A believing coworker recently commented on her intellectual agreement with biblical equality. But she went on to explain that she would not personally want a woman as pastor, simply because that is not what she is accustomed to seeing.
For many, it is not only the intellect that needs to receive the message of biblical equality: An individual’s heart and imagination also need to receive the message of freedom and wholeness. The arts are a beautiful tool for guiding us to consider how life could be, offering a source of powerful images that can shape our knowledge of reality.
Aída and Bill Spencer, CBE members and authors of God Through the Looking Glass: Glimpses from the Arts, explain that art is a window through which believers can know more of God. They write, “The arts are all mirrors in which we try to glimpse reflections of the face of heaven.”
“God is the master artist, storyteller, singer, visual artist , dramatist, communicator [and] choreographer,” said Aída Spencer. “Therefore, of course, arts will be part of the Christian life. Arts are part of being human, being made in God’s image.”
To illustrate this point, the Spencers include chapters in their book by noted artists from a variety of fields, such as music, visual arts, dance, drama and film. They also provide a theological foundation for the arts and discuss ministry through art.
“Art communicates powerfully because it touches more parts of our perception,” said Bill Spencer. “It engages the senses and the imagination.”
The arts also appeal to emotions, according to Bill Spencer, and are less threatening ways of presenting new ideas. Because the role of women and men is an emotional issue for many people, he believes the arts are important tools to use in communicating equality.
Brothers and Sisters in Christ (BASIC), an Irish-based Catholic group of men and women, recognizes the power of art to communicate. While praying and working toward the ordination of women in the Roman Catholic Church, this group noted the visual images used to validate a hierarchical leadership. They have taken steps to provide the community of faith with images that are more historically accurate.
For example, BASIC co-founder Colm Holmes notes that most paintings of Pentecost show only the 12 apostles with Mary. Holmes points out that Scripture says, “With them were some women and also Mary, the mother of Jesus, and his brothers … When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place” (Acts 1:14, 2:1). A2002 painting by Nora Kelly called Pentecost portrays both men and women, a painting that Holmes believes more accurately reflects Scripture.
Another example of art that shapes our understanding is Leonardo da Vinci’s The Last Supper, according to BASIC. While the organization recognizes the painting’s beauty, BASIC co-founder Soline Vatinel points out that it may be historically inaccurate. Women and children were traditionally present at Passover meals.
To give the imaginations of God’s people an image depicting this possibility, BASIC commissioned a painting by Bohdan Piasecki, one of the most famous contemporary Polish artists. His 1998 painting called Last Supper includes women and children.
Most people have responded positively to the commissioned paintings, according to Vatinel. “For some people it is a discovery, for others it is a confirmation,” she said. The pieces can be viewed in color at www.christianartfromireland.com.
Vatinel suggests communicating equality by modeling it in ways people can see, feel, hear and touch. The arts are such a powerful tool, she said, because “they engage people’s feelings and imagination through their senses.”
Folk gospel recording artists Don and Wendy Francisco are CBE members who communicate biblical equality in and through their music. Don has recorded 10 albums. In 1980, he received the Dove Award for Song of the Year for “He’s Alive.” Wendy has recorded three albums, and she is also a children’s illustrator and award-winning pastel artist.
The Franciscos summarize their shared ministry by saying, “It’s our passion to take biblical stories and principles, and distill them down so that they can fit into a song.” For example, the song “Beautiful to Me” is about the woman that washed Jesus’ feet with her hair, written from the perspective of the Pharisee in whose home the event took place.
The Pharisee is depicted as being angry with the woman for coming and then at Jesus for defending her actions. The lyrics say, “My anger rose inside me, I wanted nothing more, than to grab this prophet by the throat and throw him out the door.” The lyrics provide a vivid picture of the beautiful interaction between Jesus and the woman, in contrast to the Pharisee’s negative attitude.
The Franciscos point out that a foundational aspect of the gospel is equality, and to put the message of Scripture to music includes singing about equality. They said, “When we sing about the gospel, we sing about forgiveness and the position in Jesus that we were all given as a gift. It’s not just good news, it’s fantastic news. We sing stories from the Bible where Jesus demonstrated all these principles.”
Even though the Franciscos point out that the gospel is confrontational and challenges assumptions, they believe that the overwhelmingly positive response to their music is due to the truth of its message.
As music can go anywhere, the Franciscos suggest that this art form has fewer limitations than traditional models of ministry. They offer their music to give voice to truth. They hope to reach those alienated and hurt by religion, as well as those trapped by habits of misunderstanding and tradition.
Janet Burton, author of Worship Innovations and 2001 CBE conference speaker, has written numerous biblical skits. She strives to understand the characters and share a story that is true to the biblical message. One of Burton’s skits dramatizes Mary’s mother‘s struggle to send Mary to register for taxes in Bethlehem. Another depicts Joseph conversing with Satan in Potiphar’s jail about whether integrity pays.
Burton has also brought to life conversations between Sarah and Isaac; Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea, following Nicodemus’ secret meeting with Jesus; and Phoebe and Priscilla, when Phoebe delivers Paul’s Roman letter.
When communicating through biblical drama, Burton recommends that the writer carefully research and study the scriptural text being used. She encourages imagining oneself in the situation of the individuals portrayed dramatically.
Burton also stresses the importance of integrity in skit writing and acting. The message of biblical equality abounds in Scripture, she said. It is not necessary to demean the message by forcing a theme upon the text.
In addition to being a powerful learning tool for the skit writer and performers, Burton also points out that drama is an especially effective form of communication because it “employs so many senses and comes so close to reality. Eyes, ears, mind [and] emotions are all drawn into the reproduction of a good drama.”
In discussing dramatic and media arts, Jim Morris of Northland Foundation for the Arts and Education believes that Christians have been too focused on boycotting or avoiding what does not edify. He suggests that Christians invest energies in creating and promoting what is good. Morris also suggests Christians pray for those in the arts, encourage youth to develop creativity, and support quality art.
In “Art and Propaganda,” Phillip Yancey suggests that literature, and indeed any art form, is both a form of self-expression and a message with the purpose of communicating truth. He suggests that the ultimate goal of art is not self-expression, but God expression. In explaining the need for both, Yancey states, “Should not that be the Christian [artist’s] response to God — an offering of our work in dedication to him? How dare we possibly produce a message without art or art without meaning?”