A Cry For Justice

Awakening the Evangelical Church to Domestic Violence and Abuse in its Midst

The Failure of Ministry: Character Flaws Unique to Women (by Megan & Barbara)

Below is an extract from a comment made by Martin on the blog. (The full comment can be found here.)

Churches don’t fail in mission or function because of gender. They fail because of character. When it comes to character, both men and women have manifold, and unique, character flaws in the Bible. Being a man, I will illustrate from a position of authority with male issues. Men entering ministry often become merciless tyrants because they are unaware of man’s revealed nature to be lustful, power hungry, and driven by money [Just think Adam (apple), Noah (vineyard), Abraham (Terah), David (Bath-Sheba), Solomon (700 wives), and these were just a few good men]. Being a man, I strive always to be aware of MY unavoidable character flaws. The unrestrained fallen character of man in churches may be one of the biggest reasons for the existence of this blog or ministry.

Women entering any kind of ministry also have their own unique set of character flaws revealed in Scripture to be aware of and manage. Those are best discussed by women, and it is edifying to see the discussions below illustrating uniquely female challenges. So we know any ministry, pastoral or otherwise, will not be blessed should it be run by an ungodly dictator – be they male or female living in unrestrained fallen character. I know of successful and blessed ministries run by Godly leaders – both male and female.

We (Megan C and Barbara) found this wise and interesting. We both wondered what our female readers would consider unique character flaws to women – sort of “default” traits we females have, left unchecked. To where do our hearts wander if we are not careful – and what difficulties do those traits pose for women in leadership positions?

In this post, we do not intend to debate whether women may or may not be pastors. We are just pondering the idea that the flawed and fallen characters of human beings express differently for men than for women (speaking only in generalities, of course) and these differences may give rise to typically different sets of problems for women in leadership than for men in leadership. We are  referring to leadership in a broad sense: everything from para-church groups, mission organizations, music ministries, educational, writing and blogging ministries, etc.,  the many different ways that Christians can be active for the kingdom.

Admiring Martin’s humility in speaking of his gender, we thought about what are considered poor common character traits of women –  jealousy? a competitive spirit? cattiness? emotional dependency/fragility? being focused on personal relationships at the expense of big-picture objectivity and reason?

For women entering any kind of ministry, what are the  unique set of character flaws revealed in Scripture that they need to be aware of and manage?  If Martin is right, and Scripture shows man’s revealed nature to be lustful, power hungry, and driven by money, what does Scripture show about women? And since Martin confined his examples to particular male characters in the Bible – Adam (apple), Noah (vineyard), Abraham (Terah), David (Bath-Sheba), Solomon (700 wives) – we decided to do the same and confine our examples to particular female characters.

Now the serpent was more crafty than any other beast of the field that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?”  And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’”  But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die.  For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her  (Gen. 3:1-6)

To what was the serpent speaking? Perhaps to induce a sense of inadequacy . . . insecurity, in Eve. Stirring up a new fear in the beautiful, previously unflawed, perfect woman . . . helping to create flaws that are NOT unconquerable, but certainly challenging.

“You are not enough on your own, Eve. You need this fruit to make you better, to make you wise. Look at how you lack wisdom: you couldn’t quite remember what God had told you! God didn’t tell you ‘you shall surely die’ by eating that fruit. You got it wrong, Eve; you’re really a little bit – dippy.  You need that fruit, Eve; you need the wisdom it will give you! Then you will be enough. You will be adequate and secure. Just take it. It’s good food, it’s beautiful to look at, and once it makes you wise, you will be better able to love and help Adam!”

After the Fall, God told Eve “Your desire shall be for your husband” (Gen. 3:16), a text that we believe has been gravely misconstrued to say that women are always desiring to usurp the authority of men, as if women are driven by a sick compulsion to be shrews and harridans. We believe the text actually speaks to the yearning of women to be loved, protected and cared for by their men, a desire that is so strong that it can lead to women clinging in hopeful longing even to men who mistreat them.

Maybe a sense of inadequacy is what drove Sarai to seek offspring through her maidservant Hagar, then blame Abraham when it started to cause problems, and finally cast Hagar out (“she is more adequate than me; I can’t bear it”). Maybe insecurity drove Lot’s wife to look back (“I am losing my home, my security”). Esther was not sure if she could accomplish what was being asked of her; Michal was afraid of what others would think.

Perhaps these two traits (a sense of inadequacy and insecurity) can and will be a driving force to women, left unmastered. The devastation these traits have upon a ministry is incalculable. Perhaps one of the fruits of the flesh that grows when a woman does not master these traits may be the tendency to think that every that time she has a little waft of emotion, wishful optimism or imagination, it is “a word from the Lord.” Or are we going too far here by calling this a female trait? Maybe men can err into false prophesy just as easily as women?

What do our female readers think? What traits do you believe are common to our gender that would cause the mishap of mission or ministry? And to our male readers: we are happy to hear from you too – you may shed light on things we cannot see or haven’t thought of.

57 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    I will just leave this brief addition. Jael was a fine woman with a hammer and a nail; Deborah bore up splendidly with a weak man; Sapphira perhaps followed her man to closely, even to the death; Timothy’s momma did a fine job; and Phoebe was a great help to the Church. I believe that women need to be careful because we are driven emotionally. I think the other caution is the infamous Jezebel and the spirit of a woman intent on driving and controlling everything, unchecked by anyone, including God Himself.

    • MeganC

      I love this, Anon! Thank you for these examples. Do you think maybe Jezebel is the ultimate pinnacle of these bad character traits gone wrong? I think about Delilah, as well . . . somewhere along the way these two women perfected the art of control . . .

      • PEARL

        Well if a woman is to be frowned upon for mixing sex and religion, how much more so the men, after all, they are the “leaders”?

    • Great addition, Anonymous. Thank you so much. I love the way you write; it’s so laconic.

  2. So I will wade into this discussion very carefully 🙂

    “Perhaps these two traits (a sense of inadequacy and insecurity) can and will be a driving force to women, left unmastered. . . Or are we going too far here by calling this a female trait?”

