Jesus and the Gender Gap


So one Sunday afternoon a few weeks ago as I was resting and watching the Sweet 16 games I think, Ringo, my big orange cat-assassin, started yelling at my back door and I looked out to find his latest gift. He was clearly quite proud, I was less than excited. It was dead. The last one he brought up was still wiggling. I picked Ringo up and deposited him in the house – you can tell how happy he was about that – and proceeded to take my spade and scoop up said reptile to give it a proper sending away down at the creek behind my house.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not too hot on snakes, and I’d rather not run into live ones on the trail, and I understand the animal kingdom has a cycle of life that is much more direct than getting in the car and going to the grocery to have something to eat, but it still makes me feel a little bad to have a dead snake on my patio that my cat brought as a “gift”. We learned on the farm that bullsnakes kept the rodent population at bay, although if there was one that consistently hung around the house, my mom either convinced my dad to take care of it, or she would. I know, right? Moms can do that? Well, yeah, of course they can!

I hope you all caught the video that went viral about a month ago with the Dad being interviewed by the BBC about global conflict and his kids find a way into his office behind him. He attempts to shoosh them back, but kids are not about to go that easily. Then you see a caregiver try and inconspicuously rush into the room to grab the children and scoot with them out of the room.

A couple of days later there was a parody of the incident with a woman giving the interview and a version of a not quite parallel response. Parodies are effective only as they magnify an often-unnoticed truth to a place where it’s too clear for anyone to miss. They are also most effective when they both generate humor and strong reactions/responses at the same time. When taken together, and I hope you’ll watch both, you can decide how effective the two viral videos are in making you chuckle and also shake your head a bit at the possibility of some hard truths.

Yesterday was marked as a day to witness to the continued need to reach equal pay for equal work for women. While it seems a “no-brainer” to most of us, both men and women I believe, there is still a wide pay gap in professions, including ministry, between what men and women earn for the same work, position, experience, and merit. We can argue all day about specific situations where this isn’t the case, where women earn more, where the relative situation of each person, regardless of gender is the defining difference. I get all that. However, I also get that when you find, across the board, that women make 65-75 cents on the dollar of what men make – there is a general truth that we have yet to reach a place where women are accepted and respected as equal. Not the “same” but equal. I struggle with why that is so hard to accept.

So it’s interesting to me that in our “Rise Up” sermon series through Lent following the gospel of John, we witness Jesus interacting with Nicodemus, a respected leader of the faith by Pharasaic position, who fades back into the night after their conversation. We’ll see him next after the crucifixion, when he comes with Joseph of Arimathea to retrieve Jesus’ body to place in the tomb. The following week we witness Jesus interacting with the Samaritan woman at the well – she’s not given a specific name – and she responds to their conversation by running back to her community to tell them about her experience. We witness Jesus healing the man at Beth-zatha who has been lame/paralyzed for 38 years. When he’s asked who healed him, he doesn’t know. Later, Jesus finds him in the temple and then the guy goes and tells folks that it was Jesus. We witness Jesus being confronted by Martha and then Mary after the death of their brother Lazarus because Jesus had taken so long to come to them after he learned that Lazarus had died. The scripture tells us: “When Jesus saw her weeping, and the Jews who came with her also weeping, he was greatly disturbed in spirit and deeply moved… Jesus began to weep” (John 11:33,35). Jesus raises Lazarus and then attends their home six days before the “Last Supper” where Mary anoints his feet with costly perfume whose fragrance fills the house, at which time Judas Iscariot wants to know why the perfume wasn’t sold and the money given to the poor.

Why this recap? Because we’re still fighting a battle that was not one for Jesus. And if we’re Jesus followers, we might do well to listen and live in his way. He interacts, heals, preaches, and invites both women and men. Oh, but his disciples were all men! And they all were strong and professional and articulate and made all the clear and correct decisions without getting too emotional with each step of the journey with Jesus, right? Who anointed Jesus’ feet before his death? Who sat at his feet with the disciples when he was teaching to which he says that “Mary has chosen the better way.” So Jesus offered women the priority and choice to sit at his feet and learn as well. Who stayed at the cross when the disciples scattered? Who arrived at the tomb early on the first day of the week and was the first to experience the resurrected Christ? The first to whom the resurrected Christ spoke and who he called by name in John’s gospel? And who is the reason we celebrate him being here and give each other gifts in the first place?!

And WHY do I need to say all this – does it really matter – am I TRYING to start a fight?! NOOOOOO! But if we’re still fighting the battle for women to be recognized and treated as equal, as respected colleagues, as peers and partners in every form of life, then I want us to recognize as people of faith who happen to be Jesus followers that he was pretty radically gender-progressive in his ministry, AND the fact that ANY of his interactions with women made it into a canonized scripture that was put together by a committee of men is simply that much more miraculous and, I’m so bold to believe, in no small part at God’s own urging.

The United Methodist Church in various forms has been on the ground working in the U.S. since the mid to late 1700’s. Women were “allowed” as voted on by General Conference full-clergy rights in 1956. Okay, the last 50+ out of 225+ years. Hmmmm. Right now, United Methodist clergywomen make 75 cents of every dollar of clergymen. Please know, I am compensated extremely fairly and equally, but across the board, women clergy still are not, by position or compensation, treated equally. As is true for women in nearly every other vocation and calling. We still have work to do, friends, oh so much work on so many fronts both in gender inequality and beyond. AND God has given us the will and the witness to do the work, and so we must.

This same cat? You know, who brought me the dead snake and started this whole conversation about my mom and dad both being able to “handle” snake duty? Here he is when he’s not being an assassin with his dog Buddy and his cat Oscar. The animal world is nothing if not complex; perhaps humans fit that description as well…