Looking Lectionary: Proper 15A/Ordinary 20A/Pentecost+11

 

crumbs
Image source.

 

Reading: Matthew 15:10-28

Let’s get something straight right off the bat: the Canaanite woman and her situation in Matthew 15 were never the issues; the disciples’ hearts were. In Matthew 15:10-20 Jesus taught them that, unlike the prevailing understanding at the time, being “clean” proceeded from one’s heart, not the religious leaders’ (often ridiculous) external “cleanliness” standards: “What comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and this is what defiles” (v18). I’m sure the disciples heard this and nodded their heads along thoughtfully (or self-righteously – looking at you, Peter), but when the theoretical met the practical, their continuing ignorance was betrayed.

In Matthew 15:21-28 we read about a Canaanite woman – female and Gentile, a double whammy in the Sucks To Be You In First Century Palestine Sweepstakes – who followed Jesus and his disciples, crying out for help. Not just any old help either, but help with a daughter afflicted with a demon. Perhaps sensing a teaching opportunity for the hapless band of apostles, Jesus ignored her cries. His disciples weren’t well pleased and asked him to dismiss her: this foreign, completely “other” person and her foreign and “other” problem.

The conversation that takes place between Jesus and this unnamed woman in v24-28 is fascinating. I’ve written before about my irritation with this particular passage; Jesus calling the Canaanite woman a racial epithet being a shitty thing to do under most circumstances. But I’ve since come to believe that he was saying what the disciples and probably even the woman herself expected him to: playing up to the self-righteous rabbi image. This image was apparently common enough that his frequent deviation from its model perplexed, offended and popularised him in turn, depending on the audience. In any case, like an actor – a hypocrite, something he was fond of accusing the religious leaders of – he recited some lines to affect his audience: “I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel; it’s not fair to take the children’s food and throw it to the dogs” (v24, 26).

The woman surprised him with her ready answer: “Even the dogs eat the children’s crumbs that fall from the table” (v27). Isn’t it quite telling that she had such a ready answer and that it played so well into the first-century Jewish elitist sentiment we see so often in Jerusalem’s upper crust? There’s no record of the disciples’ reaction, but look, let’s be honest: they were probably shocked and offended, not being big fans of women breaking moulds and taking names.

Yet (I imagine) to their immense surprise, Jesus, going off-hypocrite-script, praised the Canaanite woman’s faith: “Woman, great is your faith!” This was a compliment Jesus reserved for a rare few. In praising her faith, Jesus also indirectly praised her resistance to the kind of “clean/unclean” mentality that stilted the disciples’ understanding of God. In daring to ask the (Jewish) man she called “Lord” to heal her daughter, she expressed greater faith than the Jewish men following Jesus. An outsider excelled over insiders, and intent triumphed over ritual religiosity. The Canaanite woman understood the parable she had never even heard.

That’s all fine and well, but how do we sermon this story? Preaching is sharing the good news – what’s the good news here? There are probably a few angles we could take. What “pits” (v14) are we falling into headlong because like the first-century disciples, we can’t make head or arse of faith versus works? We could ask who our personal, congregational or communal “Canaanite woman” is: someone crying out for Jesus, only to be chased off or shunned by us (Who do we think of when we think “impure”: prostitutes, criminals, people who are HIV+? Gay people, the poor, the marginalised? Supporters of opposing sports teams? You get the idea.) A specific question to ask would be what’s coming out of our hearts. What “defiles” us?

The central message, though, should be about the fact that neither Gentile nor Jew nor outsider or insider has to make due with “crumbs from the master’s table” (v27). Through our faith in Christ – an internal justification rather than an external reward – we each have full access to the bread of Christ’s body broken for us…and thus to his heart.

Advertisements

Weeding the garden: Gretha Wiid under fire

 

330847_502364899789978_1380553003_o
Gretha Wiid. Facebook.

 

Popular Afrikaans lay speaker and self-appointed “relationship expert” Gretha Wiid has been in the news a lot lately. She’s come under fire for the controversial anti-LGBTI views she espouses in books aimed at ten- to thirteen-year-olds. In her Lyfslim (“Body Smart”)  books she writes that same-sex attraction is a choice and typically the result of, among other things, sexual abuse at a young age.

Wiid is in the same camp as Angus Buchan – a position she set up with his approval, hosting “Worthy Women” conferences to complement his “Mighty Men” ones – and espouses the same supposedly theologically indisputable “men are the heads of their households” and anti-gay nonsense that he does. That she’s so popular with women baffles me; as Lilly Nortje-Meyer points out in this illuminating article, Wiid and her staunchest followers are formeninists; essentially believing that a Christian woman’s core value revolves around her relationship to men. This – and the whole belief that men are the “prophets, priests and kings” of their homes – is unbiblical. I’d even go so far as to call it idolatry. But I digress.

