The Ain't I a Woman blog examines the many ways Christian culture lets women know exactly who they should be. We deconstruct those messages that we find troubling--and, in the process, construct a different message: one that allows Christian women to be all that God intended.

Kate Wiant and Violence Against Women

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Our community is devastated.

Sunday afternoon an act of family violence occurred leaving our beloved librarian, Kate Wiant, dead. It appears she was shot by her husband who later killed himself, all while their young daughter watched.

For those of us who knew Kate, this rage against her is hard to fathom for she was the kindest, most gentle and gracious spirit on campus. To interact with her was to brighten one’s day. She was just that kind of positive force, a smile always on her face. And so, because of who she was, we cannot reconcile that with what was done to her by her spouse. She was murdered by someone she loved in front of their child.

There are no words for the grief we feel, for the horror we imagine took place before she took her last breath.

And still, we will start classes this week. For many of us we will feel that life should stop, that we should have longer to resolve our tremendous loss with how we move forward.

For me, among other classes this semester, I will be teaching Introduction to the New Testament. As I think about this challenge in light of Kate’s death, I cannot but be reminded of how easily we have dismissed family violence as something we don’t need to address as long as it doesn’t directly affect us. We seldom talk about the reality that 85% of victims of family violence are women or that according to the American Psychological Association, 4,774,000 women each year experience physical violence by an intimate partner. These statistics should move us to action and yet, we hardly give them a passing thought.

You may be wondering how Kate’s murder is related to teaching the New Testament.

How often do we seriously examine the violence in the Bible, especially its violence against women? Because of the Bible’s pervasive place within our culture, we who look to it as a sacred text need to be more honest about its problems and our continuing silence about them. Until we look more critically at ourselves for being too silent for too long about how Christianity uses the Bible as a tool to promote patriarchal culture and therefore how inattentive we have been to the devastating effects of this culture on women and children, we as a society will perpetuate more horrific scenarios. One where even reports on such violent acts can conclude of Kate’s daughter, “she was not injured.” Of course she was; this little one’s life will never be the same.

For me, I will honor Kate when I walk into the classroom this week. I will witness to what a wonderful person she was and how sorry I am she is no longer with us.

And I will not be silent about our culture of violence, nor about our need to be real about the Bible.

 

A response to Dallas

Like you, the events of the last couple of weeks have left me feeling a host of emotions: anger, disappointment, fear, sadness. The anxiety I feel—and have experienced for several months—is exhausting. And I know I am not alone in this. You feel it, too.

Dallas

Sunday morning I opened my Dallas Morning News to the front page where a single eye filled with the Dallas skyline stared back at me shedding a tear. The editorial urged its readers to “learn to understand each other, to really hear one another, to learn from each other.” And then I looked at my facebook feed where some of my friends were posting their opposition to gun regulations, opposition to the Black Lives Matter movement, their uncritical support of police and policing policies.

And I wondered: do we have the capacity to learn, to really listen?

It was in the midst of this despair that I folded the paper and drove across Dallas to meet with a small group who gathers once a month in a classroom at Richland College called New Wineskins. There, we celebrate the Divine Feminine. There we help each other see that while it is easy to give up hope for this world so riddled with violence, Sophia points to a path that cultivates peace and justice.

Have you noticed the one constant that lies at the heart of the violence we continue to witness? This was the question that became our focus Sunday morning. It’s so obvious that it never is mentioned or considered. News pundits don’t talk about it. Pastors all over the country didn’t talk about it even as both rushed to offer their insights about the events in Dallas and around the nation.

Do you ever wonder why women are seldom the perpetrators of violence and instead are most often the ones who suffer from it?

Do you wonder what the world would be like if women were in equal partnership with men?

Do you wonder how our churches might respond to these tragedies if women were pastors?

Do you wonder how our laws and society would be structured if women had at least equal input?

Do you wonder how differently we would conduct international affairs or even policing in our streets if women were the architects of our system?

