Picture the scene. It’s a Sunday morning at Scargill, and the 10:30 service has just let up. I’m on my way back down the hill to my accommodation, having briefly spoken to some of the kitchen team about the shift I’ll be leading the following day. As I pass the laundry room/community hub, I decide to check my pigeon hole for any mail or other deliveries.
Nothing of which to speak. There is, however, a little A2 booklet on the surface in front of me, with a note reading “Free – help yourself! :)” I pick up the booklet and realise it is a set of Bible reading notes aimed at women. Being a male, I have no concrete desire to take this booklet away with me, but being a curious sort of male, I decide to give its contents a quick scan to see what’s inside.
What I read was, for lack of a more colourful word, interesting. While the wisdom being shared there might have been good and true, I didn’t feel there was any reason why a man couldn’t appreciate it too. Indeed, the fact that I just described it as “good and true” shows I did at least get something out of it. I replaced the booklet on the counter and walked away, with one question swimming around my mind:
What reason is there for separating men and women like this in the Church?
I probably wouldn’t have been asking myself this if what I read in that booklet really was tailored to women as much as its cover made it out to be. Okay, so it didn’t mention DIY, football (that’s ‘soccer’, for any American readers) or beer very much, or indeed at all. But neither did it mention fashion, make-up or flower arrangements very much, from what I can remember. As it stood, the only distinctly ‘feminine’ thing I can remember about it was that the notes were written entirely by women. It would’ve been understandable to label them ‘for women’ if the content of the notes was clearly intended thus, but it wasn’t.
Now, I’m well aware that men and women aren’t exactly alike, and there are a good few differences between them. Therefore, it’s understandable if we feel that those of our sex are going to speak our figurative language better than those of the opposite sex. I also recognise that it’s hard to completely avoid second-guessing what men and women will appreciate, because despite what we might insist, no one is completely immune to the conditioning of our culture (boys as a rule tend to prefer blue over pink, for example). And of course, this isn’t to say that the material I’m addressing here isn’t at all useful – for example, I attended a men’s Bible study group for a few months last year, and it was very inspiring to see the difference that being part of a close-knit group of other men made to the members’ spiritual growths. I’m sure I would still be attending today if it weren’t that I currently live halfway up the country from them…
But be all that as it may, I don’t feel like I need my spiritual advice to come from another bloke necessarily for it to speak to me. There are several female writers and speakers whose work I follow and feed on, and the fact of their being female does very little to make it any less useful to me. In fact, most of the time when I’m reading or listening to them, the thought barely even crosses my mind. Part of what makes their work so easy for me to swallow is that they spend very little of their time distinguishing between the sexes, or suggesting that their work is aimed more at women than men. I do wonder, though, whether I would appreciate their work so much if it was targeted specifically at women.
From a spiritual perspective, men and women are probably on a more similar page than things like this might suggest. Without meaning to start any ‘complementarian vs. egalitarian’ feuds, the message of the Gospel is supposed to apply to both men and women equally. Paul’s famous words in Galatians 3:28-29 come to mind here – “There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” Even if both sexes respond to the Gospel in their own little ways, the point still stands: Christ died for all, and made no real distinctions between men and women, boys and girls. What’s to stop us from doing the same?