There is a strange “new” trend happening among mostly Reformed Theology circles.
Note: You will see me talk A LOT about Reformed Theology in the coming months and here’s why- 1) I was immersed in it for a few years by force and saw how truly flawed it was and 2) I think at this point in time, it’s starting to become the loudest voice, not only in Evangelical circles but also in the GOP. And for the good people in both of those circles, they are missing how truly not good one particular brand of Reformed Theology is.
I put new in quotes because the truth is it’s actually the same humdrum that’s been happening since men figured out how to hold women down via the Eve=sin Garden of Eden narrative.
It’s this idea that having feelings and emotions is wrong–sinful, even.
Study this Twitter account:
Or, this one (which is actually calling out the others):
I could argue that men have always been pretty uncomfortable with women’s feelings.
Maybe it’s biology or maybe it’s societal expectations. Who knows? Many (not all) men seem to have quite the hang up with emotions, especially, for some odd reason, those men who claim Christ as King.
Read the following quotes from salon.com. They are from our earliest Church leaders, many whom, unbeknownst to the lay Christian, we get our belief-systems from (such as Augustine):
Church Doctors and Fathers
- [For women] the very consciousness of their own nature must evoke feelings of shame. —Saint Clement of Alexandria, Christian theologian (c150-215) Pedagogues II, 33, 2
- In pain shall you bring forth children, woman, and you shall turn to your husband and he shall rule over you. And do you not know that you are Eve? God’s sentence hangs still over all your sex and His punishment weighs down upon you. You are the devil’s gateway; you are she who first violated the forbidden tree and broke the law of God. It was you who coaxed your way around him whom the devil had not the force to attack. With what ease you shattered that image of God: Man! Because of the death you merited, even the Son of God had to die… Woman, you are the gate to hell. —Tertullian, the “father of Latin Christianity” (c160-225)
- Woman is a temple built over a sewer. —Tertullian
- Woman was merely man’s helpmate, a function which pertains to her alone. She is not the image of God but as far as man is concerned, he is by himself the image of God. —Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354-430)
- Woman does not possess the image of God in herself but only when taken together with the male who is her head, so that the whole substance is one image. But when she is assigned the role as helpmate, a function that pertains to her alone, then she is not the image of God. But as far as the man is concerned, he is by himself alone the image of God just as fully and completely as when he and the woman are joined together into one. —Saint Augustine, Bishop of Hippo Regius (354-430)
Years and years ago, I was close friends with a guy I had known for years.
The friendship never amounted to much, but I do remember a particular night when sitting in my room, we began to discuss our childhoods. Never before had this person opened up to me about what it was like to struggle with some pretty heavy stuff at such a young age.
Talking through some of the past, my friend began to cry. Really cry. Like, deep, guttural bawling.
And I let my friend cry because that’s what friends do.
However, this would later be a person who had huge issues with my emotions. This friend was uncomfortable with neediness and feelings. I’m still not sure why.
To this person, crying was weak, and neediness was pathetic.
I get it now. I’m old enough to understand that we all have our “things.” But back then, I couldn’t understand what was wrong with wanting or needing someone. What was so bad about having emotions? What was so gross about feelings?
To be honest, being told not to feel my feelings reminded me of my childhood.
When I was a little girl, I really wasn’t allowed to express my feelings. If something in our home was bothering me and I let my parents know, I was told “this is how all families are,” or “you’re too sensitive.”
Deep inside, I knew neither of those things was true. Yes, I knew all families had flaws. They’re full of humans. And I knew that I had a tendency to feel things deeply. But I didn’t think there was anything wrong with that.
Needless to say, between my childhood and my teen relationships, I went into adulthood with all kinds of mixed-up emotions regarding emotions.
Was I supposed to feel? Was I supposed to stuff it down? Was it weak to have strong emotions? Should I feel x, y, or z? Should I have an opinion about this or that?
When a woman isn’t allowed to have genuine emotions, she is left feeling confused, alone and bitter.
Thank God I eventually began to soak up the actual words and actions of Jesus, as opposed to only trusting what those at the pulpit said about him.
Take, for example, his encounter with the woman who washed his feet with her tears. It’s a beautiful picture of a woman displaying every ounce of genuine emotion and being met with compassion and understanding:
Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman
36 One of the Pharisees asked Jesus to have dinner with him, so Jesus went to his home and sat down to eat. 37 When a certain immoral woman from that city heard he was eating there, she brought a beautiful alabaster jar filled with expensive perfume. 38 Then she knelt behind him at his feet, weeping. Her tears fell on his feet, and she wiped them off with her hair. Then she kept kissing his feet and putting perfume on them.
39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know what kind of woman is touching him. She’s a sinner!”
40 Then Jesus answered his thoughts. “Simon,” he said to the Pharisee, “I have something to say to you.”
“Go ahead, Teacher,” Simon replied.
41 Then Jesus told him this story: “A man loaned money to two people—500 pieces of silver to one and 50 pieces to the other. 42 But neither of them could repay him, so he kindly forgave them both, canceling their debts. Who do you suppose loved him more after that?”
