Fighting Through the Eye of the Needle

church windows with a cross in the middle

The evangelical church remains mostly silent or static when confronted with issues concerning gender and race. Prominent male leaders still find large audiences cheering misogynistic and racist theologies. John MacArthur’s confident mockery of Beth Moore, women, race, and the #metoo movement shake me. Mr. MacArthur, we belong in the fullness of our gifting and strength.

In the quake of MacArthur’s commentary on Beth Moore, I wonder: “Is the church the rich young ruler?”

Will the church stand with women and communities of color even if it risks financial backing of prominent dominant culture attenders? The Imago Dei is most reflected in our diversity; however, the favoritism given to the dominant culture in the church is unbelievable. Some narcissistic church leaders love their own voices – their platforms more than the souls sitting in the pews. And, these men construct narratives for people of color and women meant to maintain power.

In Luke 18:18 a religious leader asks Jesus, “Good Teacher, what should I do to inherit eternal life?”

Jesus begins by picking apart the specificity of the language of the religious leader by asking, “Why do you call me good? Only God is truly good. But to answer your question….”

Cleverly, Jesus grounds himself in his God-ness. I love this about Jesus. His “wink, wink,” at the religious leader suggests he knows the religious leader acknowledges He is good and God.

Jesus goes on to tick off a list of general morality givens – that most religious leaders would be meticulously paying attention to: don’t commit adultery, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t testify falsely, and honor your father and mother. I’d say most of us look at this list and while we don’t claim perfection, if we have been raised with a sense of morality or raised in the church, we are able to check off most of the boxes.

I usually hear this story as the Rich Young Ruler; however, the story introduces the man as a religious leader.

Jesus acknowledges that this man has been faithful to the commands. He presses him; “There is still one thing you haven’t done. Sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”

Wow. This is where the narrator, Luke, introduces this religious leader as rich. He is wealthy. He owns possessions. His wealth affords him power and social capital.

Luke 18:23: “But when the man heard this he became very sad, for he was very rich.”

The sadness of the religious leader is a reckoning with the difficulty in giving up power and wealth. Power and wealth are not evil, but have potential to put great distance between the faith we profess and our faith in action. Jesus knows this. He knows power is influence, economic status, and empire-building. MacArthur highlights the marriage of theology to systems of power, which oppress both women and people of color.

Jesus states, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the Kingdom of God! In fact, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of God!” (Luke 18:24)

The crowd is incredulous. I wonder, “Where did he encounter this wealthy religious leader? Who was in the crowd?” The crowd obviously resonates with this religious leader, his wealth, and the sacrifice Jesus is asking him to make. Their own salvation is at stake.

James 2:8-13 tells the same story, “Yes indeed, it is good when you obey the royal law as found in the Scriptures: “Love your neighbor as yourself. But if you favor some people over others, you are committing a sin. You are guilty of breaking the law.”

“Stop your favoritism, your exclusion” is James’ admonishment. This is the call to the rich, religious leader. Jesus’ invitation is movement towards Eden. Eden brings a sense of belonging to men and women, regardless of wealth, power, gender, or race. It is an invitation that doesn’t conform to misogynistic structures that keep women out.

So, although slavery and classism have almost always existed, the introduction of slavery to the United States in 1619 perpetuated the evil idea that some lives matter more than others. This corrupts our faith. It is the favoritism James speaks about. It is the concept of wealth over people that keeps the religious leader from entering the Kingdom of God. We (and I include myself) disguise ourselves as post-racial, post-systematic discriminative thinkers; however, power is reflected in the color and gender of leadership and our message to our communities.

As women leaders and communities of color assert their spiritual gifts, including preaching and teaching, it will be hard for dominant culture church communities to pass through the eye of a needle. It will cost regular tithers, church attenders, and criticism from some church organizations.

The church must fight through the eye of needle to enter into the kingdom of God. Evangelical Christianity must risk its wealth and power to accept Jesus’ invitation to Eden.

A prophetic voice of repentance and reconciliation is required to interrupt the culture of our comfortable church lives, and engage the larger social narratives of our day: misogyny, racism, classism, mass incarceration, and more. Is the Jesus we preach, as dominant culture evangelicals, able to engage critical conversations? Is the Jesus we preach afraid of topics such as gender and race?

Or, is Jesus inviting us to navigate difficult conversations with majority culture and declare, “It is enough! We will not silence women! We will be anti-racists!”

It feels impossible. We could lose heart. We ask, “Then who in the world can be saved?” (Luke 18:28)

Jesus replies (Luke 18:27); “What is impossible for people is possible with God.” Let us lean into the impossible. Stand for truth. Break generations of oppression. And, yes, join Jesus.

Originally posted on Danielle Castiellejo’s blog.