My mind keeps wandering back to the conversation, not begun but thoughtfully curated by Rachel Held Evans, on mutuality in the church. I took my daughter to soccer camp yesterday, with her brother and sister in tow. I listened to them as I drove and I thought. I thought about the lessons of mutuality, and how it is not borne of dust and happy glitter wishes.
After a week ruminating on the theme, there remained a sort of nondescript but unpleasant taste in my mouth. I couldn’t quite place it until yesterday. I watched in bemused silence as a bunch of rowdy 12 year olds giggled and jumped around the halls of an enormous college dorm. They had packed their shin guards, mouth guards, balls and water bottles. They had also decorated their doors, brought matching luggage and bedding, carried loads of toiletries and hair accessories into the dorm. There is something contagious about the confidence of young female athletes.
I drove home, my son tucked in the back seat singing his head off about being a jazz lion. I don’t know. The contrast between his sister and him was a study in gender identity, roles and expectations incarnate.
I remembered a sermon from years ago, from a church we no longer attend. The pastor began a sermon about sexuality, or marriage, or maybe it was sexual purity. Something about men and women and sex. I don’t remember, because his point was lost on me as soon as I heard him say this: “Mothers and grandmothers, you need to teach your daughters that…” and I was gone. His voice was drowned out by the cacophonous sound of my hackles being raised. These are some big hackles, yo.
I turned to my husband, who had already slid his eyes toward me, a knowing twinkle sparking there. I take solace: he knows me. He wanted me to wait, to give the pastor time to address the men. We waited together, suspended in gender role hell. We waited. And waited.
In the car on the way home, I railed. But when you are married to someone who knows you, he will not be surprised by these outbursts, and will, most times, agree with you.
So here’s the thing about mutuality: it implies participation, knowledge and purpose by both men and women. Telling a woman—raised by dyed in the womb-wool feminists—to strive for mutuality is, you’ll forgive the cliche, preaching to the choir. To be sure, there are women who don’t care about, are not in the least bit interested in mutual male/female relationships. It has been my distinct experience, though, that women are already on board with this.
Reading the stories from mutuality week, as I read through the Women In Ministry Series, I was comforted by the male voices extolling the rightness of mutuality. I have to wonder if what I’m reading online matches what’s happening in churches.
Whart are we hearing from the pulpit?
If the church is concerned about sexual purity, it would do well to address both girls and boys. If the church is concerned about healthy sexuality, it would do well to access the expertise of both mothers and fathers. If the church is concerned about justice, it would do well to provide a pulpit for the undervoiced. And if the church wants to grow up strong female leaders (a debatable point in some cases) it would do well to educate its men that women are not a threat to their “authority” but an illumination of the creativity of One who is higher than any concept of gender.
We will not attain any semblance of mutuality merely by teaching our daughters to love and value themselves. We must include all of our children, our sons, in the dialogue about the inherent, immoveable value of women as people.