclusivity. It’s actually looking for communities that would on a communal scale follow Jesus’s path of power. And that’s where I just think most of the time, as soon as it looks like what we’re all used to seeing in churches and it’s this hierarchy where you have a lead pastor or a set of lead pastors, and everyone else is invited to come in underneath those people, you’re not really going to find it there. That is structurally a different relationship to power than what I think Paul was going after. So that’s where I see the path forward in finding the way, it’s going to look very different than what a lot of us are used to looking for.

Nate: I was thinking about this in kind of a different sense earlier today. We’ve heard from some women that say they totally agree with us but haven’t felt this desire to be in leadership, and so they don’t resonate with this feeling oppressed because they can’t be a leader, and so it’s hard for them to actually to look at how that is an oppressive thing for other women who maybe would feel that. And I guess I just want to say and to challenge along those same lines, we don’t necessarily just need the really outwardly strong more leaning toward feminist type of women to be leaders. Just like we don’t need those type of men to be leaders. We also need, and I think we primarily need, those who don’t want to get into power because they have ideas that they want to get across and they want to teach and they want to exercise this authority. We need people that almost don’t want to be in power, that almost don’t want to be leaders, to be leaders of our churches. We need people that like, you’re almost not going to know who the leader is because it’s this whole different model for what church means and what church is and what leadership and authority even looks like. So often we connect authority with making decisions and the power to make the decision or the final decision or the final say or whatever. And I think we just need to flip that completely on its head. So if you’re a woman who’s like, “I don’t resonate with this because, I see what you’re saying and I agree but I don’t resonate because I haven’t felt that. I haven’t ever wanted to be a pastor, I haven’t ever wanted to be a leader in a church or something like that,” I think we need you. We actually really need you to be the leaders of our churches. I just want to say that. And I’m talking out of experience here, because I am not this kind of leader type person. I was actually told by the leader of one of my past churches that I was on staff with that I wasn’t that, I wasn’t cut out to be a pastor because I wasn’t authoritarian, I wasn’t outspoken and take-charge kind of person. And that kind of disqualified me in a sense from being a pastor in his eyes. And I just remember thinking at the time, “I think that’s who we need.” Not that I’m saying I should have been a pastor or whatever, but those are the types of people we actually need leading our churches. So yeah. Agreeing with you, Tim. We need to completely flip this thing upside down and change this whole idea of the hierarchy within a church. Anyways. That’s that question.

Tim: Right. Totally, but I’d also add, even if nothing changed, no one’s sense of what it means to be a Christian or how power should be treated changed, if you just swapped every male in leadership in the church for a woman in leadership, we would live in a far more Christian world.

Nate: Totally. Totally.

Tim: And that I think is in large part because men, culturally, in our day and you could see it in Paul’s day, have been groomed and habituated to completely anti-Christian forms of using power, aggression, force. Basically being the dominant, competitive, victorious self that makes it so that men have the most difficulty conforming themselves to the gentleness, meekness, humility of Jesus in a way that culture, most cultures including ours, don’t acculturate women as much to those forms of aggressiveness. So literally even if you just swapped, both in the church and in the culture. I think one of the best possible things that could happen for the United States of America is if you swapped out every single man who works for our government, whether the Supreme Court Justice or whatever, if you swapped him out for a woman, just that change in gender dynamic and in representation I think would do a massive thing. And then you realize that was the whole project of the church. Paul uses the body example we touched on, we said those parts which are considered less honorable by the world we’re going to give higher honor and status. The whole point is basically an affirmative action type thing of saying, “You over there! You marginalized person, you slave, you woman, you person of color, you prostitute, all the people that for whatever reason society has looked down on, we’re going to bring you in, welcome you in as a full equal and actually let you run this ship. We think that’s how the world is going to be saved.” It’s crazy that that sounds so… we get called cultural Marxists or liberal, all the labels used these days, but that really was Paul’s vision.

Nate: Yeah, totally. And I totally agree with that. I just think, that next step, if we were going to actually fix all the authority issues in the church, you have to go to the next step of saying, “We actually need people that don’t want to be leaders leading.” You know what I mean? Anyways.

Tim: Totally.

Nate: Okay, last question, and then we have to wrap this show. And I didn’t tell you about this one, Tim, but I’m just going to say Paige S. on Facebook is kind of listening back through our older episodes, and we did an episode, episode 14, Give up power like Jesus, on our series on Power. If you haven’t listened to that, we’d love to hear your thoughts. But I felt like this question actually tied in to what we’re talking about, so I wanted to share it on this episode. She said,

“This is so good. I want to hear more on how practically to give up the power we have to others socially. Maybe in your ministry, workplace, family, etc., all areas of life I suppose. Love your work.”

