02 August, 2006

Presbuteras: Before I Start

There are several reasons I continue to push for unpopular things. The biggest is probably just that I am a born pain in the butt. Such is life.

Right behind that is that the church must attain to the lofty goal the Lord has ordained for it. You should never change a winning strategy, but you should always change a losing one, and right now we are losing. Today's church is falling short of the goals the scripture has laid before it. We need to change strategies badly.

And sometimes I espouse an idea just because I cannot bear to look those in the eye who are hurt when I do not.

All of those reasons apply as I approach the subject of women taking leadership in the church.

This subject is dear to my heart because I owe my life to elder women, and because these elder women have been abused by their churches. I would have shipwrecked or suicided, except for two women who gave freely of all they had. These two women should have been called to positions from which they could bless their churches decades ago. Of course, the opposite happened. Since knowing them, I have met many, many more women whose stories should shame men everywhere into action. That has not happened, either.

This discussion always devolves to haggling over a couple of verses on which neither side will budge because, "the scriptures clearly say...." That is tragic. I promise I will get to those scriptures, but before that we need a good hard look at reality so we know what it is we are looking for. The church has rejected half of the blessings God has allowed her, and it shows. I wish I could change that, but even if I change nothing, I have to speak.

Silence is not golden.

I cannot start a series like this without addressing its emotional aspect. This post will be inflammatory to some. Anything less would be unjust. The rest of the series will probably have an inflammatory tinge to it as well, but I think this one will be my worst. I have too many sisters whom I love too much not to be angry, and I cannot be this angry without stating the reason why.

Let me start with an example.

Recently, the Catholic Church was sent into a tailspin, and the whole world rallied against it. A pattern of abuse of young boys by men in authority was revealed, and the world refused to accept it. Praise the Lord, exposure of these abuses and the resultant demands for change are making a difference.

But where is the outrage for the abused girls?

I am overwhelmed by the universality of abuse of women in our culture. Over and over again, as I get to know women, I eventually find out that each of them was attacked in some terrible way. Most of these women have observed an unspoken code of silence for years. Too often the ones who spoke out received no meaningful support for having done so.

There has never been a universal outrage against the abuse of women.

The outrage those abused boys witnessed validated their pain. By its outrage, society told those boys it was wrong for men in power to take from powerless boys all the things they took. It is hard for a child to be sure that things done by authority figures are really wrong. When the world stood beside them, and declared that the Catholic Church needed to punish and prevent such crimes, those boys could know for all time that they had a right to be angry.

Can you imagine being a young woman, and knowing that there was no outrage? In many cases, the elders know everything that happened, and they sweep it under a rug. The men know, and nothing is done. A child is informed that her protectors have talked to the offender, and he has promised to quit. What must that young woman think? Powerful men know her most intimate pain, and nothing happens. She just knows that she has been commanded to keep silent.

Men must not want it to stop. Good Men must not want it to stop. Good Men in Authority who could rally in her defence must not want it to stop. Good Men placed by God in Authority must not want it to stop. God must not want it to stop.

So damaged women tell damaged women that, "boys will be boys," and their pain is not validated. America the beautiful has a culture of abuse against women. Mothers have to send their daughters into this proud American culture of freedom and equality, knowing that they cannot protect them. A boyfriend, relative, church leader or stranger will probably hurt them some day, and when it's happened that mother might be able to say nothing more meaningful than, "boys will be boys."

It is against the matrix of this culture that the discussion must take place. It is not good enough to isolate the discussion to sterile exegesis. If you believe that women are equal in essence to men, but not in role and responsibility, you must deal with the fruit of your beliefs. Christianity has not addressed, much less cured, this problem. The simple fact that the male leadership has failed to meaningfully address this problem should be enough to push the subject, but of course it is not. History says that something must be done.

