I recently watched a documentary called “Empire”. It was a fascinating look at how the tiny island nation of Britain achieved dominance over so many other countries, using pomp and grandeur mixed with the threat of violence to subdue the native populations. There seemed to be only two options available to the locals – revolt, or submit. If they rebelled, they risked retaliation and restricted living conditions. If they didn’t, they had to live under the authority of outsiders. A lose-lose situation.
Sometimes, I feel as though I’m living under Empire conditions in the ongoing gender wars. Since I can remember, I’ve been aware of an ongoing battle for equality. Women have been told there is a delicious pie made out of power, position, privilege and pay scale – and that men are colluding to prevent us from getting a piece of it. The trouble is, when a woman does manage to carve herself a slice, she is subject to levels of hostility and aggression which make the rest of us wonder whether it’s worth it. Even though everyone sees equality as a worthy goal, both sides have entered into Empire relationships which dehumanize and wound the other. Men and women have both been left feeling hurt and confused.
The alternative is to head down a path where my gender becomes my identity; where the immense diversity of humanity becomes polarized down an x/y axis; where the uniqueness that is me is expected to conform to a stereotype.
I’ve read countless books about the differences between men and women, and gained great value from them as I learn to relate to my husband better, and to raise my son and three daughters with a greater appreciation of the issues they may face. But none of us are defined solely by our gender. It is absurd to assume that our X or Y chromosomes dictate our career paths, interests and abilities more than all the other genetic material we inherit from both sides of our family.
So here we sit – men and women both – conscious that we are at odds with one another when we don’t want to be; involved in an Empire struggle which wasn’t of our making.
One camp is calling for equality, the other is calling us to embrace our differences – but both are working within a system which operates by hierarchy, dominance and a struggle for power at the expense of others.
There is a better option.
When Jesus came, he began a process of subverting Empire thinking and replacing it with kingdom thinking. He consciously and consistently rejected the conventional routes to power. He taught his followers to turn the other cheek, go the extra mile, and offer the shirt off their back. He disciplined his disciples when they tried to lord it over one another, or jostle for position. He antagonized the authorities, while lifting up the outcasts, the rejected, the ostracized and despised. He gave a voice to the voiceless, and placed value on the undervalued. Again and again, through his teaching and actions, he showed us a better way to live life, a better way to relate to one another, a better way to change the world.
As Jesus-followers, we no longer need to live under Empire systems, which grasp for power and position at the expense of others. “Kingdom thinking” offers something bigger, something the world has rarely seen but is crying out for. Jesus calls us away from hierarchical structures to a model of mutual community, where there is no status difference based on gender (or race, or culture, or income). A space where everyone is called to bring their unique gifts and identity – including their gender – to meet one another’s needs. A new way of doing church, and family, and life.
The problem has never been between us as men and women. The problem lies between us as humans and the Empire system, which dehumanizes and damages all of us. As women and men of God, we have an opportunity to wave goodbye to Empire and show the world a better way to live, love and relate to one another.