Category Archives: Gender

Is God Silent When Women Suffer?

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Self Portrait by Jane Fox via Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0) https://www.flickr.com/photos/runjanefox/9214235312

*trigger warning*
There is a terrifying story of sexual assault in the Bible. David’s son Amnon burns with lust for his half-sister Tamar. His friend Joanadab advises Amnon to pretend he’s sick and bedridden, say he’ll only feel better if Tamar spoonfeeds him, and then rape her when they’re alone. And that’s what happens.

Is God silent while an innocent person is raped by someone they trusted? Countless survivors have asked that question.

My book was launched last month at a conference in Johannesburg called “Truth Be Told: Speaking Out Against Gender Based Violence.” But Pastor Pelham Lessing made us ask: Does God speak out against gender-based violence?

As he explained the passage, he showed how Tamar tells Amnon not to rape her – and she is teaching Amnon the Old Testament law that condemns both rape and incest. When he tells her to get out afterwards, she refuses, again referencing the law that a man had to pay the bride price if he raped a woman. She wails and mourns throughout the palace, and lives the rest of her life in protest. She is the voice of God in the passage. God executes poetic and literal justice – Amnon dies in a violent attack from a sibling. Her brother dies quickly, but Tamar is a survivor.

Despite the fact that this was the heir to the throne, God preserved this woman’s words and testified to her innocence for all time! God is on the survivors’ side, speaking through them. (We had better listen when they speak.)

I expected a conference about gender-based violence to be heartbreaking. And there were moments of that. When we see – really see – even part of the suffering in the world, it can threaten to tear our souls apart. We can ask: “God, why aren’t you doing something?”

But at this conference was full of hope. I saw God speaking, doing something – through the people of God.

I saw how Linda sews figurines to animate a stop-motion video about Bible scholarship on women in Ephesus. How biologist Rev. Patti Ricotta teaches Ugandans how Female Genital Mutilation prevents the oxytocin release and bonding that God intended for spouses.

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Pastor Kavitha (left) with teammates and new friends

All around the world, God’s Spirit is raising up people who say “enough is enough” to gender-based violence in their communities. Pastor Kavitha Emmannuel’s non-profit Women of Worth fights the domestic violence, rape, sex slavery and dowry practices in India. Their “Dark is Beautiful” campaign to improve self-esteem and end skin color bias went viral internationally.

With wit and hard facts, Lynn van Rooyen examined the connections between AIDS and gender-based violence. As the leader of the Christian AIDS Bureau for Southern Africa, she challenges the church to promote spiritual and physical wellbeing.

I rejoiced at Emma Smith whose started a protection program to educate churches and  provide support for the many women raped in Eastern DRC. And how God provided her an English-speaking coworker Fred, a Congolese man who was already running what he called “Tamar Bible Studies” in his village!

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I met Fred and his coworker Francesca at the parallel conference in Kenya

I literally sang and danced in my hotel room: “God, you are good! What divine wisdom and power you have to weave people together around the world! You care about your people’s suffering and you are doing something about it through your church!”

I saw what happens when the talents and passions of the whole church are unleashed. So God is not silent… unless we silence God. If we ignore the Tamars that God is using, violence continues. We must not silence half the church, cannot restrict what women can do, or we will never stop gender-based violence. We need everyone we can get, doing whatever they do best, to their full potential. We need gender equality within our churches because it is through us that God wants to bring peace and justice to the world.

Then the body of believers will “build one another up in love, as each part does its work” (Ephesians 4:16) – and how beautiful that will be!


What You Never Knew about Proverbs 31

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“What two things is a young man concerned about when he graduates?”

Proverbs 31 isn’t primarily for women. If anything it instructs young adults in how to lead a successful life! I rediscovered Proverbs 31 and it blew my mind. This chapter of the Bible is an insanely clever poem encouraging us to seek God’s kingdom first. It weaves into the salvation story & Jesus’ heritage. Watch my full sermon on YouTube here (props, Kenyan accent, family tales and all)!


Can writing about equality right gender-based violence?

I missed the registration deadline. Plane tickets were sold out. The hotel was fully booked. The leadership training was full. Over and over, I almost missed out on the “Truth Be Told” conference in Johannesburg, South Africa. So when I arrived, I knew God must have something special in store.

I was very excited – my book Good News about Gender was launching at the conference! But I basically expected to stand at a booth, sign some books, hear cool speakers, and collect a wad of business cards.

