Categotry Archives: healing wounds

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One Hand Tied Behind Our Back

3 comments

Categories: food for thought, healing wounds, Meanderings (look it up)

Studying the humanities in college (the study of man’s achievements in art, literature, architecture, science, etc.) was a pretty awesome experience for me. There are some folks, especially in religious circles, who look at the advancements we’ve made as a race and see nothing but our pride and rebellion. And I admit that factor exists. But when I look at all we’ve been able to create over the centuries, all we’ve been able to discover, to figure out…all the beauty, inspiration, engineering feats, and the like…I can’t help but see the truth that man was created in the image of God. We create, because we are made in the image of a Creator. And when we create, I think it is a reflection of God’s glory, even though sometimes we turn it to glorify ourselves. It is still the image-of-God factor inside us that enables us to achieve. And that goes for women as well as men.

So in the light of some of the recent discussions we’ve had on this blog…I invite you to ponder something with me:

Not taking into account the moral decline in our culture, but just looking at our accomplishments, achievements, creations, and discoveries over the centuries…

As far as civilization has advanced, I can’t help but wonder…

…how much further would we be if more women had been architects?

…how much further would we be if more women had been recognized as artists?

…how much further would we be if more women had been taught to read and write, and gone on to become poets and authors?

…how much further would we be if there had been more recognized female composers?

…how much further would we be if women had been given more access to the fields of science and medicine?

…how much further would we be if women had been given the right to vote sooner, or been allowed to participate in politics?

Granted, some of these fields over the centuries have been more favorable to women than others, and certainly much progress has been made in recent years…but you must remember that it was scarcely a generation ago when these disciplines were largely considered the territory of men, and women’s place was well out of reach of these areas.

As far as humanity has progressed, and as much as we have created, invented, and discovered–how much further could we have gone if 50% of God’s image had not been suppressed for all these centuries?

How far could we have gone if we hadn’t been walking through history with one hand tied behind our back?

Just wondering…

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Historical Injustice

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Categories: food for thought, healing wounds, movies

As many of you know, I’ve been weaving a thread into this blog about the healing and restoration of women as part of the image of God, the honoring and releasing of their gifts–not just in church and leadership settings, but in life. There are still things that need to be said about this; I have about three posts churning in the incubator right about now.

One thing I’ve sort of harped on is the passive approach us guys (particularly in the church) tend to have toward this issue, where we don’t “officially” subscribe to the sexism/chauvinist vibe, but neither do we take any definitive action to make room for our sisters. Not realizing that there are many years of bad choices, Biblical misinterpretations and default mindsets to be undone, we tell ourselves that as long as we don’t set out to practice male favoritism, we are “in the clear”…thus allowing women to sort of fend for themselves in a climate that is still highly charged in favor of the male. So when someone shines the light on some subtle injustice in this area, the typical response is sort of, “What’s the big deal? Nobody was trying to exclude females…” …that kind of thing.

What we do not realize is that we cannot solve the root problem by simply “unsubscribing”, because we are actually coming from a long historical background of injustice, with many generations before us who have defaulted to sexist attitudes as the norm, and then passed those attitudes on. For most of us–both men and women–there’s an element of this that has been programmed into us, and we often default to it without even thinking. This is why the slope slants toward female oppression, and why we must lean against it purposefully. Although much progress has been made over the years, in reality, we still are fighting against the negative momentum of our own history.

