Opposition to Gender Equality, East and West.

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.

 

 

9 Responses to Opposition to Gender Equality, East and West.

  1. Tim November 19, 2013 at 1:57 pm #

    This seems like a good example of the Bible being descriptive rather than prescriptive. Just because a patriarch did something doesn’t mean we all should. Otherwise my wife would be hiring servants and then shoving them into my bed.

    • Diana Trautwein November 20, 2013 at 12:59 am #

      THIS IS THE GREATEST COMMENT EVER!!! Made me and my husband laugh out loud. Good golly, yes. This is so true. Thank you.

  2. Bev Murrill November 19, 2013 at 3:06 pm #

    WOW…. the DOWRY passage! I never ever came across that before! Could it be that it can be looked upon as gifts to the girl and her family because he was coming from afar, and they brought gifts in those times (as we often do now, when we visit). That it was not a dowry because it was appreciation for hospitality and then gifts because the girl and her family said yes.

    It just goes to show you that you can prove anything biblically, can’t you. and you’re right, because the African nations would be far better off without the dowry system… it breeds systemic poverty.

  3. Rebecca Lujan Loveless November 19, 2013 at 10:40 pm #

    The work that you are doing is humble, courageous and I’m sure at times it feels death-defyingly sureal.

    From one cultural prophet to another, thank you for stepping beyond your safety zone to be a part of an incredible conversation! I have had similar conversations with groups and tribes and they are historical markers in the history of the global Church. Thank you for teaching and leading us in this conversation with such power and kindness.

  4. Diana Trautwein November 20, 2013 at 1:02 am #

    Oh, Jennie! This is just terrific. I lived in Africa (Zambia) for two years a long time ago and saw the dowry system in action. But I never heard the Bible used as warrant for it! The church we went with preached strongly against dowries – and, in fact, they were illegal in Zambia, even in the 1960s – but they happened all the time anyhow. Kudos to you and all who are working now to try and sift through the cultural threads that hamstring the church. We need it here, still, as so much of recent online conversation has shown. I thank God for you and others like you who pick up the torch for mutuality in the church and the family.

  5. Elizabeth November 20, 2013 at 12:59 pm #

    This is such a great story. Thanks for sharing! I started my journey towards better biblical interpretation when I moved cultures, so I’m always fascinated by other stories of how culture impacts our worldview.

  6. Lacey Louwagie November 20, 2013 at 10:23 pm #

    It’s funny that dowries come up in this post. I remember having a Teen Study Bible that tried to “justify” the dowries in the Old Testament by explaining them as “compensation” to pay for the “pain” of a family losing their daughter. Never quite bought it, but didn’t think much about dowries until a couple nights ago, when Ivan and I went to a presentation by a woman talking about cultural issues that immigrant families face when they move to Sioux Falls. One culture shock to the men was that women have equal rights here — many of them feel incredibly “wronged” if their wife leaves them, reports them for domestic abuse, etc., because they “paid good money for her.” I think there are probably examples of men who accept dowries who still end up being fair and kind husbands, but it really does set up an uncomfortable dynamic.

  7. Patrice December 11, 2013 at 5:47 am #

    This is fascinating! Thanks very much!

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