A few years ago, peer pressure and the excitement of a challenge goaded me into running my first marathon. Except for the last few miles on race day, I loved everything about it. Never before or since have I been so in tune with the world around me or the body I live in.
Hitting the road before dawn for training runs meant I got a front-row seat as the sun peeked over the horizon and the world came to life around me. Before my eyes, frigid spring mornings became sultry summer days and crisp autumn evenings.
Each week, my legs carried me farther than I ever thought possible. Three miles, then five, ten, twenty. I became aware of how interconnected every part of the human body is. I learned that my knee pain had nothing to do with my knees—they were the innocent victims of bad shoes, poor form, and weak hips. A change of shoes, a shift in my posture, and a tweak of my gait, and the pain was gone. My body was free to reach its potential.
I thought often of Paul’s metaphor of the church as a body. We, too, are interconnected in ways we rarely see or understand. Weak theology or a bad habit by one body part can cause crippling pain for another—so much that the entire body is hobbled. Our treatment of women (often reinforced by the church) is one example. Consider:
- Even when men do an equal share of household chores, women still tend to carry the burden of responsibility—deciding what needs to be done, coordinating family scheduling, making sure all the logistics are in place for life to run smoothly.
- Women are paid less than men for the same work. There is willful discrimination, yes. But also, women often work part time or flexible schedules to care for their families, putting them last in line for raises or promotions. Men who request the same flexibility to share the load are told “your wife can do it” and promotions go to those more “committed to the job.”
- When a woman is sexually violated by a man, we hesitate to punish him, lest his bright future be forever dimmed. Do we care that her world will never be the same? We forget that God’s forgiveness is inextricably linked with justice.
- Women’s health complaints are not taken seriously. This is one reason the US has one of the highest maternal mortality rates in the developed world and is one of two developed nations whose rate has worsened since 1990. Over 60% of these are preventable. Race is a factor, too. African American women are three times more likely than white women to die of pregnancy-related causes, for multiple reasons including the idea that black women’s bodies are stronger and don’t need treatments that they do, in fact, need.
- Women are called aggressive, shrill, and bossy when they are assertive and confident. Less competent men are respected and seen as leaders for the very same behaviors.
- Women in church are told to change their clothes or not to breastfeed to keep a boy or man from “stumbling.” It doesn’t occur to us that he should be the one to change.
Just as I didn’t recognize that my knee pain was actually caused by my feet and hips, we might not see these injustices as spiritual problems, but they are. They are symptoms of a spiritual sickness that has plagued humanity almost from the start: patriarchy.
Patriarchy has crippled the church in ways we don’t often realize. We don’t know what we can do, because our body has rarely worked at peak capacity. But when properly aligned with God’s design, we can. There is pain and exhaustion in the process, but the reward is great.
Let’s not just believe the right things about gender, but to fight for a world built upon mutuality, not patriarchy. The goal may seem (and even be) miles off, but that doesn’t mean we don’t move forward one step at a time. May God sustain us.
A version of this article appeared as the editorial to the Spring 2019 edition of Mutuality.