By Caroline Park
I grew up in Korea, which is not necessarily a friendly place for women. Fortunately, my dad believed in my ability and intellect and was encouraging to me. Nevertheless, he often lamented, ‘You could have gone far if you weren’t born a girl.’
So I grew up with a firm belief that girls can be as smart and strong as boys. And I also had a deep understanding that the world does not want or allow us to be equal.
In my twenties, I moved to the States to go to graduate school. I thought I was moving to the land of “equal opportunities.” And let me tell you, the U.S. is less repressive than Korea. Even so, there would be all these unexpected moments of sexism or misogyny. For example, I’d hear about different limits churches have traditionally put on women’s involvement, and how there were hardly any churches with female pastors. Back in Korea, pastors were generally men with very few exceptions. But I didn’t think of it as a church thing because it was like that everywhere in the culture. But in America, I’d hear about Christianity being misogynistic. In any case, I began to realize that this inequality between men and women is universal and crosses different cultures. Sexism and misogyny are embedded in different degrees and in different ways, but it appears everywhere.
Misogyny in the Bible
And this has been the case forever. It comes up early in the Bible. A mere three chapters in we get the famous story of the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve eat the forbidden fruit and are cursed. Some people argue whether this story should be taken literally true or not. But beyond the question of its historical accuracy, I believe the story is deeply true because it shows us the reality of human nature and the conditions of our existence. It is the story of the human race, and it tells us that connection is destroyed by judgment. Consider what God says to the “serpent” after the man and woman had disobeyed: “I will cause hostility between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring. He will strike your head, and you will strike his heel.”
The serpent here is the Satan figure — the chief of the evil force. And what see here is that he has special hatred against women. It permeates the air and appears in different cultures throughout the world. Unfortunately, I think most women have felt and experienced this special hostility. If you have doubts about this, let me tell you, it is real.
The paradise of Eden is destroyed when the man and the woman eat the “forbidden fruit.” The “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” in the story would be more aptly named the “tree of judgment.” And the result of eating it is alienation. I believe we’re still feeling the effects of this. “Then God said to the woman, ‘I will sharpen the pain of your pregnancy, and in pain you will give birth. And you will desire to control your husband, but he will rule over you.’ The ground is cursed because of you. All your life you will struggle to scratch a living from it. It will grow thorns and thistles for you, though you will eat of its grains. By the sweat of your brow will you have food to eat until you return to the ground from which you were made. For you were made from dust, and to dust you will return.” (Genesis 3:16-19)
Enslaved by Judgment
This captures the essence of the judgment that we now are enslaved by. For women, the suffering described here is that we will be defined and judged by our relationships. For men, their worth will be defined by their productivity, their work, their ability to provide a decent living.
I’m not suggesting that all women try to find worth in relationships or all men will try to find worth in work, but the world will INSIST on measuring our worth by these standards. You may be a woman with a fulfilling career and many achievements. Still, the world will try to measure you by how good of a mother, wife, daughter or friend you are. How attractive or desirable you are to men. They might assume that you don’t feel fulfilled because you are not married or have kids. And for men as well — you may be someone who feels happy and fulfilled by nurturing others as a caregiver, as a dad, as part of your job or as a caregiver to your elderly parents, etc. The world will try to measure you by your earning power, by your achievements or by your job titles.
Have you ever felt judged by these standards? These judgments trap and suffocate us. Not only is this unfair and unjust, it also creates a deep chasm between men and women. Men and women are created to connect to each other and receive life from these connections, but we are robbed of this bond. This is why sexism is not just a “women’s issue” or a concern for men who have daughters. It hurts men deeply as well because it disconnects them from half the population. It robs them of the kind of connection that can open them up spiritually.
Judgment in the Temple
This system of genders, classes, judgment and discrimination is well developed in most cultures. In the Old Testament time, it is plainly revealed in the floor plan of the Temple which was full of barriers and boundaries. At the center was the Most Holy place where the Spirit of God dwelled and only the High Priest could go — and only once a year. It was separated from the Holy place where only priests were allowed. Further out came the court of Israel which, of course, did not include women. They were separated by another wall. And then the court for gentiles, the non-Jews. Boundaries and barriers existed between all these different categories, and very few had direct access to God.