In our New Wineskins gathering Sunday we spoke of our vision of justice:

“We envision a land where the truth that all people are created equal will become a reality. Our vision is of a land where ‘liberty and justice’ for all is more than a pledge. Our vision is of a land where women and men of all colors, abilities, and sexual orientations will share equally in opportunities and blessings. We envision an end to war not only across the seas but in our own city streets, an end to abuse of all kinds on the job and in the home. Our vision includes faith communities in which all share equally in leadership and ministry, communities which give sacred value to female divinity as well as to male divinity. We envision a land free of discrimination and injustice in any form. We sound a call to freedom in our institutions and in our homes. We call for individual freedom from external definition, freedom to follow the voice within. We call for freedom to love, to create, to laugh, to learn, to grow, to become all we are meant to be.”—Jann Aldredge-Clanton

It’s a vision worth considering.

Twisting Faith: Evangelicals and Trump

We have had a full year to become numb to Donald Trump’s incessant lies. One after another they spew from his mouth with little push back from the media. And, who can blame them, really? It seems those who support Trump in his bid for the presidency care little about facts and instead are rallying behind a vapid promise of making America great.

This blind loyalty for Trump extends, apparently, to Christian conservatives who yesterday met with Trump to galvanize their relationship. According to The Dallas Morning News, the event included the likes of Franklin Graham, James Dobson, and Tony Perkins, essentially all of the old evangelical guard. And, that guard has been rewarded by Trump’s decision to have an evangelical advisory board composed of Jack Graham, Robert Jeffress, Kenneth Copeland, James Robison, and Robert Morris. Oh, and one woman: Michelle Bachmann.

All of this is good news to evangelicals because in his speech to them yesterday in New York, Trump admitted that religious liberty is the number one question and that he believes “we’ve got to spiritize this country.” Religious liberty and a Muslim ban? Spiritize, really?

In contrast to such blatant pandering (on both sides), and to correct Trump’s lie that Hillary Clinton’s faith is “not out there,” I suggest spending just a little bit of time digging into Secretary Clinton’s religious underpinnings. In 2014 she spoke at the United Methodist Women’s Assembly. She shared about her experiences in the church of her youth, of being confirmed, of what she learned through her youth group, of why she has spent her life working on behalf of the “least of these.”

If someone is looking to vote on a presidential candidate based upon a faith conviction, Hillary is the one who has not only read the Bible; she understands God’s call on our lives to be persons whose actions reflect our convictions. Check out what she says about Jesus’ instructions to feed the multitude, for example.

If evangelicals cannot see this clear distinction between someone pandering for support from a faith community and someone whose lifetime of faith is reflected in her work, then they are simply not paying attention.

China’s Masculinity Problem and America’s Solution

According to The New York Times, China has a boy problem. More specifically, “a generation of timid, self-centered and effeminate boys” (quoted by The Dallas Morning News, Feb. 7, 2016) is plaguing China to such a degree that the government has decided to take action.

While I certainly applaud China’s attentiveness to the need for boys to act more like boys and less like girls because, you know, acting like a girl is about the worse thing ever, I’d suggest there is more that could (and perhaps should) be done to address this disturbing problem.

But first, what excellent measures are underway so far?

To their credit, in a similar fashion of American girls signing purity pledges to their fathers, Chinese boys in some schools are signing petitions to “act like real men.” Presumably acting like real men includes martial arts, working on computers and knowing physics, all classes designed in Zhengzhou to achieve more “real men.” Or, in Hangzhou, “bringing out the men in boys” includes taekwondo as part of a summer camp program.

Too, the Chinese government is recruiting more male teachers whose maleness is intended to “salvage masculinity,” because, let’s face it, having too many female teachers at any age is worrisome. I mean, who can really trust women with knowing stuff, much less being able to teach it to boys?

While these efforts to teach their young boys to “man up” are laudable, China is really missing a huge opportunity to undergird their men with just the right kind of aggressiveness. So, maybe China should take a page out of America’s successful handbook.

