Category Archives: Gender

Cross Gender Friendships And The Church

This post is part of the February Synchroblog “Cross Gender Friendships”.  I will list the links to all the contributions at the end of this post as soon as they are available.

cross gender

Although I grew up going to a Baptist church and living in a conservative, Christian community I wandered from the church during my twenties but returned after my husband asked me for a divorce eight years into our marriage.

Having not been an active “adult” member of an evangelical church I was unfamiliar with a lot of the “unspoken” rules about relationships between men and women, but over time I learned that it definitely wasn’t considered safe for me and a married man to be alone and maybe not even good for me to be alone with a single guy. Why? Well, mainly because we might end up having sex. It could happen in a variety of ways but what it would amount to is we might be sexually attracted and not be able to control ourselves.

Once, when our pastor had a biking accident and broke his collar bone I stopped by his home early one evening to drop off a meal only to discover that he was uncomfortable with me entering his home because his wife was at the grocery store and he was home alone with his youngest son who was probably around 3 or 4 at the time. I was taken aback because the problem at hand had not occured to me, but when he asked me if I could come back in 30 minutes I agreed. However, when I came back almost an hour later she still wasn’t home.  He reluctantly made the decision to let me in with the meal, reassuring me that she would probably drive up any minute. After putting the meal in the kitchen I sat on the edge of a chair that was the farthest from him in their family room. I don’t remember what I was wearing but be assured it was modest as I wouldn’t have showed up at my pastor’s home in anything else. I remember sitting with my legs tightly held together and my arms crossed across my chest wishing I could hide my body because … well, because, I needed to hide it before it caused something bad to happen. As we sat there trying to engage in polite conversation I got the feeling that he was as uncomfortable as I was. I recall wondering if it would look more or less suspicious if I stayed until the Mrs. showed up or better if I left before she returned. I tried to play it out in my head …if she came home and we were sitting far apart and nothing was going on it would probably be better than if she came home and found out I had been there and already left because then she might think we had time to … what? flirt? kiss? have sex? … I tried to ask about his injury and how he was feeling but immediately felt like that was being too intimate, and changed the subject to the weather. When I glanced at my watch to check the time and realized that I had been there less than ten minutes, even though it felt more like an hour, I knew I had to get out of there. I couldn’t take it. I left feeling anxious and ashamed and worried even though nothing wrong or bad or inappropriate had occurred.

Looking back, it sounds crazy to me. Why didn’t I question the idea that good, mature, adult people who were serious about following Jesus, loving others and having healthy relationships couldn’t be trusted to control themselves? But at the time I didn’t question it and I think a lot of the reason I didn’t question the idea was because I was so new at learning what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. It would be years later when I would realize that being a follower of Jesus should be more about transformation than avoidance.

There was a story in the news recently about a dentist who fired his dental assistant because she was too attractive to him (irresistible is the word that was thrown around). He said he was afraid, even though nothing inappropriate had happened, that he might end up having an affair with her. It turns out that he had talked about it with his wife, who also worked at his dental practice, and then together they had talked to their pastor (probably at her suggestion). Together they all decided that it would be best to fire the dental assistant. When the dental assistant filed a lawsuit the courts ruled in the dentist’s favor, saying he had the legal right to fire her.

I’m not going to argue if what the dentist did was legal. It probably was legal. I will argue that what the dentist did was unjust. I will argue that what the dentist did was unloving. I will argue that what the dentist did was unlike something that Jesus would have done. I will argue that the theology behind the decision is bad theology.

The church shouldn’t be teaching that men and women can’t be friends because they might end up having sex. The church should be teaching us how to have healthy, loving, appropriate, respectful relationships with one another.

The church shouldn’t teach the dentist to fire his dental assistant if he is attracted to her but that to love his neighbor/dental assistant by taking responsibility for his lust if it exists; and the church shouldn’t teach me to feel guilty or ashamed about loving my neighbor/my pastor by taking him a meal after an injury.

IMO the church needs to do some serious re-evaluation about what it teaches when it comes to cross gender friendships.

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Be sure and check out the other posts for this month’s synchroblog:

Chris Jefferies – Best of both

Jeremy Myers – Are Cross-Gender Friendships Possible

Lynne Tait – Little Boxes

Dan Brennan – Cross-Gender Friendship: Jesus and the Post-Romantic Age

Glenn Hager – Sluts and Horndogs

Jennifer Ellen – A Different Kind of Valentine

Alise Wright – What I get from my cross-gender friend

Liz Dyer – Cross-Gender Friendships and the Church

Paul Sims – Navigating the murky water of cross-gender friendships

Jonalyn Fincher – Why I Don’t Give out Sex like Gold Star Stickers

Amy Martin – Friendship: The most powerful force against patriarchy, sexism, and other misunderstands about people who happen to not be us, in this case, between men & women

Maria Kettleson Anderson – Myth and Reality: Cross-Gender Friendships

Bram Cools – Nothing More Natural Than Cross-Gender Friendships?