As conservative Christians, we have failed women time and again. Historically, we resisted giving women a voice in government and a voice in the workplace. We resisted giving women leadership roles in business. We even resisted giving women equal pay for equal work. These were failures, and we have not taken ownership of them, much less become suitably ashamed of them. The same conservatives who now prevent women from leading in the church would have blockaded them from the workplace 50 years ago. These same conservatives claim to be glad women are finally treated equally by society. What's more, these same men claim that the scriptures advocate all these things that their fathers claimed it prohibited. This is not honest. If, in 2006, you prohibit a woman from teaching in the church, admit that in 1956 you would have prohibited her leaving her home to work and in 1906 you would have prohibited a woman to vote. The scriptures were clearly against these things then.

Past failure is an indicator of future peformance.

I do not believe that the conservatives of our age are right any more than they believe the conservatives of that age were.

Today, we conservative Christians openly and happily advocate sufferage, equal opportunity, equal pay and smart women at the top of fortune 500 companies. If we are reminded of our track record, we merely tut-tut the leaders of the past for their short-sightedness, and praise our own 20-20 vision. Forgetting our history, we repeat the mantra, "The scriptures are clear. Women are not allowed to ....."

That blank has always been filled, the only question is with what.

A woman leaves her husband's bed and sleeps on the couch. The pastor quotes Corinthians to her - her body is not her own. Why does he not look for the reason she abandons her bed? Because the scriptures are clear. How many people have been devastated by clear scriptures? How many more must be before we doubt our vision? How many more good women must be called witches, rebellious and lesbians for protecting their children?

Am I being sensational? I can give you names and dates on those accusations. These women are attacked virulently, not by a pastor, or even by a board, but by an entire church. Because the scriptures are clear.

The scriptures are not clear.

The Pharisees pulled their donkeys out of pits on the sabbath, but we allow half the members of His church to suffer in silence. Instead of rescuing those being damaged, we explain that the scriptures are clear; she must not deny her husband access to her body. It is the scriptures that demand women suffer abusive marriages and abusive churches in silence. Hogwash.

This emotional argument is no proof, but it is real. Finding a woman who has not been abused is as hard as finding a pastor who has addressed the subject from the pulpit. Christian abusers are enabled from the pulpit about headship and submission in marriage, and we say nothing.

With this series, I officially leave the "we."

The New Testament shows women should have authority in the church. Yes, I know conservative Christianity's verses. 25 years ago, I used to quote them and passionately defended the "equal worth but unequal roles" position. I was wrong.

The church needs feminine insight given with authority. Nothing less will address some of our needs. The culture of abuse that women endure is one example, but there are other equally important examples. Worship, fellowship, teaching and organization can all be transformed by building them in the full image of God (which is both male and female.) The church is weakened by the absence of the feminine from her practices.

Let's change our losing strategy.

19 comments:

Milly said...

You touched me. I need time to compose myself now.

Thank you for being you.

Andreia said...

Thank you Codepoke. I intend to do what I can so that my daughters will be part of a church that welcomes their participation and their talents in whatever roles God places before them.
I appreciate this more than I can tell you. Its a welcome wake-up call.

codepoke said...

Thanks to you both!

Part of me wants to believe that I'm just crying wolf, but the facts shut that hope down. Christianity taught the whole world a realistic view of women, and then we didn't learn it ourselves. We'll get there.

I'll probably put out one more post before going to the scriptures.

Weekend Fisher said...

I started commenting .. and kept on commenting ... and kept on commenting ... and boy was I long-winded. So I responded over on my blog.

I think this post was a great place to start a conversation.

Take care & God bless

Lynne said...

Thank you for this. I am one of those women wno turned to the church for help in an abusive situation (I would rather not put the details on public record)and found only a "blame the victim" mentality. If I had been more submissive, conformist etc etc, none of those things would have happened!! yeah, right .. On the positive side, my negative experiences, and the rampant injustice drove me back to search deeper in the Word of God, to discover if my Father was as much against me as the church (for a long time I thought God hated me for not succeeding in fitting the mould)and i learned that a lot of the "bible-teaching" I had received on the subject simply wasn't what it really said. I still have much to walk through (especially as i am studying theology while part of a denomination that rejects any teaching role for women!!) but I am now walking in faith and confidence that the Lord really is my light and my salvation.

