Monday, June 27, 2016

To My Siblings in our Denomination

NOTE: Our denomination is theologically conservative. It is also culturally and politically conservative. It is complementarian, with a wide range of what that means for different people and churches. Part of why I am weary, of why this is so difficult for me, is that I am theologically conservative, but not culturally or politically so. I am a complementarian, valuing the overall leadership of men in the church, but also a "soft" complementarian, not thinking that women should be entirely absent or silent. It's a difficult middle ground.

I wish we could either have a new term, not having to use "soft" complementarian all the time, as though it's some wimpy, pitiful twisting of complementarianism. Or I wish we could reclaim the old term, resting in the beauty of the ways that the male and female genders complement one another, contrasting, highlighting, enhancing one another as we serve and lead together. But that is another post for another time.

Friends outside of the denomination, I apologize that this post may feel irrelevant or even frustrating. Thanks for bearing with me. Thanks for reading, anyway. I value your voices and regret any hurt I cause. But this is part of my journey, and this is important to me. So I can't help but write about it.

Dear Brothers in our Denomination,

Yesterday's sermon at church was beautiful.

I've recently had "remember your identity in Christ" preached at me by two men (with coincidentally the same name), and one could not be more different from the other. One strong, gracious, and Biblical. The other... not so much. I'm trying to hold to that truth I was reminded of yesterday--that my identity comes in Christ, not in how the world labels me (or even how I label myself), but it's hard. In part, because I sin. Because I play "I'm God's gift to the earth/Wait, I'm a worthless worm" mental games in between being reminded of the Gospel. Hooray sanctification.

It's also hard because the truth--that my identity is in Christ--isn't mutually exclusive with the pain of those other labels and the way I identify myself and others. We're in the "here and not yet" church age, and there are still things being worked out, still ways in which God is working out his truth in our hearts. Why is it important that I'm a multi-ethnic, multi-cultural woman serving my family, church, and graduate students? It matters precisely because of that truth--that I was created in the image of God, and he loves and delights in who he has made me to be. My gender, culture, and other identifiers aren't irrelevant because my identity is in Christ, they are celebrated in the wide diversity of the church. God hasn't saved a bunch of bland, indistinguishable people. He's saved a beautiful variety of people, in all colors, shapes, sizes, and personalities. He's saved men and women, and he values their differences.

And now we come to it.

After much initial drama and debate, our denomination has approved a Study Committee on Women in Ministry. This is a good thing. But it's also a polarizing thing. Already our little corner of social media has been ablaze with people who are both excited and distrustful. Already people are questioning the selection of the committee, the threat of it, the necessity of it, the timing of it. These voices are mostly white men. I don't hate white men. I'm really quite smitten with the one I'm married to. I respect and admire the ones who are our associate pastors and those who make up part of our elders. I gratefully sit under the tutelage of several white men in seminary.

The reaction on social media does seem to prove the necessity for the committee, and for it to include women. As one new friend on Facebook said, "If you want to know how certain things appear and feel to women members of the church, you kind of have to ask them." Thank you, sir.

And what I think many people are forgetting in all the hullabaloo is that behind it all are women. Women who have invested their lives in our denomination. Women who are more than stereotypes. Women who have submitted their lives to Christ, and are just trying to follow him faithfully.

But what I see in much of these discussions is the Three Female Ghosts that Haunt the Church. I'm haunted by these ghosts, brothers, and so are you. Please, I ask you--in all humility--see the women around you, hear our stories. Don't let whispers of ghosts and stereotypes be the only voices you hear.

Perhaps you see me as The Usurper--one of the women described in Jen Wilkins' above article as being perceived as "authority thieves." I'm not trying to usurp authority. I'm trying to serve from under proper authority--my elders, my husband, my God. Authority is a God-given, beautiful thing, and we can all thrive under it. I believe this.

Perhaps you're threatened by my exegesis. I've done some of the studies (in the Greek, yes) and I am a complementarian. But Biblical complementarianism does not (and should not!) equal chauvinism. I'm not trying to change your stance on Biblical truths, I'm trying to show you other Biblical views of your cultural norms.

Maybe you worry that I'm The Temptress--you think that "being above reproach [equals seeing women...] as sexual predators." Or you want to treat me like The Child because you think I'm "emotionally or intellectually weaker than men."

I wish you'd see me, and then treat me accordingly, as a sister.

I wish you'd see the women in your church. In your home. In your seminary. See the girls in your nursery, in your school, in your neighborhood. See the widows in your SS class, in your grocery store, in your city.

