Why I’m okay with white Jesus

jesus sacred heart

This is not what the historical Jesus looked like.

Let’s get this straight—despite Megyn Kelly’s recent protestations, the ethnicity of the historical Jesus is pretty well settled. He was a Galilean Jewish man, almost surely with darker and more olive-toned skin than a typical white man. He didn’t have blue eyes. He didn’t have a golden halo hovering above his head or perfectly blow-dried hair. He probably didn’t even have long hair.

Why we need to acknowledge that Jesus was a Galilean Jew

First, it’s a shame that we’re having to say this at all. We have to say it because, as Megyn Kelly has shown us, some people really think the historical Jesus was a white man.

It affects how we read the Bible when we imagine this sort of supernatural figure walking among the masses. He seems not quite human, more floating than walking. We picture this type of mystical figure and have a hard time understanding how the world didn’t recognize him. (Here I’m not referring to his whiteness—which is nothing supernatural—but the total aura.)

In 2002, some British scientists produced this "reconstruction" of Jesus' face. No one really knows, but it's probably much closer than the above.

In 2002, some British scientists produced this “reconstruction” of Jesus’ face. No one really knows, but it’s probably much closer than the above.

We see these images of Jesus, clearly out-of-place in a world full of regular-looking (sometimes even Jewish-looking) shepherds and fishermen, and his humanity seems almost an illusion. It’s hard to imagine that he could have actually gotten his feet dirty, smelled bad, or stubbed his toe. That all makes it hard to imagine he understood or had to deal with our actual human plight. All of that, though, dances on the edge of an ancient heresy called Docetism, which held that Jesus only appeared to be human.

One of the great marvels of the incarnation is that the Son of God became a real, regular-looking human being. He came into a particular culture as one of the people of that culture. We lose the significance of that when we portray Jesus as a conspicuous foreigner among a bunch of first-century peasants.

When we forget that Jesus was of Jewish descent, we also miss an enormous theme that runs throughout the Bible: God chose Abraham and then the people of Israel to bring salvation to the world. Salvation is from the Jews! Forget that Jesus was Jewish and you’ll misunderstand a lot of the Bible––both Old and New Testaments.

When Jesus isn’t a Galilean Jew

The historical Jesus was a Galilean Jew, and we must recognize that for all the reasons above. But I think there are theological reasons to accept some other depictions.

Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (Mark 10) - 1879, Beijing, China

Chinese depiction of Jesus and the rich man (Mark 10) — 1879, Beijing, China

The painting at right is of Chinese Jesus. Why would anyone paint Jesus and his followers as if they were Chinese? We all know this isn’t historically accurate.

I think they would do it because Chinese people will understand the incarnation differently when they see a Chinese Jesus. Although Jesus surely didn’t speak Chinese and never set foot in modern China, I think the painting at right might help a Chinese person understand some of the deep theological realities of the incarnation better than a painting of a Galilean Jew.

I’ll make the same statement as above, but now with a slightly different intention. One of the great marvels of the incarnation is that the Son of God became a real, regular-looking human being. He came into our time to experience what we experience, to share in our limitations and hardships. “We do not have a high priest  who is unable to empathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet he did not sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

This is where we run into something called the scandal of particularity. Jesus didn’t experience everything. He didn’t experience life in medieval Europe or 21st century Africa. He didn’t experience life as a woman or as an elderly man. We might even ask if he was really tempted in every way. He was unable to experience all of these things precisely because he was human. To be human is to be limited by time and space.

An African Jesus depiction

An African Jesus depiction

Jesus’ incarnation required him to come into a particular time and place with a particular ethnicity and race. The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among a group of first-century Jews. While the gospel of John doesn’t mean less than that, I think it intends to mean more than that. When we read, “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us” (John 1:14), I think we’re intended to read that “us” as even ourselves. I think we’re intended to see all the particularities of Jesus’ thirty-something years of life on earth and see broader implications in them––that he is truly able to empathize with all of our weaknesses and situations, even those he didn’t directly experience.

