Aimee Byrd

Inside the word. Outside the box.

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I’m in a church that ascribes to the brand of complementarianism your book is troubled by and I am a woman so I don’t get a lot of weight when it comes to how my church discusses these questions. What does seeking a sexual reformation look like for me?

This one of the questions submitted for tonight’s Sexual Reformation Conversation Series live Q&A. There are so many ways to answer it, right? I didn’t realize it then, but I wrote my first book Housewife Theologian because of the need for sexual reformation in the church. I wrote it because in many ways I felt uninitiated as a disciple in the church. The answer to the question seems to be in the question itself: I am a woman so I don’t get a lot of weight when it comes to how my church discusses these questions.

There it is. Weight. Value. Contribution. Reciprocity. Dignity. Personhood. It looks like being seen, having a voice, and being asked to use it because it is gift.

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Did you know that the Jewish tradition is to read the Song of Songs at Passover? While the Song is placed right smack in the middle of our Bibles, in the Hebrew Bible it had a significant placement as the first of the five scrolls, or the five megillot. These “writings” were read at the major festivals, the Song being read at Passover.

The Song is also a great text for Holy Week. The beloved disciple himself was a singer of the Song in his account of the anointing at Bethany and the resurrection. Here is small excerpt from The Sexual Reformation on John’s cover of the Song:

It is fitting that we see reverberations of the Song in the beloved disciple’s, John’s, gospel. Ann Roberts Winsor wrote a fascinating book on the allusions to the Song of Songs in the fourth gospel.[1] The book begins with a chapter on John 12:1–8, noting the allusions to the Song, including hair, a king reclining, precious nard ointment, feet, and scent, in the account of Mary of Bethany using her hair to anoint Jesus’s feet with expensive oil.

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I wrote this article a little while after signing my first book contract. It was originally published on March 13, 2013. It was probably the first article of mine that was widely read. From other writers, there was a sense of “Aimee, we don’t talk about this part of Christian publishing out loud.” But readers were curious. About a year after it was published, a friend asked me if I regret writing the article. I didn’t understand why that was even a question. Reading it again 9 years later, I stand behind it even more. I’ve seen the effects of following the brand. And we’ve seen how much of a monster tribalism has become. Sure, I participate in marketing and think others should as well. But it’s good to struggle with our methods, not take ourselves too seriously, and always remember we are human beings and so are the people reading our books.

Carrying this conviction with me for the last 9 years that I am not a brand gave me the freedom to ask my own questions and write what I am passionate about. I didn’t always follow it well. That is a regret. There are times where I have to reevaluate and remind myself of this. It’s so easy to even turn our convictions into brands to package, sell, and defend at all costs. Branding is necessary, but needs put in its proper place. Convictions are not brands. People are not brands. Christ does not exploit his people.

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This is a question that’s been haunting me. My writing, publishing, and speaking were born out of both a desire and struggle to learn about discipleship in adulthood. I had some basic questions as a young adult:

If I’m going to take this being a Christian thing seriously, what does that look like?

If Christianity is true, what can I hold fast to when I don’t want to act like one?

And how do I grow into maturity?

In seeking answers to these questions, other women resonated with my curiosity and I was asked to teach a women’s Bible study. Of course, the beautiful answer turns our eyes to knowing and communing with the triune God. In this time, I experienced the thrill of discovering theology, a group of thinking women who ask the hard questions, and our joy in growth together. But this excitement came crashing down when the pastor revealed in a flippant comment that his expectations for our learning were lower than the theological questions we had. After all, we were the women’s Bible study. Keep doing your nice learning over there. Wink.

Where does a thinking woman in the church go to be discipled? Turns out we capped out.

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There seems to be a lot of concern and “I told you so’s” on social media this week over my trajectory. I find that an interesting word. At first, I was bothered by it as it is being used in the sense that I started off in a good place and now I’m headed to the danger zone. That all along, I’ve been deceiving everyone. I’m the devil in the shape of a woman, trying to take everyone with me on my trajectory.

But as I think about it, I am on a trajectory. That’s why complementarianism, as it’s defined in contemporary evangelicalism, can’t hold me. Women in their spaces can only grow in limited ways.

My trajectory is nothing less than communion with the triune God and all his beloved. My trajectory is the union of heaven and earth, Christ and his bride, behind the veil, joined with all who love the Son, the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared like a bride adorned for her husband (Rev. 21:11).

Because, typologically speaking, the last man standing is a woman. I think of Christ’s words to his church/bride:

 “Your neck is like the tower of David, constructed in layers. A thousand shields are hung on it—all of them shields of warriors.”

