A Response to Anthony Esolen Regarding Women and Hysteria

By Aimee Byrd

Anthony Esolen is an author whom I’ve enjoyed reading. I have respect for his work and his integrity to speak his convictions even when it costs him something. This is why I was so troubled to read his convictions in his latest article for the New English Review, Hysteria and the Need for Male Leadership. The title alone is disturbing. It reduces women to a term loaded with historical baggage. Based on the Greek word for uterus, hysteria refers to extreme irrationality and excessive emotion. The title portrays that since uteruses cause women to have “ungovernable emotional access,” women cannot lead. 
 
Esolen plays out this theme by addressing the hearing regarding the sexual allegations against Mr. Brett Kavanaugh, which he calls “the ghastly farce,” and his confirmation as Supreme Court Justice. The article goes on to describe how the whole ghastly farce happened because we are listening to women. He concludes:
 
Hysteria is not a new thing in the world. Think of Salem. The new thing here is that Abigail Williams and Mercy Lewis are sitting at the bench. What is to be done? The same as must be done for the colleges that the politics of hysteria has ruined. Men must build their brotherhoods again, from the ground up, and be once again, if unacknowledged, the legislators of our common life.
 
I couldn’t believe my eyes while I read through to this conclusion. Is he equating the two girl accusers from the Salem Witch Trials to women sitting on the Supreme Court bench? Is the problem with our society and the outrage between the tribes on the left and the right due to women?
 
Apparently the “hysteria” around the Kavanaugh hearing is a good picture of how our whole society is becoming feminized. Esolen first makes the point that citizens no longer care about the actual vocation of the Supreme Court, as we are ruled entirely by our emotions. He then describes how inept our senate is today saying, “Ours is like a football game with referees but no rules—better if you had no referees at all. A brawl in a barroom ends when the men’s arms grow tired. Our civic violence, because there are no rules but there are referees, never ends.” 
 
I agree with some of the critique Esolen offers. When charges are made, we need to care about actual corroborating evidence, not slander or gossip. The Kavanaugh hearing was a mess from the way it was handled by the politicians to the social media mob mentality and death threats on both Kavanaugh and Ford. It was sickening to see how it all played out in front of the public eye. Ultimately, Dr. Ford’s testimony could not be corroborated and Brett Kavanaugh was confirmed to the Supreme Court. I agree that we cannot “ruin a man’s life” without evidence. Many men and women slandered both Kavanaugh and Ford during this process. 
 
The next point Esolen raises about the hearing is the need for a statute of limitations for accusations such as Dr. Ford’s:
 
People forget things. They invent and imagine things. They make artificial sense of things that were not related. This is especially true when no definite crime has been committed. 
 
Here Esolen moves from the argument of how accusations can ruin a man’s life to downplaying the nature of the charges. First he suggests that Dr. Ford is remembering it all wrong. Clearly Anthony Esolen has never been a victim of sexual assault. That is not something that you can easily forget. It is a definite crime against your very dignity as a human being made in the image of God. I may not remember what I said last week, but I certainly would remember if someone attempted to rape me when I was a teenager. I would remember if I was scared for my life as two drunken boys locked me in a room against my will and held me down trying to take my clothes off! While Brett Kavanaugh may be innocent of the charges, we must not pretend that they were no big deal. This kind of talk is exactly why women may wait 30 years to speak out.
 
And the message we send to sexual assault victims who are watching should never be “just get over it.” That is what Esolen says, adding that maybe the reason Dr. Ford can’t get over such a thing is because she is a woman and she is taking things too seriously:
 
Battles must end. In the jubilee year, slaves are set free, and that is that. When boys in the old days got into a scrap, they would often pick themselves up, more dusty than hurt, and become friends again. What’s done is done. If we are not talking about a serious crime that was committed and not just intended or imagined or, the agent in a drunken stupor, placed within the realm of possibility—an act such as murder, arson, kidnapping, or rape—it is destructive of the common good to hold people responsible for bad things done long ago. 
 
Esolen continues to lament that “If you are a drunken teenage boy and you grab a girl when she does not want it, that’s a hanging offense.” I agree that is not a hanging offense. But we don’t only have the two options of hanging groping punks or shrugging our shoulders. Let’s not send that message to our children. Esolen points out the hypocrisy of wanting to hang a man for groping while simultaneously fighting for the rights of fornication and adultery. Sure, there are many male and female hypocrites out there (none advocating for hanging, by the way). But in describing these hypocrites, he uses the language of a mother bear guarding her cubs to further perpetuate the uterus/hysteria message from the title. Christians should be speaking out about all sexual sin. In that case, I wonder how Esolen would feel if a man groped him in the privates and he was powerless to do anything about it? Is it no big deal? Of course not, it is a terrible violation. However, this is not even the point. I agree, “justice demands distinctions.” Again, the testimony against Kavanaugh is far more serious than unwanted groping! 
 
He rightly says that “we hate rape because it is vicious and violent, an offense against the vulnerability of woman,” but then adds, “not to mention subjecting her to the possibility of a life-altering pregnancy.” Unwanted pregnancy isn’t the only life-altering consequence rape victims have to bear for the rest of their lives. Here again, I see women reduced to their uteruses. We are more than bodies with sex organs that produce babies. Rape affects a woman’s soul, her mind, and her whole psyche. And for this, we don’t only hate rape, but attempted rape as well. I am not saying that is what Kavanaugh did. But that is the nature of the charges.
 
Next, Esolen begins to explain the differences between men and women in broad strokes. Men pride themselves in knowing when to bend the rules to fit the case. Women are incapable of this and cannot be objective with their own children, favoring them over others. He continues:
 
…the female of the species, which is, as Kipling says, “more deadly than the male.” The male can be fair to other men’s children against his own. That is not in the female nature. That great admirer of women, G. K. Chesterton, said that there are only three things that women do not understand: Liberty, Equality, and Fraternity. He meant, by all three together, the lively liberty that a brotherhood of men enjoys when they argue with one another in a club or a beer hall or a college dining room, and no argument is ruled out for its being put forward by a plumber and not a professor, and everyone tacitly agrees that you have a right neither to an opinion nor to any tender feelings regarding your opinion, but rather to an argument. Women in our universities have given notice that they will not abide that masculine punch and counter-punch. Hence the “safe space,” safe for a cancer.
 
Esolen continues to run nostalgic on the good ol’ days when were settled in the beer hall. For the sake of brevity, I will just fire off some concluding thoughts:
 
You cannot reduce men and women to Victorian stereotypes and call that an argument.
I’ve been around enough childhood sports events to see that men are not objective with their own children! 
Has Esolen EVER been in a barroom fight to settle an argument?
Sounds like men were ruled by ungoverned passion in the good ol’ days. Fueled by beer. I think those were the days that many of them returned home to their families in a violent stupor.
I know plenty of women who make good, sober arguments that are just ignored.
It is simply not true that there are no power dynamics of class and social status in the brotherhood.
He’s the one arguing for a safe space!
I know how to give a pretty darn good punch and counter punch, buddy.
 
