Every week, members of our small group Bible study share their “highs,” their “lows,” and how they’ve seen God this week. A couple of weeks ago, I co-led the group in a discussion on what it means to be both a Christian and a feminist. To begin, women in the group spoke openly about our “lows,” “highs,” and “how’s” of being a woman in the church.
Unsure how receptive the men in our audience would be, we opened with personal stories to ease them into the potentially tense conversation. Women told of being overlooked and undermined—both inside and outside the church. We voiced our collective anger at the structural sin of patriarchy. We read and discussed tweets from #thingsonlychristianwomenhear, #thingsonlyblackchristianwomenhear, and #churchtoo.
We then reflected as a group on the role and responsibility of the church in fighting oppression and injustice. The two-hour session included an in-depth discussion of complementarianism vs. egalitarianism; the gendered nature of purity culture; women’s sexuality; and submission in relationships.
The Holy Spirit moved in that room in ways we could not have imagined. But perhaps most overwhelming was the almost-unanimous support of the men in our group. They listened—deeply. They willingly surrendered the moment and space to women. It was refreshing to witness them respond so well to our stories. Here’s why.
As a woman, I’m exhausted. I live in a world that embraces the oppressive, structural sin of patriarchy on a daily basis. Yes, I have freedom with God and I rest in the knowledge that Jesus weeps alongside me when I cry out against injustice. But this is precisely why injustice within the body of Christ is even more heartbreaking.
I expect abuse and marginalization in the world, because the world is dead to sin. Somehow, it is even more crushing to see those alive in Christ embrace the death of patriarchy.
Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly (Matthew 11:28-30; The Message).
It hurts to see Christians distort what Jesus says the church is meant to be—a place of rest for the weary and oppressed. I quite literally want to turn over tables when the preacher begins a sermon with a sexist joke; when one-way marriage submission is commended as biblical; and when women in our congregations are overlooked, ignored, and undermined.
At these times, women are often told to show grace or turn the other cheek. We are assured that the men who sin against us “didn’t mean it like that.” Church culture often makes if difficult and draining for women to challenge the status quo, because we must constantly fight to be heard and taken seriously.
This is where male allies come in. Men’s support and action are critical to building a church that is a true refuge for women. Male allies can help by using their power to advocate for and support women in the church.
After the women in our Bible study finished sharing, the men asked a flurry of questions: “What can we do in our church on Sundays?” “What is the best way we can support women in our congregation?”
Essentially, what they wanted to know was: what does it mean to be a true ally to women? The best way to answer their question is to look to Jesus’ example.
Jesus was a radical ally to women. In a culture where women’s testimony was not judged reliable in court, Jesus stood with and clearly trusted women. When Mary sat at Jesus’ feet, he affirmed her right to be there and by extension, her right to learn. When the Pharisees dragged a woman before Jesus to demand that he condemn her for adultery—humiliating and dehumanizing her in the process—Jesus flipped their accusations around. Jesus also engaged women in theological debate (Mary, Martha, the Samaritan woman, etc.). The love, respect, and grace with which Jesus interacted with women was nothing short of radical.
In following Jesus’ example, male allies can cease to perpetuate the structural sin of patriarchy. Instead, they can, alongside women, build a refuge for the weary and oppressed.
So when a male preacher makes a sexist joke, I pray other men will be first to graciously challenge him. When volunteering to read the Bible from the pulpit, I pray men reach first for gender-accurate language translations. I pray that male youth workers won’t only invest in young men, but also give attention to young women with leadership gifts. And when a woman is interrupted or ignored in the church, I pray that male allies are first to direct the conversation back to her.
Women in the church are already fighting to uncover the truth about how Jesus treats and sees us. But having brothers who are willing to learn from us, and then act on what they learn, is a valuable asset. If men can begin to imitate the radical ally-ship of Jesus, I believe we will see more of God’s kingdom within the walls of the church.
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