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Thoughts on Being Created in God’s Image

January 31, 2013

DSC_7550Sometimes I think I should just stop reading.  Seriously friends.  This reading stuff, it just makes me think too much which makes me want to write which just takes time away from the important things, like cleaning my floors.

I finally started reading Half the Sky by Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn.  My sister gave me the book for Christmas and this past week, I felt compelled to pick it up after a great Sunday School lesson on A Year of Biblical Womanhood by Rachel Held Evans.  I also simultaneously began rereading Half the Church by Carolyn Custis James.  Whew.  That’s a bunch of books.  As I knew would happen, I became unsettled and questioning and challenged.  Additionally, a couple of blog posts were published that also seemed to fit in with the theme—In Which I am Damaged Goods by Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans response,  Do Christians Idolize Virginity? along with the 800 plus responses to those blogs.

The Half books outline the plight of women around the world today.  Half the Sky tells stories–stories of oppression, slavery, illiteracy, and gendercide, partnered with stories of hope of those issues being alleviated by ordinary people helping one woman (or a small group of women) at a time.  It  supports the Hawaiian parable of the man throwing the starfish back into the ocean, knowing he couldn’t solve the big problem, but that he could make a difference to the individual starfish he saved.  Half the Church follows behind Half the Sky, with Custis James outlining what she sees should be the church’s response.  Custis James uses the Bible to defend her response, going back often to the original Hebrew  (Custis James is and evangelical with a M.A.  in Biblical Studies and is a visiting lecturer at various theological seminaries).

As I read the comments sections of the two above mentioned blog posts, it reminded me of Half the Sky.  Some of the responses sounded a lot like the stories told in Half the Sky—how women who entered marriage not a virgin for whatever reason (including rape), were damaged goods.  They were unforgivable.  Women talked about husbands lording their lack of virginity over them for years and men talked about women who weren’t virgins being abominations to God.  Forgiveness was lacking in some responses as was God’s grace being extended to everyone.  Women told stories of purity balls and purity rings for high school girls, having the girls promise their purity to their Daddys and God, while the boys were free to do what they wanted.  Guilt and shame were used to punish those “fallen women” and used to make those who were virgins fearful of having an unsuccessful marriage because they weren’t a virgin when they were a bride.

I know there are huge differences between being guilted and shamed and being shunned or killed.  However, I wonder.  How can we help those women throughout the world who are being oppressed and abused if we treat people the same way?  I’m not out to change anyone’s mind or to argue the value/lack of value of virginity.    I just wonder why standards aren’t the same for young men and women.  Why aren’t there purity balls for young men and their mothers, having the boys promise their mothers and God  to remain virgins and abstain from pornography?  If you need an excuse to have a father/daughter event, why not have it be one that celebrates God’s love and the promise that we aren’t alone?  Why must it be tied to law?  (Again, I am not condoning promiscuity, I am just suggesting that maybe not everything be tied with guilt and shame and keeping God happy with us).

The most valuable thing I read in the comment sections of the two above blogs were the comments of people sharing their conversations they have with their children.  Curtis and I have already discussed our possible approaches with our children.  The one thing that we both agree on, whatever standards we have for our daughter we will also have for our sons.  Thankfully, we have a few years to figure things out and more than likely, we will also probably be figuring things out as we go and changing our minds a time or two.  Regardless, I hope the overarching theme in our conversation with our children is that God loves them, they are not alone, and their response needs to be a result of their love for God, not out of fear of hell or shame.

In the Bible, it says we, men and women are created in God’s image.  We are all God’s image bearers.  The standards apply to all of us.  Gifts are doled out equally to men and women.  Paul doesn’t say some men are created to teach and preach, but women aren’t.  We all have different gifts and to say that some gifts are given only to men is like saying girls can’t excel at math or science.  Some men are nurturers and serve others, just like some man are fabulous musicians and artists.  I recognize gender differences do exist, but it also seems to be that within a gender, a wide range of gifts are present.  How can we help support women in oppression and abuse if we say that women can only do certain things?  We are limiting women.

This isn’t about women being better than men or upsetting the family framework.  If the family framework is one of submissive/dominant roles, than maybe it needs to be upset.  One of the things that stood with me in our discussion of A Year of Biblical Womanhood was how some of the traits Rachel Held Evans tried to adopt would be good traits for both men and women to adopt, not just women.  We talked about gentleness and obedience.  One man pointed out that he thought marriage works well when the husband is gentle with the wife and the wife is gentle with the husband.  Both spouses are obedient to each other, not just the wife to the husband.  Of course, this assumes that the husband values and trusts his wife’s judgement and the wife does the same for her husband.  Gentleness is a fruit of the spirit for everyone–Paul doesn’t signify that trait as just being for women.

I know some of you will read this and think I am rather late to the party.  Here’s the thing—for the most of my life, I would say I’ve believed most of what I’ve written today.  I took most of it for granted, like I’ve said before.  I never gave it a lot of thought, it was just the way it was.  Now I am thinking about it, especially as I’m learning that not everyone sees things the same as I do.  Some people who read this may believe in a complementarian relationship between men and women.  Honestly, I am not judging you.  If that works for both the husband and wife and produces a strong marriage filled with respect and love, way to go.  Being married is hard and what works for one couple won’t work for the next.  My issue is with institutions and churches that persist in shaming women and maintaining that they can not have the same spiritual (or intellectual) gifts as men.

When I read Rachel Held Evans, Sarah Bessey, Carolyn Custis James, and countless other men and women, I think I can see the Spirit moving.  Women will be released from their bondage and all will be seen as God’s image-bearers.  Women will be honored as women of valor  (eschet chayil!) for the gifts they possess, whether it is preaching, teaching, leading, or nurturing.  We are more than mothers and wives.   As Sarah Bessey said in her follow up post to In Which I am Damage Goods, Aslan is on the move.  Love will win.

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