I’m so excited to have my dear friend, Suzanne Burden, share on the blog today about gender reconciliation and it’s connection to justice:
I have said it myself. And I am blessed to say that I attend a church where I regularly hear sermons on racial reconciliation, on peacemaking as the Christian’s calling, even on immigration reform and providing resources and healing ministries for deeply terrorized people in the Democratic Republic of Congo. And each of these sermons is set in the context of sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ. For this I praise God. I hear echoes of Jesus’ Kingdom mission through the words of our pastor: “He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor” (Luke 4:19 NIV 2011).
Yet I seldom hear a pastor teaching specifically on gender reconciliation. Our Bibles begin with a story of God’s beautiful “very good” Creation and then the tragic results of sin: humans separated from God, and strife predicted for the relationship between the man and the woman.
“Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).
Ever since then, our relationships have been marked by domination and struggle. Man and woman, the team God so lovingly designed for mutual love and service, to rule and subdue the earth as image-bearers of God, splintered in sinful disobedience.
In Ruth Haley Barton’s book Equal to the Task she quotes author John Dawson: “The wounds inflicted by men and women on each other constitute the fundamental fault line running beneath all other human conflict…It is the biggest reconciliation issue of all outside of our need to be reconciled to God.”
This last month, Grace Community Church, a congregation of 6,000 in Indianapolis, experienced a defining moment in their congregation. Through careful study of Scripture, they determined that women were to be included at all levels in their church structure. They made news when pastor Tim Ayers preached a sermon including this quote: “Our task as a church is to heal the broken places that resulted from the fall and show the world God’s intentions. One of these broken places is the equity and dignity between men and women.” But Ayers didn’t stop there: “Christianity’s reticence comes from not doing the harder work of holistic exegesis [emphasis mine] on the few passages that have consistently determined our stances. This is not a slippery slope; it is getting in line with God’s initial design and standing against the power structures of sexism.”
Ayers’ sermon lit up the blogsphere because taking a stand for gender reconciliation is still rare among evangelical pastors and congregations. Symptomatic of our ducking of this essential issue, a female leader who circulates at large churches recently made this comment: “I’ve yet to visit a church who doesn’t hold to something being funny about women.”
It’s the unspoken justice issue of our time. And silence on gender reconciliation becomes all the more deafening when other topics are rightfully getting their due: Let’s talk about immigration reform. Let’s talk about justice for the Congo. Let’s talk about unity amidst ethnic diversity and serving the poor. To which I say “Amen.” That’ll preach, pastor.
But what of the women in your congregation, who make up more than half of your congregants, who have not been freed to fully offer their voices and their gifts alongside their brothers in the kingdom of God?
What about the 25% of women in your own congregation and city who have been or will be abused by their significant other? What will you say to them and their abusers?
What of the sex trade in your own backyard and the one in six women and girls who will be raped? (statistics from the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence)
I wonder who will speak for them. And what will become of the mission of God in this world if you do not speak up on gender reconciliation happening in the place where followers of Jesus are mobilized to share his good news with the world?
In their Pulitzer-prize winning book Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide, authors Nicholas D. Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn claim that gender-based violence and the need for opportunities for women is the defining human rights issue of the 21st century. The question is this: will the Church rise up to witness that every female is an image-bearer, that each one matters to God, and that the partnership God intended between men and women can be lovingly restored as part of His Kingdom mission?
A pastor I respect once said to me, “We men don’t know our theology when it comes to women. That’s why we need you to help us.” In this, I point back to the example of Jesus, a man who so easily and winsomely overturned gender stereotypes and treated women as equals, as partners in His work. When I hear, “It’s too volatile to talk about. It’s too hard to get men and women to work together. It’s just too risky,” I wonder what we are saying to the Creator who designed us to be strong partners. And I try to imagine us telling Jesus that there is just something funny about women, that there is something inferior about them that disqualifies them from serving alongside men, and that he should try to stop associating with them and sending them out as witnesses to his good work. It is, quite simply, unthinkable.
For these reasons and more, it’s time to preach on gender reconciliation as a foundational issue that touches every effort for justice and righteousness in God’s Kingdom. It’s time to own our silence and repent. And it’s time to begin to model the original partnership God created, his first and best plan for Creation. The Church can take the lead as men and women discover how to serve together and to advance the Kingdom as full partners. But will she?
SUZANNE BURDEN holds an M.A. in Theological Studies from Grace Theological Seminary and is the coauthor of Reclaiming Eve: The Identity and Calling of Women in the Kingdom of God(Beacon Hill Press March 2014). Find her new video shorts “How does the gospel reclaim Eve?” at suzanneburden.com, where she tells the stories of eight women in the New Testament whose lives were upended by the gospel of Christ.