Elyse Fitzpatrick: Gender and the Bible
About the Guest
Could we be getting gender wrong? Authors Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher cast off the ways gender roles keep us from God’s expansive vision.
Eric: Sometimes, women are treated like throw pillows; you know?—they are nice, but they are not necessary—
Elyse: “They are pretty to have around the church.”
Eric: —“I mean, if you have one.”
Elyse: —“if you have one.”
Eric: But what God is saying in Genesis 2 is: “This cannot be that the man would be alone”; so that means she is necessary.
Ann: Welcome to FamilyLife Today, where we want to help you pursue the relationships that matter most. I’m Ann Wilson.
Dave: And I’m Dave Wilson, and you can find us at FamilyLifeToday.com or on our FamilyLife® app.
Ann: This is FamilyLife Today!
So when we started speaking for the FamilyLife Weekend to Remember® marriage getaways, I was young. I had only been married ten years; but I started looking at the material that we were going to teach, and what I was looking at was Genesis 2. I was at the point, where it said, “And God made a helper suitable for Adam.” I remember stopping there—now, remember, I wasn’t raised in the church—so I looked at that; and I thought, “I have to be a helper. Where is my helper? [Laughter] Why don’t I get a helper?” [Laughter] I was kind of mad about that.
Dave: I remember you came to me, and you were like, “Okay”—you know, we started discussing this.
Ann: I was only 29.
Ann: So then, I thought, “I’m just going to look up the word, ‘helper,’ in the dictionary.” I’m not looking up Hebrew. I’m just looking at: “Let’s just see what helper says in the dictionary.” It says: “A go-for; a person who does the dirty work.
Elyse: Oh, no!
Ann: “Someone important tells them what to do.”
I throw my hands up in the air; and I was like, “I can’t teach this! Is this my role as a woman? Is this what I’m supposed to do?” That was the beginning of my wrestling, and my struggling, and my yearning to know: “What does God have for us as women?”
Dave: Yes; and obviously, you know, you were looking in the dictionary; and it wasn’t even close to what that word actually means when God wrote that down. It was the beginning of a journey.
Ann: Most women/I think so many of us are wondering, “What is our role? What does God expect and want?” and “What does He call us?”—so I think today is going to be a great day.
Dave: Oh, yes. If there is a question that is critically important for us to understand, in the community of Christ in the church, it’s this question: Male and female, man/woman, husband/wife, father/mother.
I tell you what—we have, in the studio, Eric and Elyse Fitzpatrick/Eric Schumacher in the studio. Welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Elyse: Thank you.
Eric: Yes, thank you.
Dave: You know, we have a unique pairing of: you know, Eric, you are a pastor in Iowa; Elyse, you are a prolific author.
Ann: And your book, Jesus and Gender; the subtitle is Living as Sisters and Brothers in Christ.
Dave: So this is a big topic.
Dave: I would start right here: “How did you two end up connecting and talking about the worthiness of women?”
Eric: Well, it all started with Twitter®, where all good things start. [Laughter]
Dave: It started on Twitter?!
Eric: It did; it started with Twitter. I’d been in a season of listening to stories of people, who had been marginalized or abused—stories that, for a large part of my life, I would have just blown off and not listened to—so as the MeToo movement started, I decided I want to listen to women and hear about what they are experiencing. Then, as it moved into church, too, I definitely wanted to listen.
I wrote this string of tweets that were the women in the Bible, who were the first human beings to do certain things. An organization asked me to turn it into an article, which I did. Elyse saw both; and she said, “You should turn this into a book.” I said, “You should write it with me.” A few months later, we were working together on an outline.
Elyse: Yes, I was kind of in the same place he was—not that I needed to, all of a sudden, discover the value of women—but I think that I was listening more carefully to women’s stories/to marginalized people’s stories. I was already primed to want to do something about that topic. Then, when I saw that Eric was doing that series of tweets, which really became the foundation for the book that we wrote, I thought, “This is really great. This is something that I’ve wanted to speak into.” That is the genesis of Worthy.
