Women, Words, and the Word of God

When you’re gifted with words, and you make your living by using them, you feel the sting of the moments when you’ve said something wrong and hurt someone, or said something right and been ignored, more than the average person.

Or is that just me?

For a long time I viewed my gift with words the way some people view their gift of singleness. I couldn’t deny I had it;  I just wanted God to take it back. I was raised in a complementarian context that equated  womanliness with being quiet. Being a woman with  gifts that have anything to do with being heard make you feel like you live with a giant 1 Peter 3 penalty flag perpetually flapping over your head. Or like you have a genetic condition.

In my case, that’s entirely possible. Because having a strong voice, and the compulsion to use it to help people, seems to be literally codified in my DNA.

The  branches of my family tree are laden with pastors, writers, published authors, and even heralds (my maiden name is Horner).  I followed in my ancestors’ footsteps  by earning an English degree at a Christian liberal arts college. For more than twenty years, I’ve put my gifts to work in the technology industry, helping people improve the way they communicate so they can make gazillions of dollars building the technologies on which all of the the Internet runs.

(Please choose from any of the following options: A. I’m sorry. B. You’re welcome. C. Both)

I’ve been a front row observer of the digital revolution’s transformation of the way people communicate, and have been part of the work to shape that transformation, so that people are helped more than they’re harmed by it.

Home decorating projects give me panic attacks, and the time I spend volunteering in my daughter’s fifth grade classroom is the hardest 45 minutes of my month.  But I can string sentences together, and nothing makes me happier than when I learn that a collection of them has been helpful to someone.

So when my words fail me, by being unhelpful, unkind, or just plain stupid, the weight of that failure feels particularly heavy.

A while ago, my words failed me (or rather, they failed God)  twice in the space of a month. So I sat under the weight of the Holy Spirit’s conviction over it in an intentional way.

There was one time in my Christian life when my conclusion would have been that my two-footed stumble was a sign I  wasn’t actually gifted with words at all – that the fruit I should bear in keeping with repentance was the fruit of learning to sit down and shut up. But in my womens’  Bible Study on the Gospel of John this year, Jesus’ words in John 15 have caused me to think otherwise.  I’m learning to see that God grants these moments of stumbling as a means of pruning, to make me more fruitful in my gifts, not to mention more humble in acknowledging the true Source for that fruit as it comes.

The questions I began to ask of the Holy Spirit was what shape this pruning should  take. The bad fruit had been of a particular varietal – speech that was injudicious. How did God want me to produce better fruit that was the opposite? Not just me as a Christian, but me as a Christian woman?

So much of the messaging targeted at Christian women focusses on the Bible’s words about the pruning of our speech and being silent; I haven’t read nearly as much focussed on what the Bible says about when women are to speak, and when we should know we’re meant to listen.

So I’ve spent the last several months digging into that topic.  I’ve studied the words of the women of the Old Testament, the women of Proverbs 7, 8 and 9, and the women who followed Jesus. I’ve studied the context for their words, and the consequences, for the women who spoke them, for the people who listened to them, and for the people who refused to listen as well.

What God has been teaching me has been startling and strengthening, convicting and emboldening.

There’s no question that the Bible contains strong warnings against certain types of womanly speech, speech that endangers the soul of anyone who heeds it. But the Bible is equally clear that there is a kind of womanly speech that brings life, and it’s every bit as dangerous to our souls when we ignore it.

As I’ve sought to replicate the patterns of speech God affirms in Scripture, and put off the ungodly ones, God has graciously produced the fruit in my life, in encouraging and unexpected ways. That fruit has come not just from speaking differently, and, yes, in saying less in certain circumstances; it’s also come from speaking differently and saying more in others.
I’m  posting some of the results of that study here in the coming days. I hope it will bear fruit in your life as well, whether you’re a woman wanting to be a better steward of your words,

or you’re a woman, or a man, wanting to be a wiser listener when a woman speaks.

Orbitals and Uncommon Gifts

One of the most helpful insights I’ve ever been given in how to think holistically and biblically about gender came to me in the middle of a chemistry lecture about orbits, orbitals and the Heisenberg uncertainty principle.

Really.

If you think back to high school chemistry class, you may remember learning that all matter is made of atoms, and all atoms are made of a specific number of protons and neutrons, around which a (usually) matching number of electrons rotate. You may have drawn pictures of atoms that looked like this one of carbon:

untitled

six electrons spinning around a matched set of protons and neutrons, in solidly defined circular patterns. The picture looks the ones we draw of the paths planets follow as they orbit the sun.