Hope and a Non-Judgmental Church
So where is hope? Our hope is in Jesus.
In the Book of Mark, the scene of Jesus’ death is described: “Then Jesus uttered another loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain in the sanctuary of the Temple was torn in two, from top to bottom” (Mark 15:37-38 (NLT).
This curtain was in-between the Most Holy Place and the rest of the Temple. But with Jesus’ death, the curtain is torn by the Spirit of God, the Holy Spirit, rushing out into the world. (Slide: https:// drive.google.com/file/d/0B8lLm6XHvNw0RFlpMy1LRWpHcnc/view? usp=sharing page two). This is confirmed several weeks later on the day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit falls on people, men and women, young and old, giving them all direct connection and access to God for the first time since the Garden of Eden! The Holy Spirit does away with the boundary lines by breaking out of these barriers Herself. (I like to call the Holy Spirit “she.” Given that God has no gender, it seems fair that the Holy Spirit is called she when we call God and Jesus he. Besides, “spirit” in Hebrew is a feminine noun).
And we believe the Holy Spirit is still on the move! The Holy Spirit is still breaking down the walls of hostility and expanding further and further, crossing boundaries and including more and more groups of people who did not have access to her. Men and women, Jews and Gentiles, foreigners and immigrants, people of different races, the LGBTQ community and on and on.
And the Holy Spirit is inviting us to FOLLOW HER as she moves outward. We, women, are invited to stand straight and receive our worth from God directly. The Spirit encourages us to find our path forward as God leads us, not what the world tells us. And men, you are invited to receive your value from God so you will be strong enough to turn toward and connect genuinely with women. Whether they be your wife, friends, daughters or colleagues, to make space for them so you can hear them and learn from them. And of course, women can be and do whatever we feel called to do by God in church and outside of church. (Did you know that some denominations don’t allow women to be pastors? They think it is unbiblical. Well, as a church with women pastors in NYC, we don’t agree with them!).
Practical Tips for Living in Freedom
So what can we personally do to bring more freedom to ourselves and those around us? How can we live in the New Covenant reality more and more?
1. Be wary of the Judgment game.
The voice of judgment is such a part of us, and it is hard to escape. But there is NO WINNING in this game (other than Satan!). We are only losers. So pay attention to the voices of judgement toward others and toward yourself — which leads to my second practical tip:
2. Let yourself off the hook.
What are the gender standards that you’ve been measuring your worth with? What are the gender norms that you’ve felt judged by? Being a good mom? Being in a relationship that others will envy? Being a good provider? Being successful at work? Being likable, being desirable, being knowledgeable, being strong, etc.? Let’s make a decision today not to judge ourselves with these.
3. Listen to others without the fear of judgment.
We all know that it’s hard to patiently hear out others who have different experiences than us. I think it’s because when we hear someone share their stories, we can’t really listen to them without constantly asking ourselves, “What does that say about me?”
This is why when a woman talks about her #metoo experience of sexual harassment, some respond by #notallmen. Or when we hear of #blacklivesmatter, some respond with #alllivesmatter. We are not able to hear the others’ stories and connect to their experience of pain and heartache because we are too busy thinking, “But what about me? What does that say about me? Are you saying it’s my fault? Are you saying I am a racist or a sexist?” Learning to really listen is a powerful spiritual exercise to try.
4. Cultivate direct connection to God.
My last practical tip is the most important.
Jesus has done an amazing thing for us — He has removed all barriers and boundaries and given us the ability to connect completely with God. He has become our guide and our friend. So we want to develop a personal and direct relationship with Him. And as we learn to hear from Him, he can help us break free from judgment and guide us, men and women alike, into a life of fullness.
Visit Our Nonjudgmental Church in Lower Manhattan
If you would like to visit a nonjudgmental church in Lower Manhattan, we would love to see you at one of our services! Be prepared to feel welcomed for who you are — and feel free grab a coffee & refreshments on us!
Reading Tips . . .
Start by asking God to interact with you
Ask for a fresh perspective
Expect to be challenged in your assumptions
Try imagining yourself in the story
Slow down and pay attention to your feelings, thoughts and reactions
When something bothers you, talk to God about it
Want to dig deeper? Check out this podcast from "the Bible for Normal People"