Here we go, Third Way Womanhood part four. This is the end of this series where I explore biblical womanhood as a woman who doesn’t fully identify with either of the two major positions of evangelical womanhood.
Well…actually…there’s really no way to “end” this series. As I processed my choices and convictions on womanhood in preparation for parts one through three, I realized that I am truly and wholeheartedly a Third Way Woman.
So Third Way Womanhood is going to show up from time to time on this blog because at the heart of the Third Way is Jesus, and I can no easily end a conversation about him as I could stop talking about my family, our church plant, or my marriage.
For in him I live, and move, and have my being.
But, I do want to round out this series with some thoughts on reconciling both my internal struggle as a woman who does not completely self identify with either end of the biblical womanhood spectrum and the role Third Way Women can fill as reconcilers and peacemakers in the biblical womanhood debate.
Before we jump into that, let’s re-cap what I’ve covered in this series.
In part one I shared my experience of this biblical womanhood debate as I researched Rachel Held Evan’s book, “A Year of Biblical Womanhood”. I expressed by frustration over the heated, confrontational, polarizing climate between the two sides and wondered if is there a way to be a modern, Christian woman that doesn’t require me to toe a party line, since I could appreciate and respect both positions.
In part two I reflected on my time identifying with the camp I called the “Fearlessly Feminine” for the sake of this series. My fearlessly feminine sisters view their roles as wives and mothers as their primary callings. They are wonderful homemakers, mentors to younger women, and encouragers that expressing our femininity in more stereotypically Western ways does not mean we are shallow and insipid. I’ve appreciated their leadership, but along with their passions for the home comes a package deal of a more Reformed, complementarian, stringent theology, that is not always relevant or effective in reflecting the counter-cultural, revolutionary ministry of Jesus. Since I believe that women should and can be lead teaching pastors, I’m not a Calvanist, and I don’t agree with prescribing certain practices, such as wifely submission in marriage as an indicator of “biblical” womanhood—I didn’t quite fit in with the “Fearlessly Feminine”.
In part three I reflected on my time as what I called a “Liberated Christian Woman”. My liberated, Christian sisters are those who embrace the revolutionary Jesus. They are motivated by the freedom proclaimed in Galatians 3:28 that there is “neither Jew nor Gentile, slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” Therefore they challenge any system that creates hierarchy within Christian relationships. Truly valuing, the “oneness” we have in Christ, my liberated Christian sisters fight for the oppressed in order to create a world in which they too can actualize their “oneness”. Because of their attention to the oppressed, they tend to be the social justice leaders of the Body—which is stunning. They also tend to be women who can look at culture and communicate Jesus in a winsome, relevant way. Their humble approach towards the Scriptures as a story and not a “to do” list teaches us how to assess our audience and then adjust our storytelling so that the Story can hit home.
We’re planting a church in an urban community and these women have equipped me to be relevant. But along with their passion for relevancy, culture, and the oppressed, comes a sub-culture of intolerance or subtle disdain for any “traditional” expressions of femininity—which can isolate women like me who have found great joy in tapping into my God-given femininity. I understand this reaction to traditional “biblical” womanhood—they view it as part and parcel with the patriarchal society that oppresses women. But that hasn’t been the case for me. Since I believe that there is beauty and great worth in looking back and emulating some of the more “traditional” aspects of womanhood, i.e homemaking—I didn’t quite fit in with the “Liberated Christian Women”.
Keep in mind, these are all my experiences so far. Maybe you’ve experienced the “Fearlessly Feminine” to be a very social justice minded community or the “Liberated Christian Women” to be very encouraging of homemaking, submission, or male leadership. Awesome! The Body is great and diverse, so I’m sure there are exceptions to every rule and differing expression across the board. For me, this
is not been so.
Which left me questioning, “where do I fit in?” If I’m solidly in the middle on some of the major issue discussed by Christian women today, am I just a coward who needs to pull up her Big Girl Britches and choose a side already, or is there a third way for me explore?
This is where I got the idea of “Third Way Womanhood” a womanhood that rejects subscribing to either side of the debate in order to have a more holistic theology of womanhood that is Christ-centered, shalom-seeking, and unity-fostering.
Person Before Positions: Christocentric Femininity
Identity is tricky for us girls. So many of us have made life choices based on what we believe the Bible says about women. Drastically altering our lives to line up with one interpretation of Scripture and then aligning ourselves with the Christians who share those convictions, tempts us to define our identity from the positions before the Person of Christ. This is why the biblical womanhood conversation can quickly escalate to a debate and then to a full out “Girlfight”.