    I know that “inadequacy and insecurity” are two things I struggle with a lot (I’ll bet Barbara can attest to this). The line between those traits and humility can seem to be quite thin. But these things are constantly affirmed- I find I am constantly told that I ought not to think highly of myself and remember that justice for me would be hell. I believe these things, but the constant refrain of them in the church can certainly reinforce to feeding feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.

    Perhaps in general females are more likely to have these traits and men more likely to suffer from pride? If so, I wonder how much of this is gender related and how much is due to societal conditioning?

    Either way, I know that I constantly defer to others and take whatever hits are given rather than assert myself in ministry. It’s easy to feel, especially with my music ministry, that promoting my work is self-promotion rather than God promotion. Is this reluctance to promote my materials humility and a dependence on God, or is it a lack of faith in the mission God has given me to do? It’s something I struggle with a lot.

    For what it’s worth, I’m not one who is prone to hear words from the Lord- I tend to distrust my emotions, sometimes to the point of ignoring valuable built in diagnostics. Perhaps that is the male version of this.

    • MeganC

      “Is this reluctance to promote my materials humility and a dependence on God, or is it a lack of faith in the mission God has given me to do? It’s something I struggle with a lot.”

      I thought a lot about this comment, Jeff. First, thank you for commenting! We were afraid men wouldn’t attempt it! 🙂 Second, I know this struggle. I guess it is how you define humility. We are not to be downcast or wallow in depravity — I know this, for sure. We hear a lot about how “all our good deeds are like filthy rags”. But, I read a lot more in the Gospels about God’s delight in us . . . well, not only the Gospels — everywhere in Scripture! I think, when you promote your ideas for worship, that God is pleased. Just like you and I would be pleased when our child comes up with a really good, creative idea. Even if it wasn’t that great, we would give an ‘A’ for effort. 🙂

      Humility is the ability to admit when we’re wrong . . . when the way we have traveled isn’t working . . . and a willingness to try another Way. So, while I am excited about writing this post above and feel really great about it and am proud of it . . . I am also willing to admit if there is something wrong or if I mis-spelled something or so on . . . or if it could be better . . . We can be mighty oaks that are willing to listen. And, in that listening, we grow even taller.

      What do you think? (See what I did there? I’m being humble! j/k!)

      • I think I’m still learning 🙂

        I have no problem taking joy is something I’ve created that I believe honors God, proud even. For instance, the CD I recorded 7 years ago is still something I am glad to have done. However, if you hear me talk about the CD I did before that I would sound more humble 😀

        But sometimes I think I’m SO willing to “listen” that I end up not using the gifts God has given me.

      • MeganC

        Yes . . . I do know what you mean, Jeff S.

    • As usual, Jeff S, your replies create a lot of food for thought. First of all, I want to say that for someone who does suffer from insecurity at times, you’ve been both brave and courteous in the way you’ve piped in here. 🙂

      Perhaps in general females are more likely to have these traits and men more likely to suffer from pride? If so, I wonder how much of this is gender related and how much is due to societal conditioning?

      Of course, none of us want to be absolutist about any of this, and we are not social science or psychology researchers so we’re only speculating and pooling our collective observations, but I think you are right that insecurity and a sense of inadequacy are more common for women, and pride is more common for men.

      Of course, insecurity can be masked by pride… and I think that may be what quite a lot of men do (again, societal conditioning encourages this). But men who are hardhearted and purely selfish have pride and entitlement not merely masking but totally eclipsing any insecurity they may have – I guess these are the abusers and the sociopaths.

      Some of it must be social conditioning, but probably not all – it’s that old nature/nurture thing, where both play a part. There appear to be some differences between men and women that stem from their original creation in the Garden, and those differences seem to have been exaggerated and distorted after the Fall. Scripture more than hints at these differences/distortions, and warns us to guard against the biases inherent in our respective fallen sexes (or is that ‘genders’? I am never quite sure with those words).

      inadequacy and insecurity …The line between those traits and humility can seem to be quite thin. … I find I am constantly told that I ought not to think highly of myself and remember that justice for me would be hell. I believe these things, but the constant refrain of them in the church can certainly reinforce to feeding feelings of inadequacy and insecurity.

      Jeff, I believe this is exactly what many soft-hearted, kind, insecure people experience in church. Wagging the finger at an insecure person by telling them, “You need to be more humble; in yourself, you don’t deserve anything except God’s wrath,” is to dig them deeper into the pot-hole of insecurity and pile the dirt over the top. This is a really hard message to deal with when you have been abused in your personal life and can be easily wracked with false guilt, self-doubt and fears. I think most of us survivors have been ‘stung’ by this message.

      I believe this happens a lot in churches: wooden teaching being given by both pastors and pew sitters who don’t have much grasp of ambiguity, subtlety, psychology, trauma and its effects, etc. Hence they don’t appreciate the need to distinguish between godly humility (which is healthy) and a sense of inadequacy or insecurity (which is unhealthy when it’s handicapping a regenerate person).

      Thanks for you observations and transparency, Jeff. Articulating this ‘fine line’ is a very important first step to disambiguating these things. (Ha; I always wanted to use that word somewhere after reading it on Wikipedia!)

      • Song

        Barbara,
        “Disambiguating” and “laconic”…they made me smile! Oh, I love this blog and your contributions! I learn so much! I’ll be looking for an opportunity to insert them, too, in a conversation with a couple of word lovers. Thanks. 🙂

  3. Laurie

    “Couldn’t quite remember what God had told her”…but the scripture reveals that she was not around when God told Adam about the tree. So did she get her info from God or Adam?

    She saw the tree was desirable, took and gave to her husband WITH her. This may indicate that Adam was there for the whole exchange and just sat silent, waiting to see the fallout. I have been there, my husband letting me take the heat for things while he waited to see which way it would fall.

    Women’s weakness, negative traits? Perhaps one of the worst is one that God’s verbal exchange with Eve indicates, her desire to see her husband lifted up to be like God. This one makes a lot of room to be led away by false doctrines of male dominance and female subordination. Thinking we do hubby a favor, we women lift our men up on a pedestal. We give them God’s place in our hearts and we have scripture to back it…see, God, I can’t do what you want me to do because I have to do what my husband says to do and you said I have to treat him like God–submit as unto the Lord. So don’t ask me to do something he doesn’t give me the okay on, like giving $10 to the guy behind me in the grocery line…you know hubby has told me to write down every penny and buy nothing that isn’t on the list that he approves of.