I suspect that many people in China would feel that point more deeply if they saw a picture of Chinese Jesus. Could they comprehend it while looking at a Galilean Jewish Jesus? Surely so. But I think they would feel it differently. What language would Jesus speak to a woman from Beijing? I expect it would be Mandarin Chinese––probably with a Beijing dialect. That’s easier to expect when you see a Chinese Jesus.

Let me stop and acknowledge here that our world is quickly globalizing. A woman in Beijing may meet someone who appears Jewish or African and then find out that person speaks perfect Mandarin, with a Beijing dialect even. People don’t have to look like us to be like us. While that’s true, I don’t think it’s enough for me to tell a Chinese friend to get rid his Chinese Jesus picture.

So I’m okay with Chinese Jesus. And also Indian Jesus and Hispanic Jesus and Ethiopian Jesus –– all for the same reasons. Can we continue to remember that the historical Jesus was a Galilean Jew and yet continue using these other images, as well? I hope so.

Why I’m (cautiously) okay with white Jesus

For all the same reasons I just gave, I’m okay with white* Jesus depictions. Just as I think an Ethiopian might see Jesus a bit differently––and more truly––if she sees an Ethiopian Jesus, I think a white person might see Jesus differently if he sees a white Jesus.

I’m more cautious of white Jesus than any other depictions, though. I’m cautious because people like Megyn Kelly actually believe that Jesus was white. They’ve seen so many white Jesuses that they have lost any sense of his true historical ethnicity. I’m cautious because we don’t need a white Jesus to suggest any more white privilege to our world. I’m cautious because of how prevalent white Jesus seems to be in the Western world––so much so that it might be hard for Westerners of other ethnicities to picture a Jesus that looks more like them.

When I was in seminary, a guest speaker came to one of my classes and celebrated all the great things about his ethnic heritage. He talked about the ways that they were including specific parts of that heritage in their worship, and it was beautiful. But then he looked at all of us (nearly all white) and said, “You need to remove everything that reflects white culture from your churches. White culture has done too much evil.” He went on to tell us that we had no ethnic heritage, and when someone asked what cultural patterns we should adopt, he told us to pick any other than our own.

I suspect that this man had been deeply hurt by what he called “white culture.” I’m sure many of his family and ancestors had as well. I regret that. Nevertheless, I don’t believe those past hurts are cause for telling anyone that they have no culture and should go and adopt someone else’s. For that reason, just as I’ll support a Chinese Jesus, I think there is still a place for a white Jesus. I don’t think we should rid ourselves of those depictions, though I think it’s time our depictions got a bit more diverse. Let’s keep white Jesus, but let’s be sure to add Jesuses of many other ethnicities to the mix. Most of all, let’s be sure Galilean Jewish Jesus has some prominent place in our vision.

———–

Excursus: A Female Jesus?

This discussion leads us to another important question. If we can depict Jesus as Hispanic or Indian, African or Chinese, can we depict Jesus as a woman?

Let me first say that I believe we have a Savior who empathizes with women just as well as with men. He understands their thoughts and experiences no less. And by no means does God favor or honor one gender over another.

But I wouldn’t depict Jesus as a female. Augustine says Christ “was not ashamed of the male nature, for He took it upon Himself; or of the female, for He was born of a woman.” Thomas Oden offers this as a hypothesis: “If the mother of the Savior must necessarily be female, the Savior must be male, if both sexes are to be rightly and equitably involved in the salvation event.”** I think there’s something important to keeping Jesus as a male, the Son of God, born of a woman.

I suspect my thoughts here represent a minority view. I’ve gotten myself into issues of race, gender, ethnicity, and historical accuracy. I’d be interested in your thoughts in the comments.

* I wade into all sorts of murky waters by using the word “white” here. I use it the way that Wikipedia defines the term “white people” to refer to a set of ethnic groups characterized by lighter complexions and with origins in Europe, the Middle East, or North Africa.

** All of this from Thomas Oden’s Classic Christianity, p. 505.

16 thoughts on “Why I’m okay with white Jesus

  1. This is a nice write-up. I would reemphasize the point you made above, that what you’re doing and what Megyn Kelly did are two dramatically different things.

