The following are excerpts from an interview that Shane Claiborne and Tony Campolo, of Red Letter Christians, did with Dr. Mimi Haddad, the president of Christians for Biblical Equality. It was so good, I had to transcribe* it for you. You can listen to the full interview here. Enjoy!
Shane: How does the work for equality of women intersect with other humanitarian and justice issues?
Mimi: When you consider that the face of poverty, illiteracy, malnutrition is largely female, and abuse and the demand for sex slaves around the world is driven by the porn industry, this explains why 200 million females are missing from the planet, as Dr. Amartya Sen has shown from Harvard. It also explains why humanitarian organizations demonstrate that when you invest in the education, health and businesses of females, these are the communities that thrive economically. Research from Goldman Sachs shows that investing in females drives economic growth, and it lowers unethical practices. This is referred to as The Girl Effect or the Virtuous Cycle. And the World Bank says undermining patriarchy is smart economics, it’s good for families, communities, and whole countries. And that’s what CBE seeks to do, because it is almost impossible to leverage humanitarian objectives like gender equality without the support of communities and a correct reading of Scripture.
Tony: Where has the Church hindered biblical equality for women, and where has the Church helped biblical equality for women?
Mimi: They are intricately connected. When the Church has had a high view of the cross and has read Scripture through the atonement rather than through gender roles, you see social justice advanced across-the-board. Consider the world of early Evangelicals, of the 1800’s. This is when the word Evangelical had more noble connotations. They were advocates of racial and gender justice, because they were strong advocates of the cross. They truly believed that Calvary changed everything, and they preached on Galatians 2:28 more than any other group in history. For example, A. J. Gordon, after whom Gordon College and Gordon-Conwell Seminary are named, he was the strongest advocate of Women’s Emancipation and Abolition.
Tony: The feminist movement, which in many cases is seen as a secular movement, began with Evangelical roots. Charles Finney, who Billy Graham considered the father of modern Evangelical preaching, if you became a Christian, he wanted to know if you were committed to the Anti-Slave movement and the Feminist Movement. Feminists had their first meetings in Wesleyan churches up in north western New York state, called The Niagara Movement. Maybe you can comment more on the history of the movement.
Mimi: The Wesleyans have been leaders in Abolition and Women’s Suffrage, and in fact, Methodist women like Catherine Booth, who was driven by Wesleyan thought, and Katharine Bushnell, who was really one of the most popular women of her day. She was an anti-trafficker, a silence-breaker of the highest order. I published recently an article on her legacy. She exposed prostituted girls and women chained to beds in the Wisconsin lumber mills and the iron lines of Michigan. It is only as Evangelicals have backed away from the high view of the cross, the high view of atonement, the idea that Jesus changes everything, that we have Evangelicals like John Piper, one of the most popular Evangelicals today, arguing not that Christianity has a Jesus-feeling to it but a masculine feel. And this has really regressed our advocacy for social justice. It is viewed now as a feminist and secular agenda.
Shane: What is it that keeps this patriarchy entrenched? Are you hopeful?
Tony: And I would like you to comment more on John Piper, one of the gurus of our time. How do you think he’s effected your movement?
Mimi: I am hopeful, because millennials have been very strong in their courage and in giving voice so we no longer normalize the silence of victims. We are seeing it as part of our moral duty to expose perpetrators, and to create systems and structures, licensing and practices that make predators less prominent in culture and in churches. Patriarchy is deeply rooted in human culture. You can misread all religious texts, as Jimmy Carter has said in his wonderful book, “A Call to Action.” We normalize patriarchy because the “he will rule over you” sin will remain present until Christ returns. But it’s Christians that have to shine through that, as these early Methodists did, and point to a higher path and point to the cross.
I think that the tragedy that because it’s so normal, people like John Eldridge in “Wild at Heart,” instead of going to a Genesis to Revelation reading of the Bible, goes to art museums and points to the glorification of the female body, which of course, humans are made in God’s image and are beautifully and wonderfully made. Instead, we tend to make masculine and gender roles more about biblical ideals than about newness of life in Christ and leaders living by the fruit of the Spirit.
Shane: I was just speaking at an event with Lauren Winner, who’s a wonderful writer, and she said even the images we have of God tend to be very masculine. For example, the metaphors in Scripture that have become prominent are like all the churches we have called “The Good Shepherd,” and she asked if we’d ever seen “The Church of the Mother Hen.” Pull some things out of Scripture for us, where you see these roots, so you can correct our patriarchal theology.
Mimi: We have masculinized our reading of the Bible. When Jesus prayed, “Our Father,” this language hardened into modern concepts of ‘father.’ When Jesus prayed to Father, it was fathers in the ancient world who gave their children identity and inheritance. So instead of walking into the gender, masculine/maleness of that, Jesus was pointing to the bequeathing of identity, gifts, inheritance, protection. We’re missing the point when we impose gender on that instead of, “What is the larger moral principle?” It’s not maleness, it’s God’s love, protection.
