Friday, July 29, 2005

Hal Lindsey: Threatening American Muslims?

Hal Lindsey once said of me and Selling Satan coauthor Mike Hertenstein that we were either satanists or the pawns of satanists. Frankly, I was amused. But when the guru of end-times bestsellers fires off a salvo like this at peaceful Americans who are Muslim, I don't find such fascist-tinged rhetoric at all funny:

Islamic Fundamentalists are like parasites. They feed off the body of Muslim communities living among us. It does not take a rocket scientist to see what must be done. If the ‘peaceful’ majority of Muslims do not begin to actively and vigorously expose the radicals in their communities, then we, the people of the United States and United Kingdom will have to do it for them.

Where does Lindsey get this stuff? Jingoism is always a hit with some folks, I suppose. The problem (or one problem, at least) with jingoism is that it is always just one or two steps away from violent words inciting violent acts.

But Lindsey himself answers the question I had as I read his column. What, I wondered, was he trying to tell my Muslim neighbors was going to happen to them if they didn't comply with his version of reality?

According to Hal, if a nuclear or other major sort of attack comes from Muslim extremists, we're gonna take out entire Muslim communities.

When one of these attacks happens, a flood of rage will burst forth and nothing or anyone will be able to stop it. The law of the jungle will take over. Muslim communities who did nothing to stop the radicals among them will be the first targets.

We are tired of the ‘peaceful’ Muslims sitting by and doing nothing to expose the disciples preaching hate and jihad in their Mosques. There is almost a silent admiration of these fanatics on the part of some. Many allow their financial contributions to be used by the Jihad preachers.

We are getting weary of organizations like CAIR (Council on American-Islamic Relations) crying about civil rights violations when law enforcement organizations seek to carry on surveillance of Muslim communities. Since Muslims do not police themselves against the Islamic Fundamentalist parasites, we must.

No. This hate-mongering riff is absolutely unacceptable, even in this age of idiocy and illogic. It is also absolutely immoral from a Christian viewpoint. And lest defenders of Lindsey try the old line that he isn't suggesting this is a good idea, rather only that it will happen if we're attacked again, I say they lie. Lindsey is in fact using Muslims as the "evil other," who, like blacks, Jews, Catholics, and various other minorities in American history, have had to play scapegoat. Play? No, it isn't a game but rather deadly earnest.

Note the complete lack of any supportive evidence for anything said in his column. We're to believe that entire communities of American Muslims are covering up for terrorist cells. We're to believe that groups of Americans such as those involved in CAIR don't have the right to cry out when members of their communities are unfairly targeted. We're to believe that Christianity has become nothing more than an American fist or gun or prison cell -- "THIS is how we love our MUSLIM neighbor."

I, for one, demand an apology from Hal Lindsey, a retraction of this hate mongering. Either that, sir, or stop using the name Christian.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

Are Men Really Human?

Are Men Really Human?
A Melancholy but Not Without Hope
Personal Reflection on Male Sexuality

By Jon Trott

Paper Presented at the “Gender Revolution” Tent
July 1, 2005, at Cornerstone Festival

I was born into privilege thrice over. I am white; I am male; I am American. And all that privilege provides me with the easier way, the shortened route, the front row seat, the illusion of my own sufficiency. Add the fact that even for a man, I’m on the tall side, imposing, and with a voice that more than occasionally draws complements for how masculine and deep it is. Yet, I am not imposing to myself. I am not self-sufficient. I am wounded. I need assistance, and need it terribly. How terribly? Let me tell you a little about it.

In 1957, I was born; it was also the year President Eisenhower pushed through the first civil rights act since the civil war. The New York Times called the 1957 Civil Rights Act "incomparably the most significant domestic action of any Congress this century." But 1957 was also the year that nine black high school students went through hellish abuse in their attempt to integrate a Little Rock, Arkansas, high school. Only national exposure via the new medium of television forced Eisenhower to act by sending troops to protect the children. I knew nothing of such things; my childhood was filled with an innocent light.

I lived on a Montana farm during summertime, but during the school year we had a home in the small, almost completely white town of Fort Benton. What I remember about that time was how safe everything felt, how solid and reassuring. My parents knew everything that was important, and I relied happily on them for information. Memorial Day was a somber yet almost joyful day to celebrate the deeds of brave Americans; Viet Nam's darkness was already filling the skyline, but we didn't see it. The flag, like God, was a given. God approved of us, supported us, was on our side, and had the good sense to appear only when asked for.