Nothing could drive this point home to me more vividly than watching the movie The Duchess the other night on DVD. With these thoughts fresh in my mind, seeing this movie reminded me just how deep the injustice to women runs in the history of our Western culture. The movie tells the true story of Georgiana Cavendish (played by Keira Knightley), an 18th-century socialite whose primary expectation in her marriage to the Duke of Devonshire was to produce a male heir. How much of the film is historically accurate, I don’t know. But the attitudes and events depicted in the film were certainly true to form for the time period. There might be some spoilers here if you haven’t seen the movie, but here are just some of the examples of female injustice shown in the film:
  • Although adultery is considered immoral, married men have multiple affairs with little or no consequence; but if a wife is unfaithful, she is scandalized and punished severely.
  • When Georgiana asks the Duke to take in her best friend Bess Foster, who has been beaten by her husband and disowned, he takes her as a mistress, then refuses to remove her when Georgiana protests. The three live as an uncomfortable “family” until Georgiana’s death; then the Duke marries Bess.
  • Bess Foster’s explanation for becoming the Duke’s mistress is that she has been forbidden to see her children, and her only hope for retrieving them is for the Duke to wield his influence in her favor.
  • When Georgiana tries to “make a deal” by condoning the affair with Bess in return for permission to have an affair of her own…the Duke threatens her severely, then rapes her.
  • When Georgiana (in a desperate search for love) eventually engages in her own affair with an up-and-coming politician, the Duke threatens to ruin her lover’s political career and separate Georgiana forever from her children, unless she ends the affair. She concedes.
  • Early in the marriage, before Georgiana even has children of her own, the Duke takes in one of his illegitimate daughters when the girl’s mother dies, and demands that Georgiana raise her as her own. By contrast, when Georgiana is found to be pregnant with her lover’s child after the affair ends, the Duke forces her to go away into seclusion until the child is born, then give the child up to her lover’s family.
As you can tell, much of the story deals with various issues of sexual immorality, and the inconsistent treatment between men and women. But what is most striking here is not that the women weren’t “allowed” the same sexual privileges as men (because adultery was unilaterally considered immoral)…but that the men were not held to the same standard of faithfulness, nor were they ever accountable for sin. At no time, even after the rape, did the Duke ever take responsibility for his own behavior–and Georgiana, while being held under sharp discipline for her own errors, was never able to bring the Duke to account for his own misdeeds.

In other words, it wasn’t just that the woman had no rights. It was that the woman had no voice.

For those who have been tracking these discussions about gender on the blogs…doesn’t that sound familiar? Is this not at the very heart of what we’ve been talking about in recent days?

It’s not just about “women’s rights”–it’s about restoring the woman’s voice. Still–after all these years, and after all this progress, apparently we haven’t got the point yet. The root issue behind 18th-century sexism is the same root issue today. This is precisely what I mean when I say we are fighting against our own history.

When I watched this film, and the pain inflicted these women, I could easily see the correlation between that day and ours–the pain we men still inflict on the women when we respond to them with a cavalier, “What’s the big deal?” It may not be as blatantly oppressive as the culture of 18th-century England, but it is no less hurtful to the soul. Because when we take that “passive” stance, we are still sending our sisters the same subtle message: Your opinion doesn’t matter. You have no voice.

It hurts. It’s unjust. And it still reeks.

It is interesting that when talking about repentance, the focus of Scripture seems to be not so much on repentance for sin, but on repentance from it. (See Heb. 6:1) To repent means to turn around, to change the mind. This suggests to me that the heart of repentance isn’t just about not doing bad things anymore, but about reversing the mentality that produced the bad behavior in the first place. Repentance for sin only deals with the past, but does nothing toward the future. It isn’t enough to just stop moving in a negative direction; we must actually turn away and move in the positive direction, from the inside out. This, to me, is repentance from sin, because it sets a new course for the future.

By the same token, we can’t heal the gender wounds by simply thinking we can stop the outward behaviors of bias and oppression, because those behaviors come naturally from a long, deep-rooted history of injustice. To repent from the oppression of our sisters means we deal with that root directly–not just making politically-correct changes to the outward behavior, but changes to the internal mindsets, that subtle programming that has convinced us men for generations that our voice is more important than that of a female. It means that we actively (not passively) choose to live in a new reality.

It means we don’t just “learn a lesson” from the historical injustice of our past; it means we create a new legacy for the future.

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Women, Church Leaders and Affirmative Action

9 comments

Categories: current issues, healing wounds

If you’re just tuning in, you might want to read these posts for background:
There’s this one,
and this one,
and this one
oh, and this one here.

In the course of the ongoing conversation on this blog about gender issues, both in the church and out, Erin posed a couple of interesting questions. Let me quote an excerpt of her comment here:

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Women Hiding In a Man’s World

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Categories: food for thought, healing wounds, Meanderings (look it up)

So I am continuing to ponder the issue of the suppression of women in the church–and not just in the church, but in our culture–and the need for men to be an active part of the process of healing and restoration. (If you are a man and are still wondering what the big deal is, please see this post. And this one wouldn’t hurt, either.) In the past month, this conversation has spanned numerous blogs and taken several twists and turns, but it has been a very needed discussion. And in my opinion, it needs to continue…and to move even beyond discussion into action. And so as things occur to me, I will continue to post them.