Esolen concludes that women are despots who govern for their own interests. Listening to women these days is like listening to two girls who ignited the mob mentality hunting witches in the elate 17th century. After all, even with all the progress we’ve made in society, we still have uteruses.

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In the No: Freedom and Belonging Will Never Be Found in the Hookup Culture

By Aimee Byrd

Radiolab did a series of three podcasts called “In the No” in collaboration with radio maker Kaitlin Priest, whose “mini-series called ‘No’ about her personal struggle to understand and communicate about sexual consent” motivated Radiolab’s host Jad Abumrad to further discuss the difficulties of consent in sexual encounters. He introduces the series saying, “That show, which dives into the experience, moment by moment, of navigating sexual intimacy, struck a chord with many of us…Over the next three episodes, we’ll wander into rooms full of college students, hear from academics and activists, and sit in on classes about BDSM.”
 
Well, let me tell you, they successfully strike a chord. I wanted to hear what kinds of conversations were happening, so I listened to the series. I was extremely uncomfortable listening to parts of it because it was borderline pornographic—if there’s such a thing as pornography for the ears. To bring the listener to a better understanding of the difficulties of a woman being Illustration by Cara Turett ( Photo by Justine Camacho on Unsplash )able to communicate what she doesn’t want, Priest plays reenactments of her own personal sexual encounters (and live footage of another). This is very successful in portraying how men can be pushy, how difficult it can be to say no, all the reasons women may go along with sexual acts they don’t really want to do, and all the gray areas in between “Yes, I want this” and “No, please stop now.” 
 
I have mixed feelings about this podcast series. On one hand, I am glad that men and women are talking about all of the power dynamics around consent. This is an important conversation. Awareness is being raised. On the other hand, these people do not have a healthy view of freedom, sex, love, power, or friendship. So it is a very unsatisfying conversation.
 
The podcast is eye opening. But it is also pretty vulgar. Priest hosts an “artsy, feminist sex radio show” and her sexual language is offensive from the start. She claims that third wave sex positive feminism taught her to “adapt the same, ruthless sexual posturing as boys” and that “would allow her to wield some of their power…having slut pride would subvert the double standard and it would force the world to recognize that women’s sexual pleasure is real.” She pauses, and then reveals that the only problem is that she hates casual sex. Instead of investigating more of why that is, Priest tells the world all about her sexual life of masturbation on her radio show. She does say that what she is looking for is love, even though she knows it’s corny. She knows that the sexual revolution has sold her a lie. But she still uses its language. Why does Priest expect more from sex if she uses the “F” word to describe it?
 
Right away, we learn that even though she is supposedly looking for sex only within a love relationship, Priest is still very casual about her sexuality with male friends. She over-shares. She’s sexually intimate. She wants to cuddle under a blanket and have movie sleep over nights. But then she doesn’t quite know what to do when her friend takes this behavior as signs for more. She sends mixed messages. And yet, as they begin to mess around, she does communicate clearly what she doesn’t want to do—several times. Very clearly. At this point her friend betrays her, acting like so many other encounters she’s had, basically talking her into what she clearly communicated that she didn’t want. She wants to be liked. But she doesn’t want to be consumed.
 
She is tired of being a means to an end. The end is the man’s pleasure. 
 
But Priest does not understand how to escape this. Sure, a man should also be thinking about the woman’s pleasure.  But that is not the answer—that happens as a result of knowing the truth about sex. This view of sex, and even her life of masturbation, is all about consumption. She kind of knows this when she is the oppressed, but she just turns it around to making it be about her own pleasure in masturbation. She has settled. She wants good sex but has no sexual identity beyond pleasure. She thinks her standard for good sex is love—but why does she think this? That’s what I would love to ask her. And if this is so, why does she think she will ever find that in the hookup culture?
 
Sex is a uniting act where two flesh become one. It isn’t consuming; it’s giving. It’s sharing. It is such an intimate sharing that it is exclusive to marriage with one spouse.** You can’t look to the hookup culture for this kind of remarkable intimacy. Kaitlin Priest’s expectation for love and pleasure is too low! As she is busy seeking feminine power and pleasure, she is blind to the sacrificial, sanctifying love that builds in Christian marriage through the years. This absolutely beautiful and glorious love grows beyond the youthful, original attributes that attracted us to one another, to a mature appreciation of the scars that mark its progression. She will NEVER get this from the hookup culture or from masturbation. Within this covenantal, Christ centered love in Christian marriage, sex is an intimate opportunity for growing, sharing, pleasing, learning, teaching, and forgiveness.
 
Kaitlin Priest is only in her twenties. And although she sees the lie in the third wave feminist movement she is still falling for its premise that people are to be consumed for our own pleasure. That sex is a means to power. And yet she still wants to be that something beautiful that others will want. So she has reduced her own body as a means to get these things: belongingness, pleasure, and power. 
 
There’s a much bigger issue at stake. 
 
The hookup culture is supposedly about freedom and autonomy. Priest’s radio show reveals that the playing field is not really equal. But she doesn’t see that the whole premise of self-interest and self-pleasure in the hookup culture is enslaving. Richard Bauckham wasn’t talking about the hookup culture, but his wise words can be applied in this situation:
 
The contribution of the New Testament’s insights into the nature of real freedom as liberation from enslavement to self-interest and freedom to give oneself for others is also important in this context. The oppressed who long for freedom are not truly liberated from the system that oppresses them so long as the freedom they desire is only the freedom their oppressors have: freedom for themselves, no matter what this entails for others. In such circumstances the struggle for liberation is simply a mirror image of the system it opposes: it becomes ruthless in its self-interest, creates as many victims as it liberates, and produces a new kind of tyranny in place of the old. Outward liberation worthy of the name requires people who have been freed to live for others, and for all others, even for their oppressors. (Bauckham, God and the Crisis of Freedom, 24-25).
 
In this case, freedom comes in serving our brothers and sisters by promoting their holiness, not by seducing them for our own pleasure. Priest looks for freedom in the hookup culture but cannot find it. She looks for autonomy in masturbation, but it’s unsatisfying because it’s terribly lonely. She too is enslaved by her own pleasure. “Belonging is necessary to true freedom, and freedom is necessary to true belonging.” They are “not exclusive opposites, but reciprocal factors. There is no human independence that is not rooted in a deeper dependence—on nature, on other people, and on God” (42).  Freedom and autonomy don’t go together.
 
What is more powerful, using our own sexuality to seduce someone, to impose oneself on someone, or in sacrifice to promote the good of our neighbor? This is also where the purest pleasure will be found. And you just might find love as well.
 
 
 
The load, or weight, or burden of my neighbor’s glory should be laid on my back, a load so heavy that only humility can carry it, and the backs of the proud will be broken. (C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”)
 
** I don’t mean to convey that consent is not needed for sex within a Christian marriage. But as one of the interviewees noted, consent is all about what you will let someone else do to you. It’s terribly sad to reduce sex to this. And yet, there are plenty of Christian marriages with unhealthy sexual dynamics. I have tried to explain a healthy view of sex above. If sex is a giving and sharing of oneself, that certainly requires the volition of both parties. Without that, we enter into the same issues of violation, sexual assault, and abuse that the mini series was addressing.
 