Except, as far as representing the actual shape of a carbon atom, it’s almost entirely wrong.

The Heisenberg uncertainty principle states that it’s impossible to measure accurately both the location of an electron and its speed, at any particular moment in time. Thus, you can only depict the likelihood of a particle’s location at a particular moment, then aggregate all those likelihoods into the patterns they form. Consequently, a more accurate (but not perfect) picture of a carbon atom looks like this:

carbonorbitals

At any moment of time, each of the six electrons in carbon will be located somewhere inside one of the colored, spherical zones around the nucleus. They’ll occupy some locations more often than others (as designated by the darker perimeters of each zone). They’ll frequently be where other electrons have been previously. But in many moments, one or more electrons will be in locations we wouldn’t ordinarily expect. These moments aren’t anomalies. They’re simply a percentage of moments when a carbon atom’s electrons are arranged in a way that’s statistically less common. The sum total of all those electron arrangements, both common and less common, are what make an atom what it is.

It’s a bit of a complicated analogy, but hopefully it serves the point. All too often Christians have defaulted to talking about gender attributes in terms of orbits, instead of orbitals. We think about the various attributes of gender in terms of solid lines that rarely overlap – work and home, leading and submitting, strength and softness.  Problems occur when we look around and see numerous ways those lines  overlap, so that the ever-increasing number of exceptions begins to challenge the legitimacy of the rule. More often than not, the attributes of maleness and femaleness operate like orbitals.

Consider the quality of strength. In Alastair Robert’s recent piece at TGC, he noted data that indicates that, in general, men possess significantly greater physical strength than women, particularly in their upper bodies. Put a woman and man up against each other in an arm wrestling match or a weightlifting competition, and the man will win every time.

Those kinds of statistics are precisely what make the Old Testament story of Jael and Sisera so fascinating. In a nutshell, the story involves a Canaanite general fleeing to safety from battle to the tent of a friend named Heber. Heber’s wife, Jael, comes out to meet him and encourages him inside her tent. She plies him with warm milk and covers him with a blanket and stands watch as he falls into exhausted sleep. Then she picks up a tent peg and a mallet, quietly walks over to him, and literally nails his head to the floor. As I’ve written previously, there is zero ambiguity about the morality of Jael’s actions. Sisera is known for his brutality, especially towards women, and the prophetess Deborah sings blessings over Jael for what she does.

Jael is often appealed to as a one of many biblical exceptions that seem contradict the definition of womanhood so many hold up as the biblical norm. Jael’s actions, while quiet, are anything but gentle. For women who wrestle with the Apostle Peter’s declaration of women as the weaker vessel in 1 Peter 3, it’s easy to turn Jael into an Old Testament version of a movie action hero like Rey or Wonder Woman. You can practically see the movie poster – a woman whose cloak and tunic exposes arms with triceps of steel, one hand casually holding a wooden mallet as big as her head, the other gripping a tent peg, blood dripping down it and pooling onto the dirt at her feet. For all I know, right now an entrepreneurial woman who read Alastair’s article is writing a business plan to launch a workout program for Christian women called Jael’s Gym.

The truth is the Scriptures give us little context for Jael’s actions, and what portion of them were natural, and what were supernatural. Jael’s intentional invitation to Sisera does seem to indicate that her actions were intentional, rather than opportunistic, and thus maybe a measure of premeditation. Perhaps she was the kind of tent-dwelling woman who drove the tent pegs herself, so that she really did have arms of steel and was simply executing a move she’d done a thousand times before. But given the physical norms of male and female strength, it’s just as likely, or perhaps more so, that she simply imitated what she’d observed the men in her tribe do (albeit with a different application!). And her effort, whether sufficient on its own, or supernaturally assisted, was sufficient for the task. In the end, Jael was a woman to whom God gave particular abilities in a particular context for particular task, a task she did faithfully, and one for which she was commended. She was there to do what God had set her in place to do, and she did it.

There is a sense in which the Jaels, (and Deborahs, and Esthers, and women witnesses to the resurrection), could be considered statistically unusual or exceptional. And yet, the whole story of God is one where God regularly uses the unexpected – the weak, the low – to confound those who might otherwise expect to take center stage, so that no human being, male or female, might boast in the presence of God. The frequency with which God gives women (or men) uncommon gifts is not nearly as important as whether we recognize them, and God’s purposes in them, when He does it. As we look to the special revelation of Scripture and the natural revelation of creation to inform our understanding of gender, let’s not let our tendency to focus on the common, cause us to miss God’s purposes in the uncommon, just because they come to us from a place, or in a person, we don’t immediately expect.

