Archive

Tag Archives: mutuality

As increasing amounts of white male followers of Jesus awaken to the reality of our privilege––and thus power––within both the church and society at large, we are confronted with the questions of how we faithfully dislodge ourselves from power for the sake of others and what it means to live in such a space. This awakening, to the extent that it challenges patriarchal structures and well-established systems of power, will alienate you. That is, when you begin challenging traditionally held beliefs about equality, gender and sexual orientation within an Evangelical realm, you find yourself hard pressed to find a church community that is willing to entertain your questions and walk that journey with you. But I am not the victim. What is solidarity for me is another’s alienation and exclusion for simply being who they are.

Following this path through the Christian narrative has opened my eyes to the ways that fears of the unknown threaten control and power, and instigate a recoil effect that justifies and perpetuates inequality. My experiences within Evangelical circles has revealed an immense fear of being wrong. I admit that I too used to fear being wrong about particular beliefs or nuances in my theology. I thought that to get something wrong would throw my entire faith out of balance. It would pop the chain on my bicycle. It’s my assumption that this fear of getting things wrong dictates how Christians treat women and people who identify as queer with regards to acceptance, value and participation within church communities. It is far easier to operate within the bounds of safety and comfort at the risk of excluding others than it is to risk our power and certitude by and affirming the voices and experiences of those who challenge our beliefs. This fear lures us into believing that God will be displeased with us if we get this part wrong, do this thing incorrectly, or allow this other thing. This fear creates structures in which any deviation is tantamount to capsizing.

Jesus changes the story for me. And for you. I’m constantly disarmed by the Apostle Paul’s words about Jesus in Philippians 2.

Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form, he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death––even death on a cross.

The more I absorb these words into my being, I cannot help but to understand that having the same mind in me that was in Jesus means that I work to recognize my privilege and make attempts to dislodge myself from the ways that it silences others. My whiteness is not something to be exploited. My sex and gender are not things to be exploited. It means that I humble myself to the point of willingness to diminish my power and my voice so that others are lifted up. But this isn’t about straight white men throwing up our hands and saying, “Here! You take the reins!” This is about shared power, which is far more difficult, but far more beautiful. And necessary. Shared power demands that we play well with others. It demands that we not privilege particular voices and experiences over others. It demands that we relinquish our control over how things should be for us to remain comfortable, and instead ask, “What makes you comfortable?” and then honor that. In order to experience shared power there needs to be an environment in which all people are regarded as valuable, important and equal. But furthermore, it requires an environment where we value, trust, and allow ourselves and our theology to be shaped by the varied experiences and stories of others.

Sallie McFague talks about the Christian gospel as a “destabilizing, inclusive, nonhierarchical vision of fulfillment for all of creation.” That is the gospel of mutuality. Me fulfilling you and you fulfilling me.

I have by no means arrived anywhere beyond the privilege I benefit from as a straight, Christian, white male. I find myself at the intersection of no longer willing to tolerate Christianity’s devaluation of women and persons identifying as queer, and my own complicity in the systems and cycles that perpetuate this inequality in the name of Christianity. I recognize the irony of me arguing for these values out of my privilege and the increased weight that my words hold over the words of another saying the same things. Maybe Christianity can play a role in changing that reality.

Until then, I will do my best to honor you and your stories.

_____________________________________________

READ: Straight White Male: The Lowest Difficulty Setting There Is

Remember learning about similes and metaphors in 5th grade and writing all sorts of strange sentences to practice the concept? Metaphors are actually more important than your 5th grade teacher led you to believe. Metaphors, and language in general, are really powerful. Metaphors spark our imagination and influence how we interpret and see people, places, and as I will demonstrate, God.

Metaphors are so deeply woven into our language and culture that we often fail to realize their presence and prevalence. Even the Bible is replete with metaphors for God, for humanity and for creation. Metaphors ignite our thoughts and emotions and help us to relate to other subjects or understand others. This is partly why film, art or poetry are so powerful. They express things through image or language that hold far deeper meaning than the mere words themselves. Words can hold immense power, and two or three words strung together can radically influence how you interpret something. Allow an experiment. The following list of metaphors make statements, but the statements are jam packed with assumptions, questions, beliefs, and biases.

1. The Bible is truth

2. This bread is the body of Christ

3. God is love

4. God is King

Far from an attempt at deconstructing these theological statements, it becomes apparent that our theological statements and beliefs are deeply entangled and even dependent upon particular metaphors. What does it mean, then, that the Bible is truth? What is truth and what does it mean to equate the Bible with such an idea? What does it mean that bread is the “body of Christ”? What is love? And what does it mean to equate God with it? Lastly, what is a king? Who are kings? How do kings function, and what does it mean to refer to God as a king?

This monarchical––and gendered––metaphor is a glimpse into the patriarchal language embedded into Christianity that dominates theological discourse, worship, the ways in which people relate to God, and even anthropology. Such monarchical metaphors may simply express a reverence for God, but the reality is that such reverence subtly speaks to our views of both men and women in ways that align divinity and power with men over and above women. Feminist critiques of Christianity have driven this point home for decades, but dominant Christianity has been unable to disengage its beliefs and declarations about God from its traditional, historical metaphors created by patriarchal cultures. In other words, Christianity has allowed imperfect images and language to determine the boundaries of acceptable ways to talk about God, humanity, and the universe. By imperfect images, I am referring to the ways in which our language always falls short of fully encompassing reality. This is no more true than within our language about God. What we say about God can never fully capture who God is, but are attempts at describing the Divine.

Here is a simple exercise in how this plays out and why we must rethink the ways in which we speak about God. Claiming that God is King assumes that God is male. Do you believe God is a man? Probably not. Do you believe God is a woman? Of course you don’t. However, you are likely to be far more comfortable relating to God as a man than as a woman because centuries of tradition, art and worship have declared God to be male, and for God to be more feminine than masculine would denude God of power. Consequently, this associates women with inferiority, weakness and a lack of power. Unfortunately, this is exactly how Christianity has treated women for the majority of history. This subtlety in language about God shapes a multitude of cultural assumptions and biases about men, women, power and equality that always tip the scales of privilege toward the male experience. Christianity must recognize this, resist it, and refuse to be constrained by a limited vocabulary, and in so doing begin to move closer toward mutuality and gender equality. Rethinking our language is a vital step in the process of rethinking our images, our identities, and who God is.

The powerful metaphors “God is King,” “Jesus is Lord” and “the Kingdom of God” are not only unhelpful, but damaging because of the assumptions they make about who God is, God’s relationship to the world, engendered power structures, and because of the problematic association with a hierarchical and royal relationship which is no longer relevant in the 21st century West and elsewhere.

So what do we do and where do we go from here? It is important to rethink how we speak of God. We cannot escape gender, but we can escape gender exclusivity in a way that matches our language to what we believe about who God is. While one option is to avoid gendered pronouns altogether (using God, Godself, etc.), I think it is important to make use of both male and female pronouns together. That means we need to get comfortable referring to God as She and praying to our Holy Mother. Next, we come up with better metaphors and images and language by which we capture and describe participation in the life of God that makes sense to and values all of our gendered bodies and experiences and reconcile them to Christ. It is through this movement that we will begin to reconcile ourselves to one another, living in mutuality, love, and honor for others.