There are many differences that exist between women and men. Just start with basic biology and it’s apparent. However, if we start at the beginning we discover something foundational that speaks to who we are at our deepest level of identity.
In the creation narrative the writer tell us that God created humankind “in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1.27). Men and women are first identified as image bearers. While we have differences we also have sameness, and both are rooted in God.
We must keep this in mind in any conversation about the differences between men and women. For whenever we speak about our differences we must do so with caution. As Ken Wilber rightly points out, “… as soon as any sort of differences between people are announced, the privileged will use those differences to further their advantage.”
In the history of our world men have typically occupied places of privilege. As a result, men have used the differences between themselves and women to gain advantage and establish dominance over women. This is still prevalent in our world today — even in the Church.
The overwhelming direction of the Church has been to prohibit women from serving in any significant leadership capacity. Craig Keener observes that the reason behind much of this is due to the misguided belief that women are “more easily deceived than men” and that they are “inferior to men.”
Within the Church, it has been largely left to men to interpret Scripture and make important doctrinal decisions. Men have effectively silenced the voice of women, and created chauvinistic and overly masculine culture. Men end up “in charge” and women are told to be in a place of “submission.” This has existed for so long that it feels normal.
No matter how normal this may feel it is time for the people of God to wake up to this broken reality. We cannot blindly accept the cultural assumptions that have been handed down to us.
Jesus also lived in a male dominated culture, but he did not accept it. If he believed Christianity to be masculine one would assume that he had a lot to say about “being a man” or masculinity itself. Yet, in all of the words that Jesus spoke he never so much as mentions that following him is a masculine thing to do. In fact, Jesus moved against the social norms of his day.
He never paid attention to the rules of culture that dictated what a man or woman was supposed to do. In one instance his interaction with a woman was so shocking that his disciples were “surprised to find him talking with a woman.” (John 4.47)
Jesus’ call was for anyone, man or woman, who was tired or worn out to learn his way of life, love, compassion, grace, and mercy. (Matthew 11.28-30) He never said that his way was masculine or feminine. Rather, he persisted in breaking the oppressive barriers that had been set up against women. We must imitate him in this.
All people, regardless of gender, have an equal place at God’s table. This demands that everyone be given an equal voice. When we only hear from the voice of men or the voice of women we only see one side of God. This is why any claim that Christianity is either masculine or feminine falls short. Neither by itself paints a complete picture of God.
When we are able to hear from both men and women equally we gain a perspective of God that is far more complete. We can have confidence in this, for as it turns out, God is not only a masculine father, but also a feminine mother. This is something that I have found to be deeply comforting.
Several years ago my family and I were playing in a park. My son, who has a nut allergy, took a bite of a friend’s cookie and ingested a walnut. We gave him some medication immediately and within minutes he started to feel better.
For almost an hour my wife and him sat on a bench in the park. She held him, and he snuggled close to her. At one point I asked if he was feeling okay. My wife smiled and said with deep love and compassion, “He’s fine. Sometimes little boys just need their Mommy to hold them.” In that moment I saw, in my wife’s mothering, affectionate embrace of my son, a beautiful picture of God. It’s a picture that we see throughout Scripture.
God is frequently spoken of as a loving mother, and God speaks of nursing her children at her breast, and giving birth to her people. This is why St. Clement of Alexandria wrote, “In His ineffable essence God is Father; in His compassion to us He became Mother.” (These references can be found in Numbers 11, Isaiah 42, 46, 49, 66, Jeremiah 31 … to name a few).
When we allow ourselves to consider this side of God we gain a clearer and more beautiful picture of God. He is for all of us father and mother - masculine and feminine. When the voice of our sisters is heard, we have the can finally learn about the feminine side of God that has been silenced for too long. Through this, we will gain a more beautiful and complete picture of God.
As we learn more about God, we can live out a Christianity that is both uncompromisingly feminine and genuinely masculine. In the end, we will all find our differences and sameness, rooted in God.
Michael is the Lead Pastor of Denver Community Church, and lives with his wife and children in downtown Denver, CO. He blogs regularly at A View From a Point . Follow Michael on Twitter @michaelhidalgo.