Dave: I’ve been reading through your book, Jesus and Gender, for a week now. Then, last night, we are sitting down to prepare for this day; and I’m thinking, “Man, it’s so interesting that God is using Eric/a he; and Elyse/a she to elevate all the she’s in the world to understand their worthiness.
Every once in a while, I get this song in my head; and I feel like God sort of gave me one for you two.
Ann: He wrote you a song, basically.
Ann: He seems to do this when—Eric you lead worship, and you write music.
Eric: Yes, yes.
Dave: I’ve actually heard that you write parodies and sort of fun stuff.
Eric: I do; yes.
Dave: I thought/I thought that was what this was going to be: a parody.
Eric: We’ve never been serenaded before.
Ann: What? You haven’t?!
Elyse: This is wonderful; no.
Dave: Here is the thing.
Eric: Well, we should wait until afterwards to say whether it is wonderful.
Dave: Yes; you will. You will have to say if it’s worthy. [Laughter] But FamilyLife will decide whether they even keep this in the broadcast. This is like an audition, because I don’t really sing; but—
Ann: Do you have your words?
Dave: [Guitar strumming] Just—again, last night, sitting there—and this came to me; and it’s not funny. It ended up being more serious, because I think what you are doing is powerfully elevating the dignity of women. This is sort of what is happening [Dave singing]:
Eric and Elyse have been called by God,
a he and a she, bringing dignity to the she’s.
They are revealing God’s heart for she.
They are free,
all she’s, to feel worthy.
Wor-r-r-thy; she is worthy.
And God says, “I see you,” “I hear you,”
and “I want you to feel worthy.”
Elyse: Yay! Oh, my goodness! Oh, my goodness! That’s so wonderful.
Eric: We need to get that for our podcast.
Elyse: Yes, we do.
Ann: You do!
Dave: Now, you’re being just patronizing to me; whatever.
Eric: Good job.
Elyse: No! No! That was wonderful. Thank you; I’m encouraged.
Dave: No; I mean, honestly, as I sat there with my guitar last night, I thought, “I’m going fun; I’m going to call Eric the woman guy”—you know?
Elyse: Yes. [Laughter]
Dave: Do you a little parody on you; but I felt like you two are like a gift—
Dave: —to the church, especially for the she’s/the women of the world that often have felt devalued and lost their dignity in the body of Christ. I love what you’ve done; because you’ve said, “We need to bring the gospel to this conversation.”
Dave: And I’m thinking/I’m guessing—right?—you feel like that has sort of been missing?
Elyse: Yes, very much so. In the discussions of gender and what roles women should play/men should play, the topic that has been missing is the gospel; in particular, the incarnation. When you start at Genesis, which is fine—talking about how men and women should relate—that’s fine; but then, if you start at Genesis and then don’t remember, Philippians 2, you’re going to miss something.
I’d like to read just a short passage—
Dave: Oh, yes; please do.
Elyse: —from Philippians 2:5; I’ll just read 5-9:
Adopt the same attitude as that of Christ Jesus
There is the imperative; there is the command: “We are to have this attitude.” What we wanted to do in Jesus and Gender/we want to bring this attitude into our relationships as sisters and brothers. So what’s the attitude?
who existing in the form of God did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited;
Christ [has] preeminent authority—but perhaps, I have some authority; or Eric, you have some sort of authority—I don’t want to exploit that authority.
who existing in the form of God did not consider equality with God as something to be exploited; instead He emptied Himself by assuming the form of a servant, taking on the likeness of humanity. When He had come as a man, the fullness of God becoming as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.
What we wanted to do was say: “Okay, let’s talk about relationships between men and women. But let’s base our discussion on what should happen: on how I should think about Eric as my brother, how I should think about you as my sister. Let’s start that conversation with this: ‘ I’m going to empty myself and take on the attitude of a servant.’” That’s what the gospel has to say, I think, to gender relations.
Ann: Instead of that, what does it look like? What do you see?