Gender, Fighting, and (Friendly) Fights about Gender and Fighting

When I was young and single, and motherhood was simply a far-off state to be dreamt about, my romantic imaginings about it always involved a lot of grubby-faced, skinned-kneed boys. This wasn’t so much in spite of my own upbringing, growing up as one of two girls and attending a private girls’ school, as it was because of it. The emotional drama and nuclear wars of words that characterized many of my school years left me with some pretty deep scars. On top of that, I had grown up in an ultra-conservative Reformed Baptist home, where rules forbidding the wearing of pants and nail polish (among many others), developed in me an antipathy for overly prescriptive ideas of femininity. With all that baggage, the rough and tumble physicality of boys seemed to me to be an infinitely easier parenting journey through which to travel.

So of course, when I finally married and had kids, God gave me girls.

God has used my three daughters to sanctify me and conform me to His image in numerous ways, but particularly in causing me to wrestle deeply with what it means to bear His image specifically as a woman. What does it look like for my daughters, and me, to model Christlikeness in bodies that, while notably similar to Jesus’, are also so distinctively different? How do I  teach my daughters about the active obedience of Christ for them, when that obedience was lived out in a body that was, and is, not like the body in which we strive to live that obedience out ourselves?

Several years ago, my oldest daughter’s transition into adolescence, with all of the questions that season brings, drove me to the Scriptures in earnest. I was fearful of reacting against the culturally bound errors of my well-meaning parents, not mention of replacing them with reactionary ones of my own! But I was, and remain, deeply committed to leaning into the goodness of gender, both maleness and femaleness, as God declares it to be. But I didn’t want to merely to affirm the goodness of my gender; I wanted to understand as well. If the heavens and earth declare the glory of God, how much more so does the God-breathed image of His Triune self do it, through femaleness specifically? How does He do it? And how does that translate into how my daughters, and I, are to live to reflect that glory each day?

As my Bible study began to generate more questions than it answered, I did what one does in the 21st century and took to the Internet for help. My research lead me to the writing of (and now treasured friendship with) women like Wendy Alsup and Hannah Anderson, who had thought longer and more deeply on these topics, and on their practical implications, than I. It eventually lead to this series that I wrote at a blog Wendy and I share, where I meditated on how a woman’s body was uniquely created to declare the glory and character of God, how it was corrupted through the fall, and how it is redeemed by the work of Christ on our behalf.

That series didn’t so much represent the end of my questioning, as it did the formation of the foundation for the many questions that followed it -on the complementarity of maleness to femaleness, the expression of that complementariness in the smaller orbits of church and family, and the larger orbit of the world as a whole. But parenting emerging women has proven to often be more circumstantially and emotionally demanding than parenting little girls, so I wasn’t able to commit those thoughts to print as often as I’d like. Still, anytime someone wrote something thoughtful and challenging on the biblical purposes for gender, I read and meditated on it as God gave me opportunity.
Recently, this piece by Alastair Roberts on the place of gender distinctives in social and political discourse got significant Internet attention, and for good reason. The points Roberts made, and in particular the approach he took, left me itching to respond. But the six weeks between Thanksgiving and Christmas are like college finals season for mothers, so I had little opportunity to do more than mentally ruminate on it while wrapping presents late at night. Today, Roberts tackled the gender distinctiveness topic from a decidedly different angle, using the same approach. But this time, he posted it on a day when our Christmas is all done and put away, and I literally had next to nothing planned.

God moves in a mysterious way, His wonders to perform.

As with his previous piece, Roberts’ approach is to consider the differences between the genders from the perspective of natural law, rooted in function or purpose. In today’s consideration of the validity of women fighting in mixed marital arts for entertainment purposes, he looks at the differences in strength between men and women, and male interest in fighting, and concludes that fighting is an inherently masculine activity, one from which women should largely be proscribed.

What he declined to do in today’s piece, or in last month’s, was to set his natural law observations into a wider, dare I even to say it out loud, more completely Biblical context. For example:

  • How was male strength inherently created to display the character of God, separate from its expression or function (given that God’s declaration of the goodness of man and woman in Genesis 1 precedes any record of their actions)?
  • How has male strength been corrupted by the fall?
  • How is it redeemed through Christ in the gospel?
  • Consequently, what expressions of male strength best embody this redemption, and what do not?