    The incarnationalism you call for can only happen AFTER we embrace Jesus’ particularly.

    That said, it’s pretty unfair of you to deny feminine particularizations of Jesus, don’t you think? After all, tons of medieval art depicts Jesus using highly feminine features — including offering his breast for nourishment and the sacred heart.

    What’s so much more essential about Jesus’ manhood (especially when Wisdom in the OT is feminine) than his ethnicity?

    • Hi JR — thanks for your comments here. I understand your points about Jesus’ manhood compared to his ethnicity. I struggled with this, and I don’t claim to have the final word on it. Still, I can’t get past the fact that it doesn’t seem right to depict Jesus as female (having qualities typically considered feminine–like nurture–sure, but not female). What I shared above about Son of God, born of a woman, is a part of this. Also, I think this would come under the same category as referring to nature or the Church as masculine. I think the references to these as feminine are important. God and his creation are separate, but together make a whole–masculine and feminine. And the same for Christ and his Church.

      Again to Oden: “Elizabeth Achtemeier has persuasively shown that the prophets did not suffer from a failure of imagination to grasp God as female, for they were surrounded by cultures dominated by feminine deities, but they chose not to use feminine language ‘because they knew and had ample evidence from the religions surrounding them that the female language for the deity results in a basic distortion of the nature of God and of his relation to his creation’ (in D. Miller, ed., The Hermeneutical Quest: 109)—namely, the deification of nature, pantheism, and immanental religion. ‘When you have a Goddess as the creator, it’s her own body that is the universe. She is identical with the universe’ (J. Campbell, The Power of Myth: 167)” (Classic Christianity, p. 505).

      • But we ignore the feminine language used of God — and specifically of the second person of the trinity — both in the Old and New Testaments. The prophets DID use female imagery to describe God. Not as often, sure. But a surprising amount for such a patriarchal culture.

        A good question to consider would be: If the Bible isn’t afraid to describe Jesus using feminine language and metaphors, why does it make you uncomfortable?

        God isn’t male. God is both male and female (Gen 1:26 is pretty clear about that). It’s not much of a stretch (particularly if you pay attention to the Wisdom theology in John 1 and Colossians 1) to use both masculine and feminine language to describe Jesus as well. And there’s a pretty solid Church Tradition of using female pronouns to talk about the Holy Spirit.

        There’re just as many problems with defining God exclusively as Male as Miller’s critique of a female deity — particularly with regard to God conquering/penetrating/etc.

      • Hi JR — I’m curious to see some specific examples of the things you’re talking about. I know that Scripture refers to Wisdom in the feminine. But I’d love to know which examples you’re citing when you talk about the prophets referring to God in the feminine, or the Bible using feminine language to refer to Jesus.

      • I’m always hesitant to enter a discussion, but I did wish to throw-out two comments:

        Teddy and JR,

        Scripture does use feminine imagery to describe God and even Jesus, and these are more than appropriate to utilize in iconography. For instance, my parish has a huge stained glass window depicting a Mother Pelican feeding her young. During the middle ages, many thought the pelican fed her young by literally picking bits of flesh and blood from her bosom and feeding these to them … an excellent, though mistaken, metaphor of Christ and the Church. Regardless, this parish window is not an icon of Jesus Christ proper; rather, it is an icon of a pelican who represents Christ. In other words, it is an icon of an icon of Christ. The same could also be said of the common depiction of Christ as a Mother Hen (gathering the chicks under her wing). This also has never been considered a proper icon of Christ but of a mother hen which represents Christ (or, an icon of an icon of Christ). Perhaps the most ‘feminine’ icons of Christ are those depictions of the piercing of Christ’s side. The water (Baptism) and blood (Eucharist) flowed together as Christ literally gave birth to the Church through the vagina, the opening in his side created by the spearhead. What I mean is this: One can certainly create icons of the similes and metaphors used of Christ (in this case – of the feminine similes and metaphors), and the Church has always encouraged this, but these are always understood as second-order icons. That is, they are not icons of Jesus Christ but of icons of icons of Jesus Christ.