    Yeah, we give them God’s place in our hearts…or we become militant female libbers that refuse to submit to any man at any time.

    • MeganC

      Laurie — Your comment reminded me of a quote from one of my favorite books. I just spent a full five minutes looking for it. Here it is. It is from “Captivating” by Stasi Eldredge

      “When a man goes bad, as every man has in some way gone bad after the Fall, what is most deeply marred is his strength. He either becomes a passive, weak man–strength surrendered–or he becomes a violent, driven man–strength unglued. When a woman falls from grace, what is most deeply marred is her tender vulnerability, beauty that invites to life. She becomes a dominating, controlling woman–or a desolate, needy, mousy woman. Or some odd combination of both, depending on her circumstances.”

      • Megan, that quote look to me like Stasi Eldredge had a pre-existing agenda of men=strong; women = beautiful.
        So, when a man become obsessed with power, Staci say “he becomes a violent, driven man–strength unglued.” When a woman does the same, she is said to “become a dominating, controlling woman,” and per implication not beautiful.
        When a man becomes passive, he is said to “become a passive, weak man–strength surrendered.” When the same happens to a woman, she is “desolate, needy, mousy.”

        Actually, the Bible does not suggest beauty or strength is only for one gender, but as the whole premise of the book, they have to put anything women do in terms of beauty and what men do in terms of strength. God does not make that distinction, so how is this a Christian thing to say?
        The world needs men and women to be strong in the Lord, to use their beautiful qualities to help others.

      • MeganC

        Hey, Retha! Thanks for bringing me back here. 🙂 I have no doubt that Stasi and John Eldridge are complementarians. With this particular view, strength = leadership/ beauty = vulnerability (ALL of these qualities are found in the Lord Jesus). This is not to say that men cannot be beautiful or vulnerable and women cannot be strong leaders. I think that most complementarians draw a lot from passages like Ephesians 5 — when the men in Ephesus are commanded to warm and feed their wives (direct translation of the Greek), it infers that a man is charged with this responsibility — indicating strong leadership. Likewise, the fact that a woman might need to be warmed and fed indicates a certain vulnerability. I know that most readers on this blog are NOT complementarians and we (the peeps behind the scenes) do not wish for the blog to become any place for debate. Abuse happens regardless of whether a person is an egalitarian or a complementarian so we do not make it our goal to argue any of these points. But, thank you for bringing this up because it allows me to clarify the Eldridge’s philosophy!! AND get me thinking.

      • If what you say is true, if beauty really equals vulnerability in their mindset, I go from not agreeing with the Eldridges to totally not getting them. (I am not disagreeing with you, Megan, but with the alleged mindset of the Eldridges.)
        Have I ever needed people’s strength? Yes, from males and females.
        Have I ever needed anyone to be vulnerable, to be capable of getting hurt? No. Why would I, unless I am a sadist who likes to hurt people?
        Any time I see people vulnerable, I wished I could protect them. (I used to volunteer with at risk children. I always found the thought that they could get hurt ugly.) But even more, I wished I could strengthen them, so they won’t need protection.

        If men get strength and women beauty, if no women were strong and no men beautiful, I can see (whether I agree with the Eldridges or not) that God gave each something good. But if men get strength and women vulnerability, the one get the useful and the other the bad thing. The one get the capacity for safety against hurt, the other gets the capacity for hurt. I simply don’t believe that God hated women that much.

        What is beautiful about vulnerability? It only means a capacity to get hurt. Unless you are a sadist who find hurting beautiful, vulnerability is something to cry about, not something to see goodness in.

        (Note: Many people have learned beautiful qualities like patience and compassion in times of hurt. But that is not the same as finding vulnerability itself beautiful.)

      • Jeff S

        Retha, personally I believe both men and women get both qualities, but I also see them as both positive things when the appear in healthy relationships.

        Vulnerability is required for intimacy, and that’s why it’s a positive thing in the right context. Adam and Eve were in the garden, the first act of grace God performed was to give them clothing- which made them less vulnerable, physically and emotionally. But pre-fall, they did not need such protection.

        A marriage is a place where we can still be vulnerable to that level, and that vulnerability is indeed special and a gift as long as it is not forsaken. RC Sproul preaches that divorce is so horrible because it is a reaction to this vulnerability with rejection. I think he’s right in the case of unjustified divorce (which I think was the context of his sermon), but it also shows strikingly why abuse from a spouse is so horrible: it is a rejection of a vulnerable person in the most offensive way possible.

        But the point here is: the ability to know and be known- to be seen warts and all and LOVED- that requires vulnerability. It is a special thing and a gift from the Lord. Honestly, it is hard for me to conceive that it really exists, but I know that it does because I have faith in marriages I’ve seen that are made up of two individuals who really do love one another and are capable of that kind of intimacy. When I found myself incapable of vulnerability, I knew I was never going to really have a God honoring, healthy marriage.

        I also do not see strength as the “capacity to hurt”. Abuse survivors who have left their marriages behind despite the mis-teaching of the church have shown more strength than their abusers will ever know. I think strength (and the author of the quote would probably back me up here) is the ability to protect what is good.

        Again, I’m not so sure about the gender roles here, so I’m not really defending the original quote. I think both men and women get both qualities, but I see them as positives in healthy relationships. And I can tell you from personal experience, men can be hurt through misgiven vulnerability just as much as women.

      • I’ve not read the Eldredges so can’t comment on their book. But it seems to me that this little conversation here has been mixing up and conflating terms a bit.
        Meg’s quote from the Eldredges shows them as saying that when men foul up it’s the dimension of strength that goes haywire: veering into either passivity or domination; whereas when women foul up it’s the dimension of ‘tender vulnerability, beauty that invites to life’ that goes haywire, veering into domination or desolate-mousy-neediness (whatever that means!).

