the All Our Minds project | On Christianity and Feminism  ft. Sarah Schwartz

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the All Our Minds project | On Christianity and Feminism ft. Sarah Schwartz

Throughout history, women of faith have often struggled to discover their place in the church—and more broadly, in the world. Take my friend Sarah Schwartz for instance.

Since childhood, Sarah has always been a natural leader, but as she grew up and began stepping more fully into this gift, she started to receive conflicting messages about what was expected of her as a woman. More specifically, as a Christian woman.

In college, these conflicting messages drove Sarah to Scripture. As someone who takes Scripture seriously and wants to follow Jesus with every part of her life, she started reading different books on different theologies of gender. “I read everything I could get my hands on,” says Sarah, “and I really just came to believe that God's heart was one for women to experience the same dignity and respect in this world as men experience.”

Sarah recently graduated with her M.A. in Theology from Biola University and actively advocates for the equality of men and women, both inside the walls of the church and beyond. That’s why I reached out to her for an interview after receiving today’s question:

Question #3: What does it look like to be a Christian feminist?

Instead of trying to answer this one on my own, I connected with Sarah. Here are some snippets from our conversation, which started with her defining feminism.

Sarah: I'd say that I define feminism as a Christian woman the same way that a non-Christian woman would. I think the definition remains the same. Feminism is a movement for the social, political, and economic equality of the sexes. And while I'm a Christian and that is a part of my identity and there are women who aren't Christians who believe in feminism, I would say that my Christian faith makes me believe in feminism all that much more. I believe that the idea that women deserve to be treated with the same dignity and respect as men in every sphere is actually very deeply Christian. So while it's entirely possible to be a feminist and not a Christian, I would say that my Christian faith actually inspires me to pursue feminism that much more.

Can you talk a little more about that?

Sarah: Yeah. So in following Jesus and trying to better understand the heartbeat of God, as revealed in the Scriptures and in the life of Jesus Christ, I see our God as one who is always on in the corner of the marginalized. He's always advocating for fair and just treatment for those who are vulnerable. We see this particularly in the way that the Old Testament law talks about how Israel is supposed to treat the foreigner, the widow and the oppressed. There's consideration taken for those who are vulnerable in society.
We see that in the Old Testament and then we see it continue on with Jesus's Sermon on the Mount. And women throughout the history of the world to present day are overrepresented in those categories in terms of violence and systemic poverty, abuse, harassment, mistreatment. So then it follows that God's heart is also for women.

So what does it look like to be a Christian feminist?

Sarah: For me, being a Christian feminist means to think about the words of the Old Testament where it says, "What does the Lord require of you but to love mercy and to do justly and to walk humbly with your God?" I want to structure my life in a way where the money that I spend is helping empower women. I'm gonna buy things from companies that treat their female workers well or who put fair labor laws in the factories that they own. I want to be sure to call out the very best in my female friends and in my sister and my cousins and I want to be a voice that reminds them that they're capable. And that they should ask for that job promotion or they should go for that degree.
At the end of the day, I believe that in the kingdom of God, women are and will be celebrated as the full image bearer creations that they are. So how can I live that now? By following Jesus and following his commands to their logical end in every sphere of my life.

Many people point to Genesis 2:22-23 and say that women are not in fact equal to men because woman was made from man. What are your thoughts?

Sarah: So I would say that that's kind of sloppy interpretation. It’s generally the very theologically conservative people who interpret it that way and they would never apply that kind of hermeneutic to any other passage. Because it’s implicit in the text rather than explicit in the text.
The text doesn't then follow and say, "And because of this, woman is inferior to man." Right? I think it's important to recognize like what the text does and does not say. And also, as always with any responsible exposition of scripture, we have to look at big picture things and we can't isolate verses.
The creation narrative is actually really beautiful in it's affirmation of women being full image bearers. When God says, "Let us make man in our image," he created them and affirmed that both men and women bear the image of God fully. Then, when Adam and Eve are commissioned to rule over the Earth, to sustain and care for the Earth and tend to it, it isn't "Adam, you rule over the earth and Eve, take notes." It's a command given to both of them.

What do women’s marches represent?

