Archive for January, 2004
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Bias, discrimination, workarounds and the future of women in ministry
I don’t fully understand what it means to be discriminated against because of my gender or the color of my skin. I know that it sucks and it is frustrating. I know that some women in evangelical Christianity have an internalized sense of inferiority.
I was in a Hermeneutics course a few years ago. It was taught by the same guy who is attempt to restart the dialogue on women in ministry in our denomination. We studied the issue in depth over an entire semester. It became quickly apparent the women in the class weren’t speaking up nearly as much as the men. I asked a number of them why they weren’t because I thought this was a great tragedy. Some felt they somehow had less right to speak to the issue. This when I realized how deep this goes.
There were others in the class that didn’t exhibit this internalized inferiority said that they didn’t want the conflict. I was at a loss because these women had many supportive friends in the classroom discussion including the prof. The debate was very civil and free from the emotions and hypersensitivity that plague women in ministry debate.
I really didn’t know how to interpret this and I was at a loss at how this could be rectified. I even sat down with the prof and talked about it a couple of times. In the end the class was great for me but it could have been so much better.
I am discriminated against for other reasons. It is a silent discrimination. Despite the fact that I have the gifts, the ability, the experience and training to lead a church it is unlikely I would ever be hired as anything more than a youth or children’s minister. I am far less likely to be invited out to someones house for fellowship and discussion. Some people believe that there is something inherently wrong with me. There is no sense of political incorrectness associated with making fun of what makes me different.
I have never been married.
Implement a workaround
I am a victim but I see no benefit in walking in the role of a victim. We are all victims of something or other. I don’t have any agenda to see more single people in leadership. With the nature of the church and how leadership functions I wonder why anybody would want to be a leader. I can find places to lead and discuss outside the traditional structures.
Often in computer programming and networking I run in to a problem that is too difficult or costly to tackle head on so I implement a work around. Sometimes it is less ideal but it does 90% of what the ideal solution does with much less effort. The next couple of decades it will be easier for women to lead from the fringes in alternative structures than it would be to change the establishment.
It’s only a matter of time
The issue of women in ministry in the evangelical context will become a non-issue within the next 20 30 years. This isn’t because of what is going on today. It’s because in 30 years the boomers will be dead, my generation and the next will be leading the church.
A few years ago I was in a Corinthains class that engaged in the gender roles debate. The class was divided in to 4 different groups holding 4 different positions. I ended up on the complementarians group. I did my research on the subject. I spoke eloquently and passionately about something I wasn’t sure I really believed. The class and my group was convinced that I was deeply devoted to the complementarian position. Our main opposition, the egalitarians, were in shambles. There arguments were so poorly crafted that even the prof said that their research was false.
At the end of the debate each member of the class handed in a piece of paper indicating which of the 4 positions they held. My group was re soundly defeated by the egalitarians. The people that are 18-20 years old now are profoundly different than even my age group.
It is only a matter of time.
Good chat with Jordon
Today I picked Jordon up at the airport. He was greeted by the nastiest weather we’ve had in years. A couple of people have asked how things are going. In the lastest round of blog warfare Jordon and I came out on opposite sides. I wasn’t for a second worried about our friendship and neither did he. As we talked some of that out I think we concluded that our positions on what is right for leaders to do with people of the opposite gender were very similar. If there was any disagreement it probably had more to do with our interpretation of some of the comments found on his weblog. I felt some of those commenters were misinterpeted, he didn’t.
Jordon, Mark and Scott are my best friends right now and I care a great deal about all of them. I don’t think the way Jordon has been mocked around the weblogs is fair. People don’t understand what goes on outside of the Jordoncooper.com and the comments. There are the emails, the instant messages, phone calls and face to face conversations that people don’t see. These can be much nastier than what we see on the screen.
In the blog world people talk about the A list, but there is a definite B list and Jordon is on it. When you hit the B list you become a target for everyone with an opinion. This just adds to the pressure and the scrutiny. When you crank up the pressure things become that much more difficult. I’m not saying Jordon couldn’t have done things differently at times. But I also can’t say I know that I could handle things as well as he does.
Something wonderful happened yesterday
At the college we have a mentoring program. The 3rd and 4th year students are paired up with a staff member and we meet once a week. It isn’t for very long but I get a chance to listen to and pray with a student. When it goes well, it goes very well. Yesterday it went well.
The person I meet with had just finished a paper on 2 Cor 5:16-21. Oh, man what an intro to a conversation. We ended up in Romans 6,7,8 as we talked about the tension between our effort in our relationship to Christ and what God does to transform us. At the end we prayed together. It was too short, but it was very good.
5:16 So then from now on we acknowledge no one from an outward human point of view. Even though we have known Christ from such a human point of view, now we do not know him in that way any longer. 5:17 So then, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; what is old has passed away—look, what is new has come! 5:18 And all these things are from God who reconciled us to himself through Christ, and who has given us the ministry of reconciliation. 5:19 In other words, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting people’s trespasses against them, and he has given us the message of reconciliation. 5:20 Therefore we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were making His plea through us. We plead with you on Christ’s behalf, Be reconciled to God!” 5:21 God made the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we would become the righteousness of God.
For me this verse puts what happened online in the last few days in a different light.
Dialog, what dialog?
I’ve been pondering the whole debate that went on in the weblogs about women in leadership and men and women interrelating. For a long time I’ve cared significantly about these issues. From what I have observed there will be little progress on this issue if people continue pushing the issue the way they have.
“Shit extracted from the bible”
For example one cannot regard one position as shit extracted from the bible” and in the same article call for men and women dialoguing together in the same spaces and entering into a proper conversation which involves a humble attitude and an honest recognition of where things have previously gone wrong”.
