Men, Women, and the Kingdom of God

Art by Dr. He Qi (heqiart.com). A former professor at the Nanjing Union Theological Seminary and a tutor for graduate students in the Philosophy Department of Nanjing University, he is a former council member of the Asian Christian Art Association.

By Carolyn Moore –

One does not need to be a feminist to be startled that there are 130 million school age girls around the globe who are not in school. While there are many reasons for that staggering number, it is still jarring. Or that two-out-of-three of the 774 million illiterate adults are women. That is a number that has not changed in 20 years, nor can we be optimistic about the near future. Of the 123 million illiterate youth, 76 million are female.

One does not need to be a feminist to be shocked that an estimated 15 million girls under 18 are married worldwide, with little or no say in the matter. Or that 4 out of 5 victims of human trafficking are girls. Or that at least 1000 so-called “honor killings” occur in India annually, and another 1000 in Pakistan.

Furthermore, one does not need to be a feminist to be heartbroken that women around the world aged 15-44 are more at risk from rape and domestic violence than from cancer, car accidents, war, and malaria.

A global study estimates the number of aborted females annually to be at 160 million, resulting in severe gender disparities in some countries. In China, for instance, men outnumber women by as much as thirty-three million. Statistics like this are an important reminder of how warped and deeply woven into the fabric of society gender bias is.

Until recently, women in Saudi Arabia were not allowed to drive and are still discouraged from working jobs that would put them in contact with men. After Bill Gates spoke to a group of Saudi Arabian businessmen and political leaders, he was asked about how their country could improve in international rankings in the field of technology. They aspired to be among the top countries. Gates said, “Well, if you’re not fully utilizing half the talent in the country, you’re not going to get too close to the top ten.”

Study after study shows that in every arena, that is true. In economics, quality of life, technology, media, military – and yes, in religion – the advancement of a culture is improved by how it treats women.

A recent headline in the New York Times read: “When Wives Earn More Than Husbands, Neither Partner Likes to Admit It.” From the latest census report it was discovered that when women make more than their husbands, they fudge their numbers down and men fudge their numbers up so it doesn’t look like the wife earns more. Folks evaluating the census numbers called it “manning up and womaning down.”

Why do you suppose we do things like this? Is it because women really ought not make more than men? Or that men’s egos are so fragile they can’t relate to a woman who makes decent money?

Ultimately, this is not a cultural issue or a social justice issue. This is a theological issue. It is about how we understand God and creation and the authority of the Bible. That’s why the tension holds through the ages and across the globe. It is because we live in a fallen world. Fallen human nature systematically chooses male gender as more valuable than female gender even from the womb. Fallen human nature creates competition, suppresses partnership, and depletes a woman’s sense of self – which in turn depletes a man’s sense of self.

The first creation story in Genesis describes the work of man and woman. Created in the image of God, they were designed to reproduce and take responsibility for God’s creation. This good work is portrayed as a partnership. The clear hierarchy established in both creation stories of Genesis (chapters one and two) is the hierarchy of God over humans and humans over animals, not male over female.

Then came the fall. Adam and Eve took their eyes off God and allowed personal ambition to make their choices. Their story reminds us that when unholy ambition drives the bus, no one wins. Both men and women are condemned by their own failings. They will experience suffering. Adam will fight against his purpose and work will become an unholy frustration. Eve will struggle to understand her place in creation and that will affect all her relationships, especially with her husband.

If this is our take on Genesis 1-3, then we can assume these three results of the fall:

• Partnership became hierarchy.

• Relationship became competition.

• Work became a chore.

The story of Genesis 3 is truly a shame. Men and women who were designed for partnership, cooperation, and good work are now divided, conflicted, and struggling – and we have been trying to recover ever since.

No wonder Jesus was seen as a radical. When it came to women, he refused to play by the rules of a fallen humanity. Some of the most beautiful scenes between men and women in the Bible happened when Jesus was around. As one example, picture the scene in Luke 7 when Jesus is in the home of a religious leader for dinner. A woman with a questionable reputation shows up at the house while they are eating. She begins to weep. Her tears fall on his feet.

In a scene that would have been a mix of commonplace and curious, she bends down to wipe away her tears with her hair. She begins to kiss the feet of Jesus and pour oil on them. Everyone in the house is scandalized – except Jesus. If we are honest, each of us may have struggled to know exactly how to react, but Jesus knew the treasure of that moment. That woman had just joined the fellowship of a growing cast of biblical women who dared to walk back across the line of Genesis 3 into the Garden of Eden.

