New Wine Tastings: Pursuing a Vaccine for the #MeToo/#ChurchToo Pandemic (Part 2)

Recent events remind us that abuse against women, even in the hallowed halls of Congress, is alive and well in our nation.   

Last Thursday, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, took a stand on the House floor to raise awareness of and to condemn abusive conduct against women and girls—after an unpleasant encounter on the steps of the capital with her Republican colleague, Rep. Ted Soho. Soho had used obscene language to demean Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who responded in a speech described in the Washington Post as “a comeback of a lifetime.”

She was prepared to let the matter drop, until Soho raised the subject himself in the House and defended his behavior by pointing out that he is a husband and the father of two daughters. According to AOC,

And that I could not let go. I could not allow my nieces, I could not allow the little girls that I go home to, I could not allow victims of verbal abuse and, worse, to see that—to see that excuse and to see our Congress accept it as legitimate and accept it as an apology and to accept silence as a form of acceptance, I could not allow that to stand. 

Her “comeback speech” lit up the Internet. Her detractors and supporters had plenty to say and responded as expected. But she earned new respect from others who applauded her courage and her willingness to use her national platform and her power as a U.S. Congresswoman to engage the abuse pandemic on behalf of others.

One response on Twitter was especially poignant and worth repeating as it cuts to the heart of Part 2 of the #MeToo/#ChurchToo Pandemic discussion below between Paul Metzger and me. The response centers on AOC’s statement about daughters:

Mr. Yoho mentioned that he has a wife and two daughters. I am two years younger than Mr. Yoho’s youngest daughter. I am someone’s daughter too.

My father, thankfully, is not alive to see how Mr. Yoho treated his daughter. My mother got to see Mr. Yoho’s disrespect . . . and I am here because I have to show my parents that I am their daughter and that they did not raise me to accept abuse from men.

That last line drew this response on twitter:

AOC said that her parents didn’t raise her to accept abuse from men. A friend said, in response, that she realized when she heard it that her parents DID raise her to accept abuse from men. So did mine. So did an entire culture. And now I can’t stop thinking about it.

Part 2 of the New Wine Tastings series focuses on the root causes of abuse that perpetuate the #MeToo/#ChurchToo pandemic to the next generation. Some of the roots are cultural, systemic, and multi-generational. Some are theological and have Bible verses to enforce them.

One generation passes on to the next generation flawed teaching about masculinity and femininity, male/female relationships, about power and authority, silence and submission. And the cycle keeps repeating. In the church, these teachings are sanctified as “biblical” and set in stone, instead of subjecting them to the scrutiny of the whole of scripture and to the radical, life-reconfiguring teachings and example of JesusGod’s perfect image bearer.

Instead, as author Rachel Simmons puts it in her book Enough As She Is,

“Women have been taught, by every cultural force imaginable, that we must be ‘nice’ and quiet’ and and ‘polite,’ that we must protect others’ feelings before our own. That we are there for other’s pleasure.”\

We undermine efforts to to address abuse against women and children that surface in the church and elsewhere if we fail to uproot the faulty teachings and theological systems that create an environment that is conducive to abuse in the first place.

Part 2 of the #MeToo/#ChurchTooPandemic examines some of the root causes and points to the Bible’s #MeToo stories as an important resource in raising awareness and preventing further abuse.

Watch Part 1 here: Bringing Awareness to the #MeToo/#ChurchToo Pandemic

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New Wine Tastings: Bringing Awareness to the #MeToo/#ChurchToo Pandemic (Part 1)

Coronavirus isn’t the only pandemic currently destroying human lives.

Although Covid-19 remains a deadly threat to human lives around the world and warrants a serious response from all of us, we cannot afford to allow this pandemic to turn our focus away from other sinister global forces that persist in actively destroying human lives on a staggering scale.

The brutal death of George Floyd again turned public attention to the pandemic of systemic racism—a history-old pandemic that hasn’t declined. Floyd’s desperate yet unheeded cry for mercy “I can’t breathe!” recharged the #BlackLivesMatter movement which large segments of the U.S. population still don’t understand, sparking nation-wide angry protests against police brutality.  