This is why we need third way women; women in the middle, neutral, and filtering this discussion through an Anabaptist, Jesus centered way.
The concept of a “third way” is not original with me. Scot Mcknight, Greg Boyd, Bruxy Cavey, and Shane Claiborne have helped me process my convictions and solidify my alignment with the Anabaptist tradition that looks to Jesus, his teachings, his ministry, and ultimately his death on the cross to define my identity and form my praxis.
I’ve been a “third way” believer for many years but as I compared the two sides of the biblical woman conversation, then observed the miasma of offense and intolerance we’re caught up into, I’m realizing there is a need to allow Jesus, his teachings, his ministry, and death on the cross to define our femininity. This is the first distinctive of Third Way Womanhood.
I want to have a Christocentric approach to my femininity that loves the Person of Jesus before positions. I won’t fully subscribe to either position and reject the labels associated with those positions because I don’t want anything but “Jesus girl” stamped across my heart.
Labels have a liability attached to them: you must accept the positions listed under that name, affirm the baggage attached to that name and then allow that name to shape your identity. From that point on, that name will be associated with your name. So if I say, “hey there, blogosphere! I’m a complementarian!” You’ll forever look at me and assume I affirm the positions of John Piper, accept the baggage brought with Mark Driscoll, and I have no aspirations to lead beside my husband in our church plant. You’ll never think ‘Osheta over at Carried Away’ without subconsciously attaching “complementarian” to my name. Much the same way you can’t think of Kathy Keller and not think “complementarian”, or Rachel Held Evans and not think “egalitarian”.
There is not one name under heaven or earth I want attached to my identity but the name of Jesus. So as Third Way Woman, it is necessary for me to reject any label except, “Jesus Girl”.
Don’t pick up what I’m not putting down. I believe we all love Jesus and first identify with him. The only reason we’re talking about being, “biblical” is because we’ve encountered Jesus. Without him, we would close our laptops, put down our books, cancel our speaking tours, and move on. Without Jesus, there would be no “biblical” anything.
The labels, the names, the identities are what I reject. I recognize the divisive nature of those words and being a woman of peace I say, “no thanks”.
If you want your femininity to be shaped by Jesus, thus making you a “Jesus Girl” who loves Him more than the positions—then you might be a Third Way Woman…just like me.
People then Positions: Shalom Sistahs
I dream of a whole, healthy, vibrant, on a mission, Body of Christ. I wanna see women actualize their gifts to kick the gates of hell down. I wanna see Heaven on Earth ushered in by Kingdom women who have caught a glimpse of it from the teachings and ministry of Jesus.
I want shalom: brokenness made whole through reconciling people to Jesus and being reconciled to each other.
But, I don’t see us being able to do that if we’re so busy protecting our positions that we neglect to protect the people who hold those positions.
We need a culture of women who are committed to peace and unity to help de-escalate the climate and re-calibrate our approach (Jesus first, whatever position you affirm second) to this thorny, yet important topic.
I love what Scot Mcknight says about the third way approach to the orthodox Christian faith. It is one that gets:
Beyond the fighting and
Between the fighters in order
To carve out a middle way.
This is a beautiful calling for Third Way Women. We are shalom sistahs!
We are the sisters called to get beyond the fighting and ask, “how can we look more like Jesus as we express our femininity?”.
We have the knowledge of and respect for the differing positions that allows us to get between the fighters and serve as an effective bridge.
We carve out a middle way that reminds Kingdom women that we are sisters, bound to one another by our love for Jesus and sealed into this family by his blood spilled on Calvary.
We are the ones who stand up and say, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed—or indeed only one”.
And the one “thing” is not a thing at all, he is the Person Jesus who told us:
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
As a Third Way Woman, I love the people more than the positions. It seems like a no-brainer. Duh! Sounds like love your neighbor as yourself! Also sounds like the often quoted: They will know we are Christians by our love.
If so, then explain to me why it’s ok, maybe even funny to question another sister’s devotion to God and respect for the Scriptures in a one star Amazon book review. How does that even happen among people who worship a Savior who died a horrific death out of an immense love for all people?
If we love the people more than the positions, explain to me how an open letter that puts another sister “on blast” and casts a negative light, not on the position she holds, but her perceived lack of social grace because she couldn’t connect with you to discuss her book, shows up on the Gospel Coalition’s site.