        This brings me to my second observation: Icons (ontologically) hover between the univocal and the equivocal. There is never a one-to-one correspondence between signum and res in icons (univocal), but neither is the relationship equivocal (as if one could paint a picture of a chair and call it an icon of Christ). Two elaborations here: First, the picture of the historically real Jesus above succumbs to the univocal temptation. It takes itself as an exact replication of the ‘real’ Jesus, and for this very reason, it is not really an icon at all. Second, I worry about the ‘missional’, ‘incarnational’, global, emergent, etc. theology/logic at work here. I think it succumbs to the other temptation of an equivocal ontology. Ultimately, if we continue to deconstruct the categories we will be left with nothing but the individual iconographer (unless one traverses the postmodern route and deconstructs individuals as well). For instance, if a Chinese person needs to see a Chinese Jesus, and if a woman needs to see a woman Jesus, what’s to stop a quadraplegic from needing to see a quadraplegic Jesus, or a 30 year old, Louisvillian with short brown hair, wearing a long-sleeved shirt and jeans, named Caleb, from seeing a Jesus with exactly those same features/clothing? Heck, why don’t I merely take a picture of myself and make it an icon of Jesus. It seems such theology/logic can only end with the individual (and ironically, equivocacy and univocity are shown to be different sides of the same coin).

        I have a bunch of other observations, but this comment is long enough as it is (haha).

        Peace,

      • Thanks Caleb and JR. A long response…

        1 — To be clear, I don’t believe that God the Father, though called Father, is inherently male. Neither male nor female language adequately grasps the fullness of the divine reality. Similarly, I don’t believe the Church is inherently female. I’m sure we’re agreed on these.

        2 — I think Caleb’s observations about iconography are helpful. I would have no problem with any of these icons. (I’m not going to get into “icon of icon” language because I’ll certainly misuse it all.) These make an important point in light of what JR shares — God is certainly compared to a mother in Scripture, making these kinds of images appropriate. Plenty of indirect feminine language (analogy and metaphor) is used of God. But when direct language is used, it’s in masculine form.

        Note that I could be compared to a mother, but I could not be called Mother. This, as I see it, is how we see the feminine language used of God. I find that language important, but I don’t find it justification for directly portraying God as female — a move from the indirect to direct speech. When God is referred to directly, he is always Father, never Mother. For all the reasons discussed above, I don’t think this is simple chance or patriarchal influence. I think it’s theologically significant.

        I’m not going to address the female Wisdom becoming male Jesus more. I think that’s a mighty large argument to hang on one interpretation of one chapter of Proverbs.

        3 — Caleb, I may have suggested more than I intended with my discussion of Chinese Jesus. I may need to reconsider how I put some of that argument. I’m not looking to create “your own, personal Jesus” here. I’m attempting to get at a bigger theological claim of the Incarnation — that Christ broke into a specific time and place and “made his dwelling among us” as one of us. Until recently, many people from China may have lived their whole lives hardly seeing anyone who wasn’t Chinese. For these, the theology of the incarnation is more fully conveyed by a depiction of Jesus as Chinese — as one of them. Incidentally, this is another reason I’m not so concerned about female Jesus, much less a Jesus who looks identical to you, individually.

        With that, I don’t think it’s “missional” or “emergent” theology that’s influencing me here. Nor do I think that was at work with many of the artists who deliberately altered Jesus’ ethnicity hundreds and thousands of years ago. Still, I think the most common critique I hear from you is about missional theology. I’m afraid for all of it, I still don’t understand exactly what this means, so perhaps I’m guilty of it, after all. I may need some sort of more comprehensive explanation.

      • Teddy,

        1 – I completely agree. I think this returns us to the discussions concerning the equivocal and univocal, for though man and woman are created in the image of God (analogy), this does not imply that God is somehow the synthesis (or combination) of masculinity/femininity, male/female, etc.

