God's Word for today

Thursday, 20 May 2010

Affirming our sisters - finding the balance?

This is a dangerous post for me to write.  Many might even say that, as a male, I have no business commenting on such matters.  However, I'm hoping to open some discussion around this issue.

Let's start off by saying that it has been an interesting week, having had two visitors whose messages have been around overcoming discrimination (and worse) against women.

The first was Rev Phumzile Zondi-Mabizela from the kwaZulu-Natal Christian Council, who heads up an organisation called SOFIA.  Because discrimination against women is unfortunately still alive and well, even (and some may say particularly) in the Church, I was quite keen to hear how one can overcome this phenomenon - particularly as a male.

The second was Rev Jenny Sprong from the Diakonia Council of Churches, who invited us to take part in a campaign called "Black on Thursdays" which is aimed at spreading the message of non-violence towards women.  As I sit at my desk typing this, I am dressed in black and sporting a badge that reads "Thursdays in Black - towards a world without rape and violence".

However, my concern is how to find a balance.

On one level I'm beginning to see myself as a bit of a "feninist-theologian-in-a-male-body" in that I affirm and support the right of women to enter any field they choose, including responding to a call to ordained ministry.  I am also appalled by the shocking levels of rape and violence against women in our country, and firmly believe that the attitudes of men needs a radical overhaul.  I also believe that it is the responsibility of us as men to help our brothers to journey to a place of understanding where we are not "superior" to women.

I also don't believe that, speaking from a male perspective, we need to stop being men.  What we need to do is to start truly understanding what it means to be a real man.  Real men are secure in their masculinity, and don't need to undermine women in order to prove that they are men.  A real man would never try to demonstrate his power over women, whether this be emotionally, physically, or sexually.

However, I share Jenny's concern (expressed in her blog post here) that we end up "re-misinterpreting" Scripture by attempting to counter a male-centred hermeneutic with a female-centred one.  The role of women and men in Scripture need to be acknowledged.  In fact, we need to stop being so hung up on the gender of the people concerned, and focus instead on how God has used such people throughout Scripture.  In this way it can be possible for women to emulate Paul, and men to emulate Ruth, for instance.

I also have a concern that if we start pushing the feminist agends to the point where we sound like hysterical feminists, burning our bras (those who wear them!) and denouncing all that is male, this issue will never be taken seriously.  And that would be a tragedy, because the discrimination and violence against women will only continue if we don't all make a stand.

So what, then, should we do?  This question has many answers, but I believe that a good starting-point is for men with changed attitudes to influence other men to change their attitudes.  Ephesians 5: 25-27 - "husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the Church and gave Himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the Word, and to present her to Himself a radiant Church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless" - need not only speak to husbands and wives, but can also serve as a blueprint for how men should regard women.

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