‘Gender apartheid in the body of Christ’

‘Gender apartheid in the body of Christ’ February 15, 2012

That’s the title of a post from Left Cheek: “Gender apartheid in the body of Christ,” in which he writes:

You want to see a masculine Christianity? That’s easy! It’s all around us. It’s the current state of the American Church — a gender apartheid in the body of Christ.

If that language sounds too harsh, consider that Archbishop Desmond Tutu recently said something just as blunt.

“We have been excluding women,” Tutu told the world’s elite gathered in Davos, Switzerland. “What we need is a revolution led by women. I think women ought to be saying to us men: ‘You have made a mess, just get out and let us in.'”

“Gender apartheid,” I think, is an altogether apt and accurate description of the continuing practice in much of the Christian church of excluding women from leadership and relegating half of the body of Christ to second-class status.

Apartheid is descriptively true. And it suggests an agenda. It both identifies the problem and suggests what ought to be done about it.

The South African system of racial apartheid made that nation a pariah state. It was almost universally denounced as immoral because it was immoral. And that’s just as true of the gender apartheid in the church. It is immoral. It is indefensible. It is a sin — a sin that has become entrenched in institutional structures.

Let’s be blunt and honest: There is no legitimate reason for any Christian congregation or denomination to exclude women from full and equal participation, including in leadership. None.

Those groups still following this sinful practice can only be doing so for one of a handful of reasons: 1) Because this is the way they’ve done things for a long time and simple inertia is permitted to perpetuate injustice; 2) The group is clinging to a long-discredited interpretation of a handful of clobber verses, because they prefer the injustice that interpretation creates; or 3) They have leaped to some rather dubious conclusions stemming from a disproportionate concern with the fact that Jesus of Nazareth had a penis.

No, I have not taken pains here to restate these in a more flattering way because they cannot and should not be stated in a flattering way. None of these arguments is compelling or convincing in the slightest. Such arguments, even stated as charitably as possible in their strongest possible forms, can only be attractive to those who are desperately seeking a rationale for privilege and power.

I know we’re supposed to take the greatest of pains to express respect for the beliefs of our fellow Christians, but these folks have made it impossible to show respect for their beliefs without thereby agreeing to participate in their disrespect for others — and in the consequences of that disrespect.

I wish it were possible to be nicer, more respectful, more gentle in discussing all this, but gender apartheid is not nice, respectful or gentle towards those it presses down on. Male superiority is not a respectable doctrine, which is to say it is not capable of being respected — no matter how much one tries. Respect is something it cannot be given, so there’s not much point in trying.

Or at least, in any case, I am done trying.

I appreciate Jenell Paris’ argument to “Withhold Consent from Christian Sexism“:

Arguing with Christian sexists is like feeding the wildlife. They keep coming back, and you lose your lunch. Give them nothing, not even the power to incite you, and maybe they’ll go away.

But they’re not going away. And the problem is much larger than just the infamously ludicrous celebrities Paris is talking about — the John Pipers and the Mark Driscolls of this world. The problem is woven into the structure of many of our Christian churches and denominations.

The problem of “Christian sexism” is not simply the personal attitudes or foolish remarks of tiny men like Piper and Driscoll. The problem is the impersonal official policies of the Evangelical Free Church, the Lutheran Church – Missouri Synod, the Christian & Missionary Alliance, the Presbyterian Church in America and the Roman Catholic Church — among many, many others. The injustice and sin built into the structures of all those denominations won’t just go away.

And politely, respectfully requesting them to correct that injustice hasn’t worked either.

The first step, I think, is to use it’s real name: gender apartheid. Call it what it is, and by calling it that we can perhaps get a sense of what the next steps should be.


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