A whirlwind of controversy erupted this week in the Evangelical Christian world when one male Evangelical leader (namely Owen Strachan) called respected Evangelical author Rachel Held Evans a heretic for referring to God as “Her”. Outside of the sexism at play here, it’s also a look into why Christians who have conservative (though not necessarily orthodox) theological views tend to lean heavily conservative in sexual, political, and social policies and actions. For if you believe that God is a highly structured hierarchy and that “He” establishes that hierarchy throughout society, you’re going to support that social vision. Christian hierarchy believes that the pattern where Rich White Men are on top of everyone else is a necessary social order and that homosexuality and trans people are an abomination. So they support policies that work to keep things in that way.
We can see this most visibly in theologian Wayne Grudem. Grudem is one of the primary forces behind the rigid patriarchical Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood. The CBMW teaches that men and women have distinct “roles” according to their genders; that a woman’s place is in the home, subservient to the husband; that a woman cannot preach or hold office in the church; that the man’s word is always the last word;p that a woman serves as “helpmate”; that homosexuals are an “abomination”; that sexuality is only between a husband and a wife; that feminism is a cause of physical and emotional domestic abuse; etc, etc. Oh, and Strachen is the executive director. This resource and his books on the subject are widespread through the Evangelical world. Grudem also wrote one of the most popular systematic theology books. In it, he outlines theological hierarchy from a Calvinist perspective.
Currently, Grudem is focusing all his white, male, middle class Christian hierarchy energies into helping poor countries. He does this by outlining plans for the countries to acknowledge his God and to prioritize capitalism and Western concepts like linear thought and private property. The problem, according to Wayne Grudem, is not that African and Asian countries have been robbed for centuries due to slavery, exploitation, and colonialism. It’s that they’re not more like White Christian America.
Christian hierarchy is misogynist, classist, homophobic, transphobic, and racist at its essence. However, Feminist, Womanist, Mujerista, and Liberation Theologies – led by women and people of color – show a different model of Christianity and expose Christian hierarchy itself as counter to early Christianity.
For starters, Grudem and his Christian hierarchy preacher/theologians’ fundamental belief that the Godhead follows a hierarchy is heretical (odd, huh?). As my friend Dianna Anderson notes:
To put it bluntly, stating that hierarchy exists within the Trinity is to commit the heresy of Arianism. Arianism proposes that the Jesus, the Son of God, is created by and functions as a secondary subject to God the Father. Rather than being equal to God, Jesus is submissive and ruled by God. Jesus is, rather than a fully-functioning member of the Trinity in himself, a secondary, created creature. This runs into the problem of basically making Jesus a second, lower demi-god, rather than a fully functioning, fully integrated member of the one Trinity.
Additionally, there’s also the fact that Christian hierarchy teaches that God is singularly masculine. Inherent in this is the idea that women, trans people and non-gender conforming people are inherently inferior. However, evidence is fairly clear that God is not a man, let alone a white man. There are many feminine attributes, names and images given to the Christian God in both the Old and New Testament and the intertestial works:
El Shaddai is possibly a name of God for breast, meaning God provides and sustains in explicitly motherly ways. This becomes more clear when we see blessings from El Shaddai (often interpreted in English as “God Almighty”) having to do with fertility, and with womb (fertility) and breast (nourishment). I somehow doubt that the Wayne Grudems of the Evangelicalism and conservative Catholicism like to think of God as being “many-breasted”, but there it is.
Even the most masculine of the three members of the Trinity, Jesus, refers to himself as a sacrificial mother hen who gathers all her chicks under her wings (Matthew 23).
Shekinah is a feminine Hebrew name for the dwelling of God – this is the part of God that Christians call the Second Person of the Trinity, the Holy Spirit (and is a fairly common name in charismatic churches). Another feminine name for the Holy Spirit? Wisdom, aka, Sophia. Jesus says “Wisdom is justified of her children.” Wisdom is personified in the wisdom books (Proverbs, Psalms, Wisdom, etc) of the Old Testament as a female. And several Christian theologians ascribe Wisdom to be the person of Jesus before the incarnation. If God is thought in purely masculine terms, well, whoops!
But even fairly straightforward readings of some of the fundamental passages of the bible about gender norms turns the patriarchal Christian Hierarchy on its head. Consider the first creation account, in Genesis 1:27:
So God created human beings in his own image.
In the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them. (New Living Translation)
In the image of God… both male and female. As the Black Eyed Peas say, “Boom Boom Boom!” God is here presented as both male and female, as not restricted by gender. God is not a man. The origin story of Genesis 2 also describes Adam as non-gendered before Eve. Gender and sexuality are not essential in the origin stories of the bible.
And then there’s one of my personal favorite passages in the bible, Galatians 3:27-28:
And all who have been united with Christ in baptism have put on Christ, like putting on new clothes. There is no longer Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male and female. For you are all one in Christ Jesus. (NLT)
In other words, there is absolutely no hierarchy allowed in the Christian church because the very definition of the Christian church is anti-hierarchy. It is anti-racist, anti-patriarchy, anti-exploitation, anti-status quo. In the person of Christ, the hierarchical distinctions between enslaved and free, between ethnic groups, between sexes and genders, between religious and non-religious is destroyed. Can I get an amen?
God, according to Gutiérrez, has a preferential option for the poor. Cone and Williams say the face of God is black. God is known through poor Latinas, according to María Isasi-Díaz. This means that God is not on the side of the oppressors, but is on the side of the oppressed. That’s a Christianity I can follow – but it’s radically and politically opposed to the static God of Christian hierarchy. God is opposed to conservatism.
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