Read through the lens of questions such as these, it’s hopefully easy to see why some people like me reflexively objected to how Roberts framed his observations and assertions, particularly as summarized in the article’s blunt title. Positioning MMA as an activity for one gender but not another’s, based purely on one gender’s affinity for it, rather than questioning whether that activity is an appropriately Christ-like expression of that affinity (not to mention our humanity), seems problematic.

When we examine behavioral or physiological gender norms in isolation, and extrapolate behavioral prescriptions based on them, unhelpful ideological proof-texting (and corresponding social media sturm und drang) sometimes ensues. On the other hand, when we examine those norms as a cohesive, and yes, complementary set of markers that point to the character of God, we are better able to examine their complexities, and appreciate their beauty. Most importantly, our gaze is deflected from them, and onto the ultimate beauty of the One to which they collectively point – Jesus Christ.

In his introduction to the article, Justin Taylor notes that Roberts has an entire book on the subject coming out this Fall, titled “Heirs Together: A Theology of the Sexes”. Based on the title and Roberts’ thoughts on the topic up to this point (not to mention the conversation they generate), I’ll be tempted to pulling whatever strings I can to get an advance copy before November. Given its length and title, I’m assuming that  a significant portion of the book will be dedicated to building the biblical framework  on which he places his assertions, and I greatly look forward to following his arguments for it. I’ll possibly disagree with him on some particulars, even as I’m prepared for him to challenge and change some of my own thinking.  The questions he asks, and the conversations they generate, are important, and long overdue. I’m thankful for his work, if only because I have many mothering-of-daughter miles left to tread.

I need all the help I can get.

((Postscript – immediately after I finished these thoughts, I noticed that Roberts has, in the comments,  offered some responses to some of the main objections to his piece that are helpful and clarifying. If anything, they affirm that topics of this complexity are often better served in long form books than short form blog posts. One more reason to look forward to his book. 🙂 ))

Single Women Serving Faithfully

Dear Amy,

Recently, you wrote to ask John Piper a question about a trend you noticed in people serving on the mission field – namely, that the vast majority of them are women. Specifically, you noted that there are significantly fewer single men than single women engaged in full time missions, and you wanted to know Pastor Piper’s thought about why that might be. Pastor Piper offered several thoughts in reply, ones he was careful to note were grounded in opinion, rather than fact. For that reason, I feel emboldened to add on to what Pastor Piper proposed. The Ask Pastor John format is notably short, and it’s possible there wasn’t sufficient time to note possibilities beyond what he offered, so here goes:

  1. Single men have many more avenues of full time ministry to pursue than single women. In the sector of evangelicalism in which Pastor Piper and I live and serve, men with leadership and communication gifts have a wide number of full time ministry or vocational options they are encouraged to consider. A pastorate, a professorship or administrative position in a Christian institution, or even simply a senior leadership position in a secular professional field are all vocations that men are coached to pursue. So, it’s just a matter of basic math that, if missions is only one of a number of ministry options a man has from which to choose, the number of men who choose each individual option will be fewer.
  1. Some single men wisely discern that, like pastoral ministry, the mission field is a matter of calling and gifting, not just willingness, or a fall back option when nothing else is working out. Some others, well, don’t. Some single men think the solution to their bad grades or battles with lust or laziness will be found living in a remote jungle. far from the temptations and turmoil of Western life. Those men will be wrong, often in ways that hurt many others beyond themselves. Wiser men take note, work out their issues at home, and if they continue to struggle, see that as confirmation that the call to missions is not theirs, and they should feel confident in that decision, rather than discouraged.
  1. Some single women have taken a long, honest look forward at the cultural trajectory we’re on, and a look back at the way their mothers navigated life, and realized this moment requires charting a different, more intentional course. Women in previous generations were encouraged to be certain of the likelihood of marriage and children at a relatively early age, with men having an array of professional and ministerial vocations they were taught to pursue with a mind to pursuing and providing for a family, and everyone planned accordingly. Today, porn culture is robbing men of both the interest in or ability to pursue marriage, while unfettered technological advancement is narrowing the types of work available to men (and women) to pursue in a way that ensures economic and familial stability, let alone fulfillment. Simply put, single women today can be far less certain that marriage and children will be part of their future, whether at a young age or at all. Taking Dr. Piper at his famous words, they’re not going to waste their life waiting for what may never come. They’re going to start spending it for the cause of Christ now, and are entrusting Him with their future.

