Saturday, November 13, 2010

A House Divided Against Itself, Part III

(Please read Part I and Part II first.)

So, I wonder how many who have read the first two posts wondered, "What injustices against men?" Yet as long as we remain divided against ourselves, that is the reality, even though it may be easier in today's society to turn a blind eye to it. And that, I believe, is not the mindset a Christian ought to take. The groundwork I established in my last post applies here as well: we are equal in our fall, equal in our salvation.

This time I will focus on the practical issues facing men, since unlike those facing women, they are not as obvious sometimes or as well known. And worse--our society often treats the victims with ridicule and contempt, and our culture makes that "acceptable." That too is a crown of illegitimate power.

Perhaps the most well-publicized of these ills is slavery, be it in the form of forced labor or the conscription of boy soldiers. In the United States we like to think of slavery as something that is no longer a part of our cultural landscape. And thank God, Christians did wise up to the fact, in this country, that just because an inherently unjust institution was a reality in Biblical days doesn't mean we are justified in perpetuating it. Slavery scars both men and women, and Christians must resist and defeat it wherever it is found.

But some injustices can indeed be directed towards men in particular. Dads can't win, if you look at the way they're portrayed in the media: either they're absent, abusive, or incompetent with the children. Rarely does one see anything positive, especially where a single father is portrayed. It's a rarity that we see a Benjamin Sisko (the commanding officer on Star Trek: Deep Space Nine) who raises his son very well, even after the death of his wife and with one tough military base to command at the same time. Those writers didn't forget that men form deep bonds with their children too, and that children need those relationships to be healthy, just as they need their mothers.

And let's not forget the so-called "right" to abortion that women are given and in which men have no say. True, some men don't care, just as some women are irresponsible. But some men do want to raise their children even under less than ideal circumstances in their lives, and for a woman to be able to go out and murder his baby, without his being given the chance to stop it, is unconscionable. A child is not a tumor nor is he or she the exclusive property of the female. That's his genetic material too, and a whole other life that he had a part in creating, and whether or not one is carrying the child is not relevant when it comes to the right to care for that life. Women are not entitled to unchallenged, unshared say over the lives of their children. Obviously abortion is a travesty on principle, but giving men their voice would be a step in the right direction.

The other area where men lose out terribly is in custody cases, where the awarding of custody isn't always based on facts, but on gender. Courts are sometimes much more concerned with a dangerous form of redistributive justice whereby the child is given more time with the mother, or the father is cut out of custody or visitation altogether without a solid basis against him--and sometimes even when there is one against the mother. Some fathers ARE abusive, and children must be protected from them. But that cannot and must not be generalized. And of course it would be best if couples had no need to divorce. But when it does happen, it should never be based on gender, but on facts.

The last form of injustice I will specifically address, though we must stay alert for others, is sexual violence towards men. It happens far more than society wants to acknowledge--and when it is acknowledged, it is generally in the form of ridicule and contempt. How, they might say, can a boy or a man be forced to partake in any act he does not wish to participate in, especially of that nature? It is real, as is domestic violence, which does not just go in one direction.

One of the things that always galls me is when well-meaning organizations come to church and ask for money to shelter victims of domestic and sexual violence, and "perpetrator" always means "man" and "victim" always means "woman." It is that way often--but not always. And that often means men are discouraged from seeking resources, and when they do, they are ridiculed or outright denied. We ought not stand for this. The problem has to be made known, victims must be treated with respect and not shamed, and competent services must be made available for their healing.

There is much, much more that could be said on gender and injustice in the world and the church, and how we as Christians must respond to it. One thing is certain: we cannot persecute, demean, or oppress anyone based on gender, either inside our hierarchy or outside it. Nor can we take sides in battles of revenge and domination--but address all injustice, regardless of who commits it against whom.

We are called to no less.

"So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." --Galatians 3:26-29

A House Divided Against Itself, Part II

Sorry for the delay, but I've finally found the time to transcribe Part II of "A House Divided Against Itself," a 3-part series focusing on gender and our roles as a Christian.

(Please be sure, if you haven't already, to read Part I first. The third post will deal with injustices committed against men.)

The injustices that have been committed in the name of the church against women are already quite well known and documented; however, I still believe they must be reiterated because while some denominations are long past the problem, there are still many countries and many places here in this one where that is not yet the case. Though I have been on the receiving end of some unfortunate comments on occasion, I am very thankful to have grown up in a home and church where all that I'm about to discuss was a total non-issue. I had every chance in the world, and I am grateful.

