Tag Archives: Questions

Subtly objectifying women in the church … and “subjectifying” men?

Last week I blogged some of my thoughts about whether I should call myself a feminist and what that means to me as a Christian. In my church experience, issues of gender inequality are usually subtle rather than overt, and therefore easier to dismiss as trivial. But they are still reasonably commonplace.

I wanted to follow up with a couple of specific examples. These are not necessarily the strongest or best (worst?) examples I’ve seen, just two things I’ve come across recently in my own experience as well as read other people’s blogs about. What I’m noticing is that sometimes the Christian leaders who speak out against harms in our culture are still operating from some of the same underlying assumptions, probably without even realising it.

The first example is a trend of usually young, male pastors making comments about their “smoking hot wife.” (See this great post by Jayson Bradley).

This is said publicly, either from the platform in church or on social media. I understand that it is intended as a compliment to their wives, one I would have no problem with them making to her privately. But when said publicly it makes me wince. Because to the women listening, it reinforces the idea that they are valuable primarily for their sexual desirability … and not much else.

I also wonder what message it is intended to send to the men listening. It could be heard as a boast, “Look at me, how good must I be to have ‘scored’ a wife this sexy?” Does that really have anything to do with your credibility as a minister of the gospel? Or worse, it could be heard as an invitation, “Check out my wife!” Really? You want all the teenage boys in your church to be thinking about how sexy your wife is? Is that helpful for anyone?

The second, more concerning, trend is the refusal of some male pastors (again, usually young) to mentor or counsel women. Any women. Ever. (See this great post by Jenny Rae Armstrong).

Again, I can understand something of the intention. They want to avoid being put in a compromising situation; they want to be “above reproach.” But again, the message they are sending to women is that we are all temptresses. That the only thing that matters about our personhood is our sexuality, and that we can’t be trusted with it.

Simultaneously, it sounds like they are suggesting that men can’t control themselves. That they are incapable of viewing a woman as anything other than a potential sex partner. (Now maybe that’s true of some of the teenage boys posting on the internet, but godly Christian pastors? Really?) In no other profession would it be acceptable to have a blanket rule refusing to meet with people because of their gender.

If these pastors do genuinely have a sex addition or are struggling with lust in a particular case then they absolutely need to get some help. But this should never be a rule which then becomes an excuse as to why women can’t be taught, mentored or encouraged, or even serve on church staff or boards. (Unfortunately, that still happens.) I’d want I remind them that Jesus didn’t say, “If a woman causes you to look at her lustfully, remove her from your sight.” He said, “If your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out.” (Matt 5:29) He placed the responsibility exactly where it should be!

In both of these situations, silly or well-intentioned as they might sometimes be, what I see happening is an underlying assumption which objectifies women. Let me explain. When women are “objectified,” they are treated as though they are objects. An object, basic English grammar tell us, does not act but is only ever acted upon. This term is usually used in the context of sexual objectification, meaning women are viewed or valued purely for their sexual desirability to the male subject. This means all the other things that make up an individual human being – their intellect, their dreams, their character, their will – are irrelevant. Women are thus treated as less than human; less than who they actually are. That’s not the good news of the gospel and it’s certainly not how Jesus treated women. That’s a problem.

But here’s my other question to those pastors. Aren’t they also “subjectifying” men, if I can make up a word? Aren’t they making men only sexual subjects, who can do nothing else but view women sexually, lust, or be tempted? Aren’t they then also reducing men to one thing, ignoring their character, intelligence, decision-making ability, self-control, wisdom and integrity? By implying that men “can’t help themselves” or are just “boys being boys,” aren’t we then reducing them to a caricature of the full humanity they too were created with? And doesn’t that also run the risk of contributing to the problems we face in our culture rather than addressing them?

Today would be a good day to be in Aswan

This week is going to be a scorcher here in Adelaide, with five days in a row above 40C/105F. Last week I was thinking about being somewhere cooler, but today I’m remembering the hottest place I have ever been … and what a great time I had there anyway.

Philae Temples at Aswan
Philae Temples at Aswan

Aswan was the southernmost point of our cruise down the Nile in Egypt and we were moored there for three days. The town was a hive of activity in the mornings and evenings, but quiet in the middle of the day. We discovered why when our group, not wanting to waste a moment, organised a visit to one of the temples from 12-2pm. The temperature hit 50C/122F in the sun and we felt like we were going to melt … but at least we pretty much had the place to ourselves!

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What did I love about Aswan?

The Nile in all its activity …

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… all its serenity …

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… and all its beauty.