Nate: So I just think that’s a great question. I’d love to hear your thoughts on that, Tim. How do we actually do this? How do we actually, what is this going to look like? You talked about swapping out all the roles of all the men for women, I think that would be a huge start because it would expose so much. But how do we practically give up our power? Especially as men here, how do we do this?

Tim: Yeah, great question. It’s one we’ll try to touch on now, but I think we’re just going to keep trying to answer this question indefinitely. So here’s the thing, to me it has to start with honest awareness and acknowledgement of power itself. So in certain circles, especially with people of color and activist circles, people are talking about power all the time. In other circles, especially with white men in positions of power and in white evangelical churches, power and conversations about power have got lumped in with these threats against God and the gospel. And I’ll just say, you can’t do this if you don’t become really good at acknowledging power dynamics and power differentials all over the place all the time. And so most of us, laying down power is not going to look like literally picking up a torture device and dying like Jesus did. It’s going to be small, subtle, but there will be moments where you can do this literally on an everyday situation. So for me I had to spend a good two years trying to learn what the different aspects of power were going on in my given relationships throughout a day, and part of that meant I had to find trustworthy friends who themselves were wise to issues of power, and that meant specifically women and people of color who know what it’s like to be on the bottom side of power differentials, and to engage in trusting relationships with those people where they could help me see what I couldn’t see on my own. One of the metaphors I love is that privilege and power is like the wind, and when it’s behind you blowing at your back, you don’t feel it. Basically it’s like if you’re riding a bicycle and the wind is at your back, it just feels like you’re going really fast. And you actually think—

Nate: “I’m an amazing bike rider!” Yeah.

Tim: Yeah. And it actually makes you think more of yourself and less of the power that is actually the reason you are supposedly succeeding. When the wind is at your face and it’s blowing against you, it becomes very obvious what power looks like and feels like, right? And so for those of us who have lived most our life with the wind blowing at our back, we have to systematically become aware of how that wind is blowing. Part of that means literally turning around and facing it. And so finding ways to get rid of it. So for me, one of these, the most practical is literally just in conversations. And I started paying attentions to the way power dynamics play out in conversations, and gender is a huge piece of this, and it was really humbling and embarrassing for me to realize how many times for instance I would step in and cut off women in conversations. Or in group situations, and this happens all the time in church Bibles studies, where there’s no structure to how you’re going to talk, it’s just kind of open-ended and anyone can jump in at anytime. Just pay attention to how often it’s men that jump in first, if there’s silence and someone just jumps in to fill the silence, men and white men. And I started realizing, “Oh, it’s like almost every time, if there’s a little gap of silence and people just have to decide whether they should talk based on their own sense of self-identity, white men are going to jump in before anybody else has a chance all the time.” So I had to learn that about myself, that I like to talk a lot, choose to acknowledge that feeling, and restrain myself from that feeling. Sometimes in some relationships, I actually felt like I needed to confess that feeling. But then I had to go about actually trying to get other people to talk. So that means either instead of me saying what I think, I need to intentionally ask a question and say, “Hey, Janie, what do you think about this? I’d love to hear what you have to share.” And so just literally, if you just take a few months and just think about how you engage in conversations with peers, friends, coworkers, and pay attention to the dynamics of how often you talk, how you talk, whether you interrupt people. Or if you’re experiencing the other thing and you never get to get a word in and you feel like you’re being interrupted or spoken over all the time. I just saw a stat on Twitter the other day, it was like 92% of conference calls—er, in all business conference calls, men speak 92% of the time. It’s just this crazy force basically you can tell is at work. So for me, anyway, that’s just one example for now. But then you can extrapolate that off into your own personal romantic lives, more intimate relationships, or if you’re in any position of leadership in church or workforce or whatever, how you treat that power, that’s a whole other realm. But seeking to empower others, give away your power, so that at the end, having a goal that the power differential between you and others is shrinking constantly so that one day not too far in the future you would be on an equal playing field as peers. That’s kind of what I was touching on. I think those are the only two places where I see Paul recognize power as a positive thing worth keeping is in a teaching relationship and in this kind of elderly parent relationships. Where with parents the goal is to raise your kids so that one day they don’t need you anymore and they become peers. And a teacher similarly, to be a good teacher means your students are not dependent on you for life, they’re getting less and less dependent on you, so after they’ve been with you for a few years, they can go do what you were doing. That’s literally what Jesus did. He had just a couple years with some people and thought that He could leave, it would actually be better, they would do more if He walked away and didn’t have their leadership. So.

