Courageous Daughters – A Response to John Piper
All weekend I have wrestled with writing this post. But, the thoughts in my head have not gone away, and that’s usually a pretty good sign I won’t sleep until I get them out. So here goes.
Apparently last week the very well-known pastor and writer John Piper made some fairly charged statements at the opening of the annual Desiring God conference. In short, he suggested that God has given Christianity a “masculine feel,” and we should therefore maintain that feel within our churches by making sure we emphasize that masculine nature and leadership.
Quickly, the internet exploded.
Scot McKnight gives a great summary of the statements if you want them in context.
Rachel Held Evans, a well-known blogger, asked for her male readers to write a post explaining much of the feminine imagery pertaining to God in Scripture, as well as celebrating the role of women in the Church.
One of the best responses to her was written by Daniel Kirk, a professor at Fuller Seminary.
If you want more of the conversations, simply track through the comments sections of any of these entries and you’ll see the magnitude of this discussion.
So I sat with these thoughts all weekend. And finally I decided to write my own response.
Let me start by saying two things.
First of all, I have GREAT respect for John Piper. I don’t agree with him on every theological issue, but I believe he has done amazing work for the Kingdom. I have visited his church twice in Minneapolis/St. Paul, and the passion for the gospel from that community of believers is undeniable. A few years ago I attended the Passion 07 Conference in Atlanta and Piper’s message “How to Deal with the Guilt of Sexual Failure for the Glory of Christ and His Global Cause” still stands as one of the most important I have ever heard. His teaching on worship as the basis for mission continues to form a basis for me of missional theology.
Secondly, MANY have already written responses to Piper’s thoughts, digging deep into the feminine, biblical imagery of God and the beauty of women within His Church. These writers are much wiser than I am and know languages I have never touched. So… I am not going that route here.
Instead, I am writing with a different perspective. And I am writing for my 3 daughters.
My wife and I have the privilege of walking daily with our 6-year old, 4-year old, and 2-year old precious girls. They are tough, and resilient. Our oldest has moved houses and churches at least 5 times, and the others are not far behind. We pray every night with them, and many nights my prayer is simple, that they would be COURAGEOUS.
Along the same lines, I have experienced 10 years of the privilege of working in full-time vocational ministry. Most of it has been spent in student ministry, primarily with 6-12th graders. At least half of the students I have intersected with have been female. Currently, my Barbie-filled house has welcomed a former student of ours (we saw her come to Christ in 7th grade and she is now a senior at Penn State University) as a student ministry intern completing her degree as she helps lead our student ministry.
A few years ago, early in my time at a former church, I met a high school girl who was very committed to Christ. I asked her what her goals were and what she was considering studying when she graduated. She sort of shrugged her shoulders and said, “Well I like theology, but I’m a girl so I can’t really do much with that.”
My heart broke for her.
I know this post will find some disagreement from others, but I believe with Piper’s words and many of the similar mindsets among these “masculine” church leaders we have a problem.
If we model the type of leadership Piper calls for in its entirety, we risk failing a generation of women God has gifted as integral members and leaders within our ministries.
When my daughters were infants I took each of them in my arms and stood in front of a congregation and dedicated them entirely to Christ. I asked the congregation to support my family and help raise them to be disciples, Kingdom Agents, and ambassadors of Christ. I stood before the body of Christ, the BRIDE of Christ, and in solidarity believed with them that God had plans for these girls that can only be carried out to the fullest extent in the community of believers.
Again, with all respect to John Piper, I think he misses the mark. I get his point and respect much of what he suggests (please read McKnight’s post for the fullest context), but I have to believe that regardless of the purity of his motives and the sincerity of his theological belief in this topic, this mindset that limits the dreams I have for my daughters.
The story I want my daughters to live is the one that begins in Genesis.
The story where it is “not good” for the man to be alone.
The story where Eve is taken from Adam’s side–a place of companionship and equality, not to walk behind.
The story where prior to sin entering the world the relationship of the man and woman was a mirror of the unity of the Triune Creator–equal and submissive to each other because of love.
The story where the gospels open on amazingly godly women, Mary and Elizabeth, through whom the Kingdom invasion began.
The story where Paul writes, “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.”
The story where the body of Christ–the Church–is at its fullest breathing capacity when its members function in their fullest giftedness regardless of any barrier.
I know there are difficult passages for us to wrestle with in terms of women in leadership in the Church. I know Paul says some difficult things. And these are worthy conversations not easily written off. But these verses have little to do with what I believe Piper portrays in a faulty sense.
What Piper proposes is what leaves the girl I mentioned before believing theology was not meant for her.
It leaves a gifted female worship leader I served in ministry with “not allowed” to lead a congregation unless a man was on stage with her.
It leaves a high school senior girl walking away from Christ because the Church she grew up in told her God’s word made clear that she was not meant to be a pastor.
It leaves a barrier and status marker in a Kingdom where the barriers have been torn down.
I don’t want this for my daughters.
I want them to grow up in a Kingdom and community that dares them to be COURAGEOUS.
I currently lead a ministry in a rural community where physical, sexual, and emotional abuse have run rampant. Generational sin and systemic oppression have led to a place where one statistic suggests that 1 in 3 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been abused. The effects of this are stifling, and especially to the girls. There is a pattern of sexual brokenness, desperation for love and affection, and an abundance of students who have stopped dreaming.
And do you know what the answer to these issues is?
It is NOT more masculine leadership.
It is NOT more focus on men being real men.
It is NOT a hard line slam of failing fathers from the pulpit.
The answer is the body of Christ being the fullest extent of the body of Christ it can be… MASCULINE, FEMININE, and IN RELATIONSHIP as the FAMILY of CHRIST.
Our churches absolutely need men to be men. But we also need women to be women. Last week I sat with our female youth intern as a student shared with us of her deep and painful sexual abuse, and I watched our youth intern begin to heal wounds in this precious daughter of God that I could never touch with my masculine leadership. That is not to limit my role, because it is just as important–but we are better together and alongside each other.
For my daughters, I don’t want the church to be a place that tells them not to dream. I don’t want them to grow up with a limited view of God’s nature that dictates him only as Father and King. Those are real and true. But he is also the Provider, the Nurturer, the Sustainer who feeds the young. He is above gender focus because he is the Creator of gender… The beauty of a mother and the character of a father are both seen as reflections of God’s nature. But they are seen most fully in right relationship as husband and wife, loving each other and caring for their children in both masculine and feminine ways–truly reflecting the fullest nature of God with his people.
May we all be courageous as God has made us.