According to The Associated Press, an average of 760 Americans was killed with guns annually by spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners between 2006 and 2014. 80% of those killed were women. (The Dallas Morning News, Feb. 6, 2016).

gun

Guns, in and of themselves are not bad, of course, and guns themselves do nothing but sit in dusty drawers. Furthermore, I’m sure it is pure coincidence that the vast majority of people killed by such innocent weapons are women and that the massive NRA lobby is merely protecting a time-honored freedom and we should not make any unwarranted logical assessment between the prolific availability of guns/lax gun regulation and disproportionate deaths of women.

Still, I imagine if China is really serious about its masculinity problem, the government may want to look to our American practice of protecting guns, even at the expense of women. We know a thing or two about cultivating masculine preference.

The (Gendered) Problem with Performance Reviews

evalsEven now, twenty years into my teaching career, I still fear the performance reviews that come at every semester’s end, when my students spend 10-15 minutes evaluating my course on anonymous forms. These evaluations are returned to me about a month into the new term, compelling me toward yet another panic attack.

Since I began teaching, I’ve opened these envelops with trembling hands and behind my locked office door, a private moment affording me an opportunity to hear just what students think about me. (Though not wholly private, as these performance reviews are read by my chair and my dean, and in years when I was up for tenure or promotion, by a personnel committee made up of peers from across campus.)

Although I recognize the need for student evaluations and performance reviews, this process also sucks, both in the figurative sense, but also in the literal sense of sucking my confidence away. Several recent studies suggest the entire performance review process, in universities and elsewhere, sucks a bit more for women than for men. New reports out this week argues that, according to NPR, “student evaluations are systematically biased against women — so much so, in fact, that they’re better mirrors of gender bias than they are of what they are supposed to be measuring: teaching quality.”

This statistical analysis reflects what Inside Higher Education reported last year: in a small pilot project at North Carolina State, when students assume an online professor is male, they will provide more positive reviews than when the teacher is assumed to be female. That study concluded “a female instructor would have to work harder than a male to receive comparable ratings,” all other aspects of the courses being equal. You can read the fascinating—and depressing—construction of the study, and its results, here.

As the Inside Higher Ed. report suggests, earlier research about teaching evaluations also concluded that women are often expected to be more nurturing and supportive than their male colleagues, even though taking on these character traits may make them seem less authoritative.

The more recent study, published on the ScienceOpen web page, concludes that gender influences even how students rate seemingly objective aspects of teaching, “such as how promptly assignments are graded,” and that “gender biases can be large enough to cause more effective teachers” to get lower evaluation scores than less effective teachers.

A recent report in The Economist suggests students more often use the term “brilliant” to describe their male professors, and more often use the term “horrible” to describe their female professors. Apparently, in fields like English, the disparity between female and male professors is especially wide in this regard: students find their male professors more brilliant and less horrible by wide margins, compared to fields like mathematics.

I should probably be shocked by such a study, but am not, in part because I remember my own reaction to professors when I was an undergraduate: when the English department hired a female faculty member, I was initially disappointed, believing the new hire would not be as authoritative, nor as inspiring, as her male colleagues. It took me about 1.5 semesters to realize my initial, incredibly biased perception was wrong, and I now can’t imagine being where I am in life without her influence.

As an instructor, too, I have recognized the many ways my gender informs students’ response to me, and there have been occasions where I am almost certain that the male professors in my department—indeed, in the entire institution—are treated far differently than their female colleagues.

Students who undermine their female professors in the classroom, or who show disregard for their professors’ knowledge or who speak out of turn in those classrooms, often show far more deference in classes where my male colleagues are teaching. This has been especially true at the Christian university where I teach, and where some students have deeply internalized the sense that women shouldn’t be teaching—shouldn’t be in the workplace—at all.

And now there is data to substantiate this sense that gender biases definitely do exist in the classroom. Unfortunately, bad student evaluations do more than merely make professors despair: they are used by institutions for promotion and tenure, and can be the difference between someone getting and keeping a job—or not.