Elyse: Well, what it looks like is people staking out territory on both sides.
Elyse: I think that’s one of the things that we wanted to say in this book was: “We are not staking out territory on either side.” So if you are very, very conservative; or if you are more progressive, we’re not saying, “Hey, we’re with you.”
What we’re saying is: “If you are asking the question, ‘Who gets to be in charge?’—wherever you happen to be, asking that question from, you’ve missed the point.” Because Jesus, over and over and over again, to the disciples, kept saying to them: “It’s not about who gets to be the best, or who gets to be the highest, or who gets to be the ruler, or you want to be called the benefactor. No; actually, if you are going to follow Me, what you are going to do is you are going to lay down your life, and you’re going to give it up for the lives of others.” That’s got to be the rubric that informs how I think about my relationship with men and women/with brothers and sisters.
Eric: Yes; and we think the reason that that is important is that passage she just read from Philippians 2 is Paul’s command to both men and women—“have this mind”—the mind of Christ. There is not a female mind of Christ and a male mind of Christ; there is one mind of Christ for both. Both men and women are being conformed into the image of Jesus. In fact, the author of Hebrews says that He had to be made like His brothers and sisters in every respect, so that He could be a merciful high priest.
It’s not that women go to some different source for a model of who they are supposed to be. Jesus is the perfect human being, so both men and women can look to Him to learn how to live. When you look through Paul’s epistles, there are a few places where he speaks to fathers, to husbands, to wives; but for the most part, his letters are full of commands about what it means to be sanctified. These are not given to us as male traits and female traits; they are given to us as traits of what Christ is like. There is not a female way to put on Christ and a male way to put on Christ; we’re called to put on Christ.
We wanted to start, not with Genesis—though, Elyse said, that is a fine place to start: you read a book from beginning to end—but you understand a book by reading it from the end, back to the beginning; because once you’ve reached the end, you know what it is about; now, you interpret everything through that light. And Christ is the end of all things, so we wanted to start with Him in order to understand men and women.
Not only that—the gospel/the message of Jesus Christ: who doesn’t exploit His deity, who takes on the form of a slave, lives a perfect life on our behalf, dies as our substitute under the wrath of God—He serves us, and then He is raised from the dead so that He can justify us and raise us from the dead. From beginning to end, Jesus is a servant. That gospel/that message is the power of God for salvation. That message is the only thing that has the power to transform us, as men and women, to be people who are like Christ. If we are not starting with the power of God for salvation, what’s going to come of it?
Ann: I think that’s a really good place to start because—I’m just thinking back in my younger years—I’m kind of a strong woman/more of a leader.
Dave: She understated that a little bit. [Laughter] She’s very strong, and it’s one of the things I love about her!
Ann: My mom was an amazing wife; but if I had to categorize her, growing up, I would have said, “My mom is a doormat, and my mom takes advantage of that.” So growing up, I thought, “I will never be that.”
Then I give my life to Jesus; and I’m faced with this decision, “What will I do?”
Ann: And I like this, because I am willing to lay my life down, as a woman, knowing that Jesus has done that—
Ann: —and that Jesus isn’t going to ask anything of me that wouldn’t be good for me.
Even as a woman, listening: “Have you laid down your life in saying, ‘Jesus, I am willing to give You everything; and I am willing to follow You’?” I think, as a woman, we’re—if you don’t know the Word, that can be scary—because all of these pictures come into your head of what it means to be a woman of God: “Am I a doormat?” “Am I someone who can use my gifts of leadership or serving?”
Dave: “Do I have a voice?”
Ann: “Do I have a voice?” But I like where you’ve started.
Elyse: One of the things that I love about what you just said, Ann, is that: “I want to make a decision to lay down my life.” One of the things that I think has really been missing in some ways is the understanding that, as women, we have agency to freely lay down our lives.
Elyse: What that means is not that I become a doormat. What that means is that I am doing that from a position of strength. So from a position of strength, then, I say, “Because Christ has done this for me, I am now free to give my life away.” As a woman, then—you know, you talked about being a helper and that definition—those words in Genesis about being a helper; those are not weak words. Those are powerful, almost militaristic words.