Well, was I in for a surprise! I ended up with several posts-worth of revelations (so stay tuned for the next two)!

img_1878It was no mistake that Christians for Biblical Equality and Gender Equality Matters hosted a conference in South Africa with the theme “Truth Be Told: Speaking Out Against Gender-Based Violence.” South Africa has high rates of sexual assault and domestic violence, but many of its neighbors also look to South Africa as a leader in economic development.

Yet as we saw in the conference speakers, post-apartheid South Africans are also highly conscious that ideas of inequality lead to discrimination and violence. “Ideas have consequences,” Mimi Haddad emphasized. She told the story of evangelical social justice activist Katharine Bushnell, who emptied brothels in the 19th century only to find them full the next day. Eventually, Katharine realized she needed to work “upstream” by tackling the theological misinterpretations that justified gender inequality.

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It sounds obvious, but this conference reminded me that gender-based violence is the natural and nearly inevitable consequence of beliefs that women are inferior to men. Adv. Thuli Madonsela (above) explained that when we create a hierarchy where some people – simply because of the bodies they are born with – deserve a better life than others, then anyone who steps out of “their place” threatens the system and must be subjugated with violence. You cannot believe that women are in any way subordinate to men and yet expect them to receive equal treatment in society. Remember “separate but equal” in US history?

Suddenly I remembered why I wrote Good News about Gender. It wasn’t just to advocate for myself or defend my call to ministry. Sometimes I get tired of complaining about gender issues when I have a very privileged life in so many respects. But I realized that the reason I have such an amazing life is because my parents, my grandparents, my university, and my church all lived out the belief that women have equal value to men. My education, employment, and self-esteem is a testament to the effects of egalitarian views.

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And my egalitarian upbringing is also why, when I saw women and girls in my church or school be mistreated verbally and physically, I knew they didn’t deserve it. It just took me a decade to figure out that the Bible was saying the same thing. Now I realize that, to the extent that my family and my society believed in equal treatment, they did so because they thought that all people were created equal, that is, made in the image of a Creator. Our practice springs from our ideology. In Jesus’ words, “Each tree is recognized by its own fruit.

Writing Good News about Gender is not just a drop in the bucket compared to all the direct-service work addressing gender-based violence. And it’s not a trickle-down effect that leaves the masses thirsty. The reason the theology of gender equality looks small is because it’s upstream. Downstream, justice flows like a river.

…but that’s not all I learned at the Truth Be Told conference! Follow me to make sure you hear the rest of the story!


Holy Week Women (Spoken Word Video)

Cover Hannah RasmussenIn preparation for Easter, I’m asking: how the story of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection relate to mine?

Through spoken word, I tell how God gave women big roles in the first Passover, Good Friday and Easter – but we don’t always hear the whole story.

Click these links to watch the video or read the words.

This is part of my group guide for young adults curious about gender and the Bible, which Christians for Biblical Equality is publishing this year. Let me know if you’re interested to learn more.


Happy International Men’s Day!

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Who made me into the advocate for women that I am today, writing these blogposts for Christians for Biblical Equality?

I’ve sometimes given credit to strangers who catcalled me, or middle school boys who bullied me for being too smart. These experiences made me empathize with the mistreatment of other girls and women.

But the truth is, I wouldn’t have been upset by this if the vast majority of men and women in my life hadn’t convinced me that I was worthy of equal treatment. I wouldn’t be an intelligent and compassionate spokesperson but for so many great men in my life. Today, I want to thank them. They really deserve the credit for developing me as a leader.

Some fathers leave their kids or love their work more. But some fathers, like my dad, say “I love you” every night before bed, make decisions as a family, and model respect for their wives. Dad, thank you for prioritizing relationships and serving God excellently in your career. When you bravely apologize and admit weakness, you teach me what grace is.

Some families prioritize educating boys over girls. But some, like both my grandpas, sponsor their granddaughters’ education and support their wives as teachers (of the Bible too). They challenge young people to take risks, read, and learn from the rest of the world. One of my grandpas feeds the world’s hunger as a farmer, the other follows God’s call as a pastor. They taught me that “the place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet” (Frederick Buechner). Grandpas, I feel honored to be part of your legacy.

Some uncles, cousins, friends and brothers abuse women. But some, like mine, respect and celebrate women as whole people. My brothers and I sang together while doing dishes. My uncles took me canoeing, built a sailboat with me, and let me babysit their children. My cousins taught me to bike, debated over long car rides, and did crazy skits together. My friends cooked and prayed and volunteered and joked with me. Thank you, men, for being trustworthy, and for trusting me with your hopes and fears. Your simple presence means more than you know.