Sarah: I've found that a lot of the hesitation of Christians to participate in the women's march is that the women's march organization did decline to work with a pro-life organization in the initial planning of the original women's march. A lot of Christians associate feminism with abortion rights, and that’s when I like to draw it back to a comparison to Christianity.
So within Christianity, we have a variety of expression and beliefs and practices within our faith tradition, right? We have a variety of denominations and people who are Calvinists and people who are Arminian and everything else under the sun. What makes all of those people Christian is that they believe in who Jesus is and what he did for us and what that means for humanity. And so they disagree about a lot of things but they come back at the end of the day to those core truths that define them as Christians.
It's the same with feminism. You're gonna find a lot of feminists that disagree with each other about a lot of things including abortion rights, but at the end of the day the umbrella under which they all fall under is the belief in the social, political, and economic equality of women. So I am a feminist, I am pro-life and I don't support abortion. There’s a major misconception that in order to participate in things like the women's marches you have to support abortion, which is just simply not true.

What would be your challenge to Christian women today?

Sarah: I would challenge Christian women to live fully into the giftings that God has given them. And I’d challenge them to be careful not to import our own culture’s ideals and ideas about femininity when thinking about what gifts it's possible for them to have. In the white, middle to upper class evangelical culture, the ideal way to live is to have a husband who makes more money than you so that you can have kids and stay at home. That's great if that works out for you and if that's what you wanna do. I was raised by a stay at home mom, I have benefited from that particular set up within my own family unit, but also I think sometimes we forget that we are like 5% of the world where that's possible.
The many luxuries that we are afforded are not afforded to women in other parts of the world. And if I'm gonna be an advocate for women, if I'm gonna think critically about womanhood, I need to be thinking about women who don't look like me or experience the world like me.

What is the question that I'm not asking? What piece of this conversation do you feel is missing?

Sarah: Well I've been thinking a lot lately about how often we don't know our own history. It’s only through my own research and digging that I feel like I understood the movements of feminism and the sacrifices that were made by women. So I never learned about how women during the suffrage movement were beaten and arrested and force fed in jail because they were advocating simply for a woman's right to vote. My own grandmother, who is 88 years old couldn't have a credit card in her name until the 1970s. And things like domestic violence between a husband and a wife—there wasn't a law against those things until the 70s. Sometimes we approach these things without even realizing how close we are to them in history.

For people who are interested in learning more, can you recommend some books or articles that might be good resources? Maybe some people who think the same as you and others who have differing perspectives?

Sarah: A book that I recommend all the time is by Sarah Bessey and it's called Jesus Feminist. For people who are more interested in the theology, Discovering Biblical Equality by Ron Pierce and Rebecca Groothuis is a really good book. The counterpart to that, which is the complementarian theology, is Rediscovering Biblical Manhood and Womanhood by John Piper and Wayne Grudem. And then also another one that people really enjoy and I think is a really good read is Rachel Held Evans A Year of Biblical Womanhood. Sarah Bessey and Rachel Held Evans both also have blogs.

So there you have it. One woman’s experience of thinking through her faith and her feminist values. I hope her words and recommendations will help you form your own views on this topic. Please share your thoughts and responses in the comments below.

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the All Our Minds project | On Judgmental Christians

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the All Our Minds project | On Judgmental Christians

Question #2: Why are some Christians so judgmental when the Bible teaches compassion, understanding, and kindness?
 
We’ll just dive right in with this one...

As a Sunday School teacher, it’s interesting for me to think about the different aspects of God’s character that different kids hold more firmly to. Some hop on the Jesus Loves Me train and ride straight on ‘til morning. Whether it’s because of their backgrounds or personal temperaments, it’s easier and more intuitive for them to latch on to the concept of a loving God. These are the kids who might get scared or anxious at the mention of God’s wrath.  
 
Then there are the kids on the other end of the spectrum who can understand God’s wrath more readily than His love. These kids are very well-behaved, disciplined and logical. They hold on to the idea that actions have consequences and they sometimes get confused when the topic of forgiveness comes up.
 
Whether a person is born into a Christian family or comes to Christ later in life, it’s not uncommon for us to begin our spiritual walks with a leaning in one of these two directions. Especially as adults, our backgrounds and experiences inform our view of God and can bring us to a starting point in our faith.
 
The hope, of course, is that our understanding of God’s character would continue to expand and evolve as we grow in our faith. That our hearts and minds would learn to hold both His love and His wrath simultaneously—and that we would learn to live out of the most God-honoring balance of the two.  
 