Ann: Yes; that word, ezer, in Hebrew—you guys write about that—explain what that means.
Eric: Well, basically, it means a strong ally, someone who comes alongside you to assist you in an important assignment. Most of the time, it is used of God in His relationship to Israel. God is the Helper of His people; so we dare not define that word to mean “subservient”; “weak”; “optional.”
One of our friends says, “Sometimes, women are treated like throw pillows. They are nice, but they are not necessary;—
Elyse: Yes! “They are pretty to have around the church.”
Eric: —“I mean, if you have one.”
Elyse: —“if you have one.”
Eric: But what God is saying in Genesis 2 is: “This is really bad,”—that’s what that “not good” means there.
Eric: “This cannot be that the man would be alone”; so that means she is necessary. What we see in Genesis, as God creates the woman from Adam’s side, presents her to him—his first exclamation is: “This is bone of my bone and flesh of my flesh.” He had been presented animals before; they are not the same flesh. What he is saying there is not—“This is someone different than me,”—he is saying, “This person is the same as me; she has the same nature as me.”
And then, Moses adds: “This is the reason that a man will leave his father and mother and cling to”—or bond with—“his wife, and they will be one flesh.” And it’s interesting because, in the culture of that day, it wasn’t the man who left his family. The woman left her family/came to be part of his. I think we get a glimpse of the gospel right there that this man is going to be willing to leave his family—the protection and security of a family—to pursue unity with his wife for the sake of cooperating together in this creation mandate that God has given them.
That’s what it ought to look like today; that as brothers and sisters, or husbands and wives, we ought to be willing to sacrifice for the sake of unity—that’s even what Paul says to husbands—“Lay down your lives because she is your flesh.” And we want to sacrifice for the sake of being unified, as brothers and sisters, to cooperate together in fulfilling the Great Commission of Christ.
Dave: Yes; I tell you—I want to get into that conversation about marriage next, because we don’t have time right now—but just listening to you two, and even Ann—as a husband and as a man—I have a vision in my mind of women totally different, honestly. I think I already had this vision; I understood ezer. I’ve studied that from the journey Ann talked about, from when we thought it was just helper and helpmeet to that equal partner and confidant.
There is a part of me that just—I saw a vision of women being so valuable and worthy that I don’t ever want to look at Ann any—when you said, “throw pillow,” I’m like, “Oh my goodness! That has been so often what we’ve done.” You have just given us God’s vision for men and women from Philippians 2. What a perfect place to start/to say,—
Ann: Well, and it starts with that—
Dave: —“Give it all away.”
Ann: —and “Have you done that?” “Have I done that?”—because it is something that we don’t just do one time; but it’s an act of obedience of doing it over and over: “Jesus, I lay down my life for You today” and “How do You want to use me today?”
Shelby: The topic of gender can often make us feel a little bit confused, or even sometimes a little bit scared, to engage in the conversation; but when we look to Jesus Himself—the Suffering Servant, the gentle and lowly example of what it means to lay down your life and give it to others—things start to become very, very clear.
Dave and Ann Wilson have been talking today with Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher. They’ve written a book called Jesus and Gender: Living as Sisters and Brothers in Christ. By becoming more like Jesus and coming to Jesus, women and men can find rest. Men and women are allies in God’s mission. You can find Jesus and Gender in our FamilyLife Resource Center by heading to our website, FamilyLifeToday.com, and order a copy there; or you can give us a call at 1-800-358-6329; that’s 1-800-“F” as in family, “L” as in life, and then the word, “TODAY.”
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Now, tomorrow, Dave and Ann Wilson are going to be continuing their conversation with Elyse Fitzpatrick and Eric Schumacher about readjusting our mindset when it comes to men and women, centered around, specifically, God’s Great Commission. That’s coming up tomorrow. We hope you can join us.
On behalf of Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Shelby Abbott. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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