As a child I was nurtured on regular doses of science fiction, particularly Star Trek. The original series always found its way onto our television sets. Captain Kirk and his crew regularly averted complete destruction by some clever (or sometimes corny) means. Kirk’s strength was superhuman—a model for men (I thought); he was “a red-blooded American boy,” as one man called him. He was the protector of his ship.
When The Wrath of Khan came to the big screen, I remember the surprise of many Trekkers in our congregation to the idea of a woman as captain. There on the big screen stood Kirstie Ally, giving orders to all of her male subordinates. What had become of Starfleet anyway? Don’t they know that women are irrational?
“It’s all right,” one person told me. “She’s a Vulcan woman. She is in control of her emotions.”
You have to remember, this was the 1980s. The big objection to having a woman as president of the United States was that once a month she might press the red button, killing us all. Sure, other countries had women in charge of weapons of mass destruction, but America wasn’t ready for that step. Geraldine Ferraro was a liability in that decade, not a help.
Despite the fact that I had a fairly independent and strong female role model in my mother, I also found myself accepting this worldview. As a matter of fact, I knew of plenty of women within my own small circle that would have verbally affirmed the view that women are irrational.
“Men are rational beings,” I sometimes heard. “They don’t cry at a moment’s notice.”
On the other hand, men were often seen as quick to anger, less likely to love. And because of this, preachers regularly taught that the command for husbands to love their wives in Ephesians 5 was, after all, because men are by nature beasts. They are prone to bursts of testosterone fits. This stereotype begged the question: when a man was angry, wouldn’t he also be prone to pushing the big red button?
Due to my particular subculture, I also understood (most often by example) that while women are eager to learn about theology, they tend to defer the technical stuff to the men. A man’s “rationality” allowed him to assess doctrine. As Thomas Schreiner wrote in Women in the Church: A Fresh Analysis of 1 Timothy 2:9-15 (Baker, 1995): “Generally speaking, women are more relational and nurturing and men are more given to rational analysis and objectivity” (145). Women are “less prone” to “identifying heresy,” says Schreiner (145). This I understood.
So it was a surprise to me when I met my wife Mindy. She knew as much as I did. She could wield an argument with rationality and depth. How is this possible, I wondered? Sure, I saw plenty of strength in my mother, but I chalked that up to being “the exception.” Had I met another exception? Whatever the situation, I found myself enamored with this exception. She was, in the end, my soul mate. Building on the foundation laid by my mother, she helped me see beyond my cultural lens. Like a colorblind man who swears that red and green are the same color, my cultural eyes kept me from seeing how little I knew about women.
When we both entered college, we found ourselves faced with gender challenges. I don’t know if things have changed there, but in the 1990s, male theology majors took Homiletics and women theology majors took Message Preparation for Women. What’s the difference in content between the two courses? Nothing, except nobody wanted to give women the impression they could preach in church or to men.
What we were told about the nature of women was eroding away. Everyday we met female students, trained in theology, intellectually sharp, and capable of delivering a killer sermon. Soon, I noticed that “the exception” was not really an exception. (Don’t get me wrong, my wife is exceptional, but she is an exception among human beings, not simply her gender.) The problem was not that I was, as some may put it, compromising to liberalism. This college could never be called liberal. The problem was that here in the heart of Chicago, my prior conclusions were shattered by new data. I discovered that my small circle in my hometown was only a tiny picture of humanity.
My changing opinion was put to the test near my second year in college. Anne Graham Lotz was invited to speak at one of our popular conferences. She would address a mixed audience and word had it that some of the male students weren’t happy about it. In one tasteless effort to protest, a line of male students at the front of the auditorium stood to their feet and marched out the door as she began to speak. The scene was offensive. And in response, the following year the administration chose an all-male lineup.
My wife, who met with several women students on campus, was flabbergasted. How was this the right response to such hate, we wondered. She wrote a letter to the president of the school, letting him know about her disappointment. But after weeks of having no response, she decided to take the next step and publish it as an open letter in the student newspaper. This time we both signed it.
I’m not sure we entirely understood how radical that was within that community. Within little time we received a letter from the president, including a kind apology for the delay, and an assurance that the protest had nothing to do with the choice of all male speakers. But the letter was not the highlight. The day that issue of the paper came out, a student I’d never met approached me in the hallway. The only thing she said before moving on was, “Thank you.”
At that point I realized that I had turned a corner. I began to understand just how much our assumptions could hurt others. It was only one step in many I would take over the next few years, but at least I had boldly gone where I had never gone before.