Women were loyal wives, or wives in training, good homemakers, moms, and supporters of their man's work outside the home. Men were strong, self-reliant, and self-contained. Growing up in Montana one got a double-dose of this male image; the rugged individualist, the cowboy who hated fences and domesticity and rode alone. Why is the latter a problem? I’ll paraphrase feminist Jessica Benjamin: “A self that defines itself mainly through being separate, and not through sharing a common life and vision with others, is often unable to recognize others at all.” When you define yourself as someone separate from everyone else, you become blind to other persons' wants, needs, or even existence.

No wonder, then, that when I was young, I identified closely with my mother. I liked her attributes. Tenderness. Nurturing. The enjoyment of being together with others, what we call now "community." As one of five boys in our family, the second to the youngest, I felt insecure and overwhelmed by some of my siblings' maleness. They were so intense in their teenage hormone-driven toughness; I felt vulnerable and afraid.

I still remember hearing the little ditty, "Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice, boys are made of snips and snails and puppy dog tails." I hated that lyric! I didn't want to be made of snips and snails… I wanted to be made of honey and cinnamon and all things most admirable in a human being… if that was femininity, and the other masculinity, then I opted for the first.

I even tried a little gender bending. At the age of five or six, maybe a little earlier, I began trying on some of my sisters' dresses and wearing them around the house. Now, maybe a lot of little boys – and maybe little girls – try this. Looking back, I don't think it was necessarily a bad thing, especially as my parents and siblings treated it with a fairly balanced mix of teasing and permissiveness that gave me needed space to sort myself out. The phase didn't last for much more than a few months, but signaled my unrest with the masculine as classically defined.

I did draw a line not to be crossed, however. When my mother enrolled me in ballet class – imagine that if you can! – I came home after the second or third installment, threw my dance slippers on the floor, and said "I'm not doing that any more!" When she asked why, I recall having said something like, "That's for GIRLS!" Two grade school classmates had mocked me, and made me suddenly conscious of my "proper" gender role. And so ended my brief career in ballet.

The feminine and being black are tangled in my experience. The first encounter with blackness that I consciously recall was a warm April Day in 1968. I am eleven and playing in our front yard. Kitty-corner from us, I see motion and hear someone yell. "They got him!" Our neighbor, Mr. Anger, danced a weird jig that gave him the look, if I'd known it at the time, of a Pentecostal Church revivalist. "They got him!" he repeated. "They shot and killed that commie nigger Martin Luther King!"

I remember feeling not revulsion, but rather a most intense interest. Why would a man be happy about another man's death? It was a puzzle to be riddled over. I was so pathetically innocent, it nearly brings tears to my eyes to remember that feeling now. I went to my mother. "Why is Mr. Anger happy that someone shot Martin Luther King?" She tried to explain Dr. King, but her own ambivalence about his mission was evident; how could it not have been? This woman knew only what I knew, that America was good, that we were good, that we would be even better if we worked hard at it, that Dr. King for all his sincerety was a bit of a troublemaker. This was the woman who specifically taught us NOT to use the 'n' word, but replace it with "tiger," when reciting "Eenie Meenie Miney Moe."

Can you pity me, just a little? Can you see how sadly distant I was, my family was, my town, state, and nation was, from understanding the horrible state of false innocence that ate away at our collective heart?

As I entered puberty, and began “noticing” girls in that new way, I liked very much being male. I liked my body; we were friends. Thankfully, perhaps thanks to my parents' very close love for each other, I couldn’t think of sexuality except as relationship. That is, to me, sexuality was interpersonal, a form of ecstatic communication. Even my most erotic fantasies usually centered on lovemaking as part of a larger relationship rather than the impersonal sex portrayed by hard-core porn.

Where does a young male hedonist begin? Hugh Hefner. I had a friend whose pile of Playboys was stashed behind the grill of an air duct in his house. Strangely, I was more affected by the coolness of having such an air vent – which seemed right out of some movie – than I was with the magazines. Their impersonal bosoms sticking out at me, legs arranged to almost but not quite reveal everything, failed to deeply thrill. A picture with no narrative failed to touch me. Yet the seeds were sown; I objectified women, since no other options seemed available. It did not occur to me that I was, in a very real sense, raping the woman's image with my eyes and heart. “For as he thinks within himself, so he is,” the Bible says. I had, by consuming the pornography, become party to its violence. And I became male in a more standard American sense.

