- Rev Peter Chan (BPCEC)
Of Draft and Masterpiece
"Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." Genesis 1:26-27
"There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise." Galatians 3:28-29
Diana and I will be celebrating our 30th wedding anniversary this year. The journey has been tough, going through a lot of changes and challenges. Prior to our marriage we went through four years of courtship. We met at work. I was working in an SME, which was subsequently acquired by a local printing and press conglomerate. I was overseeing the accounts and administration. She was part of a four-women power team of internal auditors.
One of the requirements for the acquisition was to have our company go through external and internal audits. So, the day came for the all-women internal audit team came from the HQ. Still remember the surprise I had when I saw it was an all-women team. I was duly introduced to the four of them. Of course, I got to know Diana better because she was the one who had to interview me and interact with me.
As an internal auditor, I must say that she was incredibly good at socialising with my staffs. Through casual conversations with them, she not only found out a lot of information about our accounts and operations, but also about my personality and idiosyncrasies. She even joined a group of colleagues for dinner and fun.
Well, our relationship did not start out as a love-at-first sight. Rather, it was through many friendly arguments and teasing. Eventually, we started dating and I introduced her to my church friends. Subsequently, she joined our church through the youth fellowship and then, baptism.
After two years of courtship, I entered Trinity Theological College (TTC) for theological studies. At the end of my second year at TTC, we got married. And, towards the end of my third year, we had our first child.
One of the interesting things about marriage is that you get more than what you expect. Besides discovering more and more about your spouse, you begin to discover more and more of yourself. For instance, one of the discoveries I had was about how my parents’ marriage shaped my attitudes and behaviour towards Diana.
In case, anyone start guessing that I came from a home where my parents’ marriage broke up, my parents were married for fifty-one years, until my mother was called home by the Lord.
Back to what I learned about myself in marriage. During one of our serious fights, Diana exclaimed, “You talk just like the way your dad talks with your mom! You talk down to me!” Of course, at that point when she mentioned this, I was angry and defensive. So, the “cold war” began. It was during this “cold war” or “time out”, whichever way you want to call it, I reflected on those words Diana said.
My dad definitely loved my mom. But, perhaps, he was formed more by culture than Scriptures, he related to my mom by asserting his dominance. That was probably the only way he knew how best to be a man and a husband.
Subconsciously, I had picked up this attitude and I was relating to Diana with that subtle attitude of dominance and maybe, superiority. It was hard for me to admit that it was the case.
Over the years, I had done many marriage preparations classes with many young couples (occasionally some matured ones). When it comes to roles and responsibility, I had to revisit the issue of gender equality. In our world today, East or West, we do have the challenge of understanding gender equality with headship and submission in marriage. In the Church, we too have the similar challenge of understanding and applying the concept of gender equality and yet accepting the differences.
In one of our playful times when we were arguing, we inadvertently drifted into the subject of gender differences and equality. On one those occasions, I think we were arguing about each other’s superiority to the other. The moment of truth came when Diana asserted, “God created man first and then women. Do you know why? First, came the DRAFT, then came the MASTERPIECE! You are just a draft and I am a masterpiece!”
My reply to her was, “What you have just said has proven to me that I was intellectual and wise to marry you! You are equal to me in intelligence!”
Okay, humour aside. I am sharing quite a bit of our journey in marriage as an illustration of how attitudes and actions can be subtle in how we preach and practise gender equality and differences. I like to us to reflect on this issue in three areas.
First, consider the area of marriage. I am speaking to you, my fellow Christian men. Have we been treating our wives as inferior or as our subordinate? Reflect deeper and see if there is a subtle attitude of superiority embedded somewhere deep in your mind and heart that needs to be brought to the surface.
Second, reflect on the area of parenting. We may claim that we do not share the traditional Chinese or Asian thinking where boys are preferred to girls or that boys are better than girls. Yet are we subtly showing favouritism on our male children? In the giving of educational and talent development opportunities, do we secretly harbour gender favouritism?
Third, think about ministry. I am treading on a minefield. On both sides of the positions, there are godly people and conscientious scholars. The issue of ordination is something peculiar in denomination churches. If we see ordination as nothing more than a man-made denominational process to acknowledge and affirm a person in full-time pastoral ministry, then it is just a milestone in a person’s ministry journey. Yes, the ordained status carries with it privileges and responsibilities. It also carries authority – the sharing of powers with ruling elders, and the power to administer the ministry of Word and sacraments. Whether we are for or against women ordination, we need to answer the question from conscience, “how do we profess and practise gender equality in ministry? That is my heartfelt appeal for all of us men in the Church to reflect and respond.
In the passages quoted at the beginning of this reflection – namely, Galatians 3:28–29 – Paul makes it unequivocally clear that the Gospel of Jesus Christ proclaims gender equality. It was so radically different from the world where gender inequality ingrained in both ancient and modern, Asian, African, and Western societies. Like what I shared on my marriage, more things are caught than taught! Gender equality needs to be practised more than just being preached!