        2 – I would agree that (in Scripture) it would appear that direct langauge used of God is almost always masculine, though I would hate to make too much out of this which perhaps sets me in disagreement with Oden here (though I confess I am unfamiliar with him). The word ‘Father,’ for instance, is still an analogy (though it is a fundamental revelation of God that we have in Scripture), and as such, it still remains imperfect. God is not literally (univocally), after all, a father, but nor is He completely unrelated to fatherhood either (equivocal). I don’t think we should abandon masculine language as many of the old feminist theologians have argued over the last several decades (liturgically, theologically, or in icons), but I do think we need to recognize (as you and JR have consistently pointed out) that masculinity or male-ness is not a fundamental or primary attribute of God. God simply isn’t male … or combination of male/female properties. This is because God isn’t a person or a thing.

        I also wanted to make one small comment on Sophia, Divine Wisdom. I don’t think Sophia is a divine hypostasis (much less synonymous with the second hypostasis) though She can be hypostasized within a hypostasis. One can create icons of Sophia (and the Eastern Church has done so quite extensively), and one can even admit that She is intimately related to the second person of the Trinity (as she is typically associated with the Divine Ousia), but Sophia and Christ are simply not identical. In fact, in iconography, the Divine Sophia is usually depicted graphically below the Son who remains above her. Theologically, She is associated with the Divine Ousia (Divine Sophia) and the created world (Created Sophia). She is not the [pre-]Son. I realize Prof. Ben Witherington might push-back here, but I think Ben’s typically out on Planet 9 most of the time. I’m not saying that Sophia isn’t divine, only that She isn’t a hypostasis, that is, a person in the Trinity.

        3 – I did not intend to make this your (or JR’s) argument (though reading over it, I can see how I didn’t word this very well). My attempt was simply to show an extreme form of the equivocal to illustrate my point. To answer our question, though, I would define missional as David Congdon (PhD student at Princeton) does here: http://www.academia.edu/185132/Missional_Theology_A_Primer.

        • Thanks Caleb.

          A) I think you should become familiar with Thomas Oden. I think you’d largely appreciate his work.

          B) Thanks for your comments on all of this. I think our only disagreement here is that I find Oden’s take on this more agreeable than you do.

          C) Thanks for sharing the article on missional theology. Nice to have something short that will hopefully help me make sense of this, as I know it’s been one of your most regular critiques of popular Western Christianity.

          • So help me out: if maleness isn’t an essential attribute of God, why can’t Jesus be female?

            You guys would both enjoy Craig Keener’s commentary on the Gospel of John. (http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/0801046750/ref=as_li_ss_tl?ie=UTF8&camp=1789&creative=390957&creativeASIN=0801046750&linkCode=as2&tag=jrforcom-20)

            He spends a LOT of time exploring the person of Torah/Wisdom in the OT, and how John presents Jesus as the incarnation of that. It’s compelling (and relies on a whole lot more than one passage 🙂

            One provocatively titled blog post aside, I wouldn’t say Jesus is essentially male or female. I’d say that the second person of the Trinity embodies both male and female attributes in the whole witness of Scripture.

            There may be something to be said for the inherent maleness of the incarnation, but if we go there, I still don’t see how we could make a case for gender and NOT ethnicity. After all, my WASPy-ness has formed me as much (if not more) than my maleness.

      • JR is definitely not going to let me circumvent the issue at hand (haha) so let me throw-out my tentative thoughts on why I don’t think Jesus can be [depicted as a] female. Feel free to throw rocks, though, because I’d love someone to push hard against it and help me refine what I think. Anytime we’re navigating between the equivocal and univocal things get murky, and I’m definitely traversing thin ice here.

        One quick clarification first: In the Incarnation we have one person and two natures. Christ’s divine nature is not inherently or essentially masculine, but Christ’s human nature, on the other hand, is inherently masculine. This is merely another way to say that, historically, Jesus had a physical penis, so though maleness isn’t an essential attribute of the Triune God, it surely is concerning the Incarnation and hypostatic union. The question JR raises, however, goes much deeper than this. I’ll paraphrase his question: If maleness is inherent in the Incarnation, how could we make a case for gender but NOT ethnicity (including skin coloration)? I think we can all recognize ethnicity is also inherently part of the Incarnation. In short, then, to paraphrase JR one more time, if we disallow female portrayals of Christ, we should also disallow white/Chinese/etcetera portrayals of Christ?