Illustration by Cara Turett
( Photo by Justine Camacho on Unsplash )

 


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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

When Do We Use the Word Sin, and Why?

By Aimee Byrd

A couple days ago, I wrote about how even the world of Reformedish evangelicalism is contributing to the sad “State of Theology” that is evidenced in the Ligonier Ministries’ survey. Bad theology is perpetuated in our own circles when ethics is prioritized over our theology of God, his Word, man, and the gospel. 
 
And so I asked, why are we surprised by this? If we accept bad theology on the basics, our ethics are going to follow suit. Our updated survey is showing just that. And so we see that even the ethics that we held so dear are now falling apart:
 
An alarming 69% of people disagree that even the smallest sin deserves eternal damnation, with 58% strongly disagreeing.
 
As the results reveal a low view of God and his Word, a high view of man, and a distorted gospel, it only follows suit that sin is no longer that big of a deal. I can’t tell you how many “Christian” books I’ve read by popular authors in our circles that don’t even use that word anymore. One of the most powerful books upholding the holiness of God and the evil of sin that I have ever read is Jeremiah Burroughs’, The Evil of Evils. If sin is a missing word in our vocabulary, evil is even more offensive. His premise is, “That it is a very evil choice for any soul under heaven to choose the least sin rather than the greatest affliction,” reasoning that, “There is more evil in sin than in outward trouble in the world; more evil in sin than in all the miseries and torments of hell itself” (2,3).
 
Think about it, when the youth in our midst look at the church they often see her on one hand carefully calculating to accept or modify obvious behavior that Scripture labels as sin, and on the other hand reserving the strong language to quibble over skirt lengths and education. The ultimate sin that a contemporary Christian seems to face is that of not being very nice. Maybe we need to spend some time talking more about what sin really is so that we are clear on why we are so desperate for Christ. Maybe the good news doesn’t sound all that radical to someone who is frustrated or merely broken and hoping for a makeover. But when you learn about the pure holiness of God, sin is seen as the evil of evils, something to abhor at all costs. And that leads us to think about what sin cost our Savior. Burroughs expounds:
 
Oh, you heavens!  How could you behold such a spectacle as this was?  How was the earth able to bear it?  Truly, neither heaven nor earth was able, for the Scripture says that the sun withdrew its light and was darkened so many hours. It was from twelve to three that the sun withdrew its light and did not shine, but there was dismal darkness in the world for it was unable to behold such a spectacle as this was. And the earth shook and trembled, and the graves opened and the rocks split in two, the very stones themselves were affected with such a work as this, and the vale of the Temple rent asunder. These things were done upon Christ’s bearing of the wrath of His Father for sin. Here you have the first fruits of God’s displeasure for sin, and in this you may see, surely, that sin must be a vile thing since it causes God the Father to deal thus with His Son when He had man’s sin upon Him. (102)
 
Surely we think of sin as too small a thing. The creation couldn’t even bear the sight of Christ carrying our sin, propitiating the Father’s wrath. Our holy Savior took on the greatest affliction of bearing our sin—every bit of it—as he faced his Father’s judgment instead of us. Could anything ever come close to showing us the evil of sin as God pouring His wrath for it on His Son? And not only are we able to turn to him for forgiveness, but his very righteousness is reckoned to us as well. Who else could be worthy of our praise and worship? How could we choose sin over any affliction when we have Christ’s Holy Spirit to apply his glorious work to us and give us his very strength to avoid the evil of sin? Even now, Jesus is at the right hand of the Father interceding for his people as we are being transformed into his own likeness.
 
Why would we ever want to soften this language? And what’s more perplexing, why is it often used instead for shaming on extra-biblical regulations like skirt lengths, current interpretations for biblical manhood and womanhood, political parties, food righteousness, and education choices? These extra-biblical regulations are not the power to holiness. Sin isn’t what’s “out there.” Sin saturates our hearts. This is why we so desperately need to know the Holy One who delivers us from the reign of sin and places us in the reign of grace, giving us the power by his very Spirit to obey. “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Rom. 1:16). 
 
We need to love the One who gives us the freedom of holiness—who takes away our chains, declares us holy in him, and then begins the sanctifying work of transforming us into his likeness. In order to know what sin is, we need to know holiness. Then we need to know how we will have the transforming power for goodness. The beauty of freedom is that we can finally choose goodness!
 
Are we as a church clearly communicating to one another and the watching world what sin really is? 
 
 
*A section of this post is taken from an earlier article on the Evil of Evils that I wrote in 2014

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If Our Ethics Are Steering the Wheel, We Shouldn’t Be Surprised by the State of Theology

By Aimee Byrd

I received a preview of Ligonier Ministries’ State of Theology survey in my inbox last week, revealing what evangelical Americans think about God, Jesus Christ, sin, and eternity, and was afraid to click on it. I can already see the state of theology all around me. It’s easy to blame the secular culture around us or the denominations that don’t take theology seriously. But bad theology is perpetuated in our own circles. 
 
Unfortunately, a trend I have noticed in the evangelical church, particularly in our parachurch groups and popular level so-called Christian books marketed to us, is that we care more about ethics than really knowing these primary doctrines. As long as everyone is on the same page with the sexuality, pro-life, and other social issues the church is up against, Christian authors and readers have been given a lot of leeway. 
 
Brothers and sisters, we have our priorities out of place.  We should care about social issues and sexuality because of what we know about God and salvation.
 
I have written so much about how our own Christian books are conditioning us to have a low view of God and his word, a high view of man, and a distorted gospel. I’ve mentioned how, for example, no one seemed to be alarmed about a popular women’s author’s troubling views on God’s Word or man’s ability to save himself, until she came out saying that homosexuality can be considered holy. The line was drawn at Christian ethics, not at the Christian message. 
 
And so I asked, why are we surprised by this? If we accept bad theology on the basics, our ethics are going to follow suit. And our updated survey is showing just that:
 
This year, for the first time, more Americans agree that the Bible’s teaching on same-sex relationships is outdated than disagree.
 
STATEMENT NO. 29
The Bible’s condemnation of homosexual behavior doesn’t apply today.
 
Finding:
44% agree vs. 41% disagree
*All participants in 2018
 
As we are rightly concerned about ethics, I’m concerned about writers, preachers, and teachers in our circles forming alliances with others who advocate for social issues we hold dear, even as their teachings in some primary doctrines have serious theological problems. It can be beneficial to join forces over ethics, but we need to be upfront, not silent, about our theological convictions in the process. Sharing platforms and cross-promoting needs to be done honestly. Because if our ethics are steering the wheel, we will lose our orthodoxy and the ethics will all loosen anyway.
 
I care very much about social issues. But they come from my theological convictions. I’m concerned about how low or bad doctrine has been accepted and promoted for the sake of our social stances. This was painfully demonstrated when we called for complementarian evangelicals to take a stand on an orthodox view of the Trinity. I thought, as complementarian leaders have called out the abuses in feminism and the sexual revolution, they will surely call out the unorthodox teaching on the Trinity. I thought, they will surely correct those who use that teaching to apply it to social relationships, saying women are eternally subordinate to men—right? Because that is really bad. We’re talking about who God is. And that would distort the gospel. That would take from women what Christ said would never be taken from her. 
 