Similarly, when we translate the Bible, we haven’t always done a great job. We mistranslated words. For example, in Genesis, when gender is elaborated extensively in the first three chapters. The only bad thing about a perfect world is Adam’s aloneness, so God creates an ezer kenegdo, which should be translated “strong rescue,” as David Freedman has demonstrated. We translate it as “help,” which in English connotes a subordination or an inferior. So translation committees need to work a little harder. And as Lauren Winner has said, we need to pull out these metaphors of God as mother. Metaphors have points of contact and points of no contact. If you’re on the patriarchal spectrum of Bible translation, you harden the masculine aspect of that instead of the moral aspect.
Tony: Also recognize, when you go to the original Greek, and to the Holy Spirit, there is every indication that the word pneuma in the Scriptures, both in the Hebrew and the Greek, suggest a femininity, that the Holy Spirit is the feminine aspect of God, that God is both masculine and feminine.
Shane: Tell us what the average person can be doing to get on board with the movement for biblical equality.
Mimi: The first thing we need to do is to work at an educational level. We need to understand and be aware of the deepest, largest study of marriage in the world is “Prepare and Enrich.” They consistently show that dominance in marriage is a key factor in predicting abuse. We also need to address pornography. Have you ever heard a sermon preached on pornography?
Tony: I preached a sermon on pornography. We look at it as “what it is doing to men?”, when in reality, we ought to be asking, “what is it doing to women?” How is it reducing the status of women and how is it making women into things to be used rather than partners to be appreciated and loved.
Mimi: Right. The use of porn between Christian and non-Christian men is exactly the same. Porn of course reinforces male-dominance, female submission, and the eroticism used to be pictures of women on magazines and has moved to men inflicting pain on women and silencing their abuse. So strict gender-roles need to be explored biblically and and socially. One of four primary characteristics of abusers is adherence to strict gender roles. We need to hear sermons on strict gender roles that are enforced by groups like Boko Haram, Isis and the Taliban that tyrannize girls and enslave thousands around the world.
Shane: Yeah, I’m noticing how deeply entrenched this gets. I’m writing a book on guns and gun violence right now. Overwhelmingly, the predictor of women getting killed starts with domestic abuse, and women are often killed by a person who holds a key to their house, usually an intimate partner. Looking at studies around the environment, say that when we begin to desecrate the lives of women, it leads to all sorts of other things. But this is often the beginning sign.
Mimi: Yeah, and when governments use power and abuse, in enforcing law and even the death sentence, we see the rates of homicide rises, as Jimmy Carter has shown. That’s an important critique. We need to preach about domestic violence and abuse from the pulpit. I asked my pastor to do that last year, and he had preached for 65 years and never preached on abuse.
Tony: The thing is, we need to go to the Bible. In Galatians, as you pointed out, “In Christ, there is no longer Jew nor Greek, bond nor free, Scythian or Barbarian, male or female, all are all one in Christ Jesus.” And when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Church in the second chapter of Acts, both the men and the women end up preaching, end up prophesying. So pushing women out of the role of the pulpit preacher is unbiblical, because when the Holy Spirit comes upon the Church, women are given the same rights as men to be proclaimers of the Gospel of Jesus Christ. I’m awed and upset that certain denominations, like the Southern Baptists, have said that women cannot be preachers in the Church when men are in the congregation
Shane: When some of the first evangelists were women! The actual paradox of all this, is that women can be Sunday School teachers and missionaries, but cannot be entrusted with the pulpit. We give them some of the most precious work in the Church while still saying they’re not equal.
Tony: Our Southern Baptist brothers and sisters say they’re against the ordination of women. And their greatest missionary ever produced was a woman! Lottie Moon! I think the word that I have is, I’m against the ordination of women, I’m against the ordination of men, because all Christians are ordained for ministry.
Shane: I was talking to some of my friends about some of the things I love about Catholicism, and one of them pushed back, saying, “What have Catholics ever done for women?” And on the one hand I said, many of the great women we love from history, Julian of Norwich, Catherine of Sienna, Mother Theresa, St. Clair of Assisi, have been iconized. What would you say to our Catholic brothers and sisters as we’re thinking about this? Will women priests ever happen?
Mimi: It looks like the Pope is taking seriously the role of women as deacons, which in many traditions is an ordained office, because certainly it is hard to disprove that Phoebe was a deacon, and she was the only woman in the New Testament that held an official office in a church. And once you start these committees to do research, it’s very hard not to fall into the deep tradition of the priesthood of all believers. When very few women serve in top leadership, there’s a lot of abuse and unethical practice. Adding women, regardless of your denomination, will help with these ethical problems. The Catholic church like all churches, education is key.
Tony: In the 16th chapter of Romans, Junia is referred to by the Apostle Paul as a fellow apostle, the highest role of leadership in the church. What’s weird is that the first edition of the NIV, they changed the name to Junias to hide that a woman held the highest office in the church!
*transcription errors and emphases are mine, all mine.
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