Hugo Schwyzer – Feelings Aren’t Facts: Living Out Friendship Between Men and Women

Marta Layton – True Friendship: Two Bodies, One Soul

Kathy Escobar – The Road To Equality Is Paved With Friendship

Karl Wheeler – Friends at First Sight

Doreen Mannion – Hetereosexual, Platonic Cross-Gender Friendships–Learning from Gay & Lesbian Christians

Jim Henderson – Jesus Had A Thing for Women and So Do I

Elizabeth Chapin – 50 Shades of Friendship

The problem is not that I see sexism everywhere, the problem is that you don’t.

This post is part of the March Synchroblog, “All About Eve”. This month’s theme was chosen because March is Women’s History month, International Women’s Day is March 8. and women’s rights have been all over the news recently. The links to the participating blogs and their posts will be listed at the end of this post as they become available.

One of the first things that popped into my head when I thought about this month’s sychroblog theme is the way the word “feminism” has been twisted to represent something bad. Feminism is about (1) women and men being morally, politically, socially and economically equal; and (2) changing patriarchal structures, institutions and perspectives that place women in a position below men. In order to be a feminist one only has to believe in the idea of justice for all people and activism to ensure it. In my opinion, bell hooks is right, Feminism is for EVERYBODY, and yet, feminists are often portrayed as women who are angry, hate men, hate the christian faith and want to rule over men. If you don’t believe me, just start reading articles and posts regarding feminism and/or equal rights for women and you will run across comments like this one that I read this week:

The feminist movement is the same thing it’s always been. A communist hate movement designed to destroy the family, the christian faith and transfer all the wealth and power of individual men to the state with women garnishing privileges above men for their efforts.”

It’s not even unusual to be with a bunch of women (no men in earshot) who will begin a statement with “I’m not trying to be a feminist, but…” when talking about something as basic as the dignity of women. And that really bothers me because I would go so far as to say that feminism isn’t only about the dignity of women but it is about the dignity of all people! Feminism is about men too! It’s also about men getting to be librarians, dancers, nurses and any other occupation that was traditionally thought to be for females only.

Feminism is not about bashing men or going without makeup. The movement is good! Women and men should be proud to be associated with it! If feminism reaches its goals the world will be a better place. I like how bell hooks describes a world in which feminism has achieved its goals:

Imagine living in a world where there is no domination, where females and males are not alike or even always equal, but where a vision of mutuality is the ethos shaping our interaction. Imagine living in a world where we can all be who we are, a world of peace and possibility.”

The greatest accomplishment of those against the feminist movement is that they have turned feminism into an insult and something to be avoided while convincing many women and men that the very people who are their allies are their enemies.

Even those who are sensible enough to not believe the propaganda tend to forget we don’t live in a world where females and males are morally, socially, politically and economically equal.  Many who are sympathetic and understanding about the feminist movement don’t seem to be aware of how much work is left to do when it comes to changing patriarchal structures, systems and perspectives that place women below men.

Look into any field or industry and you will find women under represented, under paid and under valued.  Medicine, engineering, marketing, politics, sports, religion, finance etc – women are mostly absent and when they are present they are typically paid less and valued less.  Men are making most of the decisions in the world – even when it comes to issues that mainly impact women.  And most of us tend to accept this status quo without much thought or resistance!

For the most part, people in the U.S. have been brought up to believe that men and women are wholly equal.  But, no matter how equal we “feel”, women are still the lesser paid, lesser represented, and lesser valued part of the global economic, political and social juggernaut.

Take sports for instance.  Do you ever wonder why there isn’t a women’s pro baseball league? Have you ever noticed that the women’s sports leagues that do exist seem to matter to far fewer people? Have you ever been in a sports bar and noticed that most, if not all, the tvs are tuned into men playing sports?

Don’t misunderstand me – I’m not a big “sports” person – the sports industry is just one obvious example.  However, I am a big “justice for all” person and yet I even tend to overlook how much work there is to do. 

Someone said: “The problem is not that I see sexism everywhere – the problem is that you don’t.”

The point is simple – we do not live in a world where women are fully equal with men.  We should, but we don’t. Patriarchy may be more overt, but it is still at work and it works to keep women down. Men and women who care about this injustice need to push back.

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I think this is an important subject that needs to be talked about so here are some questions to get some conversation started (either here or elsewhere):

Tell me if you or someone you know has had a flawed image of what it means to be a feminist. Have you avoided the label? Have you ever been misunderstood because you claimed the label?

