It's interesting, the questions people ask when you start talking about gender equality in a Christian context. Of course, there are the theological questions, important conversations that need to be had about biblical interpretation, ancient cultures, translation and projection, and God's heart for humankind. But then, you crash headlong into people's native culture, where belief and practice have to live side-by-side.
This is easier to see in other people's cultures than in our own.
At the EFOGE training on biblical gender equality in Bondo, Kenya, I was struck by what got people riled. We talked about theology. We talked about biblical interpretation, and ancient cultures, and the importance of using several translations while studying the Bible, if possible, to get the best possible understanding of the text. But then one woman said that dowries were damaging girls, and the room was in an uproar for well over half an hour, until we broke for lunch. The great dowry debate kept cropping up, and some people were too afraid to even comment.
But see, dowries are biblical. When people asked how we handle dowries in the United States, and found out that we don't do dowries, they asked “then what do you do with Genesis 24?” Genesis 24 is the pro-dowry “gotcha!” passage, because if Abraham was a righteous man, and he gave dowries, certainly it is right for marriages to be arranged by the father's representative, and for gifts to be given to the bride's family.
One older man caused another uproar by pointing out that Abraham's servant gave REBEKAH gifts too, and that maybe the dowry should go to the couple starting their life together. Hoo boy. If he hadn't been a venerable man with grown children, he probably would have gotten mobbed.
Because see, doctrine can't be divorced from culture, and being willing to reexamine their doctrine about dowries could have significant social and economic ramifications for the Luo people. Never mind that the girls (and, frankly, the boys who want to marry them) would be FAR better off if that custom went the way of the dinosaur. Dowries are they way the Luo have always done it, dowries benefit the people who have the most power in that society (the fathers and uncles, AKA the patriarchs), and so they used an Old Testament text to baptize a similar practice in their own culture. Don't mess with the dowry system! It's biblical!
How many ways do we do this in our own culture?
Maybe share your thoughts in the comments section?
Anyway, here are some videos I took after the second day of the EFOGE training, reflecting on how Kenyan questions about gender equality are similar and different from the questions asked in the U.S.