When one friend gave me a magazine of hardcore porn, however, I was shocked and repulsed by it. The women looked like frogs on a biology lab table, and feeling disgusted I quickly handed it back to him. That experience was so disturbing, in fact, that I actively avoided photographic pornography from that point on. So-called "erotica," however, especially in novels, did feed a view of women that demeaned them by reducing male-female relationships to being either romantic/sexual or non-existent. The photography took place in my own imagination instead of on a glossy page.

The reality of pornography as violence did not come home to me until years later, when working on an article for Cornerstone magazine. Andrea Dworkin, who died just months ago, wrote a book called Men Possessing Women. It is a confusing, terrifying, violent-in-its-own-right ride for a man of my level of ignorance to read. My doors were, as the old saying goes, blown off. Susan Brownmiller's Against Our Will: Men, Women, and Rape seemed almost tame in comparison, but helped further my realization that the male identity I thought I had was in fact very flawed and not in keeping with a human identity.

But I get ahead of myself. There was more reading I did as a teenager. During my thirteenth and fourteenth year I read Eldridge Cleaver and Dee Brown and Claude Brown and Franz Kafka and Anne Frank – ah! A woman's voice at last – and it was along with all those oppressed, human voices I experienced my sexual awakening. There was something amazingly sexy about blackness, the oppressed, and the nobility of the oppressed… and in my mind I imagined myself the rescuer and lover of many oppressed women! This patronizing liberal fantasyland of mine was not one easily left, and for many years I would not even know it as a fantasy. (And an aside here: to this day, I remind myself that all the words I write about gender equality are laced with a desire of mine to be admired by women, to be looked up to, yes, to be a patriarchal figure who “rescues” women! I am so pathetic!!)

With the teenage sexual awakening came the realization that all I'd been told was untrue; or, if any of it was true, I had no idea how to find that truth again.

But one other element did come into play. I discovered that though I didn't believe in the America I'd known as a child, I did struggle with God. Was He there? Did he care? Did he love me? Or was the world I could encounter with my senses the only world there was? I couldn't abide 1950s American morality; I needed either hedonism or Christianity. I needed love. And love, to be blunt, was about either God or sex. If sex, then like a D. H. Lawrence character, I would worship my phallus and ignore the poor and oppressed of the world. If God—well, if God, then he had to justify himself to me. He had to explain how such a wicked, unjust world that preyed on the weak and that had by pure chance made me one of the so-called "elect" could exist.

I met Him, that God of love that is both ultimate masculine and ultimate feminine, in whose image male and female are created. I demanded He do as I wished, and instead he hid from me. Only when I became truly aware of my absolute lack did he reveal himself. He was, in what some might think a heretical analogy, a bit like a seductress. God has more so-called feminine wiles than any woman I’ve ever heard tell of!

But my struggle with maleness wasn’t solved once and for all by loving God. I endured a marriage of eight years before being abandoned by my wife and made a single father of two children. I discovered that the passive male role I’d adopted during that time was a fake form of mutuality. I had to become active, especially near the marriage’s end when my children seemed to me endangered. Was I being macho? No. I was being parental in the most elementary sense.

After that marriage ended, I met a woman who had also been abandoned by her spouse. She had two boys, and we began the difficult and slow process of learning how to submit mutually to one another. I was very macho at the beginning, though much of it was rooted in my fear of what had happened in that first marriage. I had to unlearn, let go, realize that my voice wasn’t right just because it was louder, or more articulate, or more authoritative-sounding. I had to hear Carol’s voice, and as I learned to hear her, I found incredible healing in our mutual love and respect.

Sixteen years have passed since we married. I am in pain daily as I hear the news. Just in the past month, the best friend of someone dear to us witnessed the killing of her mother by her father. He then, just to be fair, killed himself, leaving her an orphan. My wife works with homeless women and children in our second stage housing project, the Leland House. She comes home in tears with the horrors visited upon these women by the men they love, horrors so graphic I cannot share them in a setting such as this, where a child's ears might accidentally hear.