        Looking at the quote Meg gave, it seems that the Eldredges do have a template of men=strong, as you put it so succinctly Retha. One plain word, one simple concept: strength.
        But they don’t seem to have such a simple (one dimensional) template for women. When talking about women in that quote given by Meg, they use the words “tender vulnerability, beauty that invites to life”. There’s a lot more words, connotations and nuances there, than in the word “strength”.

        They don’t say that vulnerability and vulnerability alone is the primary dimension of women (or the primary gift God gave to women). They also speak about tenderness, beauty, and in particular, the beauty that invites to life. Nice flowery phrases, but … it tastes to me a little like air-brushed glossy magazine imagery – evocative, sentimental, maybe somewhat helpful for self-understanding so long as it’s not reduced to comic book stereotypes (Me Tarzan, you Jane) – but not necessarily robust scripturally or psychologically.

        I guess what bothers me most about this way of talking about men and women is the idea it suggest that we (women) are God’s princesses, with beauty being the most desirable attribute. Having spent years addicted to bulimia, I know how body image and the aspiration towards beauty can obsess women. I think most of us women have a Cinderella dream in our hearts; even in my late 50s I notice it in myself 😦 . And I sense that the Eldredges plugged into that.

        This is not to discount everything they say in their books, as there are probably lots of good ideas there.

        Retha, you may like to check out our page What Headship and Submission Do Not Mean. It’s in the menu at the top of the blog.

      • Thank you Jeff. I understand now in which sense people mean it when they say vulnerability is a quality men and women need. But I still cannot agree with the Eldridges, if they indeed said that.
        God to man: “My gift to you is strength.”
        God to woman: “My gift to you is the ability to honestly show your weakness in a relationship of trust. But I don’t promise you any such relationships.”
        The former is a gift regardless of whether there is sin in the world or not, it can, theoretically, be an unmitigated blessing. Vulnerability, on the other hand, exist because there is hurt in the world. It can never be an unmitigated blessing.

    • Thanks for the pick-up, Laurie. 🙂
      Yes, Eve was not present with Adam when God issued the instruction not to eat the fruit – she hadn’t been created yet. So I’m am comfortable believing that Adam must have passed on the instruction to Eve. (There is another possible way of reading the Gen.1 &2, but I don’t want to get too technical here.)
      Maybe we should rephrase what was written in the post and say “She couldn’t quite remember the instruction that God had given”.

  4. Anonymous

    Nothing happened when Eve ate. The fall came when Adam ate.

    • MeganC

      They were one. It was a mutual “We blew it.”

    • Yes, Romans 5 makes it clear that Sin and Death entered through Adam. But I hesitate to push this point much in any ‘battle of the sexes’. I think you know what I mean.

  5. Anonymous

    The further I venture in this journey of learning, the more I unpack my previous paradigms. Over the years, I have been taught (no, hammered) about women’s and men’s traits and weaknesses. Now I am coming to believe that many of them have been over-exaggerated. The problem is that when many preachers/keynote speakers say the same thing, we can believe these things as truth and not challenge them. “Taking a kernel of truth and exaggerating it” is a standard fallacy and gives rise to psycho-myths, one of which is that women are emotionally weak or unstable, and men tend to be prideful.

    I used to wonder why my ex-husband and I seemed to have many of the opposite gender’s traits. The fact is that I can tend to be less people-oriented, more analytical and rational in my thinking, while he loves having people around him, gets emotional, feels romantic, etc. For example, he can cry at the drop of a hat; I don’t. He is highly dependent on people; I’m not.

    OK, so this is not about our individual experiences but a discussion on women’s traits in general. I am cautious in proceeding in such a discussion because I am afraid that much of the talk in evangelical circles are marred by biases and too easily used by abusers or propagated by their allies. I have already detected some statements on this page which were, and are still being used by my ex to paint a picture that discredits me. It’s not that the statements are not true, but I have seen them twisted, not only by my ex, but also by survivor friends in ways that define people and keep them in a box. Anything that feels like it is defining me feels like abuse, which is not surprising, since verbal abuse is all about defining the victim.

    My other point is that while Scriptures point to and describe the flaws of certain men, they don’t suggest that the flaws are unique to men. “Lustful, power hungry, driven by money” easily describes some female abusers I know. And some of the female flaws described by above (lifting men on a pedestal) can be explained by trauma bonding, which is the result of being in a Christian marriage and not allowed to escape. Males who are trauma bonded to cults also exhibit the same “flaw”. Is it a flaw or a symptom of being in an abusive situation?

    • Song

      Thank you, Anon. I feel and echo so much of what you have said here, especially the part about not fitting into the typical, defined gender traits and also your experiencing of the abusiveness trying to define what it thought you were supposed to be as a woman. And, I had the some thought regarding your point on the flaws and/or strengths pointed out as not being unique to the men and/or women being talked about in the Bible. I read and understood them as a person experiencing those issues within man’s traditions of gender roles, not God appointed roles. And I’m happy to learn new information when it is presented.
      Barbara and Megan, I appreciate that you two are wanting to challenge us and help us discover our weaknesses in order for us to grow. But, for me personally, untangling what is in reality my character flaws and responsibilities verses what I’ve been wrongly told were my character flaws and my responsibilities as a wife and woman is still daunting and confusing at times. Because of the judgement and abuse of me because of my gender, I prefer to look at my character flaws as something I need to work on as an individual, not because I am a woman.
      I do recognize that, at the very least anatomically, women and men have some traits unique to each gender. I will concede that a portion of the men and a portion of the women behave in ways that would look like those flawed behaviors and character issues are the norm and majority of each gender. But, for those of us who don’t fit that normal, typical, gender stereotype (especially as it is portrayed and taught in churches) we can feel invalidate, out of touch with ourselves, weird, sinful, on the outside, unacceptable, unable to measure up, etc., and it is confusing and frustrating. I have enough on my plate trying to figure out who I am after having been told by my abuser and church who I’m supposed to be. I just want to be me, Song, a person who also happens to be a woman. In answer to Anon’s good question, “Is it a flaw or a symptom of being in an abusive situation?” I don’t know. But it’s my journey.

