#metoo changing a culture [part four]

[This is part four in a series of blogs which were written to help me make sense of the whirlwind of emotions I’m feeling with this #metoo movement.  If you’re going to read one, please read them all because this is a complicated and nuanced life we’re living and it deserves more than 1000 words. Will update posts to link to each other as they go live!  Part one can be found here, part two can be found here and part three is here.]

When people ask me what my Masters Degree is in I just say Mental Health.  It’s easier than explaining the full story.  Mental Health: Cultural and Global Perspectives in Mental Health Care is kind of a mouthful.

The cliff-notes version is: I studied the way culture influences and effects our Mental Health.

And I gotta say, with all this #metoo stuff, this degree is feeling more than just a little relevant.  Culture shapes you. On deep, subconscious, instinctive levels. It teaches how to interpret the world around you, and it gives you meanings that shape the way you react to situations, people and your life.

Our ‘culture’ around women is not what we believe about women.  Out culture around women is what the systems, structures and relationships we participate in communicate about women.

Right now, I think a lot of us are taking stock and examining our values and beliefs around women.  And that is necessary work, but we cannot stop there.  We have to make sure our values are translating into our cultures; that those interacting with the spaces and organizations we lead would know we value women without that needing to be explained.

We have to consider how – regardless of our beliefs – our structures, systems, languages, jokes, might contribute to a subconscious narrative that women are less valid, to be taken less seriously, less trustworthy, less competent, less interesting, less stable?  

Church, there are a lot of people highlighting issues in our cultures, and for some reason, the response I keep hearing is “well, they just don’t like our values.” When women raise their hands and say they feel less valued, their concerns seem to be dismissed as if they just don’t agree with complementarianism.

It’s a convenient way to never have to examine our own cultures, as long as we shrug and say ‘Jesus is offensive’ every time someone comes away feeling crushed by the Church.

But, as far as I can tell, it doesn’t seem like most people are rejecting our Church cultures because of our theology, but because our cultures aren’t lining up with our theology.  People are coming away from spaces thinking women are worth less, which should be confusing, (horrific; devastating) to us since that is allegedly NOT our theology.

Here’s the thing.  No one who experienced Jesus’ culture EVER came away thinking He valued women less.  No one.  Regardless of what they thought of Him.  So why are so many people coming away from our Churches thinking this?

Changing culture doesn’t mean changing good and God honoring beliefs.   It’s okay to believe men and women are distinct.  It’s just not okay to be satisfied with our cultures if large percentages of people who encounter them understand that we believe women are distinct but MISS that we believe they are equal.  That’s means we’ve got to change something.  We are going to have to shift our cultures so that they reflect the fullness of our beliefs and to do that we need to take three things into account:

#1. What kind of things make up our cultures? 

  • Language – what words are used uniquely in your family, in your Church, in your schools that might be interpreted by someone to mean that women are in some ways less competent or less stable?  (E.g. “crazy”, “emotional” “dramatic” “bossy” “bitchy” ).
  • Interpersonal behavior – Listen to the jokes, stories and examples used this week in your spheres.  How do people talk to one another, about one another? What changes when people address the opposite gender?  What are the rules about what should change and where did these rules come from?
  • Movement and use of environment among participants – Who sits where and why?  Whose position automatically lends itself to influence and whose doesn’t?
  • Resources – How are resources spent in your family, organization, circles?  What is prioritized and does that differ dependent on gender?  Who has what salary and why?  [SIDE NOTE: **This is why the pay gap matters (besides the obvious).  It is a process by which meaning is made.  Regardless of what you tell little girls in Sunday school, growing up in a world with a pay gap communicates to them on a subconscious level that they are worth less.]
  • Relationships: take stock of your relationships in your family, schools, churches and spheres.  Try to look for:
    • How people negotiate relationships – what are the rules around gender relationships, and in what ways might these rules (even if valid) accidentally contribute to a space where a culture of ‘lesser’ness can breed.
    • Behavior outside settings – how does your behavior shift around different genders?  How does it change at work and home?  One of the easiest ways to identify your cultural gender practices is to be a part of another cultural practice and observe.  Look at how other organizations, family interact in terms of gender, and instead of judging their choices, seize it as an opportunity to identify your own cultural practices.

#2. What are YOUR cultures?

Culture is a little bit like an accent.  No one thinks they have one, but they have no problem spotting everyone else’s.  But the point of this analysis is to take stock of your own culture.  Step one is going to have to be that you realize you have your own bias. You are not ‘neutral.’

#3. What do we do? 

Churches – maybe step one could be, invite someone form OUTSIDE your culture to evaluate the practices, systems, language, jokes that you have inside your organization that might contribute to the cultural issues being revealed around us.  There are people who are trained to evaluate culture.  I know, because I guess I am now one of them.  It’s a real thing and it’s called cultural consultancy.

Maybe your beliefs need to change, maybe they don’t. That’s God’s call, not mine.

But I know this – God’s clear about it:  all of us – unless we’re in Heaven – have to change our cultures.  We are all commanded not to conform to the pattern of the ‘world’ – regardless of whether that’s the US ‘world’, the White Evangelical ‘world’ or our Reformed Christian ‘world.’

If the WAY you are implementing your beliefs is belittling and neglecting an entire race or gender that means you haven’t quite landed yet on the culture of God.

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