I have a confession to make. For many years now, I have been a fan of comic book narratives. Since childhood, I have been fascinated by Superheroes, who generally inhabit entirely implausible, larger than life story lines populated by tawdry, one dimensional characters serving as tenuous plot devices. I am a veritable pseudo-expert on the thin line separating Science fiction from fact, having whiled away thousands of valuable hours watching programmes such as Michio Kaku’s Physics of the impossible, and reading books like The Science of Superheroes. Even to this day, I can get caught up daydreaming about alternate universes, time travel, supernatural occurrences, real life superhumans, unexplained phenomena, and how quantum uncertainty points to a complex, multilayered reality far beyond the capacity and limitations of modern science.
Consequently, I’m a sucker for any compelling popcorn flick which is centered on (any of) the above themes. Inevitably, such cinema requires a momentary suspension of disbelief, and enables a vague sense of escapism from the confines of a mundane, material existence. I realise that the plots are often paper thin, the acting is generally wooden, underlying worldview(s) thoroughly absurd and unbiblical, moral compass way off due North, portrayal of gender roles frequently reprehensible, and so forth. Living in Cambridge ensures that one is given frequent reminders of the less than intellectually satisfying nature and content of Hollywood blockbusters. One of the most amusing, recent illustrations of the yawning chasm separating my love of comic book narratives from the kind of cinema enjoyed by a typical Cambridge intellectual, was a brief conversation I had with (some very lovely) friends who both studied at the university. I was left collecting the proverbial tumbleweeds when I admitted to being a fan of the Batman trilogy by Chris Nolan, in response to their comments about how much they loved Japanese Art House films. The brief silence was almost palpable.
By this stage, you’re probably wondering where all of this is going. Well, I’m not entirely sure, but consider this a foretaste of a more in depth post I’m thinking of putting together in response to the recent Mark Driscoll/Brian Houston/Hill Song controversy. More specifically, this current post relates to the lone protestor called Natalie Collins, aka “God Loves Women”, who braved the O2 arena in London during the Hill Song conference to stand in solidarity with those affected by the Mars Hill meltdown. In a nutshell, I think that there are compelling lines of convergence between the stand Natalie took against a well oiled, male dominated, consumer oriented, evangelical industrial complex, and numerous comic book narratives. Heroes invariably appear to have the odds stacked against them when facing seemingly invincible foes whilst polarising public opinion, and are frequently cast as the underdog in a prize fight that for all intents and purposes, is virtually impossible to win.
You see, as I think about the relationship between Western Mega Churches, the problem of Patriarchy, Feminism, Consumerism, marginalised voices, the “Dones”, and so forth, I’m reminded for some reason of the recent Batman vs Superman trailer. It’s perhaps an unhelpful parallel to compare a brave, lone woman standing up to unhealthy mindsets propagated within Western Evangelicalism (particularly with reference to patriarchal misogyny) and two fictional male characters, who arguably embody the quintessential archetype(s) of Nietzsche’s Ubermensch. Nihilism aside however, and poorly construed stereotypes notwithstanding, similar biblical parallels can be found in the David vs Goliath, and Gideon narratives (1 Sam 17, Jud 6). Thus, believe it or not, there is a biblical precedent for going against the grain and engaging in direct prophetic confrontation with dominant power structures, cultures, and prominent figures (to say nothing of Moses, Deborah, Elijah, Esther, the major & minor prophets, Jesus, or Paul). For the sake of defusing the gender stereotypes represented by Batman vs Superman, let’s imagine that in this current post we’re considering a similar, metaphorical face off between Bat(wo)man and Superman.
So what am I saying? Well, not much of substance yet. I’m merely sharing random collections of thoughts which are at best a precursor to a longer, more considered post. I’m giving you an insight into the imaginary, contemplative world of a stay at home Christian father (for the Summer holidays at least) who is taking note of the latest episodes in the Evangelical soap opera. However, as I observe and dialogue with an increasingly broad variety of Christians who are experiencing mutual dissatisfaction and disillusionment with institutionalised, branded, supermarket Christianity (to borrow/steal a term from Natalie Collins herself), I’m starting to wonder if something bigger isn’t afoot.
I sense a nascent movement gaining momentum, traction, and a measure of ‘progressive’ interconnectedness (pun intended). I see formlessness giving way to an ’emergent’ shape (2nd pun intended). I hear a cacophony of diverse tongues blending into an intricate symphony of contrapuntal motion verging on harmony. In short, after years of reservations, polemic, suspicion and doubt regarding the integrity of what some call ‘progressive’ Christianity, I’m finding myself feeling uncomfortably at home amidst people who adopt this label. Now, I know that labels have limits and can be disastrously unhelpful, as one of my former lecturers points out in this excellent post. I’m also beginning to realise that the fragmentation of global Christianity won’t be solved by taking arbitrary sides in the Evangelical culture wars, so often characterised by internecine fighting.
Nevertheless, I’m coming out of the theological closet and admitting that I lean ‘progressive’ (whatever that means) in numerous areas. As regards gender roles, I have embraced an egalitarian perspective for biblical reasons, which presumably plants me firmly in the ‘progressive’ camp. In others, I’m unabashedly ‘conservative’ (whatever that means). I am of course, still a work in progress and hopefully subject to change. The thrust of all of this is simple; I am tentatively suggesting that one of the critical theological disputes that can and must be solved prior to the completion of the church’s great commission, is the issue of gender roles from a Christian perspective.
This, I submit, will almost certainly involve standing with the minority voices of our sisters against a veritable Goliath of an opponent: the root cause of Patriarchy itself, which is sin resulting in a fallen world wherein men rule over women (Gen 3:16). Thankfully, Jesus has something to say about this. The idols of Western Evangelicalism are both falling and fallen. I intend to add my own relatively obscure, inconsequential voice to the developing conversation, in the hope of bringing such idols to their knees. Jesus also had something to say about power dynamics, empire, wealth, influence, marginalised voices, non-violent resistance, and his coming Kingdom. Something tells me that supermarket Christianity might be buying into (amongst other things) the wrong aspects of this list. If Superman represents the consumer Christian mindset deceived by (amongst other things) the same narrative of power that crucified Jesus, this raises serious questions about how we classify heroes, villains, and controversial celebrity pastors like Mark Driscoll.
If it comes down to it, I think I’d rather stand with Bat(wo)man. This doesn’t necessarily make Superman the enemy, but it does require a choice from us. Where do you stand?