  6. “Now I am coming to believe that many of them have been over-exaggerated. The problem is that when many preachers/keynote speakers say the same thing, we can believe these things as truth and not challenge them. “Taking a kernel of truth and exaggerating it” is a standard fallacy and gives rise to psycho-myths, one of which is that women are emotionally weak or unstable, and men tend to be prideful.”

    This is spot on- and the reason I was questioning how many of the “traits” come due to societal conditioning (which should include our leaders telling us how we are expected to behave). I’m actually not even convinced that there ARE gender differences in these areas except those placed there by external influences. I do know there are some common things I observe and that can be a useful discussion, but I feel in many ways I operate against type myself so we should be careful about making sweeping generalizations.

    • MeganC

      It is easy to over-generalize and to stereo-type men and women and, certainly, our needs/faults/failures/successes DO cross-over. At the end of the day, though . . . doesn’t the Bible make it clear that men and women ARE different? God did not intend for us to be identical. Yes, societal conditioning is a reality. But, the bottom line is that men and women ARE different . . . so aren’t our needs going to be different? Aren’t our failures going to be different? Someone could say, “Well, women cry more than men.” Well, men can cry, too, and they do. Women can and do feel insecure more often . . . it doesn’t mean men don’t often feel insecure. TYPICALLY, these are stronger character traits in women — not across the board (I don’t think any of us mean to make sweeping generalizations) . . .

      And all to God’s glory. The Holy Spirit has qualities and characteristics that are different than God the Father. The Son is different and so on . . . It is part of His glory.

      • I’m just asking questions- it seems like a lot of what is preached on gender differences is more observational about the world we live in than looking through the lense of scripture. But having said that I don’t want to over correct the other way- it’s a tricky business.

        But even the traits that are conditioned are still real and should be acknowledged whether strengths or weaknesses.

  7. Martin

    I have enjoyed following this discussion and agree that men and women share many human challenges.

    There are a couple of interesting books out there that discuss the notoriously bad women of the Bible and lessons to be learned. For example, Liz Curtis Higgs’ book “Bad Girls of the Bible.” I have not read this. The Amazon reviews look pretty good. Has anyone else read this book? Or any other insightful resource on this subject?

  8. Thank you everyone for moderating and perhaps correcting what was said in the post. I can’t speak for Megan but I feel like I may have been a fool who rushed in where angels fear to tread, in thinking of writing this post. People like Song and Jeff S and the Anon who said “The further I venture in this journey of learning, the more I unpack my previous paradigms” … you have all made me think. And I hope no-one has their nose too far out of joint from this discussion.
    (Hey, I can blame Martin, for putting the idea into my head! Is that okay, Martin? 🙂 )

    Here are some musings I’ve been having, after reading all the comments and letting my own thoughts sift around:

    Maybe there are fewer typical traits connected with maleness and femaleness than we have been indoctrinated to believe?

    Martin’s list of ‘good men in Bible who made some bad or dumb decisions’ … we don’t want to derive doctrine from narrative, but I started to think about good men in the New Testament who could be said to have made some dumb decisions, and it was pretty easy to find some:– foot-in-mouth Peter; Demas, whose love for this world eventually made him give up being an aide for Paul; doubting Thomas. But thinking about the good women in the New Testament, it’s hard to think of one who is shown making a bad decision. (I leave out Sapphira because I’m not classing her as ‘good’.)
    Now, this may simply indicate that women are delineated in the New Testament much less than men are. But it’s interesting. Not that it exonerates my sex, or elevates women above men in the godliness stakes – not at all. I was just musing…

    • Martin

      Yes, Barbara. Feel free to blame me for the thought. 🙂

      A wise old pastor said to me once, “Martin, there’s no theology like the theology you get from real life,” and continued, “so, as you walk with God and learn from others as they walk with God, your theology becomes your biography.” How beautiful. How my life plays out with God becomes how I think about God. How simple. This is, by the way, one of the things the Pharisees failed to understand. They were stuck in wooden stances and could not see and feel God anymore, even when He stood before them.

      When I read heart felt blog responses here (even when they test my own statements), I learn enormously about God in real lives.

      I just posted below a rather well received evangelical statement on the differences between men and women – hoping to get some more of that heart felt insight that flows so freely here on Cry For Justice.

    • Anonymous

      Barb, Any discussion on this site is of enormous benefit because it explores things in a way that is safe and honest. And I wouldn’t blame Martin, simply because blame shouldn’t have a place here! (My kids frequently chide me when I start to blame, and say, “Blame goes out the door, remember!”) But if it lets you off the hook, why not? 🙂

      • Yeah, that’s why I put the smiley face after my ‘blaming’ of Martin.
        This blog is indeed a safe place where we can joke and tease each other while simultaneously discussing difficult subjects like gender traits. And I love y’all for keeping it safe like that. 🙂

        “blame goes out the door” –– I can picture a crabbed, sour old person with a twisted walking stick and a hat stuck so far down on his or her head that you can’t see their face, turning around and walking back out the door with an air of disgruntled defeatism. . .

        At the same time, in the enterprise of addressing the perpetration of domestic abuse, we need to keep blame on the agenda: The perpetrator bears the blame, the victim is not to blame. 🙂

      • MeganC

        I love that, Barb!

    • Song

      Barbara,
      I look at this blog as a place of unpacking paradigms and awakening the church. And my nose is in tact. 🙂
      Muse away, dear Barbara! It’s good to muse and your muses are good. 🙂

    • “But thinking about the good women in the New Testament, it’s hard to think of one who is shown making a bad decision.”

      Martha.

      • Of course! Thanks for reminding me.

  9. Martin

    Many evangelical leaders adhere to a very simple statement which focuses on the differences between men and women, from Biblical perspective. It is called “The Danvers Statement.” It can be found here https://www.cbmw.org/core-beliefs/

    The statement contends to include the distinct fallen characteristics of men and women which lead to all sorts of dysfunction, including abuse in the home.

    You won’t have to look very far in Google to find out some really big names in today’s church who support this statement. Wayne Grudem and John Piper are just two examples.

    What do we think about this statement?

    • Regarding women:
      “. . .the wife’s intelligent, willing submission tends to be replaced by usurpation or servility.”
      “sin . . . inclines women to resist limitations on their roles or to neglect the use of their gifts in appropriate ministries.”

