Friday, March 31, 2017

To my Brothers in our Denomination

NOTE: Well, here we are again. My denomination's online presence is in an uproar. Friends of other denominations, I hope this doesn't grieve you too badly. Thank you for your patience. Egalitarian friends, I know this will grieve you, and for that I can only say I'm sorry. That, and thank you for loving myself and other flawed siblings, anyway. Thank you for listening with the same grace as when I wrote this blog post.

Today, I will write to my denominational brothers, some of whom have acted very harshly. I will try to write to my denominational sisters soon.

Dear Brothers in the Lord,

I have been incredibly saddened as I've read ungracious responses to this podcast at Truth's Table. This is not just as a theological debate, it is discourse that affects actual people in our churches. When Christina, Ekemini, and Michelle spoke strongly about the painful experiences of women in reformed circles--the feeling of "Gender Apartheid"--it struck a chord in me. I wept to know that I wasn't alone in my experiences of being belittled and dismissed.  When I saw the responses of some to the podcast--not merely negative, but condemning and hateful--I wept again.

To those of you who are in quite an uproar right now about the ideas from the podcast--by all means, engage it. Critique it. Give Biblical reasons for what you see as error. These wonderful women welcome discussion. They desire to see iron sharpen iron. But express your concerns Biblically. That means without hatred and without vitriol. It means with passion that is restrained by patience and a desire for reconciliation and growth, for the peace and purity of the church.

To those of you who were blessed by it--please speak up. Some of you are in the discussion already. Some of you are blissfully ignorant about all the hullabaloo. Well, brothers, it's time. It's time to take a stand. Not a stand saying, "I completely agree" or a stand saying "I completely disagree." No, a stand saying,

"I completely reject human beings denigrating the image of God in other human beings."
That kind of a stand.

The kind of a stand which might even disagree with some of the exegesis on the topic at hand, but holds oneself and others to a higher standard while discussing disagreements.

Or the kind of a stand which might fully agree with everything said in the podcast, but still refuses to be arrogant and is determined to be open to loving correction.

The kind of a stand that Jesus made.

Because Jesus preached truth. Bold, earth-shaking (literally!) truth. But the truth he preached brought healthy conviction, an invitation to "sin no more," and the freedom that his sacrifice brings. He was hardest on the religious establishment of the day. He was most patient with the marginalized. And he got angriest when he saw people oppressing, misleading, and demeaning others.

So, brothers who disagreed strongly with the podcast--let's talk about why. I wish I had actually had more time to reflect on what I did and didn't agree with in the podcast. But "the gauntlet" was thrown, harsh words were spoken, and suddenly I couldn't just focus on the mistreatment of women as a theoretical idea as referenced in the podcast. Instead, I was seeing it played out before me, in living color and for God and everyone to see.

I won't mention specific names, because at this point, I'm not really concerned with the individual actions of some men. I'm concerned about the reformed movement as a whole. We all need to learn more about our inherently sinful attitudes toward women, many of which have been taught and reinforced and upheld in reformed circles. But I have references if you want them.

Brothers, It is disrespectful (1 Peter 2:17) to dismissively say that the podcast was "mostly [just] the women pontificating," especially when it's obvious that you disagree with what the sisters said. Disrespect for women's voices is evident here.

Brothers, it is hurtful and unhelpful (Matthew 12: 34-37) to show such disgust for other human beings, by saying "If you want your ears to bleed, just listen to the podcast..." When you call it "horrible" and "nonsense," you have made it clear that you do not merely disagree with their opinions, but you also don't respect their intelligence. Did the use of the word "penis" really make you feel "so dirty" that you "determined to take a bath"? Do you not see how hurtful and shameful it is for someone to be told that her speech is "utterly repugnant and a dishonor to the cause of Christ"? Did you really comment about another sister in Christ that she "speaks with the tongue of the serpent"... and think that's acceptable or honoring to the Lord?

Brothers, it is poor reasoning (Romans 12:1-2) to say that because you are "unaware of any church that doesn't let women greet at the door, share their testimonies (not disguised sermons, mind you), and play an active role in ministry," that means those churches and rules don't exist. When you are dismissive of our experiences and the inequalities in the church, you are dismissive of us. And you are teaching the next generation to be dismissive and uncaring, as well.

Brothers, it is unkind and unwise (James 3:13-18) to say that if we "simply celebrated the contributions that women made in ministry in the church already this whole debate on gender roles would go away, because it would be clear that we staunch defenders of gender roles love and celebrate women while refusing to budge on biblical practice." I wonder if the Truth's Table ladies feel loved and celebrated by the harshness of your critiques? I certainly don't always feel that way in reformed circles... unless I'm willing to adhere to cultural, extra-Biblical standards. And to imply that the debate would just go away if you cheered us on shows just how much of the depth of pain expressed has been lost on you.

Brothers, it is dismissive (Ezekiel 34:15-16) to say that someone is "just another pagan" although she has been vetted by her pastor, session, and seminary professors. Even if her statement was problematic, such a flippant response shows not only an absence of love toward a sibling, but also a heartbreaking disregard for those who are lost.

Brothers, it is demeaning (Ephesians 4:31-32) to treat a grown woman like a child, to interrogate her as though she were stupid, and to demand information from her as though she is an enemy and a spy. I simply cannot think that a statement like "... do your elders know you are hosting a podcast? Are they aware of it? Do they listen? What church? Email of your stated clerk please" is anything other than rudeness both to her and her elders.

And brothers, it is unloving and embarrassingly childish (1 Corinthians 13:8-12) to call anyone--let alone a woman--"Holier than thou [last name]" and reply in all caps (the internet equivalent of shouting). As a dear ordained brother said, "It's like this whole discussion validates the need for the podcast."

I could go on, but I won't. But if any sibling who is reading this wondered if these brothers really were being hateful and divisive, I hope this answers your question.

And... brothers who agree with all or some of the podcast--please speak up/keep speaking up. We need you now, more than ever. The brothers above need to know that you are in solidarity with us--the marginalized and disrespected, even if you agree with some of the critiques. Those brothers need to know that their opinions are not infallible, nor are they necessarily the majority opinion. And they need to know that there are consequences to real women (and men) from their actions. They need to know that you see them, and disagree with their behavior, even if you agree with their theological stances. Those brothers need to know that hateful attitudes will be called out just as quickly as will other "troubling" theological ideas. We all need to know that.

We all need to know that Jesus has not gone silent in his Church.

We need to be reminded, again and again, that his Church will prevail, not because she's glorified yet, nor even very sanctified currently, but because God is faithful when we are faithless. We need to know that valuing the imago dei and valuing strong theology are not mutually exclusive; but rather essential to each other. We need to know, and be reminded, how to love each other well.

Striving to serve Jesus with you,
A Sister in the Lord