This is a one way ticket to jail, do not stop on go, do not collect $100.
Church leaders, especially evangelical church leaders care a great deal about what the bible says and not a whole lot about people being victimized. They probably should care more, but they don’t. There is no way around this.
The right way to approach this
At the college I work very closely with a guy who is attempting to get the denomination to take a second look at affirming women in ministry. We are having our first study conference on the issue soon. Just today we talked about the interpretation of 1Tim 2. He will accomplish far more by understanding the people and concerns on both sides of the issue.
Clarify before crucify
The next step is to make an honest effort to truly understand what people are saying. Just because people respond to you, that doesn’t mean they understood what you said in the first place. Conversely, when you respond make sure you understand whom you are responding to. It doesn’t take long to say I think you are saying this, is this what you are really saying?” What have we come to when we don’t wish to take a moment to clarify things before we come out with the nasty labels.
My story on cross gender mentoring/counseling
I have a long personal history of encouraging and affirming women as leaders and ministers. I’ve spent a lot of time in the bible college context. I used to spend a lot of time alone with women. Looking back I recognize I had some mixed motives for doing this but part of what motivated was a sincere desire to see people fulfilled and encouraged. I have always had a heart for those who are shut out our unfairly disadvantaged. I am very sure that I’ve done all I could on many occasions to encourage women as leaders in the church.
A few years ago when I returned to bible college I continued to relate with and encourage as many people as I could. Men and women. Before the end of the year some people misinterpreted my actions. Rumours started. I was pulled in by the student life department and was told that a large group of women were uncomfortable around me. I was completely and absolutely devastated. I voluntarily sought out the people to find out what the issues were and I apologized to the entire school. Since that point I have been extremely cautious. Why? Because there was whole group of people that ripped my life apart and put me through the shredder even though I was doing my best to help. I felt betrayed and dishonoured. I honestly don’t believe I’ve fully recovered from the situation.
So when I read Jordon’s response to the comments on his post I lost it. I completely and totally understand what those commenters were talking about. Any leader, whether or male or female should be cautious about getting too involved with someone of the opposite gender. If they don’t they can get totally screwed over.
I believe that people are reading what I wrote in the context of some other posts which I am not. I am not responding to what Jenny Baker said or all the issues surrounding men and women interrelating. I am saying that it is fair for leaders to refuse to enter in to emotionally intimate relationships with people of the opposite gender. That is all. If you don’t think it is fair for leaders to do this than it is very clear you have very little understanding of the relationship dynamics of church leadership.
Men mentoring women
On Jordon‘s blog there has been a lot of heat over the issue of women networking relationally with men. I think it is crucial that we frame this issue correctly.
On one side we have one group that believes that men mentoring women alone is a dangerous activity because it can lead to inappropriate sexual activity.
“I have friendships with many women, but I don’t go hang out alone with them in pubs – essentially, I don’t go on dates with them, and they don’t come over to my house when Liz is gone – that’s just widsom, nothing more. People can think that’s old-fashioned and male-centered all they want – whatever. They can also be unaware and end up getting divorced over an affair. I’ll stick with caution.”
On the other side this caution is perceived as a flaw in way men understand women.
“this conversation highlights how few spaces we have in our minds for women. Sexual partner seems to be the largest context for understanding our relationship to women”
I really don’t believe that Jen understands the issues here. This isn’t about men seeing women as sexual objects. This is the very rational concern that bad things can happen when men and women meet alone. This is no unfounded fear. Bad things do happen when men and women meet alone. I’ve heard countless stories from pastors who found themselves in potentially disastrous situations. The church is full of spiritual leaders who lapsed in to sexual sin. It isn’t just men who can’t keep their hormones in check. There are women who are strongly attracted to men with power. Sometimes women will falsely accuse a male pastor of sexual involvement.
It only takes one incident to ruin one’s marriage, career, ministry and hurt the local church. In my home town a woman made outrageous claims about being sexually abused by a local pastor. It went to court, the leader’s picture was posted in the paper. The whole situation was a complete disaster.
There are multiple ways in which people of both genders can be mentored and equipped. All it takes is one extra person to make things safe. Is this not a fair compromise given the incredible risks involved?
Women in Ministry
There has been some heated discussion about women in ministry on the following weblogs.
I’d like to contribute. I will preface my comments by saying that I am part of a house church that affirms women in leadership.
Understand the debate
Many of the people who don’t affirm women in leadership roles are simply trying to be faithful to scripture and 1Tim in particular. This isn’t sexism. There is solid scriptural evidence to deny women leadership in the church. If we don’t honestly and humbly engage with scripture on this issue we essentially have decided that we base our theology on what we think is right. I’m not willing to go there because our cultural values are rarely the same as God’s values. If we fail to move beyond our own postmodern cultural bias we will make the same mistakes the church has been making for almost 2000 years.
Two sites I recommend for further research
A recent survey found that 37% of pastors admitted to engaging in inappropriate sexual behaviour with someone in the church. Cross gender one on one mentoring is a bad idea because the risks are too high and there is too much too lose. That doesn’t mean people can’t be taught, trained and equipped in groups or even as couples.
Women in the emerging church
The emerging church has almost no hierarchy. Any one can comment on the Ooze, start a house church, or maintain a weblog. There are various ways people can exhibit leadership. Unless people want to start talking about specific organizations I don’t know how the path to leadership could be more free for women.
Is the emerging church so narrow that it cannot allow for people to follow the traditional interpretation of 1Tim 2? If we are going to move beyond the petty political/theological debates that often tear denominations apart we are going to have to let honest Christians come to legitimate interpretations of scripture that are different from ours. This includes traditional conservative ones.
The coldest it has been in years