There is our friend who long ago made the "mistake" of going camping with two other young women. These three women became the victims of a gang of rapists. The look in her haunted eyes as she haltingly tells this story – and she does not tell it very often – reminds me of an interview I did with a survivor of the Nazi concentration camps. It was the same look. The verbs in the sentences of these victims are often present tense: not "he did this" or "they did that" but "then he holds me down" – "I scream and they laugh."

Many of my male friends find it astonishing that I feel a link between my own maleness, my own gender identity, and that of the men capable of rape, spousal abuse, child abuse, verbal and physical abuse, rage. How can I, who have never raised a hand against a woman, feel guilt over the actions of some insane and/or demonized man that I don't even know?

It is much like that with skin color. Ten years ago, I stood in a restaurant in Chicago while a customer began screaming racial obscenities at the people behind the counter. I was shocked, and stood still like a deer in headlights while the man went on, then stomped angrily out the door. I felt a double shame, one that I had not spoken against him, and two that he, like me, was white. The shame of his racism contaminated me. Or so it seemed. My skin, the offending skin, burned.

Conservatives often call that sense of guilt I feel "liberal guilt." They point out, perhaps properly, that there is no direct connection between my skin color and the skin color of a racist bigot who makes a fool of himself in public. Likewise, they would say there is no connection between the fact that the equipment between my legs is male and that the equipment wielded by a rapist is male.

I'd like to believe them. I really would, because it would free me from having to consider the societal implications of that skin color, or that equipment I bear.

You see, I like my skin color, not because it is white, but rather because it is specifically mine. I like my body, my hair and arms and legs and genitals. I think this is a profoundly Christian thing, by the way. I'm told by Scripture to cherish my wife as I cherish my own body, and so cherishing my body is no sin. Yet each time I hear of a man using his body as a weapon to violate – the exact right word for what happens – to violate another human being, I feel my own body shrivel. This is not maleness, this is not human. That is what I want to say.

But I don't believe it, and cannot say it. Rape is too common, not just today, but throughout history. Rape is a male thing, and violently violating another is a human thing. We're good at it. And when I consider my two daughters, my wife, and all the women I know as friends walking through a city and a world where such violence is fairly commonplace, I writhe inside with helpless fury and sorrow.

Rape, to me, is the centerpiece of any discussion on men and women in the world. Perhaps that shows the debt I owe Andrea Dworkin, despite my harsh disagreements with her – to me – extreme views on men.

A few stories. In this first little story, I am barely seventeen years old. I meet a dark-haired girl who lives in a small Montana town some seventy or eighty miles from mine. She’s cute, and apparently finds me intriguing. I ask her to my school prom. She accepts, and we have a good time; later, I take her back to my parents’ house, where she will sleep in my sister’s room. My sister is away at college, and when my prom date enters the room, I follow her in and attempt some awkward kissing. She rather passively allows it, but discourages me when I start moving toward second base. I politely disengage, say goodnight and head to my bedroom. The next day, I take her home and we part on, I think anyway, friendly terms.

A week passes, and I meet for weekly piano lessons with an older woman, a music teacher who is a mutual acquaintance of the girl and myself. The older woman bluntly reproves me for my attempt at overpowering my prom date. I’m left with the distinct feeling that the girl believed I was attempting to rape her. I’m so horrified and simultaneously humiliated and angry, I barely can speak to the teacher but manage to grate out a denial. What to me had seemed a mutual interchange between two trusting people – and one that she had forbidden to go farther than it ought to have – to the girl had seemed a frightening one-way street where a boy she hardly knew was cornering her in his sister’s bedroom to do as he pleased. She simply misread me, beginning and end.

Gradually, despite my angry initial reaction to my music teacher, I began to rethink what had happened there. That incident was one of the first times that I saw myself as someone physically powerful, someone who could frighten someone else just with my size and gender. And I hated that. I hated it like anything. I had no plans or desire to overpower her, yet how could she have known that? Only slowly did I understand the fact that my walking into that bedroom was indeed a major error of judgment on my part. More than bad manners, it was in effect a threatening move whether or not I understood it as that.

So we men learn, if we learn at all.