I wanted to write about Wiid’s response to her criticism, which has been telling in the extreme. It’s not uncommon for people like Wiid to defend their actions by claiming sovereignty from criticism, which they usually do by saying that any opposition they experience is Satanic in origin. Wiid has done that; a few days after the debacle started, she posted to Facebook that no plans formed against her family would prosper. She skirted around the issue – her bizarre, and might I say entirely unscientific views on same-sex attraction – by saying that she loved gay people because her brother is gay*. Anyway, the non-apology didn’t work, and the South African Human Right’s Commission has confirmed that it’s investigating complaints of hate speech against her.

This even more that her weak-as-tea theology is what bugs me the most: her arrogance. She claims her Scripture-derived inspiration supersedes the inherent value of other people (nonbiblical. Seriously, has she met Jesus?), and she acts as though her interpretation of the Bible is supreme, despite the fact that it is hermeneutically unsound. To Wiid, any opposition must be the work of Satan. If she’s so eager to find Satan’s hand in her circumstances, she need look no farther than her pride and her ego.

I doubt any of what’s happening to Wiid will work to soften her heart; Christians of her persuasion are usually only a step away from a persecution complex, and I suspect that’s what we’ll see unfold in the next few weeks: how South Africa, and the “liberal gay agenda” is causing Bible-believing Christians to renounce their convictions or face punishment. I strongly suspect that she’ll fail to see that freedom of speech and belief does not cover the freedom to espouse absolute bullcrap that devalues the full personhood of others, and to impressionable children no less.

The bigger issue, of course, is how these books of her – published back in 2009 – were seen fit to publish in the first place. Wiid is published by Carpe Diem Media, who also have “perennial shelvers” like Isak Burger and Andries Enslin in their stable. Unsurprisingly Carpe Diem Media are responsible for the women’s magazine Finesse, a publication that centres its content around “modern Christian women” of the soft complementarian persuasion, mixing fashion with diet tips to “keep him interested” with soft-lit covers of local celebrities.

Yet for Wiid to be as popular as she is – more than 120 000 people like her Facebook page, after all – she has to be selling well. Her market is a niche one: white, Afrikaans-speaking conservative Christian women. Proportionately she probably has a big share of this market, so clearly she’s appealing to some people. And that’s most worrisome of all: that in 2017 Wiid easily drums up support for damaging, ludicrous and unscientific claims, all under the flag of “Christianity”, with the consent and even approval of so many people.


*Her brother has spoken out in support of her; interestingly, and probably in no way related to anything, he is also her manager. 

Authority in the Christian blogosphere

5aLtmYn

Christian women find their voice and live out their callings online

Two weeks ago Tish Harrison Warren wrote a piece for Christianity Today titled “Who’s in charge of the Christian blogosphere?” In it, she wonders whether the kind of platforms people – especially women – gain through blogging should be accountable to some kind of ecclesial structure, much like pastors are theoretically accountable to their denominations.

Warren posed the piece as a rumination on responsibility: how can we make sure these bloggers – many of them laypersons, their “only” virtue being their popularity – “do” theology responsibly? She cited Jen Hatmaker as an example. Hatmaker – who has been in ministry for two decades and is a published author and popular speaker – recently announced that she is supportive of the full inclusion of LGBTI people in the church, a decision that proved unpopular in the evangelical world. (Read her response to the immediate flare-up of criticism here.)

Warren’s article wasn’t well-received, at least by my Twitter timeline’s standards. Warren was criticised for singling out Jen Hatmaker in a way that came across as chastising: how dare Hatmaker, “only” a blogger, deviate from the evangelical bottom line? The article read and felt like a gendered attack, Hatmaker acting as the negative example of what happens when those outside formal structures don’t toe the line.

Warren has since issued an apology to Hatmaker, but the article is still up on Christianity Today – the first part of a series called #AmplifyWomen. It’s ironic and telling that the first article in this series wasn’t about amplification at all, but about control.

Warren wouldn’t be the first woman delegated to keep her fellow women in check. One comes across it often; if you need an example, just skim any article relating to women on The Gospel Coalition blogs (alas, a favourite teacher of mine, Jen Wilkin, has participated in something similar). Warren has come across as sincere in her Twitter replies to criticism and praise, but I doubt she realises that a lot of her article’s backbone is internalised misogyny.

Make no mistake, the issue at play in Warren’s piece isn’t responsibility or accountability. As quite a few influential bloggers have pointed out, they are accountable: to their personal relationship with Jesus Christ, to the church or spiritual communities they form a part of, and to their friends, families, and peers. In fact, one could argue that the response to Warren’s piece is an indication of how much accountability there is in the popular Christian blogosphere: her article didn’t remain unchallenged, and the criticism was mostly fair and well thought out.

