Truth be told, there are many parts of the Bible that stop me in my reading tracks, causing me to pause and to ponder. One of those passages that is always front and center in my mind as a father, grandfather, and person in youth ministry is in Matthew 18:6 – “Whoever causes one of these littles who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and that he were drowned in the depth of the sea.”
That’s a sobering reminder of our great high calling, privilege, and need to get it right when we are ministering to, raising, and leading kids. “Truth be told” is really an imperative more than anything else. I have to know the Word correctly, and communicate it with clarity. . . even when and perhaps more often so when it flies in the face of the cultural narrative.
When I first read Abigail Favale’s new book, The Genesis of Gender: A Christian Theory, I was struck by the depth and brilliance of message, which is certainly one that needs to be heard. But her truth-telling in the book goes beyond laying out a history of gender-gone-wrong along with a creational account of gender-done-right. The truth she tells about herself and her own journey, both philosophically and functionally, is one filled with a vulnerability that gives her a street-cred oftentimes missing from attempts to define or redefine gender in our world today.
Her vulnerability shines through in the simple one-word title of her first chapter: “Heretic”. She describes the process of coming to terms with what she was teaching her students as a feminist academic. Increasingly convicted of the error of her beliefs, philosophy, and practice, she describes a powerful moment when while teaching at a Christian University she went to confess and seek advice from an older colleague. Her description of this encounter should cause us to all pause in our tracks to reflect on our own beliefs, philosophies, and practice. . .
In this state of unease, I sought the advice of an older professor I respected. I rushed to his office straight from my home, my hair still wet from a recent shower. I was newly back from maternity leave, always five minutes behind and sweating profusely, trying to cram all I could into the three-hour windows between breast-feeding sessions. I showed up with a Diet Coke in hand, thinking I would be having a nice casual chat with a colleague. Within five minutes I was in full-blown confession mode, disclosing the indictments of my conscience not to a priest, but to a gray-bearded Quaker with a Gandalf vibe. “I feel like I’ve been giving my students poison to drink”, I said. For so many years, I’d been careless, careless with their minds and, most disturbingly, their souls.
The professor listened quietly to me, as was his way. He tends to speak few words, but those words are usually wise and rarely what you want to hear. He could have coddled me, told me I’d done what I thought was right at the time, that I was being too hard on myself. Instead, he said, in an Appalachian drawl, “You know that verse in Matthew? The one that says if anyone causes the little ones to stumble, it would be better for him to have a millstone hung around his neck and be drowned in the sea? I’ve always thought it would be a good idea for us professors to have that tattooed on our arms.”
That’s what I was feeling: the damn millstone. In truth, it had been around my neck for years, but at least now I was feeling the weight of it. That much was a comfort.
Favale goes on to describe how that encounter led her on a new trajectory, that is, to know and teach the Truth.
I hope you will take the time to listen in to my conversation with Abigail Favale on this latest episode of our Youth Culture Matters podcast, which you can find below.