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.”
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!
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!
“God hath given you one face, and you make yourself another.” ―Shakespeare
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.
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.”
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.
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.
“The maelstrom is the seaman’s nightmare, but the ‘malestrom’ poses an even greater threat to men than the hidden dangers of the open sea.”
The malestrom is the particular ways in which the fall impacts the male of the human species—causing a man to lose himself, his identity and purpose as a man, and above all to lose sight of God’s original vision for his sons. The malestrom is one of the Enemy’s single most ingenious and successful strategies. Its victories are flashed before us every day in the headlines as men lose sight of who God created them to be as men.
This book argues that the principal expression of the malestrom is historic patriarchy and that patriarchy is ultimately destructive for both men and women. But above all, it runs counter to the gospel of Jesus.
Jesus didn’t come to make men more manly, but to reconnect them with their creator and put them back on mission as God’s image bearers.
Interwoven in the stories of women in the Bible that I have developed in my previous books are men whose stories are eclipsed by a larger personality who commands the spotlight or men whose stories are diminished, downsized, or distorted because we view them through a western lens.
We gravitate instead to men like Joseph, who rises from slavery to second only to Pharaoh; David, who slays Goliath; Joshua, who leads the march on Jericho; Daniel, who survives lions; Peter, the rough and blustery fisherman; and James and John, the notorious ‘sons of thunder.’ Kings, conquerors, and untamed men! These are the kinds of muscular stories we want our sons to hear and the brand of manliness that we want them to embrace.
We shy away from men in the Bible who share the stage with strong, courageous women or who don’t fit the typical hero profile that reinforces traditional patriarchal cultural values. These missing men are crucial, for they are heroically doing battle with the malestrom. Battered and bruised though they may be, they must be allowed to tell their stories. They picture for us a wiser radically new, gospel-brand of man—incontrovertible evidence that God is at work in his world, that Jesus has come, and that his Spirit is alive and active.
The newness of God’s kingdom is breaking through, and that newness shows up in his sons, even in Old Testament times. The stories of these missing men are alive with the power and hope of the gospel, and they stand tall on the pages of Scripture, not because they satisfy the world’s fallen cultural definitions of what it means to be a man, but because they reconnect with their calling as God’s true sons.
When widowhood or anything else alters a woman’s life, the center of her identity doesn’t disintegrate, for she is not defined or redefined by circumstances, relationships, her resume, or public opinion. God defines her. If you looked up “woman” in God’s dictionary, you’d find the definition he set down as he drew up plans for the very first woman. He defined the woman as follows : “Image bearer; created in God’s image and likeness; called to be fruitful and multiply, to rule and subdue.” It’s the same kingdom definition that he gave to the man. . . . It ascribes to women and girls the highest value imaginable. . . .
A woman’s high calling as God’s image bearer renders her incapable of insignificance, no matter what has gone wrong in her life or how much she has lost. Even if her community shoves her aside, turns a deaf ear to the sound of her voice, or regards her as invisible—even if she is forced into a passive role in the community—she remains vital to God’s purposes and is a solid contributor anyway. She simply cannot be stopped.
It has long been my conviction that woman are some of our best theologians. The Bible contains a strong line-up of female theologians whose contributions have been indispensable and whose legacy invites women today to follow.
In When Life and Beliefs Collide, I make the case the Mary of Bethany was “the first great New Testament theologian.” She was the first of Jesus’ followers to embrace and support his mission. While his male disciples were in denial, Mary entered his isolation and affirmed his cross. Jesus said, “She has done a beautiful thing to me . . . When she poured this perfume on my body, she did it to prepare me for burial” (Matthew 26:10, 12).
The Egyptian slave girl Hagar was first to recognize and articulate the intimate side of God by naming him El Roi—“the God who sees me” (Genesis 16:13). How often do we need to know that?!
Naomi‘s significance is wrongly obscured by Cinderella interpretations of the book of Ruth. That wrong is being remedied, for Naomi is a female Job who, through her suffering, becomes the theologian of God’s hesed. At her lowest, and from a load of winnowed barley, she discovers “He has not stopped showing his hesed to the living and the dead”(Ruth 2:20). Naomi passed her theology on to Obed whose son Jesse passed it on to the shepherd boy David who wrote, “Surely your goodness and hesed will follow me all the days of my life” (Psalm 23:6a).