Nate: Yep. I love it. And this whole gender series is really about power. And you’ll notice a lot of the stuff we do on the show is about power and is about laying down power, and we just see that all over the place. We see that as the major theme in the Bible, and we see it as the major theme with Jesus. So we’re going to keep talking about power on this show and it’s going to be through a lot of different lenses as we go.

Tim: Nate, I have a list of things I wanted to get in the gender series. I just literally want to show that there’s more evidence. I don’t even need to give the evidence, I’m just going to list it topically.

Nate: Okay.

Tim: Okay, so here’s some other things. Nate, we didn’t get to talk about it, this whole elder/deacon thing. You and I actually saw worlds, came from church worlds where, was it a 21 year old dude got appointed to be an elder in a church?

Nate: Probably.

Tim: So far apart from this whole premise where these were actually old people with clout in the society. It was just a man. So women can’t be elders, but a 21 one year old could be. Just crazy. Okay, another piece: the only text we didn’t get into that’s relevant is 1 Peter 3:1-7. Just to summarize it, it’s the same idea, mutual submission, people ignore verse 7, which is Peter telling men to submit to their wives. So you got that covered, too. Read through Romans 16. Women are given prominent positions of leadership. We haven’t even talked about this, but male pronouns for God. We probably need to have a separate conversation on this.

Nate: Ooh, yeah.

Tim: Can I just say, try it? I’ve realized how by trying to just use God instead of ‘Him’ or ‘His,’ I realize how acculturated I’ve been to thinking of God as a man. And I realized we use male pronouns far more than any of the Bible does. People make that argument of, “Jesus called God Father!” But the biblical authors do not go around referring to ‘Him’ and ‘His,’ they actually have far more reverent titles for God. So we have added male pronouns where there aren't. So just try it, see how it feels. It’s revelatory. Another piece we talked about, complementarianism is new. It’s a work around of feminism, basically you can’t be sexist anymore, so we created this whole ideology based around complementary-ness to reinforce that. Maybe we’ll talk more on that, but it’s significant. I touched on this in the poem, actually, but you actually have something going all the way back to Genesis 1, 2, and 3 where in Genesis 1 and 2 there’s this passive language that talks about what the woman will be called, but Adam’s given this job of naming the animals and then Eve isn’t given a name in Genesis 1 and 2. It’s only after the fall, one of the first things that Adam does after sin enters, or this whole fall scene happens, is he names Eve, and it’s a way of the biblical authors saying Adam is treating her like an animal, alluding to the fact that this male hostility over women is one of the prominent symptoms of the fall. Meaning this anti-patriarchy scheme is literally written into the Bible all the way back on page 3. Almost last piece: pay attention to how the New Testament uses coheirs language to talk of women. Paul talks about how men and women are coheirs in the kingdoms, meaning we’re going to rule with Jesus together. So any form of eschatology that says we’re going to rule together has to dictate how we interpret life now in the church as somehow being an in-breaking of that kingdom eschatology.

Nate: That’s a good one.

Tim: Lastly, okay, this was just something I was reflecting on this morning, I thought it was worth sharing. So much when you talk to men, especially male church leaders, there’s so much defensiveness about this. It immediately turns into this war, this back and forth. And I was just reflecting on Jesus before Pilate not even defending Himself against false accusations. Theology has always said that is because Christ was bearing the burdens, bearing the sin and the suffering of humanity on His behalf. So I’ll just say, if you’re one of the men whose gut reaction is to say, “I’m one of the good guys, and don’t accuse me of sexism or patriarchy or whatever,” I just want to say one way you can follow Jesus is to shut up, be silent, and bear yourself the burden, the guilt, the responsibility, of men in the church and male Christian history. In a sense enacting a kind of atonement by taking responsibility for your kin. That’s actually a way we can follow Jesus. Which means even if you are one of the good guys, that’s not your role to clarify that. Lay that down and acknowledge the hurt, acknowledge the pain, acknowledge the issues, and own it.

Nate: [whistles] Power round. I like the power round. Okay, if you want to get in touch with us at all, you can go to almostheretical.com. If you’re interested in some conversations we’re having in Portland on November 11th and 12th, we’d love to see you there. We’re not leading the thing, everyone’s just going to be chiming in, we’re having these conversations together on topics that you want to talk about. So you can sign up for that, email us, send in questions, all that kind of stuff, almostheretical.com. We’ll see you next time.

Tim: Peace.

GenderNate HansonTranscribed