      So apparently the traits women struggle with the most is not wanting to submit to authority and resisting limitations. So here’s the obvious question- is this a gender trait? Do not men struggle equally with submission to authority and resisting limitations? It seems to me that the issue is not the nature of women, but the tasks with which (according to this document) they are called.

      Regarding men:
      “. . . the husband’s loving, humble headship tends to be replaced by domination or passivity”
      ” . . .sin inclines men toward a worldly love of power or an abdication of spiritual responsibility”

      So the traits men struggle with the most are being unloving, proud, seeking power, and irresponsibility. Again, I have to ask if these are gender traits- women can certainly struggle with all of these things. In fact, isn’t some of this saying the same thing? Are “love of power” and “resist limitations” that different?

      I suggest than any HUMAN you place in the roles this document defines is going to struggle in the ways they’ve outlined. You give a woman authority over others and she is going to struggle with love of power or irresponsibility. You tell a man to submit and he is going to resist the limitations.

      Then the sum up:
      “We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.”

      It is difficult to imagine of all the evils in the world, why this apparent one gets labeled as the one destroying our families and culture. As one who has been there, the issues in my marriage would not have been solved by better adherence to roles for my wife or I, but rather by repentance and humility. I did not need my wife to be a better WOMAN, I needed her to be a better PERSON.

      Again, I’m not against the idea that woman and men are created uniquely with different
      traits and roles- but every time I hear the complementarians speak and they start trying to generalize the traits of women and men, I become more convinced they are speaking from experience rather than scripture (such as Piper talking about how all women really truly desire to submit to a man who will provide protection and leadership for her- I know women who want this, but I also know women who don’t). Tim Keller is the complementarian who I can track with the most, mostly because he says the Bible really doesn’t define the roles except to say they are there.

      • Song

        Thank you, Jeff S. Well spoken.

        It stands to reason that Wayne Grudem and John Piper would support “The Danvers Statement” given some of John Piper’s other thoughts and teachings that have been discussed on this blog.

      • Your thoughts on the Danvers Statement are a breath of fresh air to me, Jeff S. I’ve studied that statement for years, trying to assess it biblically, theologically, experientially, and yet in all my attempts to see it unbiased, without any ‘lenses’, I don’t think I’ve been successful. You words have clicked some things into place for me.

        The sum of the Danvers Statement:

        “We are convinced that a denial or neglect of these principles will lead to increasingly destructive consequences in our families, our churches, and the culture at large.”

        And you response:

        It is difficult to imagine of all the evils in the world, why this apparent one gets labeled as the one destroying our families and culture.

        brought to mind Esther 1:17-18 –

        For the queen’s behavior will be made known to all women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt, since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, and she did not come.’ This very day the noble women of Persia and Media who have heard of the queen’s behavior will say the same to all the king’s officials, and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty.

        I don’t want to jump to a fixed conclusion here, or get too black and white about complementarianism, but it does seem to me that some male complementarians are motivated by the base desire to ‘keep the women under’. And some of the complementarian arguments are circular and you can’t convince them of these errors in logic, because their motivation is from the flesh and they don’t want to recognise or admit to that.

  10. MeganC

    I can agree with you, Barbara, as I thought all night about the post we wrote and (especially) Song’s response to it (which broke my heart). Here are my thoughts . . .

    Song . . . I remember distinctly struggling in this same area. I, too, was hemmed into a “biblical role” for years and years and my particular ex husband had other expectations, as well. He was from a Russian-German background and he expected me to be strong and work much harder than my body was able to take. He did not expect me to get more sleep than he or get any more rest than he did. He worked 12 hour night-shifts for almost our entire marriage (and 3 of my children’s births). There was no rest after my c-sections . . . . it was work work work, clean clean clean, cook cook cook. He would not allow me to be a woman in working me so hard. I all but threw out any femininity at all, which was very sad for me because I had been quite feminine before (and have re-gained that femininity but that is another story altogether). In writing this with Barb, I near forgot how it feels to be pushed into that box. 😦 I home schooled, did not wear make up or cute clothes, I was not allowed to feel pretty . . . these things were simply my ex husband’s (and the seminary and church we attended) ideas of “biblical womanhood”. And I struggled deeply. I felt I lost my beauty, as a woman for 12 years. I mourned it and, when I left my ex husband, it took incredible work to regain it. For ME, it was a victory I was not willing to let him have. I worked hard, on the inside, to become a woman again . . . to reclaim my beauty and softness. And I don’t mean some sort of list of what a woman should be — I just mean the best woman MEGAN could be. I simply refused to let my ex, the church, the seminary or anyone else take this away from me. My “act of rebellion” was to be feminine again. And I do not think I see or saw all the facets of the struggles we have, as abused women, and I feel I was insensitive toward this.

    Perhaps my own experience mars my thinking. Song — especially. My hopes are to encourage women not to allow a man to steal their vulnerability and softness with his harshness. To give freedom in this area to BE a woman, in all her glory (however that looks for each woman). I never EVER meant to put a woman back in a box. Another friend who had been badly abused for many years told me last week that she wants to be feminine but that, feeling weak or vulnerable is too scary. She felt she would open herself up to abuse from someone else. I understand this completely. It can be/feel dangerous. For her, for me, and for so many others . . . to open up and be vulnerable to the ONE PERSON who is supposed to be your protector and then he . . . . it is unconscionable.

    I want to be the best MEGAN I can be for God’s glory. I desire my friends here to be the best BARBARA she can be, MARTIN he can be, SONG, she can be, ANON he or she can be. 🙂 And that’s where I’ll end it.

    • Martin

      Megan;

      Thanks for writing this post. Searching the Scriptures for self-understanding is good. The boxes are bad. I think we all agree with that. It is unfortunate the rigid Pharisaical boxes have touched us all in hurtful ways.

      I’ve learned several important things from this discussion; First, that even well intended searching can easily slide into box building. The evangelical church today reflects this in epic proportion. And, second, whatever differences may exist between us, male and female, I thank the Lord that the Bible affirms there is no distinction in Christ (Gal. 3:26-29).

      From one child of God to another, thanks again!