Historically, we as the Church have failed pretty miserably at balancing these scales. In fact, this painfully apparent shortcoming can be traced all the way back to biblical times.
 
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says it plain and clear: “Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:1-2).
 
So the question stands: why do we do it?
 
1. We point people to Jesus’ rules before pointing them to Jesus
 
Being a Christian means having a relationship with Jesus. Imagine meeting somebody for the first time and immediately receiving a rulebook for how to be friends with that person. We need to talk every day and you need to change X, Y, Z about yourself. Also, your whole life is about serving me now. How interested would you be in building a friendship with that person? Exactly.
 
All too often, this is the abrupt introduction that people get to Jesus. We define Him by the standards He sets, and not as the grace-filled Reconciler we know Him to be. This reversal is a critical misstep that pushes people away from experiencing His love.
 
Why would somebody who doesn’t know Jesus care whether or not they’re meeting His standards? The explanation of That’s not how Jesus wants you to live means nothing if the person hearing it doesn’t care what Jesus thinks about their life choices.
 
In a lot of ways, it’s easier for Christians to draw lines in the sand and play referee when somebody goes out of bounds. It’s easier to apply cut and dry rules than it is to build a relationship, hear a person’s questions and walk through Jesus' words on the topic. When we take the Change this-Change that-You’re-wrong-I’m right approach, it just reads as self-righteous judgment.
 
Jesus is the why. We need to start with the why.
 
2. We miss the mark on “speaking the Truth in love”
 
In his letter to the Ephesians, Paul tells us what it means to speak the truth in love:
 
Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work. (4:14-16).
 
The first part of the passage is all about remaining firm and rooted in what we know to be true—namely, the Gospel message. Instead of being tossed by the waves of uncertainty, we are to be confident in the Truth that Jesus died for our sins. When we have the confidence in Jesus, we will be built up in love and hence enabled to speak the truth in love.
 
Those are pretty words, but what does it look like in practice? Similar to the Sunday school students I mentioned before, I think that many grown Christians struggle to strike this balance. I don’t want to compromise the Truth, but how do I share this radically offensive Truth in love?
 

To me, this is a matter of It’s not what you say. It’s how you say it. If you’ve ever seen a street-corner evangelist with a megaphone and a sign that reads God hates sin or You’re going to hell, you know what I’m talking about. Nothing about how that message is being communicated is in love. It’s all about judgment and hate.
 
It really boils down to relationships. Paul wrote: “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” (1 Corinthians 9:22). Paul was committed to understanding the perspectives of others, meeting them in their questioning and sharing the Gospel in a way that created bridges between their differences. We can’t do any of that unless we’re in relationship with others. In order to speak the Truth in love, we need to actually love the person we’re speaking to.
 
3. We’ve wrongly responded to the gift of God’s forgiveness with pride instead of humility
 
This is at the root of the judgmental thoughts and actions of many Christians. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Any person who professes faith in Jesus Christ was at some point humbled by this verse. But somewhere between acknowledging our own brokenness, being forgiven and searching for wisdom and knowledge in God’s Word, a toxic sense of worthiness creeps into our hearts. The little voice that says I’m actually pretty good at following Jesus.
 
When we listen to that voice and forget our brokenness, we are living out of a place of pride that separates us from God and others. Suddenly, we don’t need God nearly as much as we used to—and we’re probably looking down on others. Later in Romans, Paul writes: “Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you” (12:3).
 
Choosing pride over humility makes it easy to be judgmental and impossible to be compassionate. Once I start believing that I’m better than the person next to me, I’ve lost sight of the core message of the Gospel that I claim to have mastered: that we were all buried under the weight of sin before Christ atoned for it all.
 
So now what?

 
I believe that we as the church can do better. In fact, Jesus demands better from us. He will never stop demanding better from us. That’s just sanctification.
 
I wish I could promise you that all Christians will one day stop being judgmental. I wish I could promise you that all of us will model Christ-like humility and compassion in every moment of every day. Unfortunately, that’s just not going to happen on this side of heaven.
 
We are imperfect people serving the perfect God. The God who “so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Many are weary from dealing with the church’s shortcomings, myself included. While developing my response to this question, this sermon reminded me that the church is messy because it’s filled with sinners. 
 
Mark 2:17 reads: “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” The church is the hospital where dying sinners come to see the doctor. Jesus is the doctor who offers new life to anybody who asks for it.
 
