It’s fun to talk about gender (right?!). It’s rarely fun to be the token person who brings up the issue of gender (right?!). So, instead, I have titled this post “On Theology and Being Seen”…
Some people have asked me recently why I can’t simply move past gender-exclusive rhetoric, or ignore a theology that subordinates women, so that I can hear the good of what someone may be saying, outside of the topic of gender. And I do appreciate this question and deeply want to give it careful consideration. I don’t want to be the person who makes every issue under the sun a gender issue. It actually can be honoring to your gender to not make everything “gendered” in such a way that looks to make one gender superior and the other inferior. And yet, we all have a lens through which we experience the world. One way we see the world is through our gender.
If a theology demeans my personhood, which includes my being as a woman, then it becomes difficult for me to hear and see the whole of one’s theology because how one views people is central to how someone views God. It makes me wonder if a theology that cannot see my personhood is a theology that believes we can belong to together, if we can work together for good.
I understand that I have a role to play in how I posture myself in these places. We are still brother and sister, a family who doesn’t always agree but can humbly come together, in mutual submission, to learn from one another. But this may also mean that sometimes I will respectfully not allow others’ words to have power over me, not give them space to speak into my life, my theology, and my worth. We earn the weight of our words not only by how we say them, but by how we see the people to whom we speak.
We are not able to set aside our lenses, our ways of seeing the world. We all have biases we bring to the table, in interpretation of Scripture, based on our experiences, through our culture. But is my gender my bias? Is how I was created to be a bias? Or is there more to my being than that? Can I truly separate myself from my lens when I live and interact in the world? I bring my experiences, my traditions, my love and passion, my mind, my imperfections, my gender, my very culture to the table when we talk about theology. If someone dismisses one of those identities, denies one part of my culture as valuable, then I have a hard time knowing the meaning of their words because I begin to question if I am fully seen by them.
The solution is not for everyone to become the same as me. Instead, I would ask for and seek a mutual understanding that moves toward love and affirmation. Everyone must commit to learning their various lenses so that all can be honored and steward what they have been given. This would then help us to truly begin seeing other people, seeking understanding, and working together to steward who each person is and who we are becoming together.
I know that understanding needs both partnership and ownership, and I know I have responsibility for how I hear, how I respond, how I let someone’s truth sink into my being, and if I choose to make it personal or not. Theology will always be personal (not individualistic, but personal, meaning that it has significance for my whole person). Therefore, when a theology speaks about my presence as a woman, I am working to see if it fits within the whole. I question if a theology can be for the common good, for everyone’s flourishing, if my way of being in the world is less than, or more than, someone else’s being.
I have not lost hope that there is a better way, a way of listening and empowering one another, giving value back where it has been lost. I believe this because I have experienced it. In speaking with a professor recently, I was asking for feedback on a potential research topic about the history of women in the church within a certain tradition. I didn’t want to be labeled as the woman who always researches women-specific topics, but I really cared about this. It’s a scary, wild place out there for women leaders in the church, and one can feel as though you need to constantly be doing your homework. My professor affirmed me in pursuing this topic, speaking wise words about this not merely being a topic for me, but it being deeply connected to my own agency and personhood. I realized why, in that moment, talking about gender is not merely another theological checkmark for me; it is connected to my being in the world, and I cannot separate from it. This does not mean I always have to talk about it, but it does mean that it is a reality that influences the whole of my life.
I admit that I’m not always sure how to live in the balance of shared power and mutual submission while also speaking up and living with agency. I do not claim to have all of the answers simply because I am speaking as a woman; in fact, I hope I am saying the exact opposite. Maybe, in part, my true confession is that we all really need one another; we need everyone to bring their full selves, fully present and participating in the act of God in our world. I believe God has called us to share and submit and speak up, and I am thankful that we can only learn how to do this when we are together, working to create spaces where all can be fully seen.