Song 4:4
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Colin Smothers wrote a piece for CBMW about me speaking during a church service last week and titled it, That Was Then, This Is Now. He pulled up an article I wrote back in 2013 answering a reader’s question about the difference between a woman preaching and a woman writing a blog post. He must have been doing some serious digging! I should thank him for reading through my archives so intently. But he’s right…

That Was Then

That was the good ol’ days when Aimee played by the complementarian rules. She discovered that they hold the subjugation of women higher than orthodox trinitarianism. She found that they value Danvers over Nicene. They demand that she publicly answer questions made by anonymous men, or lose her job. They misrepresent her work in their “academic” reviews. They turn her out of her own denomination by enabling their leaders to openly revile her, leaving her unprotected and traumatized by the whole process of asking for help.

That was then.

This is Now

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It is time! The Sexual Reformation: Restoring the Dignity and Personhood of Man and Woman is now available! And it doesn’t stop with the book. You can join me, Sheila Gregoire, Mike Bird, Beth Allison Barr, Nijay Gupta, and Tiffany Bluhm for a virtual conversation series and live Q&A on April 19th. You can sign up for that here. This is just the beginning. Here is a little sneak peek into the Introduction, Reformation Moves Forward:

Imagine there is a heaven.

In 1971 John Lennon released what became his bestselling single as a solo artist, “Imagine.” He asked us to imagine a world with no heaven, no borders, and no possessions. This imagining was supposed to help promote peace, as we live only for today and no longer have reasons for war, greed, or hunger. If we could just get rid of the realities of God, land, and our basic needs, we could come together as one. We would love each other.

John Lennon was wrong about that. We aren’t God, and we wouldn’t exist without him. But imagining that we could, we would have no goodness, as all goodness comes from him. The problem is not the gifts he’s given us but the corruption of our own hearts. The solution for peace isn’t imagining no heaven; the solution is setting our eyes on the beautiful truth. The solution is to have an eschatological imagination,[1] to think deeply about our ultimate aim.

Imagine heaven and earth coming together—a new heaven and new earth.

Imagine a triune God who created us to have eternal communion with him and with one another there. Imagine that this God created us as icons, or representative symbols, of himself, showcasing a great love story— the story of the outgoing, overflowing love of the triune God. Maybe it is hard to imagine this kind of love. But give it a try. Imagine that we are created to share covenantally in the Father’s love for the Son, in the Holy Spirit. Imagine that our very bodies tell the story of a gift given in eternity—a gift of a bride to the Son. Imagine man and woman revealing the deep mystery of an eternal trinitarian covenant that is prefigured in creation.

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There are many disillusioned disciples today. Church isn’t what we thought it was. As I’ve said elsewhere, instead of giving the world a beautiful picture of Christ’s bride and a glimpse of our telos in communion with him and one another, we see much ugliness and abuse of power. In multiple denominations. How did we get here? What is church supposed to be? What is our witness to the watching world?

I’m still thinking about this. What does healthy discipleship look like? What happens when love is in the church? Why do many seem so afraid of this? The other day I tweeted “theology without love is dead.” As many resonated with this simple statement, the qualifiers and corrections came rolling out.

Here’s the thing: Christianity is a confessional faith. But as necessary and beneficial as our creeds and confessions are, they can’t give you love. They were never meant to be alone like this. Theology without love is theology without God. And that’s not theology at all. We worship our God in spirit and in truth. We need both. Without love, there is no beauty, no significance, and no place for our longings to land. Theology without love is not only dead; it isn’t safe. And it is driven by shame. Theology without love is shameology.

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“When we read authors who use language different from what we’re used to, we have an opportunity to try to hear what they are intending to say, an opportunity for empathy and what theologians once called the judgement of charity.”

This is what I needed to do. I thought I already was, but reading Greg Johnson’s book, Still Time to Care, has revealed just how much more I need to learn, to listen. I love the handle of this book. It is an invitation to care. Johnson writes as a pastor and as a survivor who is still in the trenches of being vilified. He writes asking for us to hear the experiences of homosexuals, gays, lesbians, queers, same-sex attracted­—whatever terminology is meaningful to describe themselves—in the church.

He begins the book with a “Note on Terminology” that I needed to read. I used to be more persuaded that “same-sex attracted” was a more faithful way to describe homosexuality. I thought that “gay” was too identity-driven. I thought that Christians who know that their identity is in Christ should not want to label themselves with a term that connects to a sexual orientation, especially when the temptations that flow from this orientation are not morally neutral. To go a little off script here to something Johnson probably wouldn’t say, I recently was encouraged by an acquaintance when I was saying I should be better at something. She said, “Should is an asshole.”

And so Johnson gave me an opportunity to see a more opened up picture of what is behind all this language. As it turns out, there is a lot of historical baggage around the different terminology on sexual orientation. And different age groups hear them differently due to their experiences. I had a lot to learn. But for starters, Johnson doesn’t insist on a specific terminology. He doesn’t want that to get in the way of the opportunity to try to hear. And so he swaps terminology throughout the book, asking for charity as he is trying to speak for and reach a diversity of people. I want to get passed the terminology wars to the heart of the matter. Anyway, who the heck am I from my position of safety with my sexual orientation to tell those who are not how to describe themselves?

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