Tell me how you think we can “push back” against patriarchal structures, systems and perspectives. Are there organizations that we can support? Are there any everyday practical things we can do? Are there things we are doing that unknowingly prop up patriarchal systems?

Tell me where you’ve seen sexism. Was it something that had gone unnoticed and then became evident?  Do others ever think you are paranoid or too sensitive when you complain about sexism?  Have you ever confronted sexism head on? What impact has sexism had on you?

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Check out these other synchroblog posts:

Michelle Morr Krabill – Why I Love Being a Woman

Marta Layton – The War on Terror and the War on Women

Ellen Haroutounian – March Synchroblog – All About Eve

Jeremy Myers – Women Must Lead the Church

Carol Kuniholm – Rethinking Hupotasso

Wendy McCaig – Fear Letting Junia Fly

Tammy Carter – Pat Summit: Changing the Game & Changing the World

Jeanette Altes – On Being Female

kathy escobar – replacing the f-word with the d-word (no not those ones)

Melody Hanson – Call Me Crazy, But I Talk To Jesus Too

Glenn Hager – Walked Into A Bar

Steve Hayes – St. Christina of Persi

Leah Sophia – March Syncroblog-All About Eve

Liz Dyer – The Problem Is Not That I See Sexism Everywhere…

Sonja Andrews – International Women’s Day

K W Leslie – Undoing the subordination of women

Sonnie Swenston-Forbes – The Women

Christine Sine – It All Begins with Love

Dan Brennan – Ten Women I Want To Honor

Carie Good – The Math of Mr. Cardinal

God’s Radical Hospitality Challenges The Status Quo

The following reflection was first written in honor of National Women’s Day in 2009 under the title “Mary and Martha: A Story About God’s Radical Hospitality.”  I am reposting it today in response to Rachel Held Evans’ invitation to blog about scripture that celebrates women and their importance in the church.  Rachel issued the invitation as a reaction to John Piper declaring that God gave Christianity a masculine feel and urging us to work hard to maintain a masculine Christianity. 

The story of Mary and Martha that is told in Luke 10:38-42 has often been a problem for me.

The story begins with Jesus and 72 of his disciples entering a village where a woman named Martha lives and has a home. Luke tells us that Martha opens up her home to Jesus and his companions; and then at some point becomes irritated with her sister, Mary, for sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening to what he is saying instead of helping with all of the preparations that need to be made for this large group of men. Martha is so put out by the situation that she goes to Jesus and says to him “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” (which, btw, seems like a perfectly reasonable request to me) And Jesus replies, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.”

Do what?? What in the heck was Jesus thinking? Why didn’t he tell Mary to get up off her lazy you know what and get in there and help Martha? Is Jesus exalting Mary over Martha? Does he mean it is better to be contemplative than to be actively serving? That doesn’t exactly jive with some of the other stuff that he has said about being a servant!

At this point, someone usually teaches a lesson about how important it is not to get so busy that we forget to spend quiet, contemplative time with Jesus. And while I think that is a good lesson I have a feeling we may be missing the point of what Jesus is talking about.

You see, I think what has to be addressed is that both Jesus and Mary were committing a social taboo. Women could serve men, but it was inappropriate for them to join in with the guys the way that Mary was doing. Women weren’t supposed to be taught by Rabbis or sit in the room with a bunch of men discussing the Torah. So I think it would be a logical assumption to think the people hearing this story would have been much more shocked about Mary assuming the role of a religious disciple than her not helping in the kitchen…and that is what I think Jesus was referring to.

I believe, as usual, Jesus was turning things upside down and inside out. Just like that, Jesus liberates Mary from her socially defined status of inferiority and marginalization. And by following Jesus, not only was Mary transformed, but the world she inhabited was transformed.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I don’t think this was just about women’s rights. I believe it was bigger than that. It seems that through Mary, Jesus is denouncing social, political and religious structures that do not practice God’s radical hospitality – the sort of hospitality that overcomes injustice and is grounded in love and mercy and compassion. I think Jesus was saying Mary had boldly chosen to take hold of this justice he had offered to her by allowing her to join him and his disciples, the justice was hers now and he would not take it away from her. I would even go so far as to say Martha saw what was going on and wasn’t being honest with Jesus about what was so upsetting to her – perhaps she wasn’t even aware of what was causing all the anxiety she was feeling. Of course Jesus obviously knew what was upsetting Martha and that explains why he answered her the way he did. He knew Martha was being the voice of the status quo that resists change, even “just” change.

The lesson in Luke 10:38-42 is not that reading the bible or praying is superior to cooking a meal or cleaning house. The lesson is that as followers of Jesus we are not only invited to partake of God’s radical hospitality but we are called to practice it by seeking justice for those in the margins, challenging discrimination wherever we see it and transforming our relationships and institutions so that they reflect the love of Christ.