I wish you'd stop trafficking in stereotypes of angry women, who are demanding all sorts of rights. I wish you'd stop letting these Ghosts chair your committees and preach your sermons and type on your Facebook pages. I wish you'd really see, and listen to, the individual women around you who are indeed angry, but also weeping, and serving, and loving, and leading, and being humbled and renewed by the spirit.

I want to be sensitive to those men who truly feel threatened by what they see as the "scourge of liberalism" sneaking into our denomination. Its true--you are within your rights to be worried, to speak out, to voice concerns. But since when has Christianity been ultimately about our rights? Isn't it about what I learned in my Christology class about κενωσις? About following Christ's example as he laid down his rights, not to ignore the truth, but to pursue it? About seeing who else feels threatened, or marginalized, or hurt, and trying to understand their perspective, to support them, to be willing to listen to their stories?

Brothers, can you take a second to imagine what it feels like to be a token voice in a focus group for our new denominational logo, but be unable to vote on it? I'm not even saying that should or shouldn't change. I'm saying can you imagine the frustration or the feeling of being lesser?

Brothers, can you imagine what it was like to sit--for five hours--and listen to a discussion about your gender, without hearing from a single person of your gender (which is about 50% of the population)? Again, I'm not discussing whether we need change or not. I'm saying, just please try to imagine the feeling of helplessness and invisibility. The feeling that you are required--and always will be--to sit behind the curtain in what is essentially the Court of the Women and the Gentiles. It's alienating to say the least.

Brothers, can you picture a scene where people younger, less-trained, and in no actual authority over you consistently call you dismissive names as though you're a child? Can you picture the pain of being ignored merely because of your gender? Can you picture, and really try to sit with the image for a moment, the grief when other human beings--siblings in the gospel--look at you with suspicion and fear the minute you walk in the door, going where an actual authority figure has asked you to go?

Dear brothers, we are your sisters, which means we need and deserve your kindness in daily life, your protection from those who seek to harm us, your guidance as we serve in our homes and churches, your empowerment as we lead in appropriate ways.

We are also your co-heirs in Christ, which means we do not need your saving of our souls, your justifying of our existence, your condemnation as though only Eve ate the fruit, your platitudes in our grief, or your parenting as though we are your children (unless you're literally our dads--and then, it's still pretty specific in Ephesians how you're supposed to do that graciously). We are sinners saved by grace, just like you.

Some of you get it, or are at least listening. In my To My Brothers in Seminary Post, I didn't name names. I guess the same truths hold here. But you know who you are. Thank you for listening. For using your privilege to advocate for the voiceless. Thank you for being willing to admit mistakes and to fight back the Ghosts. Thank you for being strong, gracious, caring, stereotype-defying brothers.

A Fellow Sibling

Dear Sisters in our Denomination,

I'm writing to say a few things. First, I lament with you. Even if the pain were not also my own, I would weep with you. And, I recognize that not all of our grief comes from the same places. Intersectionality is also an issue--for those of you who are also of certain ethnicities, socio-economic and educational statuses, etc., it can be hard to sort out why exactly you are being treated as lesser. In addition to other areas, for the areas in which you have felt grief for being shamed and not valued because you are a woman, I am sorry.

But a discussion on Facebook brought something to my attention. Some of you may not be feeling this pain, or may not have recognized it as being tied to your gender. Some of you may be already empowered to be faithful wives, mothers, and nursery workers. This is wonderful. But in commending the committee members to us, one of my professors said that "if we can't trust [the committee] on this issue, then we have far more problems than we know." I agree that they are trustworthy, gracious people. I (obviously) agree with the need for a committee. But I question not their trust but their representation. The committee members are heavily skewed to the majority. The majority of our denomination is of a certain age, stage, and educational/social background. But not all of us women who call it home are of that demographic.

There's a Fourth Ghost that haunts us, sisters: The Rebel. She who others think really would be happiest, if she only would submit to all the cultural (not Biblical) expectations for her. If she'd just stop fussing and accept things, she could focus and be at peace. She haunts us women perhaps most of all. We are not all stay-at-home moms. We are not all dainty, small, and graceful. We are not all called to be pastor's wives, or to host tea parties, or to homeschool. Not all of us are married, or have kids, or like crafting. And our callings and families are as beautiful and valuable as are the majority. But The Rebel doesn't want us valuing each other in our differences. She wants us to shame, blame, and accuse each other--on both sides--until we cannot see past the rift we have created. She wants us to be enemies, not siblings.