      • MeganC

        I think that’s just it, Martin. Those horrid and hurtful Pharisaical boxes render us afraid to even try to define anything. 😦

        Grateful, too, that we are all one in Christ (here in this forum, at least!) and that Christ sees us as His own . . . equally, collectively and in our uniqueness, as well (fearfully and wonderfully made!).

    • Song

      Megan,

      I’m celebrating your victory with you!! 🙂

      Gal. 3, especially verses 3, 13 and 26-29, became very dear to my heart and have helped me to keep my head above the web of lies I was and continue to be told (I am still married…to a pastor), and from becoming more entangled with them.

      I was very thankful to Jeff S. and Anonymous for breaking the ice for me on this post. They both have a done a good job in expressing their thoughts.

      • MeganC

        I am so glad you are holding to those verses! I had verses like those that helped me just keep my head on straight. I so understand this . . . God always gives us just what we need in His time . . . my ex was a pastor, as well. 😦 it is extremely difficult not to throw out the baby with the bath water . . . and you are doing a marvelous job. Hugs.

      • Song

        Thanks, Megan. Hugs right back! You’ve done a fantastic job yourself!
        Good thing we love babies!

      • Thank you Song, you’ve told us before you are still married – and to a pastor no less – but I for one have benefited from being reminded about that. I think you are one very brave lady.

      • Song

        Barbara,
        Oh, sorry. I didn’t mean to be repetitive. I forgot I had mentioned it before. Thanks for thinking I’m brave. I certainly waiver between feeling brave and feeling ridiculous.

  11. Jeff Crippen

    Good job everyone. Much food for thought and learning here.

  12. Just Me

    I feel a bit in over my head here. Ya’ll are so intelligent and articulate yourselves so well. While reading the comments, I really felt a level of agreement with everyone, even though some seem to contradict. There are just very valid points on all sides here.

    I think God has wired men and women differently, so there will be general qualities (good or bad) that are more common in one gender than the other, but certainly none are exclusive to one gender or the other. God changes us to meet the needs of the situation that we are in. Single moms or single dads may have qualities that a mom or dad who was in a healthy, intact marriage wouldn’t have, because they wouldn’t need to have it.

    Abusers are more commonly men, although women can be abusers as well. Is this because God has made men to have more leadership qualities, but men sometimes will use that to sin (control, use violence)? Or is it because society has conditioned men to “keep their women in line?” Eve was created to be Adam’s helpmeet. The Bible instructs women to submit to their husbands. Does that mean women have a greater tendency to be enablers because we will sometimes hide behind our husband’s sinful actions thinking that we don’t have the responsibility to be an Abigail rather than a Sapphira? I know that there have been times where I have been a Sapphira. I’m ashamed of it. When my kids were babies, and my husband would rage at them for crying (as babies do), I would fight the instinct to take the kids and leave thinking “the Bible says that I have to choose my husband over my kids. So even if he’s screaming at them, I can’t stand up to him.” Praise God that I don’t think that way anymore!! Hint, hint to Barbara or Jeff. I think a blog post comparing Abigail to Sapphira would be very interesting.

    But I am having a very difficult time trusting my instincts because I’ve suppressed them for so many years. It seems that no matter what I do, it feels wrong. It feels wrong to stand up (unsubmissive) and it feels wrong to not stand up (enable sin). I am in this process where I’m looking at things in a new light and trying to discern actual truth from what I’ve incorrectly thought was truth for all these years. It’s difficult, feels unsteady and is very emotionally exhausting. I had a tough day yesterday (was doing a lot of difficult thinking) and yelled at my kids last night. I really feel awful about it. It’s certainly not what I want to be teaching them and I hate that I hurt them. Please pray for me if you have a moment.

    It’s hard for me to read the Bible because I come across certain sections and just feel frightened or confused. So I sometimes just wrap my arms around my Bible and hold it. I’ve even slept with it like a teddy bear. But the one very positive thing that God is doing in me through this trial is to literally knock the legalist out of me. I can be the perfect little legalist and follow all the rules to the point of ignoring the grace and mercy. It’s really painful to work my way out of that thinking but I’m glad it’s happening. I still feel in bondage to it but not nearly as much.

    For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are—yet was without sin” ( Hebrews 4:15 ) Jesus was tempted in every way, so I don’t think there are any sins that are 100% unique to either gender, although I don’t think anyone here is arguing that there are.

    There’s a man I know who I consider to be a very godly man. But he was telling me that he was going to be teaching a Sunday school class in his church for the women entitled (something like) “How Not To Be Mouthy or Moody.” I don’t remember the exact title but I do know that mouthy and moody were in there. I didn’t really know what to say about it at the time but it rubbed me the wrong way. It just seemed so degrading. I wish I would have asked if there was a counter class taught for the men. Probably not. If there was, it was probably entitled “Leading with Integrity” or something with a positive connotation. I highly doubt it was called “How Not To Be An Abusive Tyrant.”

    Thank you all for teaching me so much through this discussion. I haven’t been on here as much this last week and I’m so glad that I came on here today.

    • “But I am having a very difficult time trusting my instincts because I’ve suppressed them for so many years. It seems that no matter what I do, it feels wrong. It feels wrong to stand up (unsubmissive) and it feels wrong to not stand up (enable sin). I am in this process where I’m looking at things in a new light and trying to discern actual truth from what I’ve incorrectly thought was truth for all these years. It’s difficult, feels unsteady and is very emotionally exhausting”

      Replace “unsubmissive” with “unloving” and this is me exactly. I still am mired in all kinds of self doubt in my heart (though I think my head generally has a lot straight at this point).

      I addressed this with my therapist today and he said the following “self inspection is good– of course I think so as a therapist– but make sure when you question yourself you don’t do so with negativity because that never leads to anything good. Question yourself with a positive spirit. If you aren’t getting anything good out of it, don’t do it.” I’m still trying to work out what that means exactly and how it lines up with a Christian world view (he isn’t a believer), but it’s something I’m chewing on. What attitude do I have when I look at myself?

      • Just Me

        “self inspection is good– of course I think so as a therapist– but make sure when you question yourself you don’t do so with negativity because that never leads to anything good. Question yourself with a positive spirit. If you aren’t getting anything good out of it, don’t do it.”