Milly said...

I was talking to my husband after I came home from work right before he was leaving for work about a meeting that took place in the same room that I was working in at church. He interrupted me several times to ask me why I hadn’t voiced my opinion. I was a bit embarrassed about part my reasons. (1.) It most likely would have been bad timing.

(2.)I wasn’t my meeting

(3.) I wasn’t invited.

(4.) I’m a woman in a CoC church.

The fact that I’m a woman stopped me from telling them how I felt. My husband listened to my opinion and add his. We agree. He’s calling someone to discuss the ramifications of it all.

The fact that I am a woman stopped me. Most men would have spoken up. I couldn’t tell him all the reasons for not speaking out on this huge issue. My Yankee Catholic raised man believes women are equal.

Will we as women ever allow ourselves the equality?
I think that the Women’s Rights Movement was very feared by some women I’ll keep my opinion on those reasons to myself.

Milly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
codepoke said...

Nice to meet you, Lynne.

Praise the Lord that you fled to God, and not away from Him. I have had a hard time convincing one of my dearer friends that Paul is really worth reading after the job they did on her with his words. It sounds like you found the truth in Christ, and that is a precious thing.

I wish I had some words for you on your denomination. May the Lord grant you patience.

I plan one more high-level post on what the church might look like if it were run by men + women, then we get into scripture next week.

codepoke said...

Milly,

It sounds like you obeyed your denomination's interpretation of the scripture perfectly. You had questions, and brought them home to your hubby. :-)

And it sounds like the church missed some good input. Then there's also the fact that you were stressed over it. All in all it sounds like a lose-lose deal.

Sorry.

May better days come.

Milly said...

It's about to be a huge elephant.
:-( Remaining silent was most likely a good thing.

Janet said...

Do you truly believe that most women have been abused? I certainly haven't, not unless you use a very, very wide definition of abuse.

I'm not arguing with your basic thesis, but I'm still stumbling on that word "most".

codepoke said...

Hello Janet,

"Most" is a strong word, and I appreciate your questioning of it. I also am glad that you have personally not been touched by the problem. May your tribe increase!

According to a licensed family counselor friend of mine the best estimates are 28% of college educated, middle-class women and 16% of similar men are sexually abused in their lifetimes.

When I heard those numbers, I did a pretty heavy double-take, because I must have some pretty statistically irregular friends. Among my friends, I have gotten a neurotic twitch about the subject. It seems like it has become a matter of when, not if, I find out something really hard has been done to them, and it seems a consistent theme that the men in their lives are an obstacle to their healing.

So, being a guy and actually quite socially limited, I don't really have an honest feel for what the numbers are. 28% seems like a basement number to me, but even that number is big enough to really freak out about. If every 4th woman I know needs help healing, we should be adjusting something.

About those 1 in 6 guys. This number is huge, too, and there is a strong chance it has been underreported. My anecdotal experience with guys reporting to me is 1 in 20 or less. But guys don't seek support the way women do, so my numbers are completely unreliable. I have to take the 1 in 6 as gospel. I believe a balanced leadership in the church would help guys as much as ladies.

Milly said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Milly said...

I’m with Codepoke on this one I know of several that went unreported including what happened to me.

DugALug said...

Codepoke,

Some disturbing thoughts to ponder. Abuses 'in the name of the Lord' are appalling, and your example of Catholic boy is an excellent point. Without question, society (globally), devalues the rightful place of women. Something about 'millstones around the neck' comes to mind.

I would like to add that your view of church leadership is somewhat naive and superficial. Men may hold the title of 'leader', but with every church that I have ever entered, it is women who are the heart and backbone that keeps the church thriving and functioning.

