God Loves Human Beings—Start with That
Just over three years ago, I threw up a post about a conversation with my son about the word “amen” and whether the “men” part of the word meant that God was only interested in men and not women. It was a rather quick post about the nature of the words we use, how our relationship to them changes over time, and what these words communicate about our views on gender. I didn’t think much of the post at the time. There are some posts on this blog that I spend a fair amount of time writing, but this was not one of them. It was an interesting conversation with my son, a few reflections of my own, and not much more.
This has made it all the more surprising to observe the traffic/comments on “God Loves Women Too, Right?” over the last 3+ years. In the blogosphere, where the new is always unceremoniously displacing the old from our ever-shrinking attention spans, posts tend to have a fairly short shelf-life. Once a post is a few days old, the traffic slows down and the comments tend to dry up, but on this post the comments have just kept trickling in over a three-year period (there were two more last week, and one this morning). This post has generated the fourth-most traffic and the second highest number of comments of any post I have written in over five years of blogging .
It has been fascinating (and incredibly sad!) to observe the amount and variety of pain, anger, confusion, misunderstanding, and longing that has emerged from the voices of women in response to this post. There have been stories of sexual abuse, intimidation, gross misapplication of Scripture, manipulation, neglect, and the exploitation of power and influence by men. At times, it has been horrifying to see that such views about gender roles still persist. It has been heartbreaking to hear of how these views affect real women—women who, through a combination of church teaching and life experience, think incredibly little of themselves and assume that God must think the same. It has made me angry to read comment after comment about how some guy had used the Bible to justify his own ignorant, misogynistic, insecure views. It still makes me angry.
But the more I have thought about this post and the issues raised in the comment thread, the more it has seemed to me that these are not primarily gender issues. If a woman feels worthless and rejected and wonders if God could possibly love her, if a woman’s experience has led her to wonder if she will ever be able to have a healthy relationship with a man, if a woman feels like she has to stay silent in order to please God (or men), if a woman feels like a second-class human being because of her interactions with men, this is far, far more than a failure to properly understand gender roles.
It is an utter and complete failure to understand what it means to be a follower of Jesus and a human being made in God’s image.
I have spent a lot of time on the comment thread in this post responding to women—trying to provide alternatives to the views about God and men that they have internalized, expressing sorrow for what they have experienced, etc. But I often found myself wishing that the men involved could see and read about the effects their beliefs and behaviours have. I have wondered what I would say to them, if given the chance. So, if I could speak directly to the men who have caused such damage in the lives of the women who commented on this post, I would say something like this:
I don’t care how archaic your views about gender are or how convinced you are that fidelity to God and the Bible requires that you maintain them, you cannot read passages like Matthew 5:3-10 or 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 or James 3:17 (among countless others) and come to any other conclusion than that to be a follower of Jesus is to treat other people with kindness, care, and respect. You cannot look at the life of Jesus of Nazareth and justify treating another human being—male or female!—in any other way than with dignity and with self-giving love.
I don’t care how badly you misunderstand this or that section of the Bible that talks about women or how determined you are to embrace “correct biblical teaching on gender.” Forget your “position” on gender roles for a minute. If a woman feels unimportant, unloved, frightened, or confused about men and about God as a result of your interactions with them, then something has gone seriously wrong. What we have then is a pretty major bible-reading fail. Go and read Jesus’ words in Matthew 22:34-40, and see if you can come to any other conclusion than that the most important thing you have to do as someone who claims to belong to Jesus is to treat every human being you come across as you would like to be treated. Male or female. End of story.
Start with that. Go figure out your “correct biblical teaching on gender” once you have asked for forgiveness, and once you have ensured that every woman in your life is unambiguously convinced that God loves them, that you love them, and that you are committed to a life of learning to love them like God does.