What I’m about to share here is merely an observation, based on what I’ve seen, and informed by what I believe about the gifts God has placed in the woman. I don’t pretend to have the inside track on what women think or feel, nor do I presume to put words into women’s mouths here. To tell you the truth, being a man, I feel a bit at a disadvantage in sharing this…so if you’re a female and don’t find you relate to what I’m going to share–or even if you think I’ve missed the boat on this one–feel free to give your input and help me clarify. But I’m seeing a pattern that I’m not hearing anyone really verbalize, and so I wanted to just put it on the table for people to look at and think about.

Despite the progress that has been made in affording women more opportunities for advancement (not just in the church but in our culture), it’s pretty evident that this is still a “man’s world”, and that sexism is still an issue. (For any men who might still be in denial about that, please see this post.) We see how women are breaking into (and succeeding in) more arenas previously considered “man’s territory”; but we don’t always see the steep uphill climb women still must make in order to “make it”.

I think there are many ways women try to compensate for the disadvantage they still must feel in a man’s world. But one thing I’ve observed that (if I’m right) is really quite tragic: it seems like many women compensate by suppressing elements of their own femininity and acting more like men–especially when they are trying to gain professional acceptance. When I take a mental inventory of some of the more successful or higher-profile women I know of, it seems like most of them act in many ways more male than female. They speak more sharply and act more assertively; they often prefer conservative fashions that lean toward gender-neutral; and they often project an exaggerated sense of confidence and strength that rivals that of many men. When I say this, I do so recognizing that women have a broad spectrum of personalities and styles, just as men do, and I’m not attempting to stereotype women as if to say there is a specific way they should act. But let’s just say that for many of the women I’m describing, it just seems like it’s out of character…like they are projecting a persona that differs from who they really are. And when a female projects a false persona that seems more masculine than feminine, it begs the question as to why.

When I see this kind of thing, it gives me the notion that the woman in question feels like she must act less like a woman and more like a man in order to have a footing in a man’s world…like this is how she must be in order to gain the respect of men. It also gives me the notion that if that woman didn’t feel pressured to “man up” like this–if she felt free to just be herself, like she could be accepted on her own terms–that she would act much differently. It’s as if the real woman inside her is hiding.

Surprisingly (or not)…I see this tendency also among many female leaders in the church. Even in circles that claim to support the active role of women in leadership, it appears quite often (though not always) like the female leaders still carry this burden of having to downplay their femininity and act more like a male would act. Even with women functioning in team ministry with their husbands, you can sometimes see it.

Sadly, and tragically…I believe this perception is true. I believe that if these women dropped the more masculine persona and accentuated their feminine traits, many people (both men and women) would actually take them far less seriously. And if I’m right about what I’m seeing, this multiplies the tragedy of it–not just the tragedy that women feel they must act this way to be accepted in a man’s world, but the tragedy that they are quite probably correct.

A convenient illustration of what I’m saying can be found in the 2008 U.S. presidential campaign. Hillary Clinton, the first woman candidate for President, was regularly lampooned for her pantsuits, and late-night pundits joked about her being “one of the guys.” But she had it easy compared to V.P. candidate Sarah Palin. When she came on the scene, wearing skirts and sporting a more feminine look, what happened? We scandalized the cost of her wardrobe, we photoshopped her into a bikini, and we tried to turn her into a porn star. (If this doesn’t convince you something is still wrong, I don’t know what will.) True enough, there were other factors (like a couple of bad press interviews) that caused her not to be taken as seriously as Hillary Clinton; but the fact is, people were exploiting her femininity long before those interviews. Both ladies took it on the chin during the campaign; but it just seemed to go better overall for the woman who wore the pantsuits.

The thing is, Scripture tells us both male and female were created in God’s image; one is not preferable to the other. But equality does not mean sameness. There are things in one gender that are not in the other, and vice-versa. But both are the image of God. The femininity that God placed in woman is a gift that should be treasured by both sexes, and not exploited or despised by either. And a woman should never feel like she has to suppress or conceal her own nature, or “man up” in order to be part of the club. Even when a woman is given freedom to advance, or equal opportunity…if she cannot be who she really is, then the full image of God is still being corrupted, and sexism (although more subtle) is still working its evil.