Ironically, it is generally the men who seek and want the glory. I see these saints, doing the work, caring for the children, moving and shaking with smiles and hearts open to God's calling.

Walk down the halls of any Sunday School, and you will find 10 female teachers to 1 male. How many men have you seen in the nursery? How about prayer couselors (about 4 to 1).

Lay leadership is overrun with females. While men flock to titles like 'pastor' or 'elder', women work to make the church a welcome place for my children, a place where prayers are brought up to God, and where God's love is shown in practical ways.

The abuse you have spoken of is only the tip of the iceberg. The bigger abuse is how men have shirked their responsibilies and have allow women to do the lion's-share of the work. We, as men have abused the role God has entrusted to us.

I go back to Esther and Mordacai comments to her. Essentially he said, don't think you are safe where you are. If you don't do the work God has called you to do, God will raise someone else. In the case of women in roles of leadership in a church. If God couldn't shake a man to do his propper role, He would have no problem filling that spot with a willing woman. Anyone who takes issue with this is out of touch with God.

The 'winning strategy' that you speak of is no different than it was 2000 years ago. Allow God to lead his church, and seek Him in all we do.

God Bless
-Doug

codepoke said...

DugALug,

... it is women who are the heart and backbone that keeps the church thriving and functioning

10 female teachers to 1 male

He would have no problem filling that spot with a willing woman. Anyone who takes issue with this is out of touch with God.

So you agree with me?

Lay leadership is overrun with females. While men flock to titles ...

Do you think it is a bad thing to give women titles, then?

DugALug said...

CP,

The statistics you quoted from me, point out how men have dropped the ball and, more-importantly, abused our relationship with Christ. If that make me in agreement with you, then yes I am in whole-hearted agreement with you.

Do you think it is a bad thing to give women titles, then?

In this case, it doesn't matter what I think, it matters more what God permits.

I think there are certain 'titles' that I can only interperate from that Bible are male-only positions: Head Pastor is one of them.

The title of 'Elder', is another that if you tak Paul's directives literally, it seems to exclude women.

Still, we have women pastors on our staff, and they are awesome, God-fearing evangelists that our church would sorely miss if they were not there.

I have toiled with this for years and the conclusion that I cannot help but come up with is the phrase 'called by God'. Those called by God, that have the mantel and the fruit should be recognized as such.

Oh yeah! One more note, I think I have stated this before, that I believe that pastors should be married and both husband and wife should be commited to the ministry at hand... I know this is wacky stuff, but the job/title of pastor has times when approachability would require both genders. For the man to take the title of pastor and not recognize the need for his wife's is ludicrous. That is why I think we do refer to the wives with the title of 'pastor's wife'. It struck me with your comment of God making us in his image of both female and male that this even has biblical context.

God Bless
Doug

DugALug said...

Codepoke, Weekend Fisher.

Okay this is interesting. I think I may do exactly what DK is doing. (Cut and paste to both blogs).

I wish I would have read this before my comments. (Actually your comments too DK).

I can't help but fall back to the point that injustice is just that. Abuse, is an act of injustice perpertrated on another individual. It is not gender-based: it is sin before God and man. When we turn our heads away from injustice, or rationalize it, we are compromising the word of God: the last time I checked, our God is not a God of compromise.

It comes exactly down to the issue of the good-samaritan. As religios and political leaders past by the victim, espousing the reasons why they wouldn't help, a less-than-likely individual rose to the occasion to address the need. When we walk by blatant and wontan injustice, we are no different than the examples in Jesus' parable.

Thanks for the articulation.

God Bless
Doug

Patchouli said...

I saw this post on the day it was new, but, yet again, electronic devices break down and the Internet has been inaccessable.

Well said, Code, and a very intriguing introduction to what will be enlightening, even life-chainging for some.

"Saddle up your horses, we've got a trail to blaze..." Stephen Curtis Chapman