That so many women have made this commitment and are remaining faithful in it may not necessarily be a problem in need of a solution. It may, in fact, be God’s plan for this current time in history. And if it is, women who resist the secular siren call for wealth and comfort and power in secular professions AND the presumptive temptations the church can unwittingly entangle them in about waiting for marriage, should be praised, encouraged, and supported accordingly.

I hope this helps.

The Incarnation Will Not Be Virtualized

When I first worked in high-tech in the mid-nineties, the annual, end-of -year office party was a major calendar milestone, especially for this conservative Christian girl who never went to prom. We dressed up in our fanciest clothes. We ate shrimp cocktail and drank champagne on the company’s generous dime (or dollar, as the case undoubtedly was). We marveled at the sight of our diminutive 50-something office receptionist shaking her spandex-clad, fireplug-shaped self on the dance floor with her decades-younger . . . . whateverhewas.

Times have definitely changed.

This week, the Atlantic and the Wall Street Journal featured stories about the rise of the “virtual” office holiday party. The confluence of the ubiquity of video-conferencing technology, remote office workers, and businesses who want to scale back on conspicuous corporate consumption has meant an end to in-person, after-hours, end-of-year merriment. Instead, company colleagues login to WebEx and GoToMeeting sessions from their home offices for “virtual” parties. They have tacky sweater contests, walk around their houses with their laptop webcams to show off decorations and pets, and generally make virtual merry without the hassle of a designated driver.

This phenomenon might be new news to readers of the Wall Street Journal, but it’s very much old news, of a seriously triggering kind, for me. Five years ago last week, I tried to return to the full-time, high-tech workforce after a long hiatus as a stay at home mother. On my very first day on the job, I walked in to my office to see my new work colleagues sitting in a conference room, engaged in just such a “party”. The mood was one of wide-eyed, desperate “ARENTWEHAVINGFUN?!” that out OfficeSpace-d OfficeSpace. I tried to shake off the psychic chill I felt as so much first-day jitters, but I shouldn’t have. It was an omen of a company that, at its’ core, saw people as little more than iPhone apps on a screen, valuable while useful and expendable when not. Six months later, I walked away, my only regret being that I hadn’t listened to my instincts and done an about-face on that first day.

Was my discomfort at the sight of people pretending to make happy with each other via video just symptomatic of how behind the times I’d become during my years away from the business world? I don’t think so. I think I was responding quite viscerally to the modern assumption that physical presence is so much NBD. But this week, of all weeks, is the week we remember why that’s a lie, and a lie of cosmic import.

Several thousand years and some months ago, an angel visited a trembling teenage girl to announce that the long-awaited heir to the throne of David was finally coming to establish His kingdom, not through military occupation, but through active residency in her womb. Nine months later, Mary held in her tired and trembling arms the Savior that the angels proclaimed and the shepherds left their sheep to see for themselves, and to worship. 33 years later, Mary stood and watched as the baby she had nursed at her breast became the man bleeding and broken on a cross, with burial clothes replacing swaddling cloths, laid cold and lifeless in a borrowed tomb.

But three days later, the Man who had once raised Lazarus’ body was raised bodily Himself. He walked with, and talked with, and fed the disciples who doubted, until He went to be with His Father, not abandoning us, but because He was preparing a place where we would be with Him. Not virtually. But literally.

And until that time, every time that we meet together in person, to eat the bread of His body and drink the wine of His life-giving blood, we proclaim His physical death, and the spiritual, and eternal, life it accomplished for us, until the day He returns.

And the celebration we enjoy together on that day will be anything but “virtual.

The celebrations the world invites us to may be digitized and commoditized for convenience’s sake.

But the celebration that the King of Kings and Lord of Lords paid for, with His own blood, will not.

On Raising Deborahs, Not Settling For Donalds

As I settled onto the couch with my girls on Election night, I tried to decide what motherly mask to wear over the mix of fear, dread, and resignation I felt. Hilary Clinton was going to be President, and the only thing less terrible than that was that Donald Trump was not. As a woman with vivid memories of the first Clinton administration during her college days, and now as a mother of three teenaged daughters, there was hardly an axis of my life though which strong objections to a Hilary Clinton presidency did not intersect. But my girls knew little of her history or her platform, and ever since the frat boy–meets-TMZ circus that was the Republican primary debates and Trump’s nomination, we’d kept their media exposure about the election to a minimum.