And this is where men have the opportunity to help heal the wound…especially those of us who are believers and Christ-followers. Jesus was known for crossing social boundaries to reach out to women and respectfully lift them up–sometimes literally lifting them out of the dirt. If we are His followers, than this is our example. The church should not be behind the curve on this issue; we should be ahead of it. If there is anyone who should set a new standard for releasing women into their gifts in fullness, allowing them to be whom God has made them to be…it should be their brothers in Christ.

May we not only release women to speak, achieve and succeed; may we also release them to be women. Our sisters have been in hiding for far too long.

That’s what I think, anyway. 🙂

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Sexism by Default: Why Men Must Not Be Passive

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Categories: current issues, food for thought, healing wounds

I think every experience can provide an opportunity to learn; and the recent dialogue that took place on Jonathan Brink’s blog concerning the Origins project is no exception. (If you’re just tuning in, click these three links to catch up.)

First, let me make clear that this post is not to discuss Origins specifically; as far as I am concerned, the issue in question was resolved; I am very thankful for the action that was taken, and I support Origins’ efforts and wish them nothing but the best. Rather, it is the rest of us, the ones who participated in this discussion about the equality of women in the church–and the ones who continue to view it from a distance–who need to take a look at the bigger picture and learn from this experience.

I’m a student of human nature, so I read people’s reactions and comments with interest all the way through. And here is what I observed:

  • Among the women who commented, there was nearly 100% solidarity, not just behind Jonathan’s concerns about the Origins leadership roster, but (more importantly) the deeper issues it represented. I could pick up within their remarks a strong desire for their voices to be heard and understood, as well as an appreciation for the fact that this issue was being discussed so openly.
  • Among the men who commented…I found a mixed response between agreement and disagreement, maybe about 50/50. None of the men were in favor of sexism, per se; but I felt many of the responses actually tended toward deflecting the issue. Specifically, I observed examples of denial, avoidance, and even some shifting of blame. Some of the men (even among the ones who agreed with Jonathan) chose to take a more detached, philosophical approach, where the women (understandably) approached the issue more emotionally.
Allow me to summarize (and paraphrase) the gist of some of the objections raised by the men:
  • Origins is inclusive of women in leadership; you have misunderstood.
  • You are rushing to judgment.
  • You are framing a historical narrative and unfairly pinning it on Origins.
  • You have cast an unfair shadow on Origins on its opening day.
  • Maybe there just happened to be no women qualified to lead, or who wanted to lead.
  • Maybe the team that evolved just happened to be men, no exclusion of women intended.
  • Can’t we just assume the best and give them the benefit of the doubt?
Without putting words in anyone’s mouth…at times, I have to say I almost detected a vibe that said, “Hey–you guys are GUYS! These guys are probably okay and probably aren’t sexist; why are you picking on them?”

I bring this up not to fault anyone in particular; everyone has the right to their perspective and opinion. But when a line is drawn in the sand like this, our gut reactions can really show us something about ourselves, if we are willing to look. It was actually within these types of remarks that I realized a lot of the guys weren’t fully understanding why the question was even raised. The answer, I believe, is made clear when we understand the difference between passive agreement and acting on what we say we believe.

For many years, I have supported the idea of the equality of women, and done what I felt was appropriate to live that out. But until recently, mine was a passive agreement. I thought it was enough to let women have a place, rather than going the extra step of making a place for them.

But here’s the thing, men: we live in a civilization that tends toward suppressing women by default. If we are not purposeful and intentional in overcoming that, we will inevitably lean back toward the default without meaning to. It’s like standing on a slope; if you don’t intentionally lean against the grade, gravity will take over and your own weight will take you toppling downhill as a result.

When I recently came to the realization that even women in supposedly egalitarian settings were still being overlooked and wounded, I saw the danger of my passivity. I saw that not only was I still capable of suppressing the woman, but I probably had, many times, without even realizing it. In that moment, to my dismay, I realized that because of the slope we stand on…by being passive, I was still adding to the problem.