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This model/map from the museum gives some sense of what it’s like, passing by ancient temples and monuments almost as if they are just houses on the side of the road.

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I also loved walking through the street market in the alleyways of town, bartering for food and gifts, experiencing new tastes and smells.

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Seeing history come alive with places like the “kiosk” built by the Roman emperor Trajan

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… and the merging of cultures when Greco-Roman architecture meets ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs.

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The beautiful Coptic Cathedral, which had only recently been completed. We were given a tour by a lovely lady who shared some of the tensions and struggles the Christian minority face in Egypt. She extended an invitation to visit part of one of their services that weekend if anyone was interested.

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So, what did I learn from Aswan?

I certainly gained knowledge about aspects of history and politics that I wasn’t taught in school, where Egypt is pretty much just the pyramids. The huge Aswan dam is fascinating in its size, its functionality in regulating the Nile’s floodwaters, and the politics surrounding its construction.

The Soviet-Arab Friendship Monument atop the Aswan High Dam
The Soviet-Arab Friendship Monument atop the Aswan High Dam

The Nubian Museum in Aswan was excellent, explaining the history of the region and its people in an interesting and easy to understand way. Well worth a visit.

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But the real privilege was meeting the Nubian people themselves and sharing a meal with a local family in their home.

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It was here I got my first tattoo, inked by a girl who asked questions about my life in a way that emphasised how different our experiences of the world were, and yet how similarly we thought about things.

(Okay, it was henna)
(Okay, it was henna)

I was also reminded of how easy it can be to overlook our shared humanity with those who seem unlike us, particularly in the way I saw some of my fellow tourists treat the locals as they served us. I wonder what they think about us, about me, as every day they observe people like me throwing money around, drinking themselves into oblivion, making ignorant and crass statements about their culture, barely looking them in the eyes as they labour for our comfort?

Our Felucca crew
Our Felucca crew

A nice surprise for me was when one of these men told us the name of this Island we sailed past: Elephantine. It didn’t mean much to anyone else, but I was quite excited because I knew that name – I had taught about it to my students! A collection of papyrus documents were found on this island that record the history of a Jewish community who had fled Israel after its destruction by the Babylonians in the sixth century BC. I love it when my travels and studies come together!!

Elephantine Island
Elephantine Island

And I did return to the church for part of their service on our final day. I didn’t understand a word as I stood and kneeled and sat when everyone else did. They chanted in Greek, sang in Arabic and prayed in Coptic Egyptian (I think). But I knew what they were expressing and why they were worshipping. Because it was Good Friday. Together we looked to the cross, to the symbol of torture that has become the symbol of hope; and we looked to Jesus, the one who reconciles us to God and to one another, the one in whom all things hold together. And it was a very good day to be there with them.

Inside the Coptic Cathedral
Inside the Coptic Cathedral

Some post-Christmas questions

And so Christmas is over for another year. What are we left with? Do the joy and wonder continue? Do we have greater peace and gladness than we had three days ago?

Or are there some feelings of disappointment, that after all the build up it was over so quickly, or that it didn’t quite go as we had hoped and planned? Or perhaps there’s just sheer relief that the craziness of the past few days is finally over and we can sit down and relax! Maybe we’ve already moved on to thinking about New Year’s Eve and the next celebration to plan and prepare for and the seemingly endless cycle starts again.

I love celebrating Christmas but many years I am left with these kinds of questions afterwards. What difference does it make to today and tomorrow and the next day? Is it really all just about one day?

I knew that the word “Christmas” itself is a contraction of “Christ’s Mass,” but what I didn’t know before is that the word “mass” comes from the Latin missa which is in the concluding words of the liturgical celebration. These are the words of dismissal, the words of sending out, the words of mission. That has got me thinking today. Christmas is not just about one day, but a sending out into what comes next.

Of course that is also true of the original Christmas story. It is the celebration of a birth, which is not an end itself, only the starting point for the life that follows.

This Christmas I am struck with the message the angels had for the shepherds – words which also point forward and have a sense of dismissal or commissioning to them.

 “On earth, peace to humanity, for whom God has goodwill.”

(Luke 2:14, my own translation)

What does it mean to go forward knowing that God has goodwill toward us? That He is pleased with us? That He favours us and is for us? What does it mean in a world where so many people think God is against them, just waiting to smite them? Where His church has too often given them the impression that God is displeased with them?

These are the questions I am asking today, as I move forward into a new year and all that it holds. How do I take the mission of Christmas with me? How am I making it known that God loves this world – every broken, hurting, vulnerable corner of it? How does that make a difference to my every interaction and thought, my every word and deed?