So I settled for calm ambivalence. We were about to watch the first woman elected President. I held little hope that she’d be close to the best kind of first, any more than I had for her predecessor. But she was going to be the first woman, the woman to shatter the hardest and longest-lasting glass ceiling in American history. I wanted to honor the moment, and let that be what my daughters saw.

What they saw instead was Hilary Clinton defeated, Donald Trump elected, and my composure fail me as I wept from equal parts distress and relief. “I’m sorry Donald Trump won,” I said through my tears. “But I’m not sorry that Hilary Clinton lost. America needed the first woman president to be a much better woman than her. Maybe one day, that woman will be one of you.”

The hope that one day one of my daughters could be the President is one that I never thought I would be permitted to express. I was raised in the conservative complementarian branch of Christianity, attending both churches and schools that taught that a woman’s primary, presumptive calling was to marriage and motherhood. I was taught that the guiding principle of my educational and vocational aspirations was not primarily my gifts or interests; it was how my degree would permit me to support myself until I married and stayed home to raise children. My education might be redeemed by enriching my parenting, but aspirations for how it might benefit the world outside my home were discouraged.

I settled on an English degree, believing a foundation in liberal arts would offer the broadest opportunity in both the work world and in the future as a wife and mother. I was right. After I graduated, a series of providences lead me to work as a technical writer for a software company, and then into other roles in marketing and sales. I was surprised by how much I loved the work, and was gratified by the mentoring and encouragement I received, not to mention the generous salary I was earning. But anytime I was on a first date, or just talking about my work with friends at church, I made sure to temper my enthusiasm about my job. In my circles, women who were successful professionally were branded “career women,” suspected of being overly ambitious and likely unwilling to lay their success aside to be wives and mothers.

Thankfully, several years into my not-a-career career, God crossed my path with that of a Christian co-worker who saw my abilities and interests as a relational asset, not a risk. Still, two years into our marriage, when our first daughter arrived, I submitted my resignation and became a stay at home mother without regret. I had joined the elevated ranks of Christian women could quantify the cost of their sacrifice to stay home with their children in six figure salaries and lost professional opportunity. Any loss to my company or industry in terms of my work, or my influence in it as a Christian woman, never crossed my mind.

Objective data on the movement of professional Christian women like me into and out of the workforce is hard to come by. But the data about women as a whole is notable, particularly when it comes to roles in public service. The most recent figures from the Bureau of Labor and Statistics indicate that women comprise only 34% of the workers in justice, public order, and safety. Prior to the most recent election, only 20% of the seats in both state and national governments belong to women.

Complementarian Christian logic would argue that civic institutions that are so notably uneven are as they should be. When men lead the way inside them, and woman work outside them by shoring up the home and family, everybody flourishes. But events over the last several years, and this year in particular, suggest otherwise, e.g.:

  • The criminal enablement and coverup of serial child abuse at Penn State;
  • The suppression of sexual assault reports by city and campus police at Baylor University;
  • Judicial underreach by Stanford alumni judge in the sexual assault case against Stanford swimming student Brock Turner
  • The rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in response to numerous incidents of police shootings of black men and women, and ensuing civil unrest and violence
  • And Election 2016, when a man who boasted of his inability to keep his hands off womens’ bodies, will now have his hands on the nation’s nuclear codes.

Plenty of digital ink has been spilled about how Hilary Clinton’s campaign went wrong, as though her loss was simply a matter of tactics, or a fundamental disconnect from key demographics. Far less has been dedicated to how she herself was always the wrong kind of candidate (whether male or female) to defeat Donald Trump, let alone lead a nation with integrity and moral courage. In the aftermath of the election, I found myself asking what might have happened if the woman who ran against Donald Trump had been that different kind of woman I told my girls I hoped for.

I thought about a woman like Deborah.

The book of Judges describes the period after the Israelites entered the land of Canaan, moving through continual cycles of capitulation to worship of foreign gods, divine discipline, and then deliverance. During that time, different individuals served as judges over the people, acting as both civil magistrates and military leaders. In Judges 4, we discover that one of those individuals was a woman named Deborah, described not only as a judge, but a prophetess as well. Deborah served as judge during the time when Israel had been sold into the hand of a Canaanite king named Jabin. Judges 4 describes how Deborah commissions an Israelite leader named Barak, in the name of the LORD, to engage Sisera, the wicked and oppressive general of Jabin’s army, in battle. Deborah prophesies that God will deliver Sisera into Barak’s hands, although not through his own efforts, but that of a woman.