How does that happen?
Tell me if we love our neighbors as we love ourselves, how can we say, “Lord, I love you” on Sunday morning then write words Sunday evening calling a sister’s marriage dangerous, patriarchal, and questioning the character of her husband because she happens to affirm male leadership in the home.
How does that happen?
If there is one thing I’m willing to compromise my pacifist convictions for it’s this. I will get honey badger mama angry about Sisters in Christ attacking one another. We are wasting our time fighting over this. We are breaking each other’s hearts. We are playing right into the enemy’s schemes. We are creating brokenness in the Body.
So, stop! Like I tell my kids when they’re loud and obnoxious, and back-biting, and just …spinning their wheels in the mud of disagreement.
Yes, they will know we are Christians by our love. But if we keep acting like this, will they?
No, they won’t.
Enemy love is at the heart of the gospel, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. And if we can’t love our family even when we disagree, then the lost will never truly understand that while they are still sinners Christ, died for them.
So as a Third Way Woman, I see my position in the middle to be one that calls both sides to a “cease fire” and broker the conversation so that we can bind up some of the wounds we’ve inflicted upon one another.
If you get honey badger mama angry when we start attacking one another because there’s too much love for positions and not people—then maybe you’re a Third Way Woman
…just like me.
Preservation before Prescription: Sistahs With Stories
Biblical Womanhood is too much of a story to be treated like an argument.
In this context the “biblical womanhood” he refers to is Rachel’s book but I think his thought can be applied to womanhood as whole.
If that’s true, then Rachel’s observation on her blog that, “stories are sacred and (we) will treat them as such…stories faithfully and bravely told are sacred gifts…we will treat them with gentleness and respect” is an important, final distinctive for Third Way Women.
Every conviction we have, every position we affirm, every choice we’ve made on this womanhood journey has a story behind it, rich with narratives of Jesus moments and revelations as we walk with our Lord.
Now, here’s the tricky part that sometimes gets our britches all in a bunch, how Jesus reveals himself to me, probably doesn’t look exactly the same as how Jesus reveals himself to you. I’ve heard it called, “responding to the light that has been revealed to you”.
Looking at womanhood through this lens of personal, dynamic, yet diverse relationships with Jesus makes Third Way Womanhood an inclusive community. We can safely process some of these interesting points, like gender roles, identity, and callings without the defensiveness and suspicion that results from a prescriptive hermeneutic. Our stories and their arcs are not the only acceptable story of Jesus and his girls.
There can be many stories of womanhood from the woman who affirms feminism to the woman finds joy in male leadership under the Third Way umbrella, as long her story begins and is informed by the teachings and leading of Jesus.
I think that’s beautiful. It looks like the Kingdom to me. It looks like tax collectors and zealots, Jews and gentiles, fishermen and teachers of the law, all following one Lord.
There are many stories of womanhood written by one Author and as a Third Way Woman, I will honor them for the gifts to the Body that they are.
If you’ll honor the stories of women walking with Jesus by preserving their sanctity and refusing to be prescriptive, then maybe you’re a Third Way Woman…just like me.
Going Forward in This Third Way
When I think about the women’s ministry I want to have in our church it would be one that embraces Third Way Womanhood. I don’t see the positions as much as I see a posture of our hearts that:
- · Rejects labels in order to be wholly identified as Jesus Girls
- · Loves our sisters enough to be peacemakers not position-protectors
- · Respects our journeys towards womanhood as a sacred story with Jesus moments and revelations.
- · Honors any stories shared as gifts. She will be gentle, loving, encouraging, and kind whenever she discusses womanhood within our community.
- · Gets honey badger mama angry whenever our sisters start attacking one another. 🙂
We will be reconciling, Jesus-looking, journey women. We will be people-loving, humility-embracing, peacemaking women. We will be women in the middle, loving the diversity, and happy to be bridges.
If this is the type of women’s ministry you’d love to be a part of— then maybe you’re a Third Way Woman…just like me.
Help me define this community so that we can encourage and build up one another. Let’s be fearlessly feminine together. Let’s celebrate our freedom and liberty purchased for us by Christ our Savior. Let’s be Shalom Sistahs mending the brokenness in the Body and the world. Let’s share our stories with “Jesus Girl” stamped across the title page. Let’s be Third Way Women.