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.