If you are in any way connected with evangelical culture, you’ve probably heard about the facebook question heard around the world last week. If not, here’s what happened: well-known Bible teacher Mark Driscoll asked with characteristic style, “So, what story do you have about the most effeminate anatomically male worship leader you’ve ever personally witnessed?”
A storm of criticism and debate rightly followed. Mark has since expressed regret (http://theresurgence.com/2011/07/13/the-issue-under-a-lot-of-issues) and removed the question from his facebook page. I’m glad he did but it seems to me that the damage is done. And it highlights the ugly place we’ve come to in the postmodern Christian church. So much seems to be about posturing and being tough and distancing from anything that can be even remotely accused of being pro-gay or feminist or otherwise out of bounds. And I’m sick of it.
I am glad that Mr. Driscoll’s elders challenged both the tone and inappropriate context for his question. I applaud him for being open to their leadership and direction. But what I just can’t understand is why he needed to be told these things. Just because someone would laugh at it doesn’t make it ok to say. And Bible teachers with his brusque style seem to be multiplying these days. What is going on?
Don’t get me wrong; I understand that we who profess the name of Jesus need to set ourselves apart from a lot of mainstream culture that celebrates things He would abhor. But bullying and fear mongering aren’t the way to do that. Isn’t it the kindness of God that leads all of who profess the name of Jesus to repentance? Do we really think it’ll be any different for those who either (a) don’t know Him or (b) know Him but aren’t fully walking in His ways in some area, masculinity or otherwise? And hidden in all this is the insidious presumption that we are the ones who really ‘get’ the gospel and are walking it out with the most precision.
I agree that Jesus wasn’t sickly or weak or passive. No one was tempted to call Him effeminate. He overturned a table or two and threw some coins around when the situation called for it. Whatever emotion He felt—anger, sadness, compassion, or love—He was never afraid to express it. And He had no problem with calling people out in ways that offended and embarrassed them when they were in the wrong (white washed tombs anyone?). He wasn’t opposed to using irony when He did so but He never crudely mocked or shamed people. And His Word and example make it pretty clear that He’s opposed to the practice.
So, here’s my humble call: If you’re a believer (pastor, leader, or otherwise) who wants to speak into and connect with the world outside your church—as I very much believe you should—please stop acting like a FOX or CNN news commentator and say your peace kindly. If you can’t remember Scripture then at least remember the wisdom of Thumper, ‘If you can’t say somethin’ nice, don’t say nothin’ at all.’ (I know, I know; I just used a Bambi quote. So shoot me. Get it? Shoot me?!).
But there’s a deeper issue here than bad manners. Mr. Driscoll’s perspective of masculinity and femininity exposes an area of confusion and uncertainty in the Christian community. See, even though the Bible called women co-heirs of the grace of life a good two thousand years before Gloria Steinem or Betty Friedan, the truth is that we’re still figuring out what that means in the family of God. There are thorny issues at hand. On the surface, Paul seems contradictory on the subject at times. And faithful, well-intentioned people who have studied the texts sometimes disagree about their meaning, application, or both.
But here’s what I know. God created humanity male and female. In fact, His image is found in all people regardless of their ethnicity, sexuality, and or even their religion. Even rapists and murderers and those who curse His name can’t scrub His image away fully; He’s in their DNA. And I know that men and women were created to reveal slightly different aspects of His image, like two sides of the same coin. So, should we resist androgyny and the current pressure for men to be more feminine and women to be more masculine? Definitely. But can’t we do it with grace and compassion rather than bluster and bravado? To do otherwise makes Christians appear like they are either insensitive jerks or have something to hide or both.
The fact is that women are celebrated for a lot more than bearing children in the Bible. That doesn’t make men any less valuable to humanity or in the Kingdom of God. And the fact that Jesus took the form of a human male rather than a female doesn’t make women less worthy than men. Jesus was born of a virgin woman, just as Genesis said he would be. Men couldn’t be men without women. Women couldn’t be women without men. My advice? Settle down and embrace who you are. Keep searching. Don’t be afraid to challenge the status quo about gender roles (both inside and outside the church) when necessary. Keep seeking what it means to be men and women who follow Jesus in the twenty-first century. Just be nice about it for goodness sake. Trust me, I’m not talking about peace at any cost or vacuous pleasantry. I’m talking about the fruit of the Spirit. I’m talking about searching for the truth and speaking it with love and grace when we find it. Doesn’t that sound refreshing?
“…speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in all aspects into Him who is the head, even Christ…” (Ephesians 4:15)
“Grace, mercy and peace will be with us, from God the Father and from Jesus Christ, the Son of the Father, in truth and love.” (2 John 3)
And, finally, a favorite passage of mine,
“Mercy and truth have met together;
Righteousness and peace have kissed.
Truth shall spring out of the earth,
And righteousness shall look down from heaven” (Psalm 85:10-11)