Another story. My wife Carol educates me on many things, and one of them recently was the issue of rape. Now note: I called rape an "issue." Already, there is a distance put between me and that subject which my wife does not feel. She tells of being so afraid of being raped when she lived alone years ago, especially after an incident when, while she innocently sat in a Minneapolis park, a man exposed himself to her. That was her point, pretty quick into our discussion. "As a young single woman, being raped was probably my single greatest fear," she said to me. As we continued talking, it turned out Carol had nearly been raped twice, once having to literally leap from a car and run away down the street from a man intent on date-raping her.

Maybe somewhere a man has had such an experience, almost being raped by his female date. I don't know any such men. What I do know, both from statistics and from hearing many people’s stories over the years, is that rape and other violent crimes involving sexual aggression are overwhelmingly perpetrated by men.

The discussion between Carol and I had been triggered by a number of rapes in our immediate neighborhood, and by a violent murder of another woman in the Chicago apartment building where our youngest daughter lives.

As we talked, my wife and I, it became apparent that I, too, carry a sort of pain regarding rape. I told her how, each time I hear the local newsperson soberly discussing a rape, my genitals shrivel. This is no exaggeration, but the plain exact truth. In a terrible way, this assault upon a woman by a man armed with rage and an erection leaves me feeling violated. "That isn't what a man's body is designed for," I rage against the unknown attacker.

My wife's attitude toward the male body, even my body, cannot help but be touched by the potentiality of rape by the male against the female. Andrea Dworkin went farther, believing that any penetrative sex by a man with a woman was in effect rape. I don’t agree, but I do find myself needing to escape categories such as male = sun while female = earth, or man = bee while woman = flower. Note the roles being defined here: "male as initiator/penetrator/actor" vs. "female as receiver/penetrated/acted upon"?

I believe radical feminists have furthered me toward becoming a mature Christian man. This may not be what some would like me to say, but I'm not going to lie. The one thing they don't often offer is grace – but since I can get that elsewhere, I found their unflinching dissection of my maleness terribly painful but not unendurable. Of course I didn't accept everything. Dworkin's horror of the male body, for instance, would have meant that I had to hate my own physical being. Why not hate instead the misuse of that body, rather than the body itself?

I love sex. I love it more as a Christian than I ever did as a non-believer, and more as a married man than I ever imagined possible when single. And as a Christian, I’m always on the lookout for other believers who also have a biblically-rooted hedonistic streak.

Eric Gill, for instance, was a Catholic artist of great renown, and companion of G. K. Chesterton (Gill designed Chesterton's headstone and worked with the latter in the "distributionist" movement). I was excited when I discovered Gill for myself, because Gill (along with his wonderful religious art) also did quite a bit of artwork with erotic themes. A few of the pieces are a bit over the top even for me, but many of them celebrate the feminine body. Or seem to. It turns out, I belatedly discovered, that Gill's art community was also a hotbed of sexual license, led by Gill himself. Worse, Gill had sex with both his daughters. I use the term "had sex" – but that is wrong. What he did was rape. Gill's etching entitled "earth receiving," in which a Christ-figure descends from heaven to penetrate a passively waiting woman / church, takes on sinister significance. A patriarchal God for a patriarchal rapist incestuous artist.

Am I hopeless, wanting to find fellow believers who believe sexuality is indeed a wonderful shadow of the spiritual, and that woman and man interpenetrate one another in a shadow of what Christ does with the Church (and with individuals within the Church)? Those who see the Song of Solomon as such a shadowing -- being both a straightforward erotic account of love and a spiritual allegory of sorts -- are my fellow travelers in this regard. But I reject this phallic God of Gill's, just as I reject the pseduo-feminism of writers such as D. H. Lawrence, who in Lady Chatterly's Lover paints a woman who requires clitoral stimulation as being aggressive and "beakish" and therefore unfeminine; when the woman finally yields totally to the man, being “perfect” in her passivity (and having a vaginal orgasm to prove it) she finally becomes whole to Lawrence. Never mind what a woman's own body tells her; she's not part of this male-only narrative, in which the man tells her, acts upon her, his will! Only a yielding response to the penetrating male seems adequate for either Gill or Lawrence. Gill, it now appears, took this to its logical conclusions: since it is a woman’s place to yield, it is man’s place to take what he wants from her. Even if she is his own daughter.