No, the issue Warren’s article skirts around is control. Unfortunately, there are still many church traditions where women aren’t allowed to preach, speak or teach (or if they are, it’s only to other women or to children). In these denominations, women aren’t allowed to have authority. So when these women, who are forced into silence by their churches, turn to the Internet to share their voice and listen to the voices of others like themselves, this presents a conundrum to the men and women in church denominations who delineate the function and authority of women. How do you control women speaking outside the traditional sphere of the church?

Well, you can’t, not without making it exceedingly obvious that the issue is really control rather than authority. If you’ve followed any of these popular female bloggers, authors, speakers and preachers (Jen Hatmaker, Rachel Held Evans and Sarah Bessey to name the bare minimum), you realise that their passion and gifts are Spirit-derived, unlike the man-made ecclesial structures that would insist they aren’t allowed to write Spirit-filled words or share Spirit-filled truth or preach prophetic, Spirit-filled prophecies. If it becomes clear that so many women have the gift of teaching, preaching, and disciple-making outside official church structures, you have to ask yourself: are these women and their ministries the problem, or the fact that so many churches continue to deny them?

It’s interesting to me that, around the same time this piece was published, an editor over at The Gospel Coalition went on a Twitter and comment rant against what he calls “discernment bloggers”. He had had a run-in with the women who run Spiritual Sounding Board and The Wartburg Watch, both websites dedicated to blogging about spiritual abuse in the American church. This editor, Joe Carter, called blogs like these divisive and the women who run them “broken wolves in sheep’s clothing”.

Call me crazy, but I spot a pattern here: women who won’t adhere to the “it’s all fine, it’s alright” party line of patriarchal, male-dominated church and spiritual traditions are called out by the benefactors of those traditions when their unsanctioned, Spirit-filled commentary hits too close to home. These churches, like Warren’s article, claim it’s about God-ordained authority; but it’s really about male-centric control. If God gives women authority to witness outside the church, then their authority isn’t in question.

As someone who had once lost her voice to an oppressive, male-dominated church situation and rediscovered it through blogging, I cannot overstress how important the voice of female Christian bloggers are. Even when those voices are more conservative than I am or have a theology that differs from mine, I’ve been enriched by the writing and teaching of Christian women who blog, both those with large followings and those with a smaller audience. Sometimes simply the reminder that there are powerful, Spirit-led women using their gifts is more of a comfort than I can say.

Christianity is a much bigger place than any one church, any one denomination, or any one pastor would have you believe. Faith, discipleship and following Jesus don’t heed the lines humanity draws around them. More often than not, the Holy Spirit uses those lines as starting places rather than as borders. These lines are porous, made to break through, much like sheep pens are meant to be left if the flock are to find places to graze, explore, grow and mature.

When an article like Warren’s appears, I see it as an indication that things are right rather than that things are wrong. It means that somewhere, someone is toddling from their sheep pen, following their Shepherd out into the world. It means that someone has chosen to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit rather than the strictures of men.

#Lentspiration for March 17

 

google-international-womens-day-2015-1425821226
Google Doodle for International Woman’s Day 2015. Source.

 

Today’s prayer:

Pray for acceptance of the equality and full personhood of women in society and church. Pray against the oppression of women in general and in restrictive nations specifically. Intercede against sexism in all its forms, especially in the Body of Christ. Ask the Holy Spirit to convict those who benefit from this oppression of their sin.


Genesis 1:27 (NRSV)

So God created humankind in his image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Galatians 3:28 (VOICE)

It makes no difference whether you are a Jew or a Greek, a slave or a freeman, a man or a woman, because in Jesus the Anointed, the Liberating King, you are all one.

#Lentspiration for March 16

2000px-purple_ribbon-svg

Today’s prayer:

Domestic violence and the abuse of minors are crimes that often go “unnoticed” in our communities and churches. Consider spending time interceding specifically against this type of violence. Pray for its victims. Pray that their abusers would be exposed and face justice. Is there someone in your life you feel burdened to pray for? Reach out to them.


Psalm 10:17-18 (NIV)

17 You, Lord, hear the desire of the afflicted;
you encourage them, and you listen to their cry,
18 defending the fatherless and the oppressed,
so that mere earthly mortals
will never again strike terror.

Proverbs 6:16-19 (KJV)

16 These six things doth the Lord hate: yea, seven are an abomination unto him:

17 A proud look, a lying tongue, and hands that shed innocent blood,

18 An heart that deviseth wicked imaginations, feet that be swift in running to mischief,

19 A false witness that speaketh lies, and he that soweth discord among brethren.