        Thank you for this. I’ve been pondering it for the last few days.

    • A post comparing Abigail to Sapphira – what a great idea, JM. Thanks for suggesting it. We’ll certainly do that sometime soon.
      On the teaching that fellow was giving, “How not to be mouthy or moody” – I would have found it degrading too. That title could just as suitably be the title of a talk for men – it’s just that for some reason, those epithets tend to be reserved for women. But abusive men can be very mouthy and moody.
      In fact, abusers of either sex use their mouths and their moods to denigrate, confuse and intimidate their spouses. So, “How not to be mouthy or moody” could even be a talk for mixed-sex group … now that would stir up the pigeons, wouldn’t it? I don’t think I’d want to facilitate that group; I don’t think I’d have the strength to handle the reactions.

      I remember I used to sometimes feel frightened and confused when I read the Bible post-separation from my first husband. It was like I was under the knife; a real spiritual pain would bite and sting when I read certain passages. I believe this is a spiritual battle. Satan wants to keep us believing the lies and distortions that have entrapped and disempowered us. Satan wants us to stay as fearful automatons rather than feeling, thinking beings who are able to relish and rejoice in Christ as He renews our minds and restores our souls. And when Satan starts to lose ground (because our beliefs are changing from lies to truths) he gets *mad*. He tries to set up booby traps, pits, pot-holes, fear pockets, condemning stentorian voices in our heads that lay down ‘the law’ – those ‘laws’ we are starting to perceive as the Pharisaic thumbscrews that they are.

      My experience was that as I kept reading and learning about abuse, both domestic abuse and spiritual abuse, from good sources, and as I learned to trust my gut (which is ‘trusting the Spirit’, a lot of the time) the painful scripture-reading moments became fewer and further between. I also developed and began to trust a ‘rule of thumb’ I worked out, which is kinda like the advice Jeff S’s counselor gave above. It was this: if a thought or belief gives me that blighting pain or torment or sense of profound self-condemnation, it is probably from Satan, not from God. So …. “Get behind me, Satan! Get out! Go away! Leave me alone! ”

      Nowadays, my most common pain from reading Scripture is that I get bazookad with yet another idea for a post. “Oh no; can’t you give me a break? I’ve got so many topics to write already, and here is another one!” (but that’s not a really big complaint, is it? 🙂 )

      • Just Me

        Thank you, Barbara. I needed to hear that. And I have sensed that I am in a spiritual battle.

        “Satan wants us to stay as fearful automatons rather than feeling, thinking beings who are able to relish and rejoice in Christ as He renews our minds and restores our souls.” That’s exactly it! I am not, as of yet, able to think clearly for myself. It’s almost like I need to be spoon-fed. But that makes me wishy-washy and I’m not strong enough to discern truth from pseudo-truth. But I keep reminding myself that confusion is not from God.

        It’s like I’m afraid of God getting mad at me. So, I’ll find ways to shirk responsiblity. “But God, my husband told me to do it” or “This book by that Christian author said to do that” or “Jeff Crippen and Barbara Roberts told me that I could get a divorce!” (just kidding!!) It sounds like Eve, who blamed the serpent, or Adam, who blamed Eve.

        It’s much more scary to take responsiblity for my own choices. And it’s hard when I’ve been told for so many years that my instincts are wrong.

      • Yes I understand, J M. I feel for you, and the journey isn’t easy, but eventually I think you will gain confidence in discernment. And it may help to ‘not despise the day of small things’. We sometimes wish for quick progress, but as I’ve written on another blog recently, back-stitch creates a much stronger seam than running stitch. We do running stitch as a quick way of marking where a seam is to eventually be, but we do back stitch to make a strong and lasting seam. You may feel like it’s as slow as watching grass grow, but I trust you are getting there, and God is helping you make those tiny back stitches that will stand the pulls and wrenches that hard-wearing clothes need to be able to withstand.

        Another image: when a woman is giving birth to a baby she has all those recurrent pains while her cervix is opening. They can be bad pains, but she kinda ‘gets used to it’ because the cycle of on-off pain become somewhat predictable. But when the cervix is fully open and she’s changing channel and getting ready to push that baby out, she can go through what the midwives call ‘transition’, which can feel to the woman like a very weird, destabilizing place – a place she doesn’t want to camp out in, because it’s just so … unknown and strange. Then she gets the urge to push, and she’s on the road again, the final lap. That place you are in might be a little like that transition stage. What you ‘knew’ was right no longer looks, sounds, feels or tastes right; but what you are learning to be right – feels so new, weird, uncomfortable, unfamiliar, and like you can’t really trust or believe it. Don’t worry, God is the great midwife. He’ll take you through. He’ll bring you to where the truth not only seems like it ‘might’ be true, but you actually KNOW it is true; you’ll stretch your new butterfly wings and let them dry in the sun, then you’ll fly out to freedom.
        Boy, did I mix metaphors there! Got carried away.

    • MeganC

      JM — This post was highly intelligent and articulate — and incredibly beautiful. You are not alone (as you can see) in how you feel and have felt. I still very often doubt myself, and some days, I need enormous mounds of encouragement and esteem. I love the picture of you holding your Bible and sleeping at night. I can just imagine God’s sweet touch on your body and soul as you sleep. . . Your Father loves you.

      When I first left my ex, I had massive confusion about Scripture and about who God is. I actually had to stick with portions of the Bible that had not been touched by my ex or by the seminary. Passages like Exodus or Joel or Amos. Ha! And I prayed so much that God would give me clarity and show me who He really was. I honestly don’t think I knew him at all when I left. There are still parts of Scripture that I cannot read (the Epistles) because they were used like iron law in my life for so long. But, I am hoping (in time) this will get better. God knows where you are and He has compassion for that place. He will work with you there. I think Jeff or Martin said something about “standing in the stream of grace”. You do what you can and God will take the rest. Hugs to you and your beautiful heart.

  13. I know this is an older post, but I am just now reading it- and the comments about having a difficult time reading certain parts of the Bible certainly apply to me. It’s like coming out a cult (church and marriage).

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