Implicit in the female as receiver only paradigm is the idea that she ultimately can't help enjoying being overcome by the heaven-sent male, the phallic gawd, if you will. What a lie. And how pervasive this lie still is! I think those who are baffled by feminism’s angry side need only ponder these images, which are still so much with us today.

As a Christian, I am not stupid enough to think a world can exist, here, where my own daughters and sons are safe from these perverse ideas of maleness and femaleness. Violence is not sex, because true sex is the outcome of mutual love. Violence is rage, and when the male sex becomes the tool of rage, not only women are raped. Men who love are victimized as well. Every time we look into our beloved's eyes and see that split-second flicker at the moment we become one—no matter how gently that moment is brought about—every time we hear another newscaster announce a series of rapes on the north side of Chicago where we live, every time a pornographer's unsolicited email invites us to view women, even children, being degraded violently... we, too, become victims.

In all of this, I fear I've not yet really hit the right combination of words and emotion to convey how sad, how unutterably sad, I feel when confronted with rape. But my wife looks at me with such tenderness, even as I'm left feeling she can't help but blame me a little. She's never said it, but I dimly sense the thought floating there. "All men are potential rapists.... even you. The penis, unlike the vagina, is capable of violence." No, she's never said it. She would deny it if asked. So I don't ask her. But when I hold her, or sense her looking at my nakedness, I wonder what she sees. Could there be the faintest tenseness in her, the tiniest tincture of fear? Of me? Of my body? Why, I want to ask her, why can’t you be rather awed by my body, as I am by yours, desiring it as I desire yours, curious about it as I am perpetually curious about yours?

But you see, she is right; the male body itself has become a symbol of hurt, of fear, of oppression. I am raging against history itself to try to change that.

Then one day, I get just a taste. Just a moment, a window that flicks open and closed. But I discover something.

I am parking a car near our Jesus People USA headquarters, talking quietly aloud to God. Our Uptown neighborhood this summer afternoon is full of people, an urban landscape of rich, poor, black, brown, and white. I am happy, carefree. I pull onto a side street and find a place, but just as I turn the ignition off, I hear a voice. An African American female voice. She is leaning into my passenger-side window, which is open due to the heat. And she is suggesting that for five dollars she will do this and that and thus and such. Except what she says is descriptive. Far, far more descriptive. Her words fall on me, and on my sex, like a truckload of filth.

There is no temptation in this for me, no momentary flicker of desire. The woman is old beyond her years, emaciated looking, quite possibly ill with AIDS or some other disease. But her words, her words themselves are like death to me. It is painfully obvious that what she wants is drugs, and her offer to me is one driven by the logic of money and of maleness. Every man is nothing more than his penis. For me, who only moments before had been thinking of what a beautiful day it was, I felt as though I had been vomited on. It was a disgusting, diminished feeling I had. “Why me? Why did you say all that to me? What is there about me that would make you think I would respond to you? Is there something wrong with me, do I put off some kind of vibe?”

And then it hit me.

This is how women feel. This is how it is to be a woman – a sex object – in a man’s world. This is how it is not just once, not just this one abnormal time, but continually. The cool male eyes running up and down your body like they own it, like they possess you by right. The casual comment, the wolf-whistle, the wink. Open yourself to this feeling. Drink it in. Then look at your sisters, both the ones in Christ and the ones who do not yet know Him. Remember this feeling when you look at your sisters, when you talk to your sisters, when you talk about your sisters with other men.

Yes Lord, I will try to remember. Truly. This is how women feel.

* * *

In concluding, I would like to shift perspectives from a personal narrative to an equally non-authoritative, perhaps misguided, attempt to speak to my sisters in Christ for most of your brothers in Christ. Many of these things will seem trite. Maybe that only goes to show you how far I have to go.

Please, my sisters, try to love us as Christ loves the church. But let that love be a tough love. Do not let us saddle you with sole responsibility in rearing children. Children need fathers who change diapers, cuddle, play ball or have a tea party. But children also need dads who include mom in on what is going on. Little eyes watch closely what we do, not what we say, and gender roles are learned more from dad and mom interacting than anything else. I was blessed to have parents that in many ways modeled this for me. Someone once said, “The best thing a father can do for his children is to love their mother.”