Hannah‘s theology was born in her battle with infertility and the painful humiliation of polygamy. Hebrew scholars recognize her as the “theologian of the monarchy” because her theology shows up in King David’s writings. Once again, the king is banking on the theology of a woman. Presumably the intermediator was her son and David’s mentor the prophet/judge Samuel. (Compare 1 Samuel 2:1-11 with 2 Samuel 22.)
The New Testament gives accounts of women who listened, learned, struggled, and proclaimed the good news of Jesus. It is worth noting that the body of biblical theology that women developed was forged in the crucible of suffering, loss, fear, and struggles with God. We need their theology in our own struggles. These women didn’t serve up platitudes. They weren’t spouting theories figured out in some ivory tower. They offer boots on the ground theology that reenforces hope in the goodness, love, and future of God, courage in the face of real life challenges, and solid purpose when everything goes dark.
So when my email contains a message like the one below from one more woman pressing forward with God’s call to pursue a graduate degree in biblical studies and theology and to walk through whatever door he opens to her on the other side, it makes my day. Doubly so when I learn my books had something to do with her decision.
I know this isn’t an easy road, and attitudes inside the church are not always what one might call “encouraging.” But we need more women to persevere despite resistance in answering God’s call. Where would we be without the female perspective of women theologians whose teachings have enriched and fortified our faith so much?
I hope the email message below will embolden others to heed the call.
I recently finished reading your books When Life and Beliefs Collide, and The Gospel of Ruth, and I just wanted to say thank you for putting a passion and conviction that I have felt into words. I just started a new ministry job in California and the HR executive graciously let me borrow your two books. We started up a conversation about my calling and dreams for the future, and she told me about your books.
Once I started each of the books, I couldn’t put them down!
For the past few years, I’ve been struggling with being a God-honoring female in ministry (I just graduated with a degree in Christian Ministries) because I’ve gotten so many conflicting messages and been treated so many different ways. I even dedicated a semester to seeking truth in Scripture to find answers of what my role should be, using a variety of commentaries and authors. I gained some clarity but ultimately walked away with more questions.
Reading your books affirmed and convicted me. I really appreciated the examples of Mary and Martha, two great women theologians. I don’t feel belittled anymore when I read the word Helper [ezer, Gn 2:18]. I feel stronger when I face challenges because Ruth reminds me of God’s hesed. Your careful and humble dissection of Scripture inspires me to be a great theologian for my own sake and for the sake of those I have the blessings of ministering to. Your wisdom also helped me feel validated as a single woman with no foreseeable marriage prospects because you helped me discover the joy and value of my relationship with God and my theology, apart from having a husband or family.
Recently I’ve felt a draw to pursue a Masters in Theology from Oxford, and reading your books strengthens that draw. I want to understand and know God better, and though a Masters in Theology might seem like a strange choice for a women in some people’s minds, I firmly believe that I am capable of understanding God. I also believe that he has given me a calling to love others and help them to understand God, men and women. I know it is not an easy path, and I do not want to speak up from a place of insecurity, fear, or anger, but I hold fast the truth of Scripture.
All that to say, thank you for wisdom. Your words have touched me, and God used you to reveal himself and his image that I carry.
For more encouragement and support, check out Logia—“an organisation within the Logos Institute which seeks to support women who are considering pursuing postgraduate Divinity education or who are already students or staff at this level” at the University of St. Andrews. I am privileged to serve on the advisory board of this incredible organization.
“Hesed is a costly brand of love that involves going above and beyond what anyone has a right to ask or expect. . . . YHWH is the ultimate hesed giver. The confidence and hope of God’s people banks on the fact that YHWH is ‘abounding in love [hesed]’ (Exod 34:6). Finding God in the Margins, (49, 51).
About that “Destructive Wildfire We Must Fight”, it should be noted that (as California firefighters will testify) multiple devastating wildfires can be blazing out of control at the same time. As Christians, we need to intensify our efforts to bring an end to sexual violence against anyone—a wildfire that is out of control both inside and outside the church and should keep us awake at night.
Sexual violence and harassment against the vulnerable is a monumental problem, and the bad news it is only part of a much wider global crisis that impacts every community and every culture.
The United Nations statement today defines sexual violence against women as,
“any act of gender-based violence that results in, or is likely to result in, physical, sexual or psychological harm or suffering to women, including threats of such acts, coercion or arbitrary deprivation of liberty, whether occurring in public or in private life.”