I’ll leave you with this excerpt from “Mere Christianity” by C.S. Lewis:
 
If what you want is an argument against Christianity (and I well remember how eagerly I looked for such arguments when I began to be afraid it was true) you can easily find some stupid and unsatisfactory Christian and say, ‘So there’s your boasted new man! Give me the old kind.’ But if once you have begun to see that Christianity is on other grounds probable, you will know in your heart that this is only evading the issue. What can you ever really know of other people’s souls—of their temptations, their opportunities, their struggles? One soul in the whole creation you do know: and it is the only one whose fate is placed in your hands. If there is a God, you are, in a sense, alone with Him. You cannot put Him off with speculations about your next door neighbors or memories of what you have read in books. What will all that chatter and hearsay count (will you even be able to remember it?) when the anesthetic fog which we call ‘nature’ or ‘the real world’ fades away and the Presence in which you have always stood becomes palpable, immediate, and unavoidable? (C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity).

Resources:
https://www.bethinking.org/is-religion-harmful/why-are-christians-so-hypocritical
https://relevantmagazine.com/god/practical-faith/why-are-christians-so-judgmental
https://www.exploregod.com/why-are-christians-so-judgmental
http://www.patheos.com/blogs/whiskeypreacher/2014/01/christians-are-judgmental-jerks/
http://parkerhillsbiblefellowship.org/sites/parkerhillsbiblefellowship.org/files/audio/files/7_arent_christians_hypocritical_gullible_judgmental.pdf

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the All Our Minds project | On Going to Church

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the All Our Minds project | On Going to Church

For those of you who missed my last post, this is the start of a new series called the All Our Minds project. I’m asking anybody who’s interested—you included—to tell me their biggest question about Christianity. I’ll do some research and write a response to your question, which will hopefully lead to a healthy dialogue and a discovery of God’s Truth on the subject.
 
Okay, now that we’re all caught up—drumroll please.

And our first question of the series is…

If I pray every day and study the faith on my own but do not attend church, does this make me a "bad Christian"?
 
When I first saw this question, the part that immediately caught my eye was the term “bad Christian.” Let’s start there.
 
The terms “good Christian” and “bad Christian” get thrown around a lot and I’m not really convinced that they serve us well when we’re dialoguing about our faith. If any of us are calling ourselves “good Christians,” we’re probably glazing over at least a dozen areas where God is working to grow us. But thinking of ourselves as “bad Christians” could lead to futility and resignation, which isn’t helpful either.  
 
So rather than approaching this as a matter of “good Christian” vs. “bad Christian,” I’d like to think about this question in terms of how Jesus lived and how He calls us to relate to one another.
 
Jesus’ life and ministry on this earth is our tried-and-true example of a godly life. 1 John leaves us with this challenge: “Whoever claims to live in Him must live as Jesus did” (2:6). Whenever we’re asking ourselves a question about the Christian lifestyle, this is the ground zero that we need to start at. How should I be living my life? The way that Jesus did. How did church fit into Jesus’ life? I’m so glad you asked.
 
When Jesus was just twelve years old, His parents accidentally left Him at the temple in Jerusalem… for three days. They finally found him “in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46). Flustered, His parents asked Him why He had stayed behind.
 
“‘Why were you searching for me?’ he asked. ‘Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?’” (Luke 2:49).
 
From that young age, spending time in His Father’s house was very important to Jesus—and it stayed that way throughout His ministry. In addition to actively praying for others and with others, involvement in the local faith community was central to Jesus’ life on this earth. Here are a few reasons why it’s central to ours too.  

A growing faith is relational

The New Testament makes it clear that the life of a Christ-follower is not one of isolation. In fact, quite the opposite—it’s all about relationships. Relationship with Christ. Relationships with fellow believers. Relationships with teachers, lepers and prodigal sons. 

Matthew 18:20 tells us, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them.” Gathering with one another gives us a strength that we can’t have on our own. If we’re not relating to others and building life-giving relationships in our church community, we’re actually missing out on opportunities to grow spiritually. By investing in these relationships, our personal faith and views will be challenged, and thus sharpened.  

Accountability is key

I believe that God’s Word is infallible. Unfortunately for us, we as humans do not share that same quality. In other words, we bring all of our preconceptions, personal experiences and inherently flawed human logic to the Bible when we read it.