Not wanting anyone to miss the moment, Jesus turns to the room (Luke 7:44-48) and – responding to one man’s under-the-breath questioning of the appropriateness of this situation – he asks, “Do you see her?” Then, comparing her to Simon, this religious leader who is wrestling with what is normal, Jesus begins to put the pieces of Genesis 1 back together. He puts himself in partnership with this woman to teach Simon that how he sees the world will determine how he relates to God.

Shreya baptising a new believer. Photo courtesy of the Rev. Peter Pereia.

To honor women is to honor Jesus. To see someone as a person is to see Jesus. Or to put it in reverse, when we are rightly related to Christ we will be rightly related to his creation. Pair this moment with the global reality surrounding women and now we are talking about how the Kingdom comes. If we are not rightly relating to half of humanity, we will not come close to the Kingdom of God. And if we are not rightly releasing half of humanity to partner in the work of building the Kingdom on earth, we will miss God’s grand design.

Male and female are partners in the work of realizing God’s Kingdom on earth. In some obvious ways the genders complement and in all ways they are in partnership. Think about the big-picture directives Jesus gave his followers. His commands at his resurrection were all gender-neutral: “Go make disciples.” “You will be my witnesses.” “Take up your cross and follow me.” “Go and tell the others” (a directive given specifically to a woman). These commands and commissions were not spoken to only half an audience in the first century; likewise, they are not spoken to half an audience today.

Jesus’ recognition and respect for the women in his presence affirms that humans have bodies and stories and spiritual gifts that are designed to be in partnership with God to build the Kingdom on earth.

Kingdom partnership. The Rev. Peter Pereira, director of Hope for Today, has said he believes India will be won for Christ by its women. Given India’s general treatment of women and the more recent escalation in persecution of Christians in that country, his hunch isn’t logical. However, Peter has seen God use women in India in powerful ways. Take “Shreya,” for instance. She grew up in northern India as a Hindu. The caste system in India is officially outlawed, but unofficially it is still very much alive and active.

Shreya is a Dalit (the lowest caste) but she actually belongs to a sub-caste that is considered worse than a Dalit. Before she met Jesus, Shreya and her husband sold moonshine. Then one day, a Christian told her the story of the Samaritan woman – a woman whose story sounded very familiar. After all, the Samaritan too was an outcast, condemned to get her needs met apart from the community, shunned by others. It was this woman Jesus talked to and this woman received the healing of truth from Jesus as he told her everything there was to know about herself.

Shreya heard that Bible story, and thought about it all night long. The next day, she went and found the person who told her the story and asked them to tell it again. Some time later, she asked to hear the story yet again. The third time, she said, “I want to be part of that story,” and she came to Christ on the strength of that one story about Jesus relating to a woman from the other side of Genesis 3.

In India, there is still indentured slavery. People like Shreya, who have a lot of debt, can sell themselves to a rock-busting company or to some other form of hard labor and the owner of the company will pay off their debt. Then they are owned by that company and that person, and it is arranged so they can never get out of it. Shreya and her husband ended up in that situation, enslaved by their debts and doing hard labor every day. Then Peter and Esther Pereira met them, heard their story, and decided last year to buy them back.

Now Shreya is traveling all over North India. Peter says she goes places he would never be allowed to go to preach the gospel. She doesn’t have a Bible, because she doesn’t read, but she knows the stories and she knows the gospel and so she plants churches in parts of north India that are starved for the gospel. At last count, she has planted fifteen house churches. Hear that: Shreya is an effective church-planter in one of the most spiritually desolate places on the planet.

Shreya is a fist-sized cloud. Do you remember that story? It is the story in the Bible of a time when Elijah the prophet was praying Israel through a long drought. It had not rained in years, so Elijah had been praying and God promised he’d send rain but – as with lots of God’s promises – it didn’t happen when Elijah thought it should. So Elijah kept praying and kept crying out, kept holding God to his word. He’d pray and then send out his servant to look for signs of rain. Then he’d pray again and send out his servant. Six times he did this … and got nothing. Then he prayed again and his servant went out and looked. There – way out in the blue sky – was a cloud the size of a man’s hand. One tiny cloud. When Elijah saw it, he went and told the king, “You’d better get your umbrella. It is about to pour.”

Shreya is like that tiny cloud. She is a sign of what is to come. The Lord is going to bring his Kingdom to earth, and he will use all his people to usher it in. When we reject the lies of a fallen world, learn to treat one another as God designed us, and release the whole people of God to go and make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world, then we, too, will be part of that holy rain.

Carolyn Moore is a United Methodist clergywoman, writer, and pastor of Mosaic United Methodist Church in Evans, Georgia. She is the author of several books, including The 19: Questions to Kindle a Wesleyan Spirit (Abingdon Press, 2018).

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