My passivity WAS sexism. It had just taken a more subtle form.

I knew in that moment I could no longer settle for being merely in passive agreement.

And neither can any man who truly wants to be part of the solution.

Here’s why I say all this: I believe that this entire incident–from the mis-step at Origins itself to the mixed reactions to Jonathan’s raising of the question–has revealed a deeper issue, particularly among the guys, that we must not ignore. Because the common thread running through all of it is…passivity.

I firmly believe nobody at Origins meant to create a stir by the initial depiction of their leadership; all they wanted to do was stir the hearts of people toward mission and engage them in the project. It was just that they did not see (at first) the potential for wounding in the way they depicted their leadership. And even after Jonathan raised the issue…many of the men involved in the discussion did not really see what all the fuss was about.

That is the key we must not miss: many men did not see it. Not seeing is the tell-tale sign that we have defaulted to the passive approach. Not seeing is what causes us to step on our sisters and add to their wound without even knowing what we did.

And guys: Not seeing is not an excuse.

I cannot stress this enough: when it comes to the men’s response to this issue…passivity IS sexism.

The slope leans too far in one direction, and if you aren’t purposefully being part of the solution, you will be part of the problem. There is no neutral ground on a slanting slope. You will lean one way or the other. It just can’t be helped.

This, my friends, is why this wasn’t a case of nitpicking; the issue needed to be raised–because overlooking it is passivity, and passivity is sexism by default. This isn’t about political correctness; our sisters deserve for us to see them, to see their wound, and take action to heal that wound. There is great treasure God has placed within them, and they need their brothers to stand with them, not passively, but on purpose.

To commend Origins once again…when they saw it, passivity went away; they took action. With one very simple move, they immediately transferred from adding to the problem to being part of the solution. Kudos to them.

This is the lesson I truly hope we can take away from this experience. May what has transpired these past few days move us from passivity to an active response. May God give us men the eyes to see, and the feet to act. May we be convicted and inspired to see our sisters, honor them, make room for them, and defend them when necessary.

They are worth it, after all.

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An Important Update

3 comments

Categories: current issues, healing wounds

I have continued to track the lively conversation that has been taking place on Jonathan Brink’s blog since he raised the question about the new Origins project and their all-male core leadership team. (You can check his first post here, and his follow-up post here.)

Since those posts went up, some interesting (and I believe, quite positive) developments have occurred.

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Standing Up for Our Sisters: The Conversation Jumps Up a Notch

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Categories: current issues, healing wounds

An important nerve has clearly been struck. And yesterday the conversation jumped up a notch.

Nearly three weeks ago, I was greatly moved by a post by Jeromy at A Mending Shift, talking about the suppression of women within the church, the ongoing wound, and the need for healing.

So I wrote “Why the Heart of Every Man Should Be Breaking“–which, in two weeks’ time, already has all appearances of becoming the most-read blog post I’ve ever written (which tells me just how deeply significant this particular topic is to people).

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Continuing the Conversation…

4 comments

Categories: current issues, healing wounds, theological questions

My new blogger friend Reina, in response to Thursday’s post, shared a link to something she wrote in her own blog in January. With her permission, allow me to share an excerpt:

“…one of the things that struck me [in reading through the Bible] is how many prominent women are mentioned in every culture but that of the Jews and Christians. It would seem that God, my God, the God of the bible, introduced the idea that women should be subservient to men, and his people have been busy making an example of that to the rest of the world. Christians especially, seem to have done a excellent job of setting this example, ultimately culminating in the dark ages, when women were worth less than cattle.

“Now, after 6,000 years of this, women are working hard to dig themselves out of this trench to demand equality and respect. Equality before men AND God.

“So what was the point of this? When I first read through the books of Moses, this really angered me. During the time God was laying out all 600+ laws and instructions to Moses, he couldn’t have said ONE DARN THING to protect women from what he, as God, should have known would happen? It seems clear to me that Jesus respected women, and treated them well, which is probably why he had such a following of loyal women. So why the disconnect? What was the purpose of being such an ass?”

