Missional Tunnel Vision

This month I’ve been wrapping up my summer schoolwork with an independent study of feminist theology, and I have really loved it! My research has been educational, thought-provoking, and personally challenging, which is exactly what I was hoping it would be.

As I have explored the history of feminism and its relationship to Christian theology, I’ve noticed a significant historical trend that includes, but is not limited to, feminism. To give you a little background on what I mean, one of the early criticisms of the feminist movement was its narrow scope. Although feminism sought to achieve equal rights and status for women, the movement was predominantly led by middle class, educated white women. Women of other ethnicities and nationalities consequently felt marginalized by the dominant ideologies of the movement. Although feminism set out to end this kind of social stratification, it unintentionally added to it.

Now before we villainize feminism for this hypocrisy, it is important to point out that feminism is not the first to make a mistake of this kind. Feminism is just one of many movements throughout history that initially marginalized others in its own quest for freedom.  Consider the United States’ own history. Our nation is founded on the pillars of freedom and equality,  and yet this newly liberated State was built on the backs of oppressed African slaves. White men achieved unprecedented freedom, only to withhold that freedom from women and minorities.

Examples such as these abound. When a group accesses freedom and empowerment, no matter how populist or democratic its initial intentions may be, it is likely to overlook others in need of liberation. In fact, some movements deliberately disadvantage others in order to ensure their own success.

As I studied feminism and reflected on this historical pattern, I began to wonder whether I succumb to the same kind of tunnel vision. Have I ever focused so unflinchingly on a personal cause or call that I forgot about the bigger picture and marginalized others in the process?

I am quite sure that I have. For example, I love teaching and discipling women in the church. I feel called to serve and equip Christian women, and I feel it is incumbent on the church to do the same. However, my passion can easily morph into tunnel vision, especially when Christian women are marginalized by the church. The urgency of this injustice, which is particularly close to my heart, narrows my gaze.

As a result of this tunnel vision, I lose perspective. My determination to advocate for women in the church can eclipse other aspects of the Christian call. I can become so focused on women in the church that I ignore women outside the church who need the love of Christ, or I forget about women around the world who need food, clean water, safety, and medical support.

Whether this tunnel vision is a manifestation of sin or simply the limited capacity of human nature, it is a common temptation that takes many forms. For people like me, ministries in the church draw our attention away from ministries to the world. For others, protecting their family can prevent them from protecting the poor and the weak outside their family. And still others can become so absorbed in evangelism or social justice that they neglect the friends and family closest to them.

To be fair, none of us is called to serve in every area of ministry out there. In fact, God does NOT call us to a degree of over-commitment in which we do everything, but we do it poorly. However, ministry is not a zero sum game in which commitments are mutually exclusive. There are ways that I can serve the women in my church AND serve women outside the church.

In fact, I know women who do just that. In His goodness, God has connected me with women who exemplify the full vision of the Christian life, and here are just a few of them:

Although each one of these Christian women writes from the particular perspective of motherhood, each sets an example for mothers and non-mothers alike. These women resist the tunnel vision that would monopolize their time and attention, opting instead for a life that reflects the fullness of Christ’s.

These women also remind us that the different spheres of Christian ministry are beautifully complementary: Global outreach gives me patience and perspective at home. As a mother one day, community outreach will model mission-mindedness for my children. And the reality of female oppression worldwide reminds me to be grateful for the equality women enjoy in America.

When understood this way, the multi-faceted Christian call seems less like a list of duties and more like a glimpse of God’s design for humanity. We are meant to be connected to one another, loving one another and serving one another. When we sequester ourselves in one part of ministry or service, we miss out on the fullness of God’s heart for the world. When tunnel vision limits our sight, I suspect it also limits our love.