I am a little shy about raising the topic of women in the church. When pressed, I will gladly speak my mind and enter into the controversy. But so often it feels like discussing politics these days — more like getting into a fight than having a real discussion with an exchange of ideas.
But sometimes the words just bubble up inside me and they have to come out. That's what happened as I read this article reflecting on John Piper's recent words in a podcast. Now let me say — there are many excellent and honorable things about John Piper. I have a very good friend who was so influenced by his teachings about mission that he has been working as a missionary in Asia for fifteen years. But I am saddened by John Piper's view of women, particularly the distinction he makes about learning from a woman standing before him — an embodied woman — as opposed to learning from a woman's words written in a book. It makes me so sad that my female body — which God made on purpose! — could cause such problems for some people. It reminded me of an incident from my early college years I'd almost forgotten.
When I was in undergrad, my InterVarsity chapter was wonderfully vibrant and growing. I lived for four years with friends all around me who were earnestly taking Scripture seriously, rooting out sin in their lives, and trying to walk faithfully with God in all areas of their lives. The trickiest part, as you can imagine, was sexuality. How does one date in a way that is honoring to God? What do we do with our sexual urges? How can we honor one another? These are difficult questions for anyone, and especially for young adults sorting out their faith.
Here I am, circa 1996, talking with a friend at beautiful Cedar Campus.
One group of excellent young men got together regularly to discuss strategies in their pursuit of holiness. They encouraged each other to live lives of purity, and they took seriously Paul's admonition to "flee from sin." Unfortunately, this turned sour as they began to practice "fleeing" from women. If they came into the presence of a woman whom they found attractive in some way, they would shout "flee!" and start running the other direction.
Looking back, this is a bit comical, and could be very funny on film. But in real life, as a woman in her early twenties trying to figure out how to live, this was not helpful to me. The women in our community were all quite conservative in our dress and actions, but it seemed that just the fact that we were women with, God help us, female bodies, defined us as objects of temptation.
I sat down with one of these friends (a very sweet and earnest young man) and had a serious talk with him. "Just because we are women doesn't mean that we are something to run from!" I explained how offensive this was and, to his credit, he and his friends took this "fleeing" strategy off the table. I'm sure there were other ways they were fleeing from sin that were more appropriate.
I'm glad I was able to have a talk with my friend on that day. I learned something then about the delicate balance between honoring my brother while also honoring myself, my body, and other women. One day, Jesus will return, and all of the ways our culture twists and sexualizes our bodies will be redeemed and we'll be left with glorious and functional forms. Until then, we'll have to just keep learning on this journey together.