Wednesday, October 08, 2008

The Palin Paradox

It’s been a few weeks and I’m still not sold on Governor Palin. Nothing personal, but she hasn’t given me anything substantive enough to support her. I’m still dismayed at her ascendancy in light of her infant with special needs. If she wants to see the consequence of pursuing a high-profile/high-demand career with a special needs child, she should look no further than Sharon Stone. But I digress.

What she has given us, is an odd paradox as a conservative Christian woman, in a position of authority, who by the opinion of many is pretty hot. What, you were expecting me to break down her policies? Nah, you give me too much credit. But I’m not going to analyze her physical features either. Why this interests me is because it exposes a paradox (or hypocrisy in some cases) in the conservative christian (intentional little-c) church.

On the one hand, you have the stance of the Southern Baptist Convention (and many others) that a woman can’t hold a position of authority in a church. This stance made headlines recently when the cover of Gospel Today featured several woman pastors and as a result was pulled from the shelves of Christian bookstores across the Bible-belt. A couple weekends ago, I watched a feature on ABC news that called attention to this while noting the irony that the same Christians who oppose women in ministry support Gov. Palin as Vice President, one heartbeat away from being the Leader of the Free World.

On the other hand, you have Gov. Palin’s feminine, ahem, assets being praised. An article in Slate goes so far as to say her publicity shatters the stereotype of the prudish Christian woman. (Consider a preemptive warning if you click the link, the language and imagery is pretty crude.) The media had the opposite response to the mothers involved in the Texas polygamy case. I guess the expectation continues to be that a devoted Christian woman should look like Maude Flanders.

Meanwhile, there are many caught the middle who wonder how the same conservative christians (little-c) that back Palin were the same who loudly criticized the portrayal of Murphy Brown as a professional single mother.

Both extremes unfortunately fail to capture the Biblical view of femininity. I’m not going to try and stir up a doctrinal debate on perceived misogyny throughout the Bible. Rather I want to point out that women of Godly character are praised by having their own books (Ruth and Esther), chapters (Judges 4), and sections (Proverbs 31) in the Bible. A lot of people focus solely on a single statement from the Apostle Paul and call him sexist, yet forget that women deaconesses (regrettably often translated as “servant” even though the original Greek is the feminine form of what elsewhere is translated as Deacon) are the first to be praised by Paul in Romans and Corinthians for their ministry. In fact I know a few people who opposed getting married in a church based entirely on Paul’s teaching that a wife should be submissive to her husband. Never mind that the context is an analogy to the Church’s relationship with Jesus and is preceded with the command for the husband to love his wife (and elsewhere is instructed specifically not to “lord over” her).

Not to say sexism in the Church doesn’t exist. It certainly does. The praise of the “Proverbs 31 woman” has evolved into an expectation no woman can meet, but wives and mothers are expected to slave over their homes to achieve that perfect standard.

At the same time, many churches elevate the “trophy wife” as standards of beauty and femininity. In the name of being “sharp”, young men pursuing ministry are encouraged to date the prettiest (and most chaste) sisters. At one point at a church I used to attend, the wives of the ministry staff all looked alike—above average height, thin, blonde, and bubbly. All the while the demands of women’s ministry drove women across my denomination to the ground. I can’t count how many Women’s Ministry leaders I know are now burdened with chronic illnesses. All in the name of being that perfect picture of a Biblical woman.

I don’t want to go as far as the feminist movement has in America, but there needs to be a culture change in the American Church with regard to the role of women in the Church and the value (and measure) of beauty and femininity. John Eldriege, in his book Wild at Heart, puts this well.

Walk into most churches in America, have a look around, and ask yourself
this question: What is a Christian woman? Again, don't listen to
what is said, look at what you find there. There is no doubt about
it. You'd have to admit a Christian woman is. . . tired. All we've
offered the feminine soul is pressure to "be a good servant."

In fact his wife spun off her own book aiming to change the status quo and together they have built up an entire ministry with the goal of redefining masculinity and femininity in the church. Amen for that!

While I may have a hard time backing Sarah Palin as a Vice Presidential candidate, I can at least hope that the publicity she’s receiving sheds light on these issues and empowers women in the Church. After all, women too are made in God’s image and in the Church there is “neither… male nor female for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Gal 3:28)

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