But it was taken. And the top complementarian leaders were silent. No retractions. No apologies. No, instead, there was just a little shuffling of leaders. Instead, I was criticized for my tone. Apparently, when confronting abuse and heresy, you are to have a gracious and submissive tone—if you’re a woman, that is. Because then people will respond? No, they still don’t respond. I had that tone back in the day, when I believed in complementarianism. No one remembers that because no one listened. And with the nice tone and all, it wasn’t very interesting. 
 
The thing is, what these complementarians believed about social relationships between men and women was steering their theology of the Trinity. We were given this response by the new president of CBMW:
 
I am a Danvers complementarian. That view of gender is not and never has been reliant upon an analogy to the Trinity. Biblical complementarianism neither stands nor falls on speculative parallels with Trinity… 
 
CBMW exists to promote the Danvers vision, which is silent on this current controversy. 
 
This is the same organization that most promoted the errant view of the Eternal Subordination of the Son. This is a primary doctrine. All of the sudden, it doesn’t matter as long as everyone agrees on women still being subordinate. 
 
I’m sad about the state of theology today. Very sad. But before we shake our heads, we need to begin in our own circles. 

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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

How Much Should a Drunk Teenage Boy Be Held Accountable for His Behavior?

By Aimee Byrd

 
I am ashamed of my 17-year-old behavior. By God’s grace I have matured into a 42-year-old with a godly understanding of holiness and identity. By God’s grace, I have repented of my wayward behavior and his righteousness has covered me and the sanctifying work of his Spirit is transforming me more and more into the likeness of Christ. That doesn’t mean that there are no consequences for my actions.
 
Criminal behavior certainly has consequences—especially criminal behavior of the nature of allegations against Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. Outspoken people are taking sides commenting about whether or not these allegations are true. That isn’t what I want to address. What I am shocked over is what I am seeing regarding whether or not it even matters now, even it is true. I would agree with Rachael Denhollander’s assessment that a “morally repugnant felony should be on the list of qualifications for leaders holding some of the highest offices in the land. So let’s evaluate these allegations.”
The court of Twitter is all over this. I’ve tried to stay out of online political conversations. But it gets extremely disheartening to see more and more comments like this from people whom I’d otherwise respect:
 
 
I’ve seen and heard this sentiment a lot over the last couple of days—by Christians. I have a 16-year-old and an 18-year-old daughter. And I hate the message this kind of reaction sends to them—boys will be boys. Sometimes they just can’t help themselves. I hope you aren’t the one in their path when they get that sexual urge and want to have a little fun. Oh, and by the way, if you speak up about it, you are going to be ruining their lives. I also hate the message it sends to my 13-year-old son—look, you’re a guy and sometimes you just can’t control yourself. And if you’re drinking, then it’s not really even you. I mean, 17-year-old you isn’t really the you who you are going to be anyway. You have an excuse. 
 
I grew up in a family that was obsessed with self-defense. So I received some training that many children did not. There’s a self-defense mentality that goes along with the physical training. That’s no guarantee against assault. I still could have been shoved into a bedroom, powerless against two older strong young men. And there are more instances in my life than I can count where I was assaulted by what would be considered a lesser charge, a misdemeanor battery of an offensive nature. Women and teenage girls often do not speak up when this happens, because it’s often received as “no big deal.” We are just supposed to take it. Well, that is not the mentality I was taught. And yet the consequences of doing something about it are often just as demeaning, or could even be dangerous. 
 
One time this escalated for me in a traumatizing way. I was 18 years old at a crowded party in college. I felt someone grab my backside. I turned around and saw that it was a tall guy with a proud smile on his face, beaming while all his friends are laughing that he did it and that he got caught. My response was something like, “What is your problem?” and he acted like it was there for the taking. I warned him not to do it again. He did it again. It was even more humiliating the second time, as he clearly was enjoying the attention this was bringing him from all his buds. I warned him again and the look on his face communicated, “What are you going to do about it?” So I said, “If you do it again, I will have to defend myself.” 
 
Here is where a million scenarios run through your head because you know he’s going to do it again. There is a sense of powerlessness. He’s going to do it because he can. I should just get my friends to leave the party with me. But, a) I don’t know if I could talk them into leaving, and b) that might be even less safe if he and his friends followed us out. Maybe I can just move further away from these guys. Too late, he did it again, before I even had time to move. Those scenarios never had the time to play out because I literally just turned back away from him and towards my girlfriends. And without even processing what I was going to do, I defended my honor and I spun around with a right hook that nailed him in the chin and caused him to fall flat to the floor.
 
Doesn’t that sound so empowering? 
 
Well, it wasn’t. It’s not like he was just going to take it and move on, (you know,  like I was supposed to do when he assaulted me). Everyone was now looking. He was just clocked by a girl. Immediately he yelled, “what the hell is your problem, bitch?!” I was portrayed as a hysterical “B” as he continued to berate me. Things could have gone from bad to worse here. Maybe I could knock him down when he wasn’t expecting it, but now I’m standing there with his whole group of buddies who could have all tore me up. Thankfully, my friends sought out the person whose house it was, and he was a stand up guy. I really was at the mercy of this guy’s judgment. Did it matter that I was being continually groped in his house, or was I being hysterical? He said it mattered. He kicked out the perpetrator and his friends. With that, he sent a message to everyone watching. I, on the other hand, was a mess. It was such a vulnerable moment in my life.
 
Now this was a much smaller offense than what Ford is accusing Kavanaugh of. It’s not the kind of offense, even if charged, that would affect his career at 53. But it is still seared into my mind at 43. I wish 18-year-old me didn’t go to parties. But I am grateful that the young man who threw the party thought what was done to me mattered. In this situation, we probably had a drunk teenager telling another drunk teenager that he crossed the line. Not only that, he assured me that I would not have to endure the humiliation of dealing with that guy any more in his home. He made him and his friends leave his house. 
 
I wasn’t shoved into a room and pinned on the bed while someone stronger and older than me tried to rip off my clothes, laughing while grinding himself on me and grabbing me. My mouth wasn’t covered so that I could not call for help. I was a little scared for my safety, but I wasn’t in a position where it was very likely two guys would rape me if I couldn’t get away. I didn’t have to lock myself in a bathroom terrified, wondering if I could escape. I didn’t have to run out of the house and then decide whether or not I would ever tell anyone. For now these are all public accusations that have not gone through due process. But they are very serious ones. The way we respond matters. Our teenagers are watching.
 
If my daughters were ever assaulted—even by drunk teenage boys—I would hope that the message that we have continually sent them is that it matters. I would want them to know that they can speak up and that we would be their advocates. I would hope that no matter where they were, there would be other decent people who also know that it matters. I expect, and train, all of my children to be one of those decent people if they have the chance.
 
