Last week, I posted “Nerf Wars and Women in the Church,” in which I claimed that the church who fails to welcome women’s voices is like a person pretending half their body doesn’t exist, a self-sabotaging body that “can limp, at best, but will never run.”
But, I do think one central element of my argument was clearly wrong: the Church is not actually like a guy pretending to have lost his limbs in a Nerf war. This metaphor suggests a level of intention and willful oppression that simply is not reflected in the average Christian male. Very few men purposely stifle the voices of their mothers, sisters, and daughters; although there are clear exceptions, most churches aren’t trying to drown out half of their membership.
When I was 16 and got up in front of my youth group and preached a sermon about why girlfriends should submit to their boyfriends, I wasn’t intentionally pushing teenage girls into unhealthy relationships with immature boys; I was simply trying to accurately apply my understanding of the Bible to my cultural context.
When I was in Jr. High and repeatedly told the skinny girl sitting next to me at lunch how fat she was looking, I didn’t mean to destroy her body image; I was just bad at flirting and hoped she’d give me her dessert.
When I was in college and said/watched things that objectified women, I wasn’t trying to empower the culture that sustains a thriving sex-trafficking industry; I was just “being a guy.”
Despite all the ways I’ve abused, oppressed, and ignored women throughout my life, I’ve never done it on purpose. And I sincerely believe–perhaps naively–that very few churches have either.
So the Nerf war metaphor doesn’t really fit. The Church isn’t purposely pretending half of its body doesn’t exist; it’s just… happening. The body of Christ isn’t playing pretend; it’s suffering from a severe neurological disease.
In particular, I think the church has developed hemiplegia, a rare condition that cuts off the signals leading to and from one half of a person’s body. Simply put, hemiplegics cannot move half of their body (think right or left, not top or bottom) because–neurologically speaking–the rest of their body just doesn’t recognize that the paralysed half exists. Individuals with this disease face extreme challenges when it comes to a variety of otherwise simple functions. But lack of mobility isn’t the only issue hemiplegics have to deal with; they are also uniquely vulnerable to certain dangers. When you cannot feel half of your body, your whole body is susceptible to harm.
And this is why I’m convinced that the body of Christ is suffering from this specific condition, because it’s increasingly obvious that many churches–Christian men in particular–really struggle to feel the pain many women experience. We’re just numb to it. That’s the only explanation I can muster for why well-intentioned, Jesus-loving communities can be so ambivalent to the plight of women in the world and in their pews.
That’s the other thing my previous post got wrong. By emphasizing the limited mobility of a church with no female voices, I’m afraid I neglected an even more urgent problem: a church that cannot feel the pain of its women will be powerless to stop that pain. And when half of a body suffers, the whole body suffers.
And the body of Christ is clearly suffering; we’re sick and in desperate need of healing.
Although I’m still hesitant to make any claims as to how this this healing happens, how our communities can regain both feeling and mobility in our entire body, it seems to me that God’s healing is always clothed in hospitality. When we extend God’s welcome to women–by asking to hear their stories, by eagerly seeking their advice, by refusing to lightly dismiss their pain, and by valuing their gifts and expertise–we’ll find ourselves recovering sensations long-forgotten and movement for which we’d given up hope.