Such violence against women takes “physical, sexual and psychological forms, encompassing—
sexual violence and harassment (rape, forced sexual acts, unwanted sexual advances, child sexual abuse, forced marriage, street harassment, stalking, cyber- harassment);
human trafficking (slavery, sexual exploitation);
female genital mutilation; and
There are no winners when a destructive fire like this is scorching our planet and destroying lives with very few working to contain, much less eradicate the blaze. This violence reverses human flourishing. Those who suffer are diminished, and the world is deprived of the gifts and potential God entrusted to them.
But the damage doesn’t stop there.
In the words of UN Secretary-General António Guterres,
“Sexual violence against women and girls is rooted in centuries of male domination. Let us not forget that the gender inequalities that fuel rape culture are essentially a question of power imbalances.”
What his statement doesn’t include is the fact that men who perpetrate and/or cover-up violence against women, children, or other men suffer self-inflicted wounds. Violent actions against another person violates the imago Dei in the victim and also in the perpetrator.
Such violence also violates God’s creation vision in which he empowered his sons and daughters to rule creation (not each other) and to carry out that rule together as a Blessed Alliance. Our shared mission is to represent our Creator and to look after things in his world for the flourishing of all. When half of God’s imago Dei is sidelined, dehumanized, and wounded by others God created to bear his image, human actions become an affront to God himself and our mission suffers costly setbacks. Human violence dismantles God’s kingdom strategy whenever one person choses to dominate and rule over another.
The United Nations’ focus on this crisis is an important step. How can we join the effort to engage and end this crisis?
“So devastating I don’t really have the words to describe it. It looks like a war zone, and it is.” —California Governor Jerry Brown
For over seven years off-and-on, I lived in Southern California. I remember earthquakes and the warm Santa Anna winds. There were wildfires too. But nothing remotely close to the apocalyptic wildfire season Californians now are suffering year after year.
My niece’s husband is a Los Angeles firefighter. Rick and his fellow firefighters know combatting these blazes takes all they have to offer. It’s not good enough simply to learn about what causes these fires or what forces propel them out of control, although all of that is important. Nor is it enough to discuss and educate themselves on the latest firefighting tactics and equipment, although that is essential too. These fires require fierce determined action. The moment a blaze is spotted, firefighters engage in an all-out war. They battle long days on the ground and from the air, in oppressive heat and often risking their lives. They work themselves into complete exhaustion. Again and again we hear progress reports of the percentage of containment they’ve achieved against another named fire. It’s good to know our firefighters won’t quit until the last flame is extinguished.
As the Director of North California’s Fire Council put it,
“These fires are tragic and they’re telling us this is urgent. We can’t sit on our hands.”
The Church’s Fire Fight
The American church and wider culture are engulfed in another destructive wildfire that is blazing out of control. We’d probably be blissfully ignorant of the epidemic ravaging lives around us if not for the courageous #MeToo and #ChurchToo movements on Twitter.
To put this crisis in perspective, in 2019 the American Cancer Society reported that on average 1 in 8 women are diagnosed each year with breast cancer and 1 in 8 men with prostate cancer. 1 in 17 women and 1 in 18 men are diagnosed with lung cancer—the #1 cancer killer. The threat of cancer has mobilized millions of dollars, countless researchers, and highly trained teams of oncologists and surgeons to fight this battle until a cure is found and the last cancer cell is obliterated.
Cancer statistics alarm us. Yet in disturbing contrast, 1 in 4 women and girls and 1 in 6 men and boys have been sexually abused by the age of 18. That doesn’t include unreported incidents of abuse. This life-shattering epidemic is festering among us, and we have yet to engage in all-out-war against it. This means, of course, that sexual abuse survivors are with us everywhere—even inside churches.
The church and many members of the clergy are deeply mired in sexual abuse incidents. Daily we’re hearing new allegations or reports of convicted or confessed abusers who are recycled back into ministry leadership and often repeating their crimes.
Victims are often not taken seriously and, in fact, many are subjected to spiritual and emotional abuse by church leaders who believe they’re equipped to handle the situation themselves without law enforcement and outside professional help. Survivors frequently hear teaching from church leaders that trigger flashbacks and nightmares or simply intensify their trauma. Instead of being on the frontlines en masse in addressing this epidemic and making sure the church is the safest place of all, we are part of the problem.
May we never forget Rachael Denhollander’s stinging indictment.