The investigative reporting of NYTimes journalists into sexual abuse allegations against Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein triggered the #MeToo/#ChurchToo pandemic. The courage of a few prominent women who spoke out about the sexual abuse they’d suffered emboldened other women (men too) to speak up. The #MeToo hashtag created by Tarana Burke went viral, followed in short order by a tsunami of #ChurchToo tweets making visible a pandemic of sexual violence against women that continues to fester both outside and inside the church, even though for the moment other pandemics have eclipsed it.

After I gave a series of lectures in June on #MeToo/#ChurchToo for Professor Paul Metzger’s DMin cohort at Multnomah Seminary in Portland, Oregon, he pressed me for an additional interview to call the attention of a wider audience to the ongoing destructive #MeToo/#ChurchToo pandemic.

Dr. Paul Louis Metzger is the Founder and Director of The Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins and Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Culture at Multnomah University and Seminary. Paul is editor of New Wine’s journal Cultural Encounters: A Journal for the Theology of Culture.

He and I have collaborated on several projects—including co-teaching seminary classes at Missio Seminary in Philly and Multnomah Seminary in Portland, Oregon. I am blessed to call him my friend and to share our conversation with you.

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Something to ponder . . .

“This for me is the defining argument for diversity: Diversity is the best way to defend equality. If people from diverse groups are not making the decisions, the burdens and benefits of society will be divided unequally and unfairly—with the people writing the rules ensuring themselves a greater share of the benefits and a lesser share of the burdens of any society.

If you’re not brought in, you get sold out. Your life will be worth twenty shekels. No group should have to trust another person to protect their interests; all should be able to speak for themselves.

That’s why we have to include everyone in the decisions that shape our cultures, because even the best of us are blinded by our own interests.”

Melinda Gates,
The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World

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Immerse Yourself in Hope During the Pandemic

Global catastrophes change the world, and this pandemic is very much akin to a major war. Even if we contain the Covid-19 crisis within a few months, the legacy of this pandemic will live with us for years, perhaps decades to come. It will change the way we move, build, learn, and connect. There is simply no way that our lives will resume as if this had never happened.”

Professor Aisha Ahmad, University of Toronto

Having suffered through some of the world’s worst catastrophes, people who aren’t strangers to suffering can give us a truer perspective. Professor Ahmad’s point of view (indeed her whole life) has been shaped by living in “conditions of war, violent conflict, poverty, and disaster in many places around the world. . . .  food shortages and disease outbreaks, as well as long periods of social isolation, restricted movement, and confinement.”

She reminds us that trouble, suffering, and the hard places of life always leave their mark—either creating bitterness and hardness or deepening us with what she describes as a “wisdom born of suffering, because calamity is a great teacher.”

That’s a statement that cannot be taken too seriously and warrants deeper probing. I think of Job and Naomi. How much can we learn from the suffering they both endured and the questions about God their losses compelled them to ask? How do the life and teachings of Jesus and the letters of his apostles frame today’s deadly pandemic with hope and give us the courage we need to keep going?

We are all struggling, fearful, and wondering when this will all stop. We’re understandably worried over the staggering loss of life and livelihood that Covid-19 will leave in its wake. We could all use a bracing word of hope.

The Institute for Bible Reading (IFBR) is extending a helping hand.

To ease the isolation and disorientation of the pandemic, they’re offering a free downloadable resource of the Gospel Luke and the book of Acts, along with everything you need for a two-week community book club to do online with friends, at home with family, or on your own.

To learn more see  Immerse from Home

IFBR’s goal is to help people read and understand the Bible. To that end, they’ve republished the New Living Bible (NLT) translation in an inviting format that restores the beauty of the biblical text before all the chapter and verse numbers were added. They’ve included helpful introductions and background information for each book of the Bible.

Whole church congregations are now immersed in reading the Bible together with small group book clubs meeting for discussions.

I’ve been an advocate for IFBR’s Immerse Bible Reading series from the start and am honored to serve on their Advisory Board. I love this new approach and the NLT. I’m currently reading Paul’s epistles in the Immerse New Testament volume Messiah along with The New Testament in Its World—the newly released 4.5 pound New Testament introduction co-authored by N.T. Wright and Michael F. Bird. What a feast!