        Here is my tentative solution: The primary revelation we have of the Trinity is this: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Trinitarian logic (at least of the Augustinian and Thomistic flavors) prevents us from ascribing any action to only one person of the Trinity. Thus, the newer liturgical formula of “Creator, Redeemer, and Sustainer” used to replace the (often thought, patriarchal) traditional formula actually borders on the heresy of modalism (but only if one utilizes it as, and really thinks it is, a Trinitarian formula). The fact is, Father, Son, and Spirit all create, all redeem, and all sustain. There is simply no action done by one member of the Trinity apart from the others. I say all this merely to point to the uniqueness of the revelation we have in Scripture (and church tradition) of God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.

        The same problem surfaces with the (so-called) ‘attributes’ of God: Truth, Beauty, Wisdom, Goodness, etcetera. All of these actually belong equally to all three persons (individually and Triunely); that is, they belong to the very substance/ousia/nature of God. The Father is Truth, the Son is Truth, and the Spirit is Truth. The Father is Wisdom, the Son is Wisdom, and the Spirit is Wisdom. And so on. As an aside, this is also why Craig Keener and Ben Witherington (who makes similar arguments to those of Keener) are simply wrong here. Wisdom belongs to the substance/ousia of God, not merely to the second person of the Trinity. One is permitted to say that the Son is Truth, but one cannot say that the Truth is the Son. In the same way, one can say that the Son is Wisdom, but one cannot say that Wisdom is the Son. Keener and Witherington are in danger of reversing the formula here. To repeat what I’ve written above in a previous post, the Divine Sophia is not a hypostasis but She can be enhypostasized.

        Ultimately, even the categories of three-ness and oneness are deconstructed as Maximus the Confessor, the Cappadocian Fathers, and even Saint Augustine himself recognized. God is not one as we understand oneness, nor is God three as we understand three-ness. Further, God is not a substance as we understand substance or three persons as we understand persons. The only way to distinguish the “persons” of the Trinity is through the revealed nomenclature of Father, Son, and Spirit. This is why the language given in Scripture of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit (the latter designation always perplexed Augustine who would have preferred Donum/Gift instead) has been essential in Christianity while other metaphors and similes (like a mother Hen) have not been. It was, after all, God-made-flesh as revealed in Scripture who referred to himself as the Son of God, referred to the Father as the Father, and referred to the Spirit as the Spirit. This has been passed on since then. Honestly, though I am familiar with many feminine traits and/or metaphors used of God in Scripture, I know of zero which are used to differentiate or designate one person of the Triune God from another.

        This, I think, allows the opening from which to deny icons of a female Christ, and this is surely not because God is male. Rather, it is because the Trinitarian formula of Father, Son, and Spirit is the primary revelation that we have concerning (or differentiating) the persons of the Trinity. This is also why it is okay to depict Christ as Chinese/white/etcetera. Though the historic man Jesus Christ was Jewish, his Jewishness is not what differentiates the First Person of the Trinity from the Second Person. Rather, it is the begottenness/Sonship of the Son from the Father (a distance held together by the Spirit) which differentiates them.

        I apologize for the long comment, but what do you all think?

      • Caleb,

        It’s like you read my mind and wrote it down here.

        Well, I may not have been able to sound quite so scholarly, and I probably wouldn’t have mentioned enhypostasization… 🙂 But I think you’ve stated more eloquently than I could why I have a problem with depicting the first or second persons of the Trinity as female (not to be confused as “with feminine qualities”). You said, “The only way to distinguish the ‘persons’ of the Trinity is through the revealed nomenclature of Father, Son, and Spirit.” I agree. And I agree that none of the other attempts to present the Trinity suffice. These are how God is revealed, and I think we should tread lightly if we should choose to tamper with them. Or better still, don’t tamper with them.