Please, my sisters who are not yet married, do not let your brothers in Christ put the burden of sexual purity solely on you. This is such a huge lie, that men cannot control themselves sexually; they may not want to, but let them know they have to, are expected to. Having a penis does not mean he is incapable of controlling desire. Nor does having a vagina mean you necessarily are better at saying “No!” than he is, or that you feel desire less keenly than he does. Yes, our genitals are external, more easily stimulated. But the mind, not the penis, is the primary sexual organ. Purity must be the business of both of you. That means if he does touch you inappropriately, you move his hand. But you also remind him that you expect him to control his own desires, just as you are to control your desires. Explain to him that if you cannot work together at mutually remaining pure until your marriage, perhaps getting married is not such a good idea.

Please, sisters, remind one another as well as your brothers that single women and men do not need to be married before they’re fully human. They may be called to delay marriage for years, or never to marry. Affirm single women and men; too few of their fellow believers remember to do so.

Please, my sisters, do not allow the legalists and woman-haters to tell you that your ministry is limited because of your gender. As far as I have to go today to be a mature believer, I promise you that most of the best and deepest things I do know have come through the hands of women; women preachers, women elders, women teachers, women disciplers. The gifts of the Holy Spirit do not come to us according to gender. And I will not be a part of a fellowship or denomination that refuses to recognize gifted women alongside gifted men. Make room for the gifts!

Please, my sisters, do not give in to anger and rejection toward men. Jesus did die for us, too. We can be annoyingly thick and insensitive. But try to see us as singular people, just as you would like to be seen by us, rather than a collective gender that is beyond hope. Some of us are jerks. Some of us are liars. Some are even perverts, and if you sense something is wrong with a man who is around your children, pay attention to that feeling! It isn’t your job to be nice like some 1950s housewife; it is your job to be like Jesus, to love like He loves and to do his will, no matter what anyone tells you. Passivity is no less sinful for a woman than it is for a man, and passivity is not love.

Please, my sisters, help us to learn compassion. We evangelical males seem peculiarly hard-hearted when it comes to loving the least of these. We need to learn some of the attributes often called “feminine,” attributes like nurturing, encouraging, empathizing, helping. We need to learn the art of togetherness rather than individualism.

Please, my sisters, don’t allow yourselves to become trapped in the superficial world many church women are being forced to live in despite women moving forward elsewhere. When the men gather in the living room to talk politics and the women go to the kitchen to talk about recipes or the new next door neighbor’s pregnant daughter, that is bad, bad, bad. We’re being patriarchal, lazy, and insensitive. You’re being passive, gossipy, and bad stewards of your god-given minds. And, if I can say this, you’re being a bad witness to us by letting us get away with condescending, patriarchal behavior. Gently, lovingly, confront us on it. If we don’t respond just come on in and plop down next to the guys and toss your ideas right into our little male-only mix!

Please, my sisters, don’t allow material comfort to paper over your duty to Christ. Don’t let a house, a nest egg, and so on become your excuse for not being involved in the world outside your home. Have you watched the news lately? Have you seen the gender of the people running most of the world? And do you think they’re doing a good job? Please, get out of that comfort zone – and if your husband or brother in Christ is there, get him out of there, too! Stop playing it safe by human standards! Please.

Please, sisters… don’t let us let you take care of household chores. We’re big, we’re strong, and we can swing a broom or wield a dishcloth with the best women out there.

Please, married sisters, don’t let sex be the man’s business. Read the Song of Solomon together, and notice who does most of the erotic talking. You got it, the woman. This is one area where many if not most men will respond very positively to their wives’ move toward equality. Let us know what you want, how you want it, and initiate love more often than even feels comfortable for you at first. You might be surprised how this will change other aspects of your relationship, as he begins to see you as someone unafraid to venture past standardized roles.

Finally, please sisters, don’t forget that our gender does not define our humanity. We are all sinners. And we are all saved by grace, the unmerited favor of a wholly loving God who made us, male and female, in his image. Our relationships are not about power, but about love. And we are to outdo one another in acts of love for his sake. That is where we can truly confound the world, who always makes it about power. Christ surrendered his power, laid it down, so that his hands and heart were free to pick us up. Can you love your brothers that way, not passively, not permissively, but still charitably and with grace? Pray for us, that we someday might learn to love our sisters in that way, and to listen when the Spirit speaks, no matter the gender of the one through whom that Spirit speaks.