So download Immerse from Home and savor the encouragement that comes from Jesus’ life, ministry, death, resurrection, and the power of his love for you. Draw hope from the ongoing life-changing work of his Spirit against all odds in the history of the early church and into the present. We need these strong reminders today that God has not abandoned us but is in the struggle with us. We have solid reasons for hope, for he is still moving his good purposes forward for us and for his world.

Or as C.S. Lewis says, “Aslan is on the move.”

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The Patriarchal Pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has disrupted life in ways no one could have imagined. It brought an abrupt halt to conferences, church services, sporting events, and other large gatherings. The devastating power of this microscopic virus is mind-boggling: the rapid spread, the heartbreaking loss of life, the shattering spike in unemployment, and the terrible toll on health care workers and first responders. Who would believe a virus could sweep over the globe and radically alter life as we once knew it?

It would be bad enough if the only global problem facing us was Covid-19. But as we all know, other serious global issues that predate Covid-19 continue unabated and could easily qualify as pandemics. While all of us are understandably focused on coronavirus, these issues persist and are impacting lives around the globe in destructive wayspoverty, racism, violence against women, displaced populations, to name a few.

One of those pandemics is patriarchy.

Patriarchy (“father rule”) is a social system that surfaced after the fall as a consequence of sin. It privileges and empowers men over women and some men over other men in sharp contrast with the Creator’s vision for humanity (Genesis 1-2). As stories of men in the Bible reveal, patriarchy is destructive to men as well as women. Beginning with Cain and Abel, history chronicles the horrific saga of men killing other men.

Throughout history and still today patriarchy has impacted every human culture. The fact that patriarchy appears on virtually every page of the Bible has led to the assumption that the Bible endorses patriarchythat to maintain “biblical” gender relationships we must preserve some elements of this social system.

The subject of patriarchy didn’t surface in my work until my focus turned to men and I was researching for Malestrom: Manhood Swept into the Currents of a Changing World. One of the central questions that surfaced in the Everyday Theology Podcast below was a statement I made in Malestrom that is a total game changer:

For Christians the prominence of patriarchy on the pages of the Bible means patriarchy is important for a variety of reasons, regardless of what our personal views may be of that cultural system. . . . Beginning with Abraham, God chose patriarchs living in a patriarchal culture to launch his rescue effort for the world. Events in the Bible play out within a patriarchal context. But patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Rather, it is the fallen cultural backdrop that sets off in the strongest relief the radical nature and potency of the Bible’s gospel message. (p.31)

Dr. Aaron G. Ross, Assistant Professor of Theology, is the host of Everyday Theology. He is joined by Dr. Melissa Archer, Chair and Professor of Biblical Studies. Both are on the faculty of Southeastern University.

The original plans were to record this podcast in Costa Mesa, CA in March at the Society for Pentecostal Studies 2020 Conference where my topic was “Dismantling Patriarchy and Recovering the Blessed Alliance.” They wanted to know how I got into the work I do, what I mean when I say patriarchy is the backdrop not the message of the Bible, and more.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus compelled the cancellation of the conference, so we recorded long-distance instead.

You can listen to the podcast here:

“Approaching Patriarchy in Scripture”

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Refueling Hope!

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Sometimes the biggest battle an ezer must fight is with herself

She knows before you do
all the reasons she should stay quiet.
No one will believe a woman who used to dance with demons.
A woman who used to dance. 
A woman who used to.
A woman who used.
A woman.

It’s hardly a secret
when they’re talking about you
All the whispers in the world
sound a lot like shouting. 

How will they ever hear her
over their idea of her?
She’s heard all the voices
but her own.
She knows from watching him
how words can kill
and death can take you by force
a day at a time
a breath at a time.

They will likely say:
“She sees things that aren’t there,”
But He said:
“Let go of what isn’t yours to hold.”

And when you know 
before anyone else:
The clothes that covered death
are folded and in their place,
When you know:
life is on the move
and everyone might miss it.

When you know,
because the grave in you
is now a temple,
You clear your throat,
find your voice,
and tell anyone who will listen, 
“Love is on his feet again.”

Laura Buffington

Published with permission.