The thing is, this doesn’t just happen to teenagers at parties. These teenagers grow up internalizing the messages they have been receiving all around them. The #MeToo and #ChurchToo testimonies have revealed the consequences. I’ve kept this particular misdemeanor battery of an offensive nature and others to myself because I didn’t want my personal history posted on social media. But I have brought it up twice in conversation with others this week regarding the Kavanaugh accusations precisely because they weren’t talking about whether or not they were true. They were talking about whether or not it even matters. “That’s just the way things were” or “why are we surprised that a teenage boy tried to make a move on a girl at a party”? It doesn’t matter; they were teenagers. “We were stupid teenagers too. By God’s grace we aren’t like that anymore.” How long are we going to continue to downplay abuse?
 
My question is (besides the obvious one regarding whether you’ve committed a felony sexual assault as Kavanaugh is being accused), has God’s grace matured us merely to have better adult behavior or to also care about all who are made in his image?

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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

The Real Housewives of the Ancient World

By Aimee Byrd

My last article lamented the lack of published evangelical Christian female academics, as well as the gulf that we have between academia and ordinary layperson. I incorporate the work of different female academics in my own work, and often highlight them on the blog. Here are some I have featured before:
 
Christine Pohl, here and here
Michelle Lee-Barnewall, here and here
Sara Moslener, here and here
 
Today I want to briefly introduce Linda Cohick’s, Women in the World of the Earliest Christians. What I really appreciate about this book is that her work offers a comprehensive picture of women during this time, especially due to what I call the “in between the lines” research she offers. 
 
History has taught us about the extreme subjugation of women in Greco-Roman patriarchal culture. Likewise, we see the accepted opinions of the Jewish rabbis in the first century recorded in the Mishnah, such as the popular Eliezer ben Hyrcanus’, “The words of the Torah should be burned rather than entrusted to women” (JT Sotah 3:4, 19a). We know that the typical way things were set up was that the domestic sphere was the realm of the women, while the men were able to take the reins in the social sphere, conducting business and interactions outside of the home. 
 
And yet one of my biggest observations about Cohick’s book is how history teaches us that some things do not change—in between the lines history, that is. While we are more aware of what the literary documents and their attached ideologies and agendas say, Cohick couples this research with some of her own, looking at epigraphic, inscriptional, and archaeological remains to paint a fuller picture of the life of women during the time of the early church. And we see that in between the lines of the polemical work and ideologies, women are filling in with everyday contributions: relationally, vocationally, and even theologically. 
 
Cohick opens with her intentions for writing:
 
I do not intend to present here a theological argument that debates important issues concerning women in the contemporary church. Rather than make theological assessments about women’s ordination, for example—I leave that to church polity makers—my more modest intention is to provide and engaging and accurate reconstruction of ancient women’s way of life. (21)
 
One of the biggest themes in the book is that status trumps gender. So as Cohick gives us a thorough look at all the different vocations for women as daughters, wives, concubines, mothers, and in both gentile and Jewish religious activities, she examines the difference wealth and status make, also looking at the common life in slavery and prostitution, on one end, and benefactors and the institution of patronage, on the other. It is a fascinating study in which the reader sees how “Greco-Roman culture and Early Judaism were deeply penetrated by layers of social status. Not only legal categories of free, freed, and slave, but also relative wealth and pursuit of honor played major roles in determining the choices available to women. Thus a survey of women’s lives in the Greco-Roman world must consider issues of gender, class, status, and ethnicity to fully appreciate how women negotiated their local worlds” (22). This is just as true today. Whatever cultural codes and ideologies we live in, both secular and religious, there is often a much more complex story of life being lived in between the lines.
 
The book begins with the grim start for the less-desired births of Greco-Roman females, whose lives were in the hands of their father’s decision, often resulting in infanticide or abandonment. Abandoned baby girls were sometimes taken by other families and raised as slaves and/or prostitutes. The accepted daughter would be raised in her own family under the patriarchal expectations of the time, where she could be “both beloved by her family, and is a cause of great anxiety” (64). 
 
But the book ends with another picture that demonstrates how wealth and status can elevate a woman as a female benefactor who would “have a voice and an authoritative role in the community, granted to them without consideration of gender”:
 
For all its faults (noted by ancients themselves), the institution of patronage was in many respects gender-blind. As such, it allowed freedom of movement at most social levels for women to participate in the social, economic, and political environment without any cultural condemnation. Thus, while a woman might otherwise be stigmatized for speaking or acting publicly on economic, religious, or political matters, a patroness had liberty to exercise her ideas and interests with society’s blessings. (320)
 
This provides a clarifying lens as Cohick discusses Joanna (somewhat building off of Bauckham’s fascinating chapter in Gospel Woman, proposing Joanna and Junia the apostle may be the same person, Junia being the Latin name of the Hebrew, Joanna), Lydia, Phoebe, and Mary Magdalene. Her work on Paul’s embracing of reciprocity as the key aspect of patronage was God glorifying, fascinating, and enlightening. In Paul fashion, he turns the cultural model right-side-up, so that we see God as the “ultimate Patron, and all Christians as his clients. Thus to place himself in the socially inferior role of a client to the Romans is not threatening, for he is also on a mission for God, which counterbalances the social equation. So too with Phoebe—her benefaction does imply her socially superior status. But her role as emissary (deacon) for Paul and the church at Cenchreae mitigates the harshness of the asymmetrical relationship” (307).
 
Critically speaking, there were points of speculation, admittedly by the author; but all good, critical historians have to use their imaginations. Also, there were sections where it seemed Cohick painted a positive picture from in between the lines that were more exceptional discoveries than descriptions of life for everyday women. But her work has certainly expanded the view of women during the time of the early church and shows “rural women worked alongside men in caring for their animals, building their homes, and feeding their families” and that “slave women did all manner of work required in the home and in the market place; many worked as prostitutes.” She certainly does not “suggest an egalitarian paradise during the Greco-Roman period,” and succeeds in “encourage[ing] the reader’s imagination to think beyond the stylized snapshots of ancient women sequestered in cramped homes, barefoot and pregnant.” This line captures her work well:
 
I am not sanguine enough to think that we can recover women’s actual voices, but I remain confident that echoes of their heartaches and successes are recoverable. (324)
 
This is a historic, academic work, and therefore takes a bit more reading skill for that genre. It’s probably not going to go over well as the next suggestion for book club. But I highly recommend it for the informed reader who wants to dig deeper into the culture of the early church. And I plan to incorporate Cohick’s research into some of my own work as I try to bridge that gulf between the curious ordinary Christian reader in the pews and the academic life. 

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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

The Trickle Down Effect

By Aimee Byrd

 
I had the pleasure of being treated to lunch yesterday by a friend I haven’t seen in three years. We were struggling in one sense, as we wanted to hear about each other’s family, but had limited time and the conversation quickly steered to theological discoveries, which provoked more questions. My friend just completed seminary and is now diving deeper into Greek and Hebrew languages.  She mentioned how she longed to see more women encouraged to go to seminary and learn at that level. She had the opportunity to attend with her husband, and with her kids being older, was able to take advantage of that. One thing that she is painfully noticing is the lack of published female academics that she can use as resources for her papers. This took our discussion down many rabbit trails—ones with all kinds of rich landscape as well as painful recognition of brick walls and neglected terrain. We talked about what women can do after seminary, where and what they can teach, how the church is missing out when she doesn’t hear from half it’s members, and whether published women get read. I think a whole series of books could be written on these topics. But I’d like to comment further on another related trail we went down.
 