When universities are grappling with how they can recruit and retain women for faculty positions, they might need to start here, by recognizing the ways seemingly “objective” student evaluations—in addition to other institutional policies and procedures—are part of a system that creates an uneven playing field for women. Doing away with anonymous student evaluations might be one place to make sure that playing field becomes more fair.

Marco Rubio: On Choosing Wayne Grudem

I’m a political junky. While I have no idea what season of Survivor we are now witnessing, nor even where such people are surviving, I can tell you when Mark Shields and David Brooks offer their assessments of the week’s political developments (Friday evenings midway through the PBS News Hour). I only know the name Kardashian because it is impossible NOT to hear the name, but I don’t know anything more than it is ubiquitous in American pop culture. On the other hand, I religiously watch Rachel Maddow and occasionally Fox News to get the “fair and balanced” perspective (ahem).

Even though I spend way too much time listening to political news, I seldom post on FB about my political leanings, figuring many if not most of my friends really don’t care to know. And that’s ok. I probably don’t want to know too much about their political allegiances, either.

So, if you are looking for me to say something about who deserves your vote in this post, I fear you will largely be disappointed. Still, because of our research for If Eve Only Knew I may have some information that could be useful, especially to women planning to vote in our upcoming primaries.

Earlier this month, Republican candidate Marco Rubio announced his Religious Liberty Advisory Board. This fifteen member panel is composed of a well-known mega-church pastor, some academics, even a non-Christian. Some could say it is surprisingly diverse. Unless, of course, gender is any consideration.

Rubio, perhaps sharing some similarity with former candidate Mitt Romney, needs more assistance locating skilled women who can advise him because in this list of fifteen people chosen for their expertise in all things religious, only one woman made the cut: Kelly Fiedorek, legal counsel of Alliance Defending Freedom.

I suppose one could say this dearth of women among Rubio’s Advisory council is an oversight on his part (this hardly seems possible) and given another chance, he might see the wisdom of locating a few women (he might ask Romney to borrow his “binder of women”). On the other hand, maybe women—and those who are concerned that political leaders are held accountable as representing all segments of our population—should give Rubio’s choices further scrutiny.

A member of Rubio’s Board is Wayne Grudem, a professor of theology and biblical studies at Phoenix Seminary. Grudem represents a movement within Christianity that urges women to resist working outside of the home while encouraging them to see their primary responsibilities as those of mother and wife. Grudem and an organization he helped create—The Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood—have worked relentlessly to jettison feminism, claiming it is antithetical to Christian teaching. This way of seeing the Bible not only limits women so that they feel guilty about developing themselves as whole persons, it puts limits on the ways God works in the world.

Maybe Marco Rubio did not vet Grudem as much as he should have. On the other hand, perhaps this kind of patriarchal vision is in keeping with Rubio’s convictions. Either way, I’d think all primary voters should take the members of Rubio’s advisory board seriously. A democracy is built upon the necessity of doing so.

For more on Grudem and the Complementarian movement, see Chapter 6, Setting Captives Free, of If Eve Only Knew.

Building a Wall for Refugees

In March 2000, my husband and I spent a Saturday afternoon browsing our way through a local home and garden show. We left with a yard ornament and an application to host an exchange student!

It wasn’t exactly what I’d had in mind in our going (I had hoped for sparking an interest in a nicer outdoor patio). But, we followed through with the application and a few months later—after some screenings—we welcomed a young German into our home.

This was a pretty big change for us. Thomas was seventeen and since we did not have children, we had never had anyone live with us before, let alone a high school student whose first language was not English.

We were nervous—and excited—as we drove to the DFW airport to meet him. We easily picked him out of the crowd, not only because of his 6’7” frame, but also because he looked “different.” His socks and shoes especially set him apart from what most American boys wore. But his quick smile and easy-going attitude quickly put us at ease and I think our interest in his country and family immediately helped him feel welcome in our home.