“Church is one of the least safe places to acknowledge abuse because the way it is counseled is more often than not damaging to the victim. There is an abhorrent lack of knowledge for the damage and devastation that sexual assault brings. It is with deep regret that I say the church is one of the worst places to go for help. . . . There are very, very few who have ever found true help in the church.”
On Saturday, November 9, in an all-day seminar at Missio Seminary, a team of experts joined me to take a big step forward in confronting this crisis. We wanted to raise awareness with pastors, ministry leaders, and seminarians of the severity of the crisis and to provide insight into the complexities of this crisis by involving experts on sexual abuse, the resulting trauma, dealing with pedophiles, and preventative steps for churches and Christian organizations to take. We also wanted to engage a candid conversation regarding the biblical/theological roots that contribute to the crisis and those that subvert the problem and promote human flourishing for all.
Now Missio Seminary is taking things a step further. They recorded the whole day and are making it available online for churches and individuals who want to benefit from this powerful and productive presentation—and to join the effort to confront this destructive wildfire we must fight.
But more—much more—is needed to address this terrible crisis. This is my first opportunity to weigh in at Missio.
The ongoing #ChurchToo Twitter storm blindsided many Protestant leaders who “thought this was a Roman Catholic problem.” They simply did not realize the full scope of the problem. Because Protestants are splintered into so many different denominations, it’s hard to comprehend the big picture. Now there is no escaping the fact that the cumulative problem is as massive inside Protestant churches and ministries as anywhere else, maybe even worse. Survivors in staggering numbers are already among us: 1 in 4 women and girls; 1 in 6 men and boys. Secular media has exposed an epidemic of sexual abuse, mishandled allegations, and cover-ups happening inside the church to the point that many now believe the Protestant church is not a safe place and are leaving us.
This should trouble us all.
This seminar weaves together biblical, theological, sociological, counseling, legal, and pastoral threads to raise awareness and to help equip church leaders confront this crisis and prevent further abuse. Of course, there is no way I could do this by myself. So I am beyond excited that a strong team of professional experts and activists are joining me.
I’ll be addressing the biblical and theological roots that contribute to the abuse that’s happening. How does church teaching about women and men create an environment that is conducive to sexual abuse and to the protection of perpetrators? How do #MeToo narratives in the Bible provide a vital pastoral resource for raising awareness and creating safety for victims to find help, safety, and the care they need?
Heather Evans, LCSW, DSW, is partnering with me as guest instructor. She brings vital training and expertise as a Clinical Social Work/Therapist and has worked with me in planning. I’ve also received important support and input from Missio’s GSOC program co-directors, Hannah Wildasin and Nicole Hall.
Dr. Heather Evans, has invested countless hours with sexual abuse victims/survivors and understands the deep trauma involved. She runs her own clinic and counseling practice and travels frequently to Rwanda with the Global Trauma Recovery team. The goal is to learn from and train Rwandan’s in their post-genocide recovery efforts to address the pervasive trauma. We need her professional guidance to help us respond to abuse survivors and anyone raising allegations in ways that help and support them without hurting.
Three pastors will also be joining us. After getting Heather to sign on, I contacted Boz Tchividian of GRACE (www.netgrace.org), who immediately recommended two men on his team. Both of them agreed to participate via ZOOM.
Pastor Jimmy Hinton didn’t choose to enter the battle against sexual abuse. The battle chose him when as a young pastor he learned his childhood hero—his own father—had been abusing children. Jimmy will recount his shattering “lived experience” and the insights he gained from his own heartache and subsequent advocacy helping other churches deal with pedophiles.
Mike Sloan directs GRACE’s Safeguarding Certification Program—meaning he trains churches, schools, and other Christian ministries across the U.S. and abroad in child abuse prevention and response best practices. He co-authored (and piloted at Missio in 2017) the GRACE Seminary Curriculum. He will join us long distance—briefly stepping away from an active training session—to present best practices for responding to abuse allegations.
Rasool Berry, Teaching Pastor at The Bridge Church, Brooklyn, NY, and I met for the first time when he was in a worship band at a Synergy Women’s Network conference. Afterwards Rasool hung out to discuss what he’d learned about his sisters at the conference. Ever since, our paths kept crossing and the conversation continued. When #MeToo exploded, our conversation intensified. He was the first pastor I knew to voice alarm and take steps to make his church a safe place for women and girls. He’ll tell us what he’s doing.
This seminar is for seminarians, pastors, church and ministry leaders, and anyone who wants to learn more about this crisis and become part of the solution. Help me get the word out!