Our passion is for the church, and we lamented the fact that we live in a day when all kinds of resources are available to both men and women, and yet there is a large gulf between the academy and the layperson. I’m not an academic. I have a bachelor’s degree in education and art. And yet, I can benefit from the works of contemporary professors and other academics, as well as rich theological works from over a thousand years ago. But many laypeople do not take advantage of this, as there is such a gulf between popular level books that we are conditioned to read, and the well, sometimes painfully boring and abstract writing found in academic works. Even so, I have found plenty of engaging academic authors while also doing the work of sifting for gold in the less-engaging ones.
 
Sure, these authors need to write with precision, and their works are called academic for a reason. But there comes a time when we need to ask the question about the purpose of it all—is it for theological academics to always be talking to themselves? Sometimes, even often, yes, that is a good thing. Likewise, we expect medical doctors to talk in their language, and their exclusive academic studies and dialogues make advancements in the field that help us all. But the end game is to help patients and to provide preventative care for them. Medical doctors especially want to educate all the common folk in healthy living. 
 
This is the same with theology. There needs to be a place for academics to talk to themselves, but the point is for the trickle down from the academy into the church, right? Seminaries train pastors, authors, and many other leaders that are supposed to be investing in the church. Laypeople first get to receive the proclamation of the Word and the sacraments as our foundation for discipleship in the church. But this receiving comes with a responsibility. All of God’s people are responsible to be active traditioners of the faith. Learners become teachers, even if it is in an informal context.
 
In their book, The Pastor Theologian, authors and pastors Gerald Hiestand and Todd Wilson lament that with the rise of the academy, theologians and intellectuals tend to find their home in that atmosphere. They warn of a theology that has become ecclesially anemic, and of the church becoming theologically anemic. Timothy George opens the Foreword of the book with a quote from William Ames, “Theology is the knowledge of how to live in the presence of God” (7). This is not a mere intellectual quest. It shapes our everyday lives and it is an eternal matter. Hiestand and Wilson discuss the need for pastor theologians leading way for the church to close the gap. This is important. I also think that we need more academic writers and teachers, men and women, working with pastors and informed laypeople to stimulate the trickle down of rich theology. 
 
Speaking as a woman, it is a devastating failure for the church to see that the most popular Christian woman authors being read by laypeople, and even in women’s ministry groups, are often conditioning women in poor reading skills, terrible hermeneutics, and theological error. Is this the real trickle down effect? It’s easy for the more theologically minded to turn up our noses and to point out everything that is wrong with these authors. But it’s much more difficult to do the work to close the gap. 
 
This is the less-marketable atmosphere in which I have been trying to wade in. It’s a tough spot to navigate through. It’s even tougher to work in circles that supposedly promote complementarity between the sexes, and then keep women from contributing as conversation partners at the theological table, from speaking at coed conferences, or just don’t encourage them in higher theological learning and publication. Why are all of the women publishing good academic works egalitarian? And why are complementarians warned that it’s dangerous to read them? Do we sound off alarms like this when it comes to other secondary doctrinal differences? These brick walls and neglected terrains are especially troubling when we look at the women with profound theological contributions in Scripture. In his book, Jesus Becoming Jesus, Thomas Weinandy points out that “Elizabeth could be the first Doctor of the Church”, as she “is the first to profess, by her words and actions, both the doctrine of the Incarnation and the doctrine of the Trinity.” Luke chooses to use the words of both Elizabeth and Mary to teach us rich theology. Elizabeth was able to speak profound theology in an incredibly memorable and fascinating greeting. And Mary showcases the Lord’s glory in doxology. Weinandy continues, “another woman, Mary Magdalene, will first proclaim that Jesus, the Son of God incarnate, is the risen Lord of glory” (25). Our richest doctrines of the faith were first proclaimed by women.
 
Paul calls many women co-laborers, naming four who “worked very hard” for the church in Rome (Romans 16:6, 12). This is how he describes his own ministry work in other contexts. We see that when Paul is led by the Spirit to Macedonia to preach the gospel, he finds a group of God-fearing women. He doesn’t ask where the men are; he evangelizes them and then plants the Philippian church with Lydia. Jesus invests in a Samaritan woman and she evangelizes a whole town. Wife and husband team, Priscilla and Aquila, pull Apollos aside for a little informal seminary-level training. These are but a few examples of men and women working together to evangelize and disciple with serious theology that transforms everyday lives—men and women closing the gap between the elite/educated and the common layperson to the glory of God.
 
We have the same Spirit now. And we live in a time where women have more rights and opportunities than ever. But how are things trickling down? Should women be doing less for the church now than they did in the first century? Should we be satisfied with being separated in our own ministries with unequipped teachers? Do we no longer belong in the world of rich, theological teaching that benefits the whole church? Shouldn’t we be an important part in closing the gap today?

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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

One Reason Men and Women Can’t Be Friends: We Don’t View Each Other Holistically

By Aimee Byrd

Friendship between men and women is a taboo topic in the evangelical subculture. It makes us uncomfortable. Apparently, we are all time bombs on the brink of having an affair—or of being accused of having one. Because of this, men and women often feel uncomfortable around each other, even in innocent contexts, and we impose strict hedges on behavior in order to avoid the threat of sexual impropriety. 
 
Most of us instinctively know what constitutes sexual impropriety in conversation and action—but, due to influence from our overly sexualized culture, we tend to scandalize ordinary acts of kindness and business. It becomes suspect to give someone a ride, share a meal with a coworker in a public place, or text the other sex without copying our spouses or another third party. Prohibitions of these acts are couched in language of protecting our purity, honoring our spouses, or wisely avoiding the threat of temptation. Challenge any of these suggestions, however, and the language of danger is invoked. If these ordinary acts are dangerous, it must be downright foolish to use a meaningful term like friendship to describe a relationship between the sexes. 
 
Do ordinary acts of kindness and business give you anxiety? Have you been reluctant to introduce someone of the other sex as your friend? Even in something as simple as a conversation with someone of the other sex, there seem to be too many ambiguous factors. Am I holding eye contact too long? Oh no, I just laughed at his joke—is someone going to think I’m flirting? Is my body language sending the wrong signals? These can be noble questions in certain situations. However, if we view one another more holistically, they don’t have to be a common anxiety. 
 
Distinction without Reduction 
 
There are plenty of distinctions between men and women, and cross-sex friendships are different from same-sex ones. Let’s not pretend that this isn’t true! But distinctions are special qualities, and we should never be reductive about them. When we reduce others because of their physical assets or on the basis of ideas we’ve received from cultural expectations, we fall into objectifying or stereotyping men and women who are made in the image of God. 
 
A healthy dynamic between men and women engages the whole person. In my family, I was raised with a proper understanding of distinction between the sexes without reduction. Having a brother helped me to understand an aspect of my own sisterhood and femininity that was distinct from what I learned about my sisterhood and femininity in my relationship with my sister. In all my family relationships, I had a sense that my mind, body, and soul were valued, and I thrived. 
 