Since we all approach God’s Word from our own unique background, it’s important for us to have accountability and guidance in our interpretations. Proverbs 11:14 says “For lack of guidance a nation falls, but victory is won through many advisers.” Most of us wouldn’t hold firmly to a conviction of any kind without hearing out some alternate perspectives. God’s Truth is objective, but we need the help of leaders and fellow believers to get to the heart of it. 

Now, for anybody who has ever been hurt or deceived by the church, this one might seem counterintuitive. The church is full of hypocrites. What kind of “accountability” can I really expect from them? Listen, I get it. I can’t write this piece without acknowledging that the church has some apparent shortcomings. Hear me out though…

C.S. Lewis writes “The Christian does not think God will love us because we are good, but that God will make us good because He loves us.” Beyond C.S. Lewis, the apostle Paul writes “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). 

None of us are good. We’re all flawed. And as it turns out, flawed people dealing with other flawed people is actually a recipe for spiritual growth. Together, our collective shortcomings are illuminated, our hearts are humbled and our need for grace is evident. Many people are driven away from fellowship because they don’t want to face church politics or hypocrisy, but those vices are everywhere whether we like it or not. If we actively resist them by holding each other accountable in fellowship, we’re sharpened by the practice of loving our neighbor when it’s hard. 

We remind each other of the hope we have

Another part of accountability is encouragement. By encouraging you and being present amidst your hardships, I’m holding you accountable to the hope of Christ that lives in you. Hebrews 10:24-25 hits the nail on the head: 

And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another–and all the more as you see the Day approaching.

When we gather as a community to “spur one another on toward love and good deeds,” we serve as living testimonies of the active hope we all have in Christ. If a brother or sister is struggling through a hard time, Paul says, “ Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2). In his letter to the Corinthians, he says of the body of Christ, “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honored, every part rejoices with it” (1 Corinthians 12:26). This is how we as the church are called to relate to one another. 

You’re a member of the body of Christ, which means you have a job to do

I’m going to let Romans 12:4-8 speak for itself on this one:

For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function,  so in Christ we, though many, form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us. If your gift is prophesying, then prophesy in accordance with your faith;  if it is serving, then serve; if it is teaching, then teach; if it is to encourage, then give encouragement; if it is giving, then give generously; if it is to lead, do it diligently; if it is to show mercy, do it cheerfully.

When we accept Christ as our Lord and Savior, we become part of His family. Each of us, as brothers and sisters in Christ, are gifted in different areas and have different strengths to share with our church community. That’s a big part of why it’s so important for us all to be actively engaged in church fellowship. Because are all united by a common love for Christ and a common desire to glorify Him—and we all have a role to play.

So now what?

Let’s say you don’t have a church that you attend regularly. Maybe you had one that you really loved and then you moved to a new place. Or maybe you’re a new Christian and just haven’t found a congregation that makes sense for you yet. 

Finding the right church can be challenging. Whenever I think about church searching, I remember this line from C.S. Lewis’ “The Screwtape Letters”:
 
Surely you know that if a man can’t be cured of churchgoing, the next best thing is to send him all over the neighbourhood looking for the church that ‘suits’ him until he becomes a taster or connoisseur of churches.... the search for a ‘suitable’ church makes the man a critic… (Letter #16).

In other words, it’s incredibly easy to indefinitely remain in the church search stage. Often times, it’s because we’re looking for a perfect blend of criterion that may or may not exist. In seasons when I’ve lived far from my home church, I’ve done the church search shuffle and there’s no sugar coating it—it’s tricky. 

I could probably write a whole post on this topic alone. Instead, I’ll just share what worked best for me: creating a list of my Tier One non-negotiable attributes that I needed in a church and working my way down from there. It helped me prioritize what mattered most while also managing my expectations.

There are plenty of people who go to church but don’t believe. Walking into a building every Sunday morning at 10 a.m. does not a faithful Christian make. But steering clear of the church altogether seems like a sure-fire way to miss out on chances to grow spiritually. As our faith grows, we draw closer to God—and isn’t that what this life is all about?

“Come near to God and he will come near to you” (James 4:8). 

Resources:
www.biblegateway.com
www.desiringgod.org/articles/why-should-i-go-to-church
www.gotquestions.org/when-did-the-church-begin.html
www.focusonthefamily.com/faith/faith-in-life/prayer/learning-from-the-prayer-life-of-jesus

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