43 Simon answered, “I suppose the one for whom he canceled the larger debt.”
“That’s right,” Jesus said. 44 Then he turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Look at this woman kneeling here. When I entered your home, you didn’t offer me water to wash the dust from my feet, but she has washed them with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You didn’t greet me with a kiss, but from the time I first came in, she has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You neglected the courtesy of olive oil to anoint my head, but she has anointed my feet with rare perfume.
47 “I tell you, her sins—and they are many—have been forgiven, so she has shown me much love. But a person who is forgiven little shows only little love.” 48 Then Jesus said to the woman, “Your sins are forgiven.”
49 The men at the table said among themselves, “Who is this man, that he goes around forgiving sins?”
50 And Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”Luke 7, NLT
Here’s the cool thing about this story: Jesus does NOT say Simon is a terrible person. He knows Simon’s story and knows that Simon can only operate from what he knows.
Jesus also doesn’t tell the woman what a terrible person she is. He tells her she has a lot of sins, yes, but he also tells her that her faith–in other words, believing that she could come to Jesus and express love to him with no fear–is what saved her.
Does it ever, anywhere in the Bible, say the woman with the alabaster jar stopped sinning? Does it ever anywhere in the Bible say ANYONE ever stopped sinning? No!
But back to the story. This woman clearly had strong emotions. She was broken. Most likely she was a prostitute, and we know this because that was about the only way for an unmarried woman to make a lick of money back then.
She needed Jesus…and Jesus came through.
There isn’t a single place in the Bible where we are told not to feel our feelings.
But I suspect there are reasons why we are being told not to now.
I think our new world of easily accessible information about the past and how bad it really was has got a lot of powerful White, “Christian” men very afraid.
They are losing power, and they know it.
Losing power means losing the illusion of safety and certainty.
Read the following quotes made my men in power during the Reformation (again, from salon.com):
- The word and works of God is quite clear, that women were made either to be wives or prostitutes. —Martin Luther, Reformer (1483-1546)
- No gown worse becomes a woman than the desire to be wise. —Martin Luther
- Men have broad and large chests, and small narrow hips, and more understanding than women, who have but small and narrow breasts, and broad hips, to the end they should remain at home, sit still, keep house, and bear and bring up children. —Martin Luther
- Thus the woman, who had perversely exceeded her proper bounds, is forced back to her own position. She had, indeed, previously been subject to her husband, but that was a liberal and gentle subjection; now, however, she is cast into servitude. —John Calvin, Reformer (1509-1564)
Lest you think this is old stuff, compare these to modern day men, such as the abhorrent Doug Wilson, a “founder” of Classical Christian Education:
“A final aspect of rape that should be briefly mentioned is perhaps closer to home. Because we have forgotten the biblical concepts of true authority and submission, or more accurately, have rebelled against them, we have created a climate in which caricatures of authority and submission intrude upon our lives with violence. When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us...
“In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed.”Doug Wilson, Fidelity: What it Means to be a One-Woman Man (Moscow, Idaho: Canon Press, 1999), 86-87.
And in John Piper’s “Valuing Biblical Manhood,” Piper writes:
Men are more properly attracted to the Christian life when it does not appear that he must become effeminate to be a Christian. (Dominance of female leadership undermines the proper sense of a man’s call to be a leader, protector, and provider.)…
A wartime mindset and a wartime lifestyle will feel more natural. And that is what the world needs from us—a readiness to lay our lives down for a great and global cause making all the sacrifices necessary to push the word of Christ into the most inhospitable places.John Piper
This is but a small snippet of the way many Reformed men think. And some are willing to flat out call emotion a sin.
Look at Joe Rigney’s, “The Enticing Sin of Empathy,” which was mentioned in the Twitter above.
Writing a C.S. Lewis Screwtape Letters-type article, Rigney tongue-in-cheek says:
Now, sufferers have been placing such impossible demands on others from time immemorial. In response, our armies have fought for decades to twist the Enemy’s virtue of compassion into its counterfeit, empathy. Since we introduced the term a century ago, we’ve steadily taught the humans to regard empathy as an improvement upon compassion or sympathy.Joe Rigney, writing facetiously as a “bad guy” who feels empathy for others
What Rigney is saying throughout the article is that there is a difference between compassion and empathy (there isn’t), and that to have empathy is sinful (it’s not).
When human beings are allowed to feel emotion and empathy, we are moved to change.
We are forced to walk in the shoes of another, and that walking makes us more like Jesus.
But does that come at a price?
Yes, if you believe that someone gaining power means you lose something.
Yes, if you think that you should have freedoms that someone else shouldn’t be allowed to have.
And yes, if you believe that keeping your “safety and certainty” is more important than someone else having the freedom to choose his own path.
If you’re tempted to use the Bible to prove me wrong on this, don’t bother.
Return to the story of Jesus washing the woman’s feet and try to find any smidgen of evidence that Jesus lost any power at all by feeling compassion, or empathy, for this woman.
You won’t find it.
Be like Jesus, Christian men. I know you can do it.
At least, I hope so.
See you soon,