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Queen Esther and #MeToo

Paul Louis Metzger and his ministry organization New Wine, New Wineskins should be on your radar.

Paul is Professor of Christian Theology and Theology of Future at Multnomah University and Multnomah Seminary in Portland, Oregon. He’s also the Director of the Institute for Cultural Engagement: New Wine, New Wineskins. Besides that, he’s a great friend, Christian brother, and a strong advocate for women. We’ve team-taught classes at Missio Seminary and Multnomah Seminary.

I had a great time talking with him on the New Wine Tastings podcast about connections between Queen Esther’s story and the lives of women and girls today. Esther is only one of the Bible’s horrifying #MeToo stories. Today’s #MeToo/#ChurchToo crisis compels us to take a closer look at the Bible’s #MeToo stories. It is also reason for an honest conversation about the church’s messaging for women and girls.

Esther’s story is hard evidence for all of us that the female backbone matters!

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The Patron Saint of International Women’s Day

I am nominating Boaz the Israelite as the Patron Saint of International Women’s Day. That’s right, I’m nominating a man.

At a time when male power and privilege are regularly condemned in the headlines as a curse and a major culprit in #MeToo and #ChurchToo stories, what could be more timely than to recover the legacy of a powerful man who wielded his power and privilege to fight for women’s rights in a court of law?

The man I’m referring to is Boaz of the Old Testament book of Ruth. Boaz engaged the battle for women eons before the rise of feminism or talk of equal rights for women. The driving force behind his advocacy for women’s rights was a profound awareness that he lived before the face of God. That changed everything.

His success was all the more astonishing because not only did he raise subjects no one was thinking about, he battled solo on women’s behalf against the dominating forces of unquestioned patriarchy, male-centered cultural traditions, an all-male legal court, and long-established religious practices and legal interpretations.

Who knew we’ve had an ally like Boaz on the pages of our Bibles all along?! One might ask why Boaz isn’t regarded—along with Jesus—as a role-model in manhood discussions today.

Actually, biblical interpreters and pastors (God bless ’em) have done a pretty thorough job of obscuring the true significance of Boaz’s story by portraying him as the Prince Charming who “gets the girl” and rescues Ruth the Moabitess from her miserable plight of singleness.

I have actually heard single women yearningly say, “I’m waiting for my Boaz.” A true Boaz promises a whole lot more than they’re bargaining for.

Boaz was a powerhouse of a man. Against prevailing Jewish norms, he recognized the the widow Naomi’s property rights by announcing she was selling her land.   

Bowing to pressure from Boaz, the nearest Kinsman-Redeemer agreed to purchase her property. He backed out, however, when Boaz threw in marriage to Naomi’s barren daughter-in-law Ruth as part of the deal. The gamble was too risky and could endanger his own estate.

Boaz’s male power and privilege are on magnificent display as a blessing, not a curse. According to the letter of Mosaic law—Kinsman-Redeemer and Levirate laws—both the nearest kinsman-redeemer and Boaz were legally exempt from responsibility. Without Boaz’s forceful interference, Naomi’s land would automatically default to the nearest relative without costing him a dime. 

In all of this maneuvering, Boaz never sheds his male power and privilege. Instead, he employs it to empower Ruth initiatives on Naomi’s behalf. By empowering Ruth, Boaz played a magnificent role in God’s grand redemptive plan. The son born to Ruth and Boaz became the grandfather of King David and in so doing, established the line of Jesus the Messiah.

What kind of world would it be if men (and boys) followed Boaz’s example? What if men and boys embraced their power and privilege and resolved to employ it as an unstoppable force for good? How much good would come to women and girls globally?

You can be sure we’d have a whole lot more to celebrate on International Women’s Day!

Read more of this story in:

The Gospel of Ruth: Loving God Enough to Break the Rules and Finding God in the Margins (which builds on The Gospel of Ruth.) There’s more to learn from this earthshaking book, and the book of Ruth keeps on giving!

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No Time for Tears

“God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another.”

I am all cried out. I have no more tears―only deep groans and righteous indignation. Yet again, we are suffering #ChurchToo aftershocks following the February 22 revelation that the revered, internationally beloved Jean Vanier (1928-2019), founder of L’Arche (“the ark”), was for decades sexually abusing six women who worked with him.