Society’s message, however, is for both sexes to follow our baser instincts. When Harry Met Sally is the cultural icon of this mindset—Harry representing every man, and Sally every woman. Sex is the endgame of all Harry’s friendships with women: he pursues friendship in order to get sex, or he dismisses women whom he isn’t interested in sexually pursuing, which is equally demeaning. When Harry tells Sally that men and women can’t be friends because the “sex part always gets in the way,” we Sallies read between the lines. Our holistic personhood is not valued—friendship is merely a conduit to sex. Man’s baser instinct overshadows anything else that matters. Savvy Sallies may as well accept the facts and maximize on this outlook by using their sexual appeal to get what they want. Reduced to objects of physical pleasure and consumption, women become a commodity. 
 
Harry Burns isn’t the only one to blame. Decades before When Harry Met Sally came out, Sigmund Freud reduced all affection to erotic desire— to our genitals—meaning that every look, gesture, touch, and thought holds sexual motives. That sounds jarring and crude, but it is in our history, so we need to talk about it. Freud’s psychology still affects the thinking of our postmodern age. His explanation of maturity revolves around which psychosexual stage we’ve reached in life. These are genitally-oriented stages showcasing a male superiority, in which females go through an anxious stage of penis envy before reaching mature sexual identity. This view reduces friendship, whether it is same-sex or cross-sex, to role-playing for sexual gratification.
 
The church has accepted and semi-sanctified these reductive views: sexuality is good for landing a spouse, but it’s a barrier to friendship because men and women can’t possibly just enjoy each other’s company. We associate all intimacy with the bedroom, so we expect every meaningful interaction between a man and a woman to be laden with repressed sexual desire. That means that all intellectual, creative, entertaining, or conversational enjoyment with someone of the other sex needs to be fulfilled by our spouses. That’s an awfully heavy load for one person to bear! 
 
Harry Burns isn’t interested in friendship with women because he can’t look at them as friends. The wider evangelical mindset doesn’t quite put it that way. Acts of friendship are viewed as “unnecessary temptation.” (What falls under the purview of necessary temptation, one wonders.) As one person responded to me, saying and doing are two different things. Saying that we should resist our sinful, base instincts and pursue pure friendships no matter the gender is a “‘good preaching but hard living’ bit of church-talk that isn’t especially helpful.” Sure, we’re told, friendship is biblical and sounds good, but it isn’t necessary and isn’t worth the trouble of fighting the sin in my own heart. Your body is a threat to me, and I must protect myself from you. 
Of course, this is pitched as an act of protection for both parties. Men and women are reduced to a temptation and a danger to each other. Acts of friendship are all suspect; therefore it feels much safer for us all to keep them taboo. 
 
But if friendship doesn’t matter, then a lot of other parts of our design don’t matter either. Viewing one another holistically means we will consider all our faculties that reflect the image of God—our minds, bodies, wills, emotions, and souls. All these need to be rightly ordered toward God in communion with him, because they all matter. 
 
*This is an excerpt from Why Can’t We Be Friends?

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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

One Friendship Doesn’t Diminish Another (Or Your Marriage)

By Aimee Byrd

Part of the beauty of friendship is that one friend can’t possibly be adequate to share every discovery and experience with us. Having another lover would dishonor and diminish a marriage, but additional friends actually enhance the friendships that we already have. God has fashioned friendship in such a way that we can learn different facets about one friend from another (see C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, 61). 
 
For example, my elder Dave Myers has a shared interest with me in friendship between the sexes, since his roles as a Christian counselor and a church elder deal with relationships. We had many fruitful conversations on this topic as he read my manuscript and offered his insights. But my husband’s friendship with Dave through their service in the church shows a different side of Dave to me. Additionally, we look up to Dave and his wife, Dawn, for encouragement and advice in parenting, as all their kids are grown. My friendship with his wife has taught me more about Dave’s history and faithfulness. And, through his friendship with someone else at the church, I’ve learned that Dave is quite the jokester. Dave’s many friends, and his exclusive relationship with his wife, boost my own friendship with him because they enhance his many qualities. I get to know more of Dave through other friends. Likewise, his and Dawn’s many friends do not take away from their marriage but enrich it. 
At the same time, we have a greater natural affection toward some brothers and sisters in God’s household than toward others. While Scripture directs us to act in loving service toward all our siblings, we enjoy investing extra time with some of them, sharing joys, struggles, interests, and counsel more deeply. Some we will hold as closer friends. This isn’t something to feel guilty about; Jesus himself had closer relationships with certain men and women than with others. It’s impossible to be “close” with everyone, so enjoying deeper friendship with a few brothers and sisters is a gift. And these closer sibling relationships should benefit our godly marriages, not the reverse. 
 
This is not only a warning for male-female relationships. I have seen numerous situations in which a husband is out with the guys so much that his wife is feeling neglected, or a husband is hurt by his wife’s excitement for talking and hanging out with her best friend, while she lacks interest in him. Friends and siblings should never come in between a marriage unless abuse, addiction, or adultery calls for advocates to step in. 
 
This is especially true with male-female relationships. I would never want another wife to feel threatened by my friendship with her husband. I would never want to step into their exclusive inner circle—not just physically, but emotionally as well. My aim for my brothers in Christ is that my friendship with them would encourage them to love their wives even more, and I expect the same from my brothers with whom I invest my own time in friendship. Friendship is not exclusive like marriage is, so there is no need to behave as if it were. Marriage is exclusive, and therefore we should care for it in that way. 
 
Exclusivity in a marriage relationship does not mean that our spouses will fulfill all our relationship needs. While Matt and I have a lot in common and enjoy doing many things together, there are areas in which we are not as compatible, and we are both happy that we have numerous other people in our lives, both single and married, with whom we can still grow and can share those separate interests. Or sometimes I need the kind of conversation that I can get only with another sister, as wonderful as my husband is to talk to. While my husband is the only one I look to for romantic affection, it is unfair of me to look to him alone to fulfill all my social, emotional, and intellectual needs. We need good friends. That’s why God has given us brothers and sisters as well. 
 
Matt and I share most of our friends in common. I am thankful that my sisters and brothers in Christ spur Matt on in his love for me— whether through razzing him, encouraging him, or praising him. That’s what siblings do! They look at us not as singles but as two people joined together in the covenant of marriage. Likewise, we honor our marriage by speaking well of each other to our friends. We want to build each other up to our siblings, and our siblings reciprocate the respect we have for each other. Matt and I do a good bit of socializing in groups and sometimes double-dating. We also open our home to friends often. So our brothers and sisters are familiar with more than just whichever one of us they may feel closer to; they are familiar with our marriage dynamic as well. 
 
Friendship welcomes others into our circle who share our convictions. This is particularly special in the context of spiritual friendship, as Lewis points out, highlighting the joy of adding others into friendship while we all reflect Christ in different ways. “In this, Friendship exhibits a glorious ‘nearness by resemblance’ to Heaven itself where the very multitude of the blessed (which no man can number) increases the fruition which each has of God” (The Four Loves, 62).  Additional friends do not diminish our existing friendships. Rather, we get to know more of Christ through our various Christian friends. 
 
*Excerpt from Why Can’t We Be Friends, p. 100-103.