Some people say girls are less analytical, rational or intelligent. But some, like my teachers and professors, stay after school tutoring girls in math and science, or give encouraging feedback to promising writers. Instead of calling girls names, they call a favorite nickname for a girl raising her hand. Thank you, educators, for challenging me and believing in my potential.

Some men harass or belittle their female colleagues. But some bosses, co-leaders and co-workers, like the ones I’ve known, encourage everyone to bring their gifts to the table, show new ways to think and do things, and unite around a common mission.

Some pastors focus on developing men for leadership and let women minister to the women and kids. But some spiritual leaders, like mine, invest deeply in whomever God gifts. Pastors and chaplains, thank you for tutoring me in Hebrew and theology and mentoring me in ministry. Youth pastors, thank you for inviting me to weed the playground with you and playing guitar for my talent show rap. Your passion for a just multicultural community is contagious.

Dear men in my life, thank you for who you are. Thank you for daring to be people of character, joy, and humility. In a world that sometimes seems so messed up, you are refreshing and healing. You’ve impacted so many people – I’m blessed to be among them.

Your turn – who will you celebrate today?

~Originally published November 19, 2014 on Christians for Biblical Equality’s blog (link)

Photo by Sukanto Debnath from Hyderabad, India (A happy man) [CC-BY-2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons


The Church Has Body Issues: Published in Youth Worker Journal

Me showing my article in the YouthWorker JournalI coauthored this piece with Jenell Williams Paris, author of The End of Sexual Identity: Why Sex is Too Important to Define Who We Are. We urge youth pastors to talk about gender and sexuality in youth group. Published in the Sept/Oct 2014 edition of the YouthWorker Journal. If you’re interested, purchase a subscription here.


Don’t Be Afraid to Be Big, Women

MicrophoneDon’t be afraid to be big, women.

That’s what I learned at a conference this weekend.

Women are taught to be small. Tomorrow, pay attention to how women walk, sit and stand compared to men. You’ll notice women take smaller steps with their hands closer to their sides, cross their legs, fold their hands in their laps. Men are more likely to swing their arms when they walk, stretch out their legs, drape their arm over the seat next to them. And of course, mainstream American media portrays thin women as the ideal. We women aren’t supposed to take up space with our bodies.

We’re not supposed to draw attention to ourselves in other ways, either. American girls’ achievement, particularly in math and science, starts dropping off in middle school. They think boys won’t be interested in someone smarter than them. Churches encourage women to serve – but often behind-the-scenes, in the kitchen or the nursery – somewhere they won’t take center stage.

Women who go big risk being hurt. If a woman tries to be a politician, the media puts her in her place by commenting more on her outfits than her policies. As a teenager, I walked with a fast stride and a swagger. A boy in my class told me I “bounce” too much. “Look who’s talking!” I said, rather rudely. He replied, “I’m a guy. I’m allowed to do that.” In middle school, I was bumped up a grade in math class. When we played boys-versus-girls dodge ball, suddenly I was the target.

So women are afraid to be a big deal. We’re told that we’re only worthy of the love we can attract. Maybe, we think, people would love us better if we faded so far into invisibility that we were hardly there.

But this weekend was different. I watched a woman present her research on sexuality. I learned multilingual worship songs from a woman who has led worship for tens of thousands of people. I listened to a woman discuss her dissertation with one of the premier professors in her field, another woman. I clapped for a woman publicly honored with an award from the Pope himself.

These women were a big deal. To paraphrase Proverbs 31, they spoke and sang with wisdom, they did noble things (vv. 26, 29). And you know what was beautiful? We recognized them for it. By letting these women shine and recognizing their accomplishments, we honored each woman for all that her hands had done. We let her works – not just her looks – bring her praise at the city gate (vv 31).

These women inspired and included me. I was the youngest woman at the conference, but a CBE member invited me to sit with her at lunch. Another woman complimented my presentation and urged me to attend next year. Like Paul encouraging Timothy, they reminded me to not to neglect my own gifts, but to fan them into flame (1 Tim 4:14, 2 Tim 1:6).

Women, it’s not selfish to excel in the gifts God gave you. It’s good stewardship. It’s your unique service to the world and to the next generation.

After all, you’re already a big deal. You’re made in the image of a big God.

~Originally published July 2, 2014 on Christians for Biblical Equality’s blog (link)