I found Reina’s remarks to be honest and thought-provoking…so for no other purpose than it seems easiest for me to process my thoughts this way, I’m going to write my response here directly to Reina and you can just listen in. 🙂

I mentioned in Thursday’s post that the church’s oppression of women has happened “because we have basically interpreted a few Scriptures in the light of our male-dominant culture, instead of the culture in which they were written.” Reina, my opinion is that this is where the disconnect is–not within God’s intentions for you, or for women in general.

I want to suggest that the reason it appears to you that the Scriptures promote this idea of female subservience is likely because (although you greatly dislike it) you, too, are reading the Scripture through the lens of our culture, rather than its original culture. For most of us, both men and women, this is the only lens we have been given; and so the only options seem to be to accept what we see of the Bible through this lens–or to reject it out of hand.

But if you look at the Hebrew culture, out of which the Scriptures were written, you’ll discover that women actually had a place of honor in that culture. Women were free to own property and conduct business transactions independently of men, and in fact had far more rights and protections against sexual misconduct under Hebrew law than even American law provides. (You did not want to be a man accused of rape in ancient Israel.) And there are prominent females in Scripture; female leaders and “heroes of faith” can be found throughout the entire Bible, although they are not often preached about in churches. The primary focus of the woman was home and family, but as the home was the center of Jewish life (and even of spiritual activity), the woman’s place of leadership and influence was held in high respect, much more so than in our modern culture.

If anything, this legacy of respect was extended, if not expanded, into the early church. You mentioned Jesus’ respect for women; there is also the fact that female prophets and apostles are mentioned throughout the N.T., and that Paul even mentioned some of them as his “co-laborers”. In fact, it was Paul who stated that in Christ “there is no male or female…” It’s highly unfortunate that a few of Paul’s other statements (“women keep silent” for example) have been greatly misinterpreted. If you study that statement in historical context, it reveals that he was addressing some specific issues surrounding that particular church–not establishing a doctrine to exclude women from leadership.

Taken in this light, I believe the Scriptures may seem a lot less male-dominant. I think the reason it might feel otherwise is because our own culture lends that bias, not the Scripture itself.

To shift focus a moment…one question you raised was of particular interest: when you asked why God did not write into the Law of Moses more protections for women against their inevitable oppression. I think it’s important to look at this, because your honest words reveal a deep feeling of injustice about this that may be felt by many women–and anger not just at men, but at God. If God is supposed to be a loving Father, why would He leave His daughters so unprotected? I have a couple of thoughts about this…

First–it occurs to me that this is a question that any oppressed or marginalized segment of humanity might ask. It would be just as relevant to ask why God didn’t write something in to protect people from becoming slaves, or being hungry, or conquering each other. We could bring it into the modern era: Why didn’t He do more to protect the Jews from the Holocaust? Why doesn’t He do something about the horrors of sex trafficking, or poverty, or plague?

Don’t misunderstand: I’m not making light here at all. I’m just saying there are many examples of injustice that seem for the moment to go unanswered, things we don’t understand. And the answers are hard to come by, because we are finite people trying to understand and predict an infinite God who sees a bigger picture. But one thing I do believe confidently is that just because these injustices happen, that does not mean that God does not see, does not hurt over them, or does not care. By the same token, what I’m saying is that when you see what seems to be a lack of protection here against the male oppression of women…it does not translate to “God doesn’t care about me”, any more than it does in any other case of injustice. Nor does it mean God approves of that oppression. I believe He hurts deeply when a woman is mistreated or marginalized–and just because it looks to us like it goes unanswered does not mean He isn’t going to do something about it.

Second–and this part is just a guess–perhaps the Law doesn’t address female protection more directly because, as I mentioned before, the surrounding culture already honored and respected women. It wouldn’t make sense to make laws or warn a people about the suppression of women if they simply didn’t think that way. It was not until the New Testament, when the church expanded into the Greek culture (which was far less favorable to women) that gender issues were addressed more specifically, and probably (ironically) for the purpose of bringing some protection there. Unfortunately, as we know, these Scriptures were misinterpreted over the years and, used as an excuse for man to outclass and suppress woman, rather than protect and respect her. Just an opinion…

Thank you again, Reina, for being open about your struggle and your thoughts about all this, and for allowing me to share my response in such a public way. Please take my long, rambling response here for what it is…a brother adding his perspective to the conversation, for whatever it is worth. 🙂

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