Sisters, will our voices be heard? Will those of us who are working outside the home be valued and heard? Will those of us who are single, or older or younger, be considered as the committee looks at what the Bible has to say? Or will those among us who are the Other be further marginalized--not because we actually disagree with the findings, but because no one thought to apply those findings to a broad spectrum of women within our denomination?

I hope they will. I do not doubt this committee will undertake its work with all seriousness and dependence on the Holy Spirit. I just hope that a committee on "Women in Ministry" will not limit itself to women ministering within current (read: culturally acceptable) norms. I pray that we will truly listen to the Bible and not let our denominational cultural norms dictate the findings. I know I'm in one accord with the committee when I say:

I want to hear Jesus speak.

And I know, sisters, that you do, as well.

A Fellow Sister


Unknown said...

Dear Fellow Sister,

Thank you, thank you, thank you for this blog post! I stumbled across it from a share by a friend on Facebook, and I'm so glad I took the time to read it. I am a white male who serves with an interdenominational mission agency that regularly partners with MTW in various locations around the globe. I worship and serve at a church that was a PCA church plant but since the Lord blessed us with theologically conservative elders from a broader spectrum of evangelicalism, we're now independent. Interestingly, the catalyst for the move was our position on the legitimacy of deaconesses.

You have very eloquently--yet powerfully--expressed concerns that have been heavy on my heart since my seminary days (1980s) and throughout my ministry, having served both as a missionary pastor (in Japan) and now as a mission agency personnel person. Though we are by no means consistent in our application of our "soft complementarianism," we recognize that God's intent for us as a body of believers working together is for us to value the redeemed image of God hardwired into our sisters in ministry. It only makes sense that decisions be made with male and female eyes, ears, and intellects bringing intel to the table. We wrestle with the appropriate application of headship, recognizing our desperate need not only to hear the voices of the women in our midst but also to give those voices opportunity to shoulder together the consequences (good or bad) of decision making (both voice and vote). You're right, we need a better way to express our position now that "complementarianism" has been reduced to the you're-so-cute-bless-your-heart-sit-quietly-over there attitude.

Thank you for so winsomely advancing the conversation! May God grant your readers eyes to see and ears to hear so that His name will be made even more glorious by the way we--His image bearers, being both male and female--lock arms and work together.

Believing the best,
A Supportive Brother

Chandra said...

Dear Brother,

Thank you for your kind words and encouragement! I, and other sisters, thank you, and I'm sure men and women from around the globe are benefitting from God's work in you.


p.s. look me up on FB if you're so inclined :)

Anonymous said...

I can't thank you enough for this post. It's discouragingly rare that I get to hear anything that incorporates a developed view of Christ into a developed idea of feminism (I don't know if that's a word you want to attach to this, but I call it like I see it). I often feel like I can't have both - that I have to choose between submission to Jesus or being treated well.

It makes me very, very sad and very, very angry to see my sisters, as well as myself, not being acknowledged, let alone loved, as (partial, imperfect) reflections of God's likeness. We often condemn "secular culture" from our pulpits, as though Christian tradition had no hand in shaping the world that I've grown up in - that the words of God have been twisted so that both men and women grow up believing that women can't reflect God's wisdom, or His intelligence, or His strength, and men can't reflect His compassion, His beauty, His humility. And it's these last few traits that have shame attached to them, in denial of both the wholeness and goodness of God's creation and the wholeness and goodness of God himself.

I'm not about to say I know exactly how women differ from men. I do know this: the pinnacle of humanity is not a football locker room. Jesus's love crosses all boundaries; those of language, of culture, of race, of time, of gender, and, thank God, of sin, and of death itself.

It's my prayer that I, as well as my brothers and my sisters, can begin to see that. So thanks again for writing this in a way that encourages and challenges me.

Chandra said...

Thank you so much for commenting! It's such a good point that the church has indeed had a hand in shaping culture, in good ways and in bad. And hallelujah for the freedom for men and women alike to express all the sides of God's character.

It makes it all worthwhile to know that God has used my words to encourage you!


Al LaCour said...

Chandra - My dear sister in Christ, I deeply appreciate your special gifts, your clear voice, your courageous heart, and your desire to speak biblical truth-in-love to your "fellow siblings" - sisters and brothers, in your denomination. I've posted this as your "Facebook friend," but also here on this Blog, which was commended to my reading. Thank you for your profound appeal! Or, as I used to say when we both served the diverse students at Georgia Tech - 谢谢! You have many friends in Atlanta who miss you!