“What does the word ‘ordain-able’ mean? It literally means, ‘possesses a penis,’”…“It does not mean, ‘is currently in seminary, has graduated with an M.Div,” or master’s in divinity, “‘and has gone before a licensure committee.’”
It’s no surprise that this week’s text by James R. Beck, Two Views of Women in Ministry, is controversial, emotionally charged and an important and relevant topic to discuss in today’s world. Beck’s presentation of the subject via multiple counterarguments by both Egalitarians and Complementarians appears equally represented. Some lay reviewers felt the writings were “too academic” and others found the writings interesting and relevant… “Academic in its approach, it is readable enough for the average layperson; and its call for respectful dialogue between those of different viewpoints is admirable, especially to a former “fighting fundamentalist” preacher’s kid like me.”
Regardless of where you fall theologically (and we could discuss/debate our views for hours and probably not move from our positions), my goal in this particular dialogue is to raise awareness of the secondary danger of complementarian theology – gender violence. In global terms, the United Nations defines violence against women as “any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or mental harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.” This includes intimate partner violence (IPV), which, by definition, is the behavior of an intimate partner or ex-partner that causes physical, sexual, or psychological harm. “Such intimate partner abuse and sexual violence is most often perpetrated by men against women, with a 2013 WHO analysis reflecting the fact that, world-wide, almost one third (30%) of women who have been in a relationship have experienced physical and/or sexual violence from their intimate partner.” Research indicates Christian religious language perpetuates domestic violence in several key “Biblical” areas. The first area of concern is women’s submission and male leadership; the second focuses on the sanctity of marriage; and the third attaches the value of suffering to the virtue of forgiveness. Women in several studies cite language and concepts in each of these identified areas being used by their husbands and pastor(s) to support staying in the marriage regardless of being the victim of domestic violence. The connection between gender violence and complementarianism is not that Christian men are more likely to abuse, regardless of whether you are liberal or conservative, it’s that the Christian religious language is cited by Christian women as “language to accept abuse”.
Of utmost concern and with bewildering persistence, nearly every “religious or philosophical tradition”, including Christianity, has perpetuated the distinctive superiority of males throughout history. The daughter of missionary parents and a Nobel Prize Awardee, Jenny Rae Armstrong was raised in Liberia. She writes, “See, it was in Liberia that I first witnessed the true ugliness of gender injustice, first understood that a tiny seed of pride and superiority dropped into the heart of a man would blossom not into a sheltering tree but into an ugly, invasive weed that choked . . . life . . . around it.”
If you’re unsure of how “Christian speak” perpetuates abuse, let me share the story of a dear friend… “Sue”. Sue is a Master’s prepared professional and devoted follower of Christ. Her husband “Ted” was also highly educated. Sue’s theology may be considered somewhere in the middle of the spectrum between liberal and conservative. She married a fellow believer – someone whom she believed would be a spiritual equal, and espouse the values of being a loving, supportive mate. It wasn’t long after their wedding that Ted began to struggle with mental health issues…and the psychological and physical abuse began. Sue sought counsel from her church’s leadership (in which Ted was very active as a member and leader). The church pastor quoted scripture and repeatedly shamed Sue for her desire to leave her marriage… “Divorce is Biblically forbidden”, “respect and love your spouse more”, “work harder to meet Ted’s needs”, etc. The church leader victim blamed Sue and convinced her that God would be displeased by her desire to leave her marriage. Consequently, Sue suffered years of abuse at the hands of Ted. All because Christian leaders manipulated and misspoke Biblical language. “In the context of violence against women, religious teachings and communities will play a role; they will never be neutral.”
The Christian community needs to do some significant reflecting and evaluating on its role in marginalizing women through its abuse supporting language. In this reflection, Christian leaders need to consider the following – religious beliefs, texts, and teachings can serve both as roadblocks and as resources for victims of violence – and religious texts and teachings should be examined and explored for new interpretations to minimize the roadblocks and maximize the resources for women. Safety and security should be a basic human right for all people, women included. “No woman should ever be forced to choose between safety and her religious community or tradition. She should be able to access the resources of both community-based advocacy and shelter and faith-based support and counsel.” So I implore Christian leaders, especially men, to carefully consider their language, narrative, and Biblical guidance when working with couples – especially when IPV is disclosed.
“Men who hit do so because they can…someplace they enjoy or need to humiliate another. There is no love in violence, only control and domination.”
― Na’ama Yehuda, Emilia