In the past, and in some places still, women have been treated like children--something that should be seen and not heard, incapable of an independent relationship with God and thus less capable of moral discernment and thus inept at life compared to men, and needing to be ruled over. However, it is important to note that for each sin Eve committed, Adam committed the exact same one in there is really no grounds to lift one above the other. What order you sin in is irrelevant--the magnitude of the sin does not change in the eyes of God, against whom all sins are high treason.

It may be that the serpent's choice of the gender less capable of physical self-defense was no accident. That said, had the reverse occurred and men had sinned first, I have no doubt Eve would have "fallen to the occasion" quite adeptly and come up with some reason why men should not be allowed to make decisions, either, and some way to enforce it. And indeed, feminists have done exactly that, in a way.

But for now, let us remember that both fell in tandem--both were cursed. How people have reacted to the curses upon each, however, is telling and one of the best outcomes the devil could have hoped for. Adam, of course, was warned that he would toil and receive little reward for his sweat and blood. Eve would suffer pain in childbirth, blame, and subjugation. And the line we hear from people--even from Paul, according to the culture of his time--is that for a woman, before and even after Jesus' salvific act on the Cross, this is how it ought to be, and a woman ought not resist her inferior lot in life.

Yet every invention--every technological advance we make--every labor-saving device we create is one less drop of sweat shed from Adam's brow, one more step towards a physically easy life.

So tell me, why is it good and right for Adam to work against his curse, and Eve not to?

Tell me, furthermore, how it is that men and women are not equally saved. Obviously Jesus came to us as a man. No other option would do, to accomplish what He set out to do in that physical and social environment, of course, given that He was to be fully human as well as fully God. But to suggest that He freed one gender more than the other, because He came as a man, is to limit His deity and His love. Nor would I suggest that Jesus would be in any way less capable of relating to women, or that they would need any other intermediary but Him. God created both, after all, and He contained all of that within Him!

Unfortunately, we are still left with a situation where in certain quarters women are the inferiors in their societies. The world extends to men in these places a power that is theirs for the taking. No one will object--indeed, they will celebrate it. But just because our earthly expectations of power are one thing does not mean that true power is what we would believe it to be. We were so sure of what a Messiah was before He came: a war leader. We did not see that before true power there must come surrender of worldly power. That crown was offered to Jesus in the desert and the city both, and however much it might have been hailed by the people in their misunderstanding, He refused it in favor of a crown of thorns and the Cross.

We too must surrender the power of domination--be we male or female--whenever it is offered to us. If we rise that others may bow at our feet and hail us as their better, then we must surrender and ourselves be the ones to give up our egos. Our highest position, as humans, is servant. It's the same in marriage, the church, and the workplace. If you feel entitled to have another human being at your beck and call, looking up at you instead of at the level, then you are in the wrong. If you would confine and constrain your fellows and restrict them from following their calling, then you are an obstruction that needs to step out of the way--or assist your brother and sister instead of being a stumbling block in his or her path.

And that is the point so many miss in Paul's letters. Women at the birth of the church were uneducated, and deliberately so. A woman was not to learn the Law or study in the synagogue. Jesus did not accept that: women learned from Him as well as men. We should acknowledge greater learning and listen. To just blurt when we don't have a clue...that is disgraceful, and Paul was right to say so. But people miss the next step women were to take. Ask questions in an appropriate venue, of one you love and trust! Learn! Then you will have the standing to say something that will not unwittingly lead others astray. And men were called upon to answer these questions if asked, not to hide the answers to perpetuate ignorance that could then be used to justify claims of moral inferiority and lesser judgment ability.

A Christian has no call to belittle or diminish women, to put them in a lesser place than men. But this post cannot come alone. One tyrant must not be replaced with another--and make no mistake, that's exactly what feminism (as opposed to egalitarianism, which seeks the uplift of all, and which I believe to be the Christian's call) advocates. Revenge and bitterness, and deafness to injustices committed against men, is unacceptable. Neither patriarchy nor matriarchy is justified: the gifts God has placed in each other must be expressed, even if perhaps a man or woman has received a gift seen less frequently for their gender.

In Part III, many of these same principles will return, and I will address how they apply to a Christian response to injustices against men.