* * * Copyright © 2005 Jon Trott * * *
* No part of this article may be republished without express written permission *

Cornerstone Festival 2005 Pictures

If some of you would like to see a more extensive collection of pictures I took from this year's Cornerstone Festival, along with minor commentary, check out another blog of mine, Thinxperience. That blog is specifically about the Cornerstone Festival Seminars, and though it wasn't much this year, maybe next year I'll do a better (as in more complete) job with it.

The new face of biblical equality!

Mimi Haddad, president of CBE (Christians for Biblical Equality), speaks at the 2005 Cornerstone Festival's "Gender Revolution" Tent.

Gender Revolution at Cornerstone Festival

It was absolutely great to be able to once again co-sponsor (via Jesus People USA) the Gender Revolution Tent at Cornerstone Festival. Christians for Biblical Equality, the GR Tent's other sponsor, is in my mind one of the most important voices of the post-evangelical church era. We heard from a variety of people over the three days, including Mimi Haddad (CBE President), Jay Phelan (president of the Evangelical Covenant Church's Chicago North Park Seminary), Linda Belleville (New Testament scholar), and many others.

We had no great controversies like we did last year (the fellow with the confederate flag tattoo who accused us all of being heretics). But we did see some serious opening of minds, hearts, and healing. Tears fell more than once as people encountered the liberating power of a bible freed from the shackles of false interpretation. As a male, I found it incredibly liberating (as I always do) to listen to women who are truly feminist -- that is, strong and Spirit-empowered persons using their gifts to communicate the gospel's reality. I also shared a rather long-winded story of my own journey in this regard, "Are Men Really Human?", which at one point or another (sooner rather than later) I'll post here.

Mimi Haddad recently sent out her own thoughts on the festival in an appeals letter. I would hope a few readers might think about supporting CBE's ministry... but at any rate, here is the gist of her comments:

In Minnesota, we think a lot about water. Located beside the largest freshwater preserve in the world, even a short commute through Minnesota provides breathtaking views of lakes and streams teaming with life that cannot be stopped, suppressed, or stilted.

The waters of Minnesota remind me of the river in Ezekiel. Everyone that “touches the water of this river will live . . . wherever this water flows, everything will live” (Eze. 47:9). Just as the river in Ezekiel carries God’s healing and brings new life, so too does the Word of God give life and quench those who are thirsty.

Two weeks ago, CBE held three days of lectures as part of the Cornerstone Festival—a yearly arts, music, and theology conference that nearly 20,000 young Christians attend. Our lectures at Cornerstone gave me a new appreciation for the power of God’s Word. Here is what we observed last week, thanks to your generosity!

  • A husband and wife team—both physicians—attended our workshops. Though they were initially skeptical, their eyes began to brighten as we studied the Word of God. The last day, they asked us to recommend a Bible translation that would facilitate their study of the gender issue.
  • For some individuals, attending our workshops each year at Cornerstone is the only opportunity they have to explore Scripture from an egalitarian perspective. One woman in particular waits patiently all year to learn something new about what the Bible says concerning women. Each summer, she swims in the water of biblical equality, and CBE’s lectures and dialogue bring her strength for the coming year.
  • One woman who had been drinking in the gospel message throughout the lectures took me aside and shared her painful journey with a church that will not recognize the gifts of women. She told me that attending our workshops was worth the price of admission to Cornerstone.
  • During an open microphone session, one woman said: “I feel really blessed to have been in this tent today. I have been praying and struggling over the biblical passages on gender. But the lectures today confirm something deep within my spirit. God is releasing me to see a new message in the Bible, and I thank you for that!”
  • Perhaps the most profound experience we had this summer involved a woman who ministers to children, though she did not allow herself to be called a children’s pastor. After attending a CBE lecture and sharing her story with CBE staff, she returned the following day with tears in her eyes, saying that she can now call herself a pastor.

Are these events significant? You bet'cha, as we say in Minnesota! We literally watched the Word of God transform, heal, and strengthen souls. This is the reason we exist, the reason we work late into the night, the reason four staff members spent July 4th on the
road, far from family and friends. We wanted to be part of that miracle of God’s Spirit, working in the Text, giving the people of God fresh waters to swim in!

(Mimi and the CBE staff incurred costs over $2500 for the festival, and I urge anyone interested in supporting this cause to contribute online or contribute via other means.)