Tuesday, April 11, 2017

To Those with Influence

Dear Folks in Charge,

I could be writing this letter to many high-profile pastors and theologians. Asking those influential leaders to please reconsider, see reason, or think about how their bold statements affect those of us in the pew. But I'm not. I'm writing to you, Professor. I'm writing to you, Pastor. I'm writing to you, Elder; and you, Chairperson; and you, Dean. I'm writing to all the people that I actually know in some way, who seem to actually care about what I'm thinking. I'm writing to the leaders--in all my spheres of life--who have some measure of influence on these outspoken "rock star" Christians. I'm writing to those folks who seem to still be willing to listen to the average person, as opposed to those whose arrogance seems to be blinding them to listening to anyone other than those they see as equals.

I know that's a brassy thing to say, to classify them as arrogant. I know that it doesn't necessarily lessen the blow to say that you--leaders that I do know in some way--are not as arrogant. I should clarify. We're all arrogant. I'm arrogant. (I think we're all well aware of that.) But I think the lack of humility and God-centeredness (which all humans struggle with) shows itself in different ways. It manifests itself differently in different folks, and it looms large in the lives of leaders whose opinions go unchallenged and unchecked. I know these fellow leaders are your friends, and hearing them or their ideas maligned isn't easy. I know they are, in some ways, also my leaders, and as such deserve respect according to their office. But your friendship with them is precisely why I am writing you, friends. Because someone's got to be willing to say something to them in a public sphere, and that sure isn't me. For several reasons.

Let me be clear. I am not asking you to disown these fellow servants, to throw them under the proverbial bus, or to make a spectacle of them. I know there are some conversations--some of which you are no doubt having--that are best left private for both Biblical and human reasons. But there are two reasons why I am entreating you to openly speak to your fellow leaders--for our sake, and for theirs.

For the sake of the church, we need to speak out against evil rhetoric. You know this. You are very good at doing this in many ways. You speak out against the evils of misogyny, racism, and violence against the helpless. This is, in part, why I so joyfully submit myself to your leadership. I believe in you. You give beautiful, passionate sermons and lectures about pursuing holiness, about the work of God in bringing his shalom and justice. You make it clear what you stand for, and I am grateful. And yet.

And yet you align yourself--in a way that makes it seem wholeheartedly--with those who do not stand against those evils. It seems to me that there is a prevailing thought in leadership that if you just ignore the troubling rhetoric of your siblings, they will cease and desist. I think it's time to speak this truth: they are not stopping. They have not stopped. And until they are called--graciously and lovingly--to account for their theology and how they have caused pain, I do not believe they will stop.

Let me give an example of what I would love to hear. I think we've already agreed that I'm being brazen here, so I'll not hem and haw around what I am asking you to do, dear leaders. If you were to say--publicly (on a blog, in an article, a tweet, a sermon message, a podcast, etc.) and not just privately--"I love this dear brother x. His heart for x ministries is evident. He has been a powerful force used by the Lord for x. For this I am grateful. But his views on women, and what he presents as complementarianism, is not what I stand for. It is not what this organization/school/platform stands for. We believe in the robust support of men and women, in various spheres of influence, as leaders in their fields. Though we support a complementarian view which holds men and women as inherently different and with different, God-ordained roles in the home and the church, this does not play out in a 1950's 'secretaries, teachers, wives, and mothers only' way. Women can be CEOs. Women can be lay leaders in the church. Women can teach, they can engineer, they can innovate, they can minister, they can write, they can speak, they can lead. We support this."

I know there are several responses to what I just wrote. To my egalitarian friends, I apologize. I know there doesn't seem to be a distinction here, between different brands of complementarianism. I can only say that I am sorry for the pain this causes you, and beg you to continue to dialogue with me on this, trusting what you know of me and other robust complementarians to help the conversation along.

On the flip side, to folks who agree with hyper-complementarianism's restrictions and think that I am theologically way off-base here, I'm curious to know why you're reading this blog and allowing me to have influence in your thinking--especially if you're male. I would love to dialogue about this, too. I will say that the bold statement above is only a paraphrasing of what I have heard many leaders say in response to the question of women's roles and what robust complementarianism looks like. These are not radical statements that I made up. What is radical is someone actually calling for these statements to be held over against statements which do not affirm women as any sort of leaders or having any influence over men, ever.

And to the leaders whom I have paraphrased above, who have said these affirming, life-giving things about the roles and leadership of women, you may not see the point. Because yes, you are already saying these important things. You are standing up for those who have no voice in a fallen world. And for that I am really and truly grateful. But I think we are on the same page when I say that we want to see these things changed by the power of the gospel. We want to see less sexism, less dismissive mistrust of women. We are working together to see fewer women grieved by ignorance, abuses, and bad theology in the church. We believe that God is doing these things.

Why then the letter? you ask. Why not just keep doing the good work, fighting the good fight? Well, in addition to the fact that the schtick of my blog is writing letters, I'll answer that the advancement of the cause requires more. It requires more than just two ships passing in the night. Rather than two competing views of women's roles, there needs to be an actual dialogue. And sometimes, an actual conflict. I am asking you, leaders, to say hard things to these other leaders. To say "No, friend. You and I do not agree on this, and I must speak out here, even though I may risk our friendship. I do this because I will stand on my theological convictions with integrity and the understanding that what I say matters to the men and women in our classrooms, our churches, our businesses and our organizations. You and I may even have to agree to disagree, but I will not, by my silence, give the impression that I am ambivalent about this." That is the kind of support I am asking for.

I get called an instigator a lot. Sometimes the accusations are true, and I need to repent. Sometimes, they are wholly untrue, and others need to step back and evaluate themselves. Most often, it is a muddy mix of the two, where I am in need of good leadership to help me listen, rethink, and repent where my attitude is bad. Most often, there is something good to be said in there, mixed in with my anger and heartache and passionate stubbornness. So lead, dear ones. Lead by being willing to speak whenever anyone in your sphere of influence needs guidance. This includes me, but it also includes these other leaders. It must include both, if we are to be as impartial as Paul exhorted us in James 2.

There is room to both affirm the views you agree with, and respectfully speak out against the views with which you do not hold. And there is a way to do that which does not denigrate the person. You know that. You've taught me that. And when it comes to speaking out for the sake of these leaders--no matter the subject--I beg of you, show us some of the "iron sharpening iron" that is such an integral part of the Body of Christ. Hold them accountable, and by doing so bless them with your speaking the truth in love, and us with your advocacy and clarifications. Help those of us in the pew learn how to actually engage one another on hard topics, not how to just "get along."

This really could be about any issue--missions, race, money, anger, etc. I have just chosen one that is especially painful right now. Basically, I'm asking you to stand up for what you already believe in. I do believe you are already working out these issues privately, which is wise and gracious of you. And I'm not asking you to shame your fellow leaders. But please also have some of these conversations publicly, for the benefit of the church. And if you believe that I have sinned in penning this, then I trust that you will tell me, graciously and firmly. I trust that you will make your position clear, both in private and in public. I ask for no less for your fellow leaders.

A fellow follower of Jesus, and one entrusted to your care.