In the ensuing battle, Barak’s men slaughter Sisera’s army, and Sisera flees on foot to the tent of Heber the Kenite, who is an ally of King Jabin. When Sisera arrives, Heber’s wife, Jael, receives him with womanly gestures of hospitality – soothing words, a relaxing drink, and a warm, safe place to rest. But when Sisera sinks into an exhausted sleep, one of the most epic plot twists in the entire Old Testament unfolds. Jael walks softly over to the sleeping general, tent peg in one hand and mallet in the other, and literally nails Sisera’s head to the ground. Then she walks out of her tent as Barak runs by, and notes casually that the man he seeks is inside.

Some contemporary Christians may wrestle with what seems to be the presumption of Jael’s actions, not to mention their brutality. But we should note that Deborah does not. Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, and out of her dual roles as prophetess and judge, Deborah, along with Barak, exposits the reasons behind Jael’s actions, and pronounces the verdict over them, not just with words, but with a song. In language that presciently mimics the kind used by our President-elect, Deborah quotes Sisera’s own mother as she waits for her son, who surmises that Sisera and his men are busy collecting their spoils of war, amongst them the wombs of Israelite women. General Sisera is indeed between the feet of a woman, Deborah sings, but for the very last time. In the matter of the God of Israel vs Jael the tent-dweller, Deborah pronounces the verdict, not merely of “Not Guilty”, but “most blessed”.

The common complementarian perspectives I’ve read argue that Deborah served as an exceptional leader for an exceptional need. And yet, if the rhetoric around this election year is an indication, the church in America may be in that exceptional place again. Basic societal constructs like marriage and gender have been upended. A politically inexperienced and morally bankrupt billionaire is now the leader of our nation, and of the free world. The questions of how we as God’s people are to seek the welfare of the city in which we are exiled have never been more important to ask, and the answers will surely be many. Hopefully amongst those answers will be a willingness to consider how we might raise up more Deborahs (and Baraks), to serve God’s people, and the nation in which we live, instead of simply acquiescing to more Hilarys and Donalds.

Punching a Hole For Pharaoh

An Evangelical Elegy

Two years ago, I wrote these words in the midst of a season of disappointment and disillusionment after some men in ministry who I respect and love in the Lord said some things publicly that felt like a personal betrayal.

This weekend I needed to reread them, over and over again.

Last week, The Master’s University held an event to offer a Christian perspective on this year’s election. TMU is my alma mater. Its president, John MacArthur, is one of my spiritual fathers and Grace Community Church is my spiritual birthplace. God saved me there as a college freshman, several months after I first sat in the back of the enormous sanctuary, as the sound of thousands of Bible pages turning swept over me so that something in my soul began to shift.

I was hoping that the summit would offer an honest framing of the differing perspectives on voting – the privilege and right to vote, but also the right to decline. I was hoping that the role of government and the differing perspectives on it, which Christians have held throughout history, might be described with fairness. I had hoped that both candidates would be characterized with equal doses of unflinching honesty, and Christian charity.

My hopes were dashed. We were offered a picture that was stark and bleak and unapologetically one-sided. We were told to vote for our interests and that of our families (not the interests of our neighbor). We were told that a vote was about aligning with an ideology, and we should choose the one that is closer to the Bible.

We were told that meant a vote for Donald Trump.

Sunday morning, Pastor MacArthur stood at the pulpit at Grace Community Church to reiterate those remarks, and expand on them. TMU’s public Facebook page framed his thoughts this way:

“…by casting a vote on Tuesday, (GCC members) are in a small way ‘standing with God’ on issues of life, marriage, family, children, true morality, justice, and the rule of law.”


Pastor MacArthur formed his statement around the stances of the Democrat party’s platform as being a coalition of people who:

“protect evil and punish those who do good…systematically weakens the military protection of its people and systematically weakens the police so that we are left vulnerable internally and externally. Can we vote for a group of people who give license to rioting and destruction? Can we vote for a coalition of people who will put judges into place who will turn good and evil on its head and will make ultimate laws to defend those who do evil and punish those who do good?… Can we defend a coalition of leaders in this country who prefer paganism to Christianity….who have rejected the Bible, banned the Bible, begun to persecute Christians, who of all people are most inclined to do good?”