Over the course of that year, we developed a genuine love for this person whom we would have never met had we not taken a chance of extending hospitality to a stranger. It was a simple thing: provide a place to stay and some food and maybe a little guidance from time to time. And yet the experience itself transcended the practical measures of shifting our lifestyle for a year.

In contrast, as I listen to some of our public discourse today, mostly what I hear is “us vs. them.” We, as Americans, seem to make “other” so many people: immigrants, refugees, minority groups of all sorts. The literal and metaphorical walls appear to get erected before we even try to build a bridge.

Last weekend as my husband and I Skyped with Thomas and Sabrina (he is now married), Thomas excitedly told us, “we built a wall!” He then proceeded to show us how they had divided their two-room apartment to accommodate one more living space.

They had been distressed by the current refugee situation in Germany, feeling like they wished they could offer a place for someone to stay but knowing their apartment as it was would not work well. Instead of giving up, however, they decided to build a wall—but not to keep someone out. They created a third room so that they can host a refugee.

Sabrina and Thomas also told us about how small villages throughout Germany are finding buildings to host refugees—not vacated buildings, but places where recreation occurs. In other words, they are sacrificing public spaces in order to practice hospitality.

These aren’t the kinds of stories that make our daily news cycle. Even today I heard how refugees are creating havoc in Germany and the chaos is escalating. But I also know what else is going occurring. A young couple is opening their home to a stranger; they are extending hospitality. They are showing the love of God in a hurting world.

It’s a lesson for us all.

Facing our Fears and Following Jesus

I am embarrassed by where I live. Irving, Texas, used to be known as the home of the Dallas Cowboys, the professional football team. In fact, Valley Ranch, the specific area of Irving where the Cowboys practice, is just a few blocks away from my home. It isn’t this part of Irving that embarrasses me, however.

During the last few weeks, Irving has become known for its anti-Muslim sentiment, clearly displayed by a group of protesters, who have camped outside of a local mosque with their guns and signs prominently sending their message: fear and hatred.

irving+student+arrestBefore the Muslim protests, there was also the young boy who took his home-made clock to school. Instead of being lauded for his creativity and initiative, he was scolded and isolated, his Muslim identity called out as teachers and administrators chose fear over any other reasonable response.

Being afraid is, well, pretty terrible. Our heartbeats increase, our hands become clammy. Our physical bodies, in other words, register a built-in reaction to something or someone alarming. And yet, as we learn when we were young, often our fears are unfounded. That unexplained noise rousing us in the middle of the night, upon investigation often turns out to be not someone breaking in, but the dishwasher or ice machine.

As it turns out, however, learning about our fears is more difficult than creating barriers. Embracing fear rather than seeking to understand where it comes from leads to easy solutions. We simply create boundaries that allay our fears by keeping them hidden. The walls we erect are not just physical such as borders and fences, they also are ideological. How and when and where we draw these boundaries convey much about who we are and what we fear.

It is easy to reflect upon the current political milieu as an illustration of our propensity to react to fear with increasing amount of boundary talk, whether in the form of deportation, inhospitality to refugees, or religious-based immigrant policies. Those with simplistic answers and certitude have been given the most air-time; their approaches rewarded by numerous people who are giving into the temptation to let fear have the final say rather than examining where it comes from and why it has emerged with such power.

As we are fully in the embrace of Advent, awaiting the birth of a little baby, I am struck by the paradox that exists in this event we celebrate. The Incarnation—God in the world—is nothing short of learning to welcome the unknown. What does it mean to follow Jesus? Doesn’t he take us into the slums, to eat with those we don’t know? Into the back alleys to share what we have with those in need? Into the temple to challenge those who have created religious systems that benefit the rich? These are dangerous places; places where fear is surely felt.

Jesus’ actions lead us to the very places we are scared to enter. But he didn’t create boundaries; instead he extended compassion—at great cost. The question seems to me: what are we willing to lose in order to follow Jesus?

For further explorations of Jesus and other biblical figures, check out If Eve Only Knew!book cover

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