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Mortification of Spin is a casual conversation of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. It is supported only by its readers and gracious Christians like you. Please prayerfully consider supporting Mortification of Spin and the mission of the Alliance.

The Plus Factor

By Aimee Byrd

Praised be God that he has not created me a gentile; praised be God that he has not created me a woman; praised be God that he has not created me an ignorant man  (Tosephta, Ber. 7,18; Talmud, pBer 13b; bMen 43b.)
 
This was a popular prayer attributed to the first century rabbi, Eliezer, during the time after the Mishnah but before the Talmud. This was over a thousand years after Ruth, a book that exposes the cultural backdrop of Patriarchy while pointing to God’s great, active, faithful love for his people. I picked up Carolyn Custis James’ little book, Finding God in the Margins: The Book of Ruth, and it was so good that is led me to read her longer book, The Gospel of Ruth. I highly recommend both to you and I’m going to quote from them extensively here so that you get James in her own words. 
 
In Finding God in the Margins, James presents the book of Ruth as a Critique Against Patriarchy, explaining, “Patriarchy is not the Bible’s message. Rather, it is the cultural backdrop against which the gospel message of Jesus stands out in sharpest relief” (FGITM, 10). We get to read most Ruth from the woman’s perspective as “the book gives us the saga of two women on their own in a patriarchal culture. The narrator tracks their amazing struggle to survive against all odds in the workplace, the community of God’s people, and the legal system” (The Gospel of Ruth, 28). And if you want an amazing example of “biblical manhood” look no further than Boaz, who “in response to Ruth’s initiatives, will subvert the very patriarchal mores that most benefit him as a man. Instead, he will sacrificially employ those benefits and privileges to empower Ruth and to benefit Naomi. In the process, he will put on display Jesus’ kingdom brand of manhood that is desperately needed in today’s world” (FGITM, 10-11).
 
“The book of Ruth turns a spotlight on the plight of women in the world for the whole church to learn” (FGITM, 22). And the incredible faith of a Moabite woman works actively to fulfill the vow she made to her mother-in-law, against all odds. In the end we see, “It takes an outsider like Ruth” to “combine two laws and expand their reach, “ with a “single, innovative sentence”—“Spread the corner of your garment over me for you are a go’el of our family”—she “merged the levirate and kinsman-redeemer laws—property and progeny. She was asking Boaz to purchase Elimelech’s land and to father a son to become Elimelech’s heir and the eventual owner of his land” (FGITM, 75). It’s truly an amazing story of God’s love. 
 
“The book of Ruth puts God’s hesed on display. We will learn among with Naomi that God’s hesed love is indiscriminate, unearned, and persistent. YHWH’s hesed will reach Naomi through the selfless and relentless commitment of Ruth to fight for her, and Boaz will join Ruth in this effort. Events in the field of Boaz this day will give Naomi fresh insight in YHWH’s hesed. What she learns is indispensible to us—because so often we struggle to put suffering and God’s hesed together in our own stories” (FGITM, 51). This Hebrew word, hesed, which is used three times in Ruth, gets lost in translation, as James says, because we just don’t have an English word good enough to describe it:
 
Hesed is a costly brand of love that involves going above and beyond what anyone has the right to ask or expect. It is the brand of love at work in the actions of Ruth, Boaz, and ultimately Naomi too” (FGITM, 51). “Hesed transforms legality into sacrificial love, gives life amid despair, and draws one deeper into the heart of YHWH” (FGITM, 79).
 
There is a beautiful picture of this with Ruth, a vulnerable Moabite woman, on Day One of her using “the ancient welfare system” as a gleaner on a wealthy Israelite’s field. She challenges the letter of the law put in place to help widows like her and Naomi by making the bold request to glean in a more productive area among the harvesters (Ruth 2:7). Her brave request shows her hesed love for Naomi and presses Boaz to a “higher level of obedience…and understanding of God’s law. The letter of the law says, ‘Let them glean.’ The spirit of the law says, ‘Feed them.” Two entirely different concepts. Ruth’s bold proposal exposes the difference” (TGR, 102).
 
How does Boaz respond? He isn’t threatened by Ruth. And he doesn’t ignore her. “This powerhouse of a man, this native-born Israelite who grew up on Mosaic law, listens to this newcomer’s request, learns from her, and throws his power behind her effort” (FGITM, 58). Ruth’s initiative and strength spur Boaz to be a better man, and he too shows God’s hesed. At mealtime that day, he does something amazing. James calls it the plus factor. “He invites Ruth to join his table and share a meal with his workers. When she does, Boaz serves her himself, heaping more roasted grain for her than she can possibly eat” (TGR, 104). He treats her as one of the best employees rather than a gleaner on welfare. In this “powerful gospel scene,” we see the opposite of the prayer of the Rabbi Eliezer: 
 
A gleaner seated alongside paid workers, a Moabitess “dining” with Israelites, a man serving a woman, the poor included among the rich, an outsider embraced by the inner circle. Looks like the kind of feasting Jesus would have enjoyed, a prefiguring of the kind of world his gospel restores, where “there is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus” (Galations 3:28). Ruth was on the losing end of all three categories, but Boaz refuses to maintain those boundaries. Ruth embraced God’s people sight unseen on the road from Moab. Now they are embracing her. (TGR, 104-105)
 
While we don’t share the extreme reductive views of women as the patriarchs in Ruth’s day, or the rabbi contemporaries of Jesus, this book of the Bible gives us a picture of manhood and womanhood that is radically different than we see in much of contemporary evangelical teaching. “Ruth herself becomes a powerful catalyst for change. God gave us Ruth…to remind us that courage, boldness, and godly leadership are important feminine attributes when it comes to living for God” (TGR, 105). Boaz recognizes this and grows in response. In this scene, we see the plus factor at work. He serves her a meal, and instructs his workers not only to permit her to glean with the harvesters, but to leave extra stalks for Ruth to pick up. He commands them not to touch, rebuke, or embarrass Ruth (2:9, 15-16). James points out that Boaz’s response is not only to permit, but also to promote. And he makes sure that his workers do the same. Hesed. “The story puts on display a brand of masculinity that is desperately needed in a world awash in changes today that strike at the core of masculine identity and leave so many men adrift without a sense of meaning and purpose…the book of Ruth puts on display a radical, not-of-this-world brand of masculinity that foreshadows the masculinity Jesus embodied” (FGITM, 84).  
 
I know some in Reformed circles might write off James, as she doesn’t fit into the CBMW complementarian box. As a matter of fact, they gave The Gospel of Ruth a negative review, concluding that it was not good news after all. (Ironically, this same journal—Fall 2008 – Volume XIII, Issue 2—showcases an EFS study by Bruce Ware titled, “Equal in Essence, Distinct in Roles: Eternal Functional Authority and Submission among the Essentially Equal Divine Persons of the Godhead.”) I urge you to read these books for yourself. I especially think it beneficial for pastors to glean from James’ work on Ruth. Complementarians may be challenged by the spirit of the law, and see where they have added to the letter of it—the minus factor.
 
Praised be to God that he has created me his daughter in Christ. Praised be to God that he has placed me in his household among my brothers and sisters in Christ.

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