Christians, Hillary, and Our Gender Mess

It’s easy for a guy to dismiss gender as a real issue we need to discuss today. In America we generally believe that women can do anything and should be treated as equals to men so far as discrimination and rights go. Of course men and women have differences, but no one should be marginalized based on gender. Some could probably pick that apart and add nuances and finer points, but we need to move on and talk about whether or not gender presents a problem to our society and to Christians.

I’ve heard a number of reports about Hillary Clinton’s campaign for president and gender factor. Some say it is and some say it isn’t. It’s a hard thing to consider. On the face of it, I know that my vote for Clinton is not necessarily decided on her gender. I don’t trust her or her husband and weary of their style of politics. The spin coming out of her campaign alone boggles the mind. However, I have also listed her sharp, caustic tone as another reason why I’m not a Hillary fan…

So I’ve been wondering out loud lately if perhaps there’s a reason why Clinton has adopted that tone. Perhaps she’s grappling with the prospect of winning a game that has been dominated by men until recent times. And so we have a woman, a woman with decent credentials if not glowing ones in the eyes of her supporters, trying to prove she has the toughness for the job. In fact, some would note she says little else besides sign boxing gloves. It makes me wonder if she played up the gentler, softer side, weeping in diners like she did in New Hampshire, that we would simply respond with, “She doesn’t have the tough skin to be president.”

I can see the commercial now coming from her opponents.

It’s 4:00 PM.

Oprah’s on.

The phone is ringing.

Where’s your female president???

Have we put Hillary in a catch-22? I think it’s very possible. However, she also carries the Clinton, hard-ball, cut-throat brand of politics with her, so I’m not exactly sure we can mark it all up to a woman overcompensating. In addition, there are plenty of other views and angles we can take on this. It’s the ultimate conundrum, since no one will ever really know what the heck is going on inside Hillary’s head until her next autobiography hits the shelves, and no one analyst will ever put all of the pieces together to show how a vast array of factors kept her out of the white house in 2008. This means a publishing boon for political analysts as well.

So we’ll  never really figure this out, but a few politicians and analysts will make a good buck speculating. It’s all we could ever ask for.

Now if you’ve made it this far, you’re probably waiting for the part about gender and Christianity. If you think presidential politics is a mess, just you wait. Christians have to deal with the history of patriarchy in scripture coupled with a redemptive trend that sometimes lifts women above the cultural norms of their times. We have female prophets and judges. We have women listed as the first witnesses of the Resurrection. Each of these things qualifies as a big deal. And then we have the day-to-day living passages such as this:

Wives, in the same way be submissive to your husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives, when they see the purity and reverence of your lives. Your beauty should not come from outward adornment, such as braided hair and the wearing of gold jewelry and fine clothes. Instead, it should be that of your inner self, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is of great worth in God’s sight. For this is the way the holy women of the past who put their hope in God used to make themselves beautiful. They were submissive to their own husbands, like Sarah, who obeyed Abraham and called him her master. You are her daughters if you do what is right and do not give way to fear.

Husbands, in the same way be considerate as you live with your wives, and treat them with respect as the weaker partner and as heirs with you of the gracious gift of life, so that nothing will hinder your prayers. (1 Peter 3:1-7)

I wonder sometimes if the Holy Spirit, while guiding the writing of scripture, was banging his/her head against a cloud thinking, “Oh man, they’re really gonna mess up with that weaker partner bit in the future.”

I want to be reverent with scripture, but at the same time I think it’s worth noting that we have milked passages like this to justify some terrible stuff. OK, yes, Peter says that women are weaker. This could simply refer to physical strength. It could mean that Peter believed women were more prone to sin, I don’t think he does, but it could in some theological camps. And while women are called to submit to their husbands, placing their hope in God, we have to note that there is a note of equality at the end as women are called fellow heirs before God.

However far we take this business of submission and weakness, passages such as this should never be used to trash women, especially in the sense of equating female behavior as weak or wrong. I have heard many male pastors criticize Christian men for being feminine or girly. What they seem to mean is spineless or cowardly, perhaps shirking responsibility before God and others. Can you see the logic here with Peter? Women are weak. Weakness is bad. If men act weak, then they are acting like weak women and are doing something wrong. Talk like this devalues women and uses a passage about mutual submission and equality as heirs of God to justify comments that have no place in Christian circles.

We have fallen from a lofty height when a passage like Genesis 1:27 states, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”  The picture here is that humanity/man is comprised of male and female, and this male and female defines the image of God. The female isn’t tacked on as an extra or spare parts to keep the man running. They are both essential right from the start. Even if we assign some different roles for each, we must be careful to never insinuate that the feminine side of God’s image and our humanity is somehow inadequate or inferior.