The dissonance boggles the mind.

Shock, disillusionment, spiritual vertigo? It’s hard to find words to capture the moment for those who once flourished under his influence. Hard to fathom the trauma and betrayal those six women have suffered for years or the courage they summoned to speak up against such a larger-than-life man. Who knows how far or deeply this pain will ripple into the lives of countless long-distance-mentees whose trust in Vanier is shattered?

We seem to be drowning in stories of Christian leaders whose lives are painful reminders that the warnings from Jesus and Paul about “wolves in sheep’s clothing” is not much ado about nothing. Vanier wasn’t the first and he won’t be the last. But this is no time for tears. So I am giving up my tears for Lent and turning my anger into a call for action.

From#ChurchToo to #Malestrom

No matter how hurt and angry we may be at the moment, we can’t afford to just “get over it” and move on while #ChurchToo remains stuck on repeat.  Our hurt and anger should motivate us to leave no stone unturned in finding out why abuse keeps happening here within our ranks in the first place. We’re fighting a losing battle if we are unwilling honestly to explore causative factors.

Author Rachel Simmons put her finger on a major contributing factor when she wrote,

“Women have been taught, by every cultural force imaginable, that we must be ‘nice’ and ‘quiet’ and ‘polite,’ that we must protect others’ feelings before our own. That we are there for other’s pleasure.”[1]

This same kind of social messaging for women and girls intensifies in the church, reinforced by the claim that the Bible supports it. We hear more about“silence” and“submission” than anything else, and both words put us at risk. Yes, I know both words appear in the Bible, both with reference to women. Yet both words take on deeper, more radical meaning when Jesus’ gospel redefines them.

The so-called “silencing of women” becomes a distortion when interpreted as a ban on the female voice. It ignores countless biblical texts that validate the female voice as an indispensable source of theological instruction for all believers (see Women Theologians on the Rise).

Instead of teaching women and girls that deference to men is a godly woman’s first response, shouldn’t we teaching them to be “strong and courageous” (Paul’s challenge for us)? Shouldn’t we be urging girls to cultivate the kind of unbending backbone they’ll need in awkward situations with the opposite sex or when a youth pastor crosses the line and to add “No!” to their vocabulary?

We need to rethink the church’s messaging for women and girls.

The malestrom makes its presence known when men and boys are led to believe that their claim to manhood teeters on their success at being in charge, a.k.a. patriarchy. It baptizes male authority and power carte blanche in homes, the church, and often in the wider culture.

Male power and privilege can easily become entitlements that fuel the unhealthy expectation that males are leaders and females are followers. Shouldn’t we instead be reminding men and boys that power and privilege come with serious responsibility and can be used selfishly for evil and destruction or for enormous good when used selflessly as God intends and Jesus modeled to empower and promote the flourishing of others.

We need to rethink the church’s messaging for men and boys.[2]

Think about it: When we put the church’s message for women and girls together with the church’s message for men and boys, we have the perfect cocktail for #MeToo and #ChurchToo to rage within our midst. That is what we’re witnessing now.

A Call to Action!

We need to rethink the church’s messaging for leadership.

Authority and power are major culprits in clergy abuse. It is all too easy for a leader to get swallowed up in their own importance, giftedness, and authority. Jesus rebuked his disciples and redefined leadership when they eyed greatness and preeminence.

“You know those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you! … whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all” —Mark 10:43-45.

Jesus’ definition of leadership centered on shepherding: “Feed my lambs.” “Take care of my sheep.” (John 21:16-17).

We need action by the Blessed Alliance—men and women working together to further the Kingdom of God.

I would love to see church leaders, men and women, join together to establish a new norm and a new vision for accountability. If you are interested, let me know.

Maybe the best ways to grieve Vanier’s fall is fearlessly to probe our own theology for these and other ways we—the Church—are part of the problem instead of the solution we are called to be.

[1] Simmons, Enough As She Is

[2] See “More Men in Support of Malestrom: Manhood Swept Into the Currents of a Changing World”

Originally published at Missio Alliance . . .

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