“Christians can’t vote for those things. We have to vote against those things and we’re given the opportunity to do that in a very simple way, by voting for the other candidate. It’s saying ‘As long as I’m in this world, and as long as I have the opportunity, I’m going to stand with God and against those things that strike a blow against God’s design for government’… If I can punch a hole that stands against that, then I need to punch that hole.”

In other words, a vote for Donald Trump is just a well punched chad, attached to an ideology and coalition that stands closer to God and against unrighteousness.

  • To honor law and order, we should elect a man who incites violence at his own rallies, and says we should murder the families of our enemies.
  • To honor and protect life, we should elect a racist who disparages and threatens people of different ethnicities and mocks the disabled.
  • To protect religious freedom, we should elect a man who said he’d restrict it.
  • To honor traditional marriage and Biblical sexual ethics, we should vote for a three-times divorced, sexual predator who assaults women, and promotes and endorses their objectification, including that of his own daughter.
  • To choose the ideology that would most approximate doing good and punish evil, we should vote for a man who consistently does evil, and threatens and intimidates those who do good when they call him to account.

Eighteen years ago, I sat in the same sanctuary as Pastor John preached against the destructive sin of lying, in the wake of the Monica Lewinsky scandal. In that sermon, he argued in the strongest terms that a leader who lied was utterly disqualified from any kind of office, and he decried our country’s approval of him.

Why then, in that same sanctuary, did he build an ideological back door of approval for voting for a man whose identity is predicated on lying more often than he breathes?

How does publicly affirming a vote for evil, suppress it, and not affirm it?

How can tethering an ideology to the words and actions of such a wicked man, and then to the name of God, promote righteousness? How can it be righteous?

So today, I am grieved. I am angry.

But I still have hope.

I have hope when I remember that what is happening among my people, and its leaders, isn’t new. The entire story of redemptive history is one of God graciously revealing Himself and His law to His people, only for them to, to borrow a favorite phrase from the British, utterly lose the plot. Remembering this, and being as resolutely and outspokenly NeverTrump as I am gently but firmly NeverHilary, has actually opened doors with unbelieving friends about the hope that I have, not in wicked candidates for President, but in a righteous, and soon to be returning King.

Because even when we are faithless, He is faithful, for He cannot deny Himself.

Our restoration will be painful. But it will come.

And one day, it will be forever.

Even so, come quickly and fix this mess, Lord Jesus.

Preferably, today.

“Ah, stubborn children,” declares the Lord,

who carry out a plan, but not mine,

and who make an alliance, but not of my Spirit,

that they may add sin to sin;

who set out to go down to Egypt,

without asking for my direction,

to take refuge in the protection of Pharaoh

and to seek shelter in the shadow of Egypt!

Therefore shall the protection of Pharaoh turn to your shame,

and the shelter in the shadow of Egypt to your humiliation.

For though his officials are at Zoan

and this envoys reach Hanes,

everyone comes to shame

through a people that cannot profit them,

that brings neither help nor profit,

but shame and disgrace.”

“And now, go, write it before them on a tablet

and inscribe it in a book,

that it may be for the time to come

as a witness forever.

For they are a rebellious people,

lying children,

children unwilling to hear

the instruction of the Lord;

who say to the seers, “Do not see,”

and to the prophets, “Do not prophesy to us what is right;

speak to us smooth things,

prophesy illusions,

leave the way, turn aside from the path,

let us hear no more about the Holy One of Israel.”

 

Therefore thus says the Holy One of Israel,

“Because you despise this word

and trust in oppression and perverseness

and rely on them,

herefore this iniquity shall be to you

ilike a breach in a high wall, bulging out and about to collapse,

whose breaking comes suddenly, in an instant;

and its breaking is like that of a potter’s vessel

that is smashed so ruthlessly

that among its fragments not a shard is found

with which to take fire from the hearth,

or to dip up water out of the cistern.”

 

For thus said the Lord God, the Holy One of Israel,

“In returning and rest you shall be saved;

in quietness and in trust shall be your strength.”

But you were unwilling, and you said,

“No! We will flee upon horses”;

therefore you shall flee away;

and, “We will ride upon swift steeds”;

therefore your pursuers shall be swift.

A thousand shall flee at the threat of one;

at the threat of five you shall flee,

till you are left like a flagstaff on the top of a mountain,

like a signal on a hill.

Therefore the Lord waits to be gracious to you,

and therefore he exalts himself to show mercy to you.

For the Lord is a God of justice;

blessed are all those who wait for him.”

Isaiah 30:1-5, 8-18