  2. Thanks for writing your thoughts on this issue, Teddy. I know it’s a tough one to navigate well and handle with care. There is a Christmas song that was written in 1951 by Wihla Hutson & Alfred S. Burt called, “Some Children See Him” that hits on many of your same points. Here are the lyrics:

    Some children see Him lily white,
    the baby Jesus born this night.
    Some children see Him lily white,
    with tresses soft and fair.
    Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
    The Lord of heav’n to earth come down.
    Some children see Him bronzed and brown,
    with dark and heavy hair.

    Some children see Him almond-eyed,
    this Savior whom we kneel beside.
    some children see Him almond-eyed,
    with skin of yellow hue.
    Some children see Him dark as they,
    sweet Mary’s Son to whom we pray.
    Some children see him dark as they,
    and, ah! they love Him, too!

    The children in each different place
    will see the baby Jesus’ face
    like theirs, but bright with heavenly grace,
    and filled with holy light.
    O lay aside each earthly thing
    and with thy heart as offering,
    come worship now the infant King.
    ‘Tis love that’s born tonight!

  3. Pingback: >>?The Historical Jesus<< | We dream of things that never were and say: "Why not?"

  4. I enjoyed the whole discussion, and just about managed to get my head around all the big words.
    However, the comment that intrigued me, Teddy, was
    “Let me first say that I believe we have a Savior who empathizes with women just as well as with men. He understands their thoughts and experiences no less. And by no means does God favor or honor one gender over another.”

    If you truly truly believe that God doesn’t favour one gender over another, how can we sit quietly in church organisations that have for centuries relegated women to roles of either non-existence or hard service whilst according them no positions of authority? E.g. in my baptist church they STILL won’t have women deacons, yet we do have the privilege of doing a great deal of the hard work, Sunday school teaching, etc. (Hint of exasperation and sarcasm, I admit,)
    I am looking forward to the day when men stand up to support women being given the same treatment as men — after all, it is your sister, your wife, your mother, your daughter who is being treated as second-class. We need men to stand up and denounce the error — after all, they made it, not us — while the church is still a predominantly male organisation in its leadership structure (though not in the congregations so much). Yes, women can stand up and object (and get offensive feminist name tags in response,) but if men in their integrity were to speak up and say that how women have been regarded and treated by the church for centuries, ney, milenium, has been sinful, then more could be done to make leaders reconsider their traditional but not godly stance. If ‘God does not favour one gender above another’ then why should the church do so so rigidly?

    I am blessed to be in a church where few boundaries are placed on women serving, however, our freedom does not extend to being given the ‘title’. Why are men so scared of sharing the labels deacon, pastor, elder, etc.? Losing their exclusive decision making powers? I think it’s a historical problem — after all women have barely existed in law in the UK for 100 years — they were only marriageable goods up until that point, but it’s high time the church caught up with the times and discarded this part of their tradition. They need to catch Jesus’ spirit of how to treat women.

    I don’t want a feminine depiction of Jesus. I’m fine with him as a male incarnation of the much-bigger-than-mere-man God. I LOVE the way Jesus broke with the social norms of his time and treated women as people, as important, as worthy recipients of his wisdom. Not sure why he didn’t slip in at least one or two female disciples though! Maybe it’d have messed too much with the boys’ ability to concentrate on what was at stake.
    I even think the early church gave women significant roles in the church and afforded them equality. After all didn’t Paul say there is ‘neither male or female’? But it didn’t last long and the men wanted their old role back and they wanted women back in their silent, subservient position!
    Now this is something more than a theological discussion. It could actually make a difference to how we live and how church works!!!

    • Alison,

      These are excellent thoughts. I fully agree with your sentiment. I would say that Jesus and the Church were far ahead of their times in their treatment of women. Actually, in even more recent history, I think the church has generally been ahead of society in moving toward equality. In the past 100 years or so, while the rest of our society has moved pretty quickly in the direction of equality, it has illuminated the places where several parts of the church have stayed behind.

      This is one of the main things I do love about the United Methodist Church — its egalitarian stance toward women in all respects. We had a female ordained elder preach in our worship service this week… and she was outstanding! As much respect as I do have for some other traditions/denominations that don’t allow women in all ministry roles, I don’t think I could ever join one of those traditions. Not allowing women to become elders would be a deal-breaker for me.

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