A solid place to stand…

More random ramblings about men and women and church and all that stuff…

One: My greatest frustration with this whole Complementarian discussion is that the vast majority of what I read is focused on telling women what to do and what we can’t do. Precious little of what I have observed takes time to exhort men to be men worthy to lead.

Two: The major freak-outs that happen (especially on Twitter) are focused in on a woman stepping out of her prescribed lane and doing something the Comp crowd has forbidden. But there is no equal freak-out when men are found to be less than worthy to lead, or have blatantly abused their position of authority and harmed women. Why is that so?

Three: I am still on the fence and have so many questions. I have, however, come to an important conclusion that I personally am not “called” to be ordained, or lead in a church setting. But what about women who do have that calling, and are clearly gifted to do so?

My quest has led me to revisit the first three chapters of the Bible. This is what I have observed so far:

  • I can’t help but notice that the man was called upon to answer for their misdeeds, even though it was the woman who was deceived.
  • It’s also noteworthy that in the first chapter of Genesis, God commands both the male and the female to be fruitful, multiple, “have dominion” over creation and subdue it. He said this to them not to him. Later in Genesis 2, where a more detailed account of the creation of humanity is given, the command given to the man only has to do with the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. The command to “have dominion” is not discussed in that context. That’s interesting to me, although I have yet to really dig into what that might mean. But it’s worth noting.
  • It is also notable to me that the man was there as his bride was being led astray and did nothing to intervene; and that he did not take ownership of that when he was called to account. At that point, it was the woman *God* gave him that was to blame for all his troubles. Sound familiar? Ultimately, the consequences for disobedience fell upon both. It’s interesting to me that God called out to the man to answer first, perhaps because He was given the command about the tree in the first place.
  • The man “ruling” over the woman was a consequence of the Fall, not a result of creation. Even if man is called to a “role” of leadership, “ruling over women” is not what it should look like (see Eph. 5:22-30). Note also that this is spoken of in the context of a marital relationship. Woman’s desire shall be for her husband; man’s desire will be to rule over his wife. Read in context, that cannot possibly be seen as a positive outcome for either the man or the woman.

My next task will be to take a look at how New Testament authors spoke about men and women, and how they interpreted Genesis 1-3 in their treatment of the subject. But that is for a later day.

All of this leads to a whole host of secondary questions. For one, how does this translate to men and women who are not in a marital context? I’ll use myself as an example. I am single. I have no husband to “submit” to. So what does this look like for me? Am I to submit to any man? Even Paul doesn’t say that – he calls upon women to submit to their own husbands (Eph. 5:22). So how am I to understand that command as a single woman?

And that’s just one set of questions! Here’s another thought: If it is true that the Holy Spirit gives His gifts as He wills, and a woman is clearly given gifts of leadership, teaching or shepherding, did the Holy Spirit make a mistake? How is that woman to exercise those gifts? One could argue that is her function with her children – but what if she has no children? Or, as is my case, cannot have children? Even if we grant that men are called to be the pastors and elders in the local church context, how is a woman so gifted to use those gifts? And are the elders really doing something wrong if they call upon that woman to share her gifts with the local body?

A final observation: All of this looks and feels so much like our current political climate in the US. There is no such thing as middle ground or compromise anymore. Neither side is willing to give an inch, or concede anything. If you walk into the fray from the right and even suggest someone on the left has a valid point, you are branded a traitor and banished. The left has a similar sifting system. No room for nuance, for possible correction, for learning anything from folks to the right. This is, admittedly a generalization, but one that I think holds true in so many situations.

This is hard for me. Most days I’m too conservative for my liberal friends and too liberal for my conservative friends. I see the black and white issue – but I also see the many shades of grey in between. Sometimes a lot of truth lives in that grey. But when ideological purity is the promised land you’re seeking, the grey is your enemy. I’ve witnessed this same phenomena in theological debates. This makes finding a solid place to stand on this subject all the more difficult.

That’s all I have for now…thankfully. And of course, I have more questions than answers, as per usual. More to come…

Grace and peace…

m.

The end goal…

I am going through a bit of theological transition right now. It’s scary and exhilarating at the same time. It has been difficult to put it all into words, but this is my attempt to do so. I’m speaking from the heart here, so don’t take any of this as final, completely formed thoughts. This is only the beginning.

It started for me the weekend of Mother’s Day. I drifted back onto Twitter a few days before that, and found it in freak-out mode over some SBC churches allowing women to speak from the pulpit for the occasion. Beth Moore was the subject of particularly hostile rhetoric, and the ensuing conversation roiled me. In addition to that, much Twitter “ink” was being spilled over matters of social justice, critical theory, and progressive Christianity. On still a third front, the responses of some to the shocking death of Rachel Held Evans were appalling. Instead of mourning the loss of a fellow Christian, so young, with family and two littles and a sea of friends left behind, certain groups took the opportunity to politicize the loss and trash her life’s work. Classy.

All this drama left me rattled, and seemed to accelerate what was already becoming a major thought path for me. Where do I land on matters of social justice and the church? Or women and the church? Since I am a Black woman, these two subjects are deeply personal to me. I am not a spectator in this debate.

I’ll start with the question of women in ministry, as this seems to be the most pressing issue for me right now.

I love the Word and love to share it with others. That is the passion of my heart. Where did this passion originate? I have no interest in usurping anyone’s “authority”; I don’t care about titles or platforms. I just want to preach Christ and Him crucified. For those of us who don’t know what to think or believe about women in leadership or teaching roles in the church, this most recent (and ongoing) Twitter spat has been disorienting and demoralizing. Everyone says theirs is the *right* biblical view – who do I believe? What do I believe? It is frustrating and wearying. This is not theory for me. This is life, this is my love for Jesus. This is real and tangible.

Thirteen years ago I walked away from seminary jaded and disillusioned because I didn’t see the point of having the degree. I’m a woman after all – and the seminary I attended didn’t encourage me to explore what this passion for ministry meant, unless it was restricted to women or children. I still wonder, I still question, and still feel the confusion and frustration of this conversation. This is a soul ache, not an academic exercise. I want to be faithful to the Lord. I am less confident of my ability to do so now more than ever.

The Bible is life to me, my spiritual food. I love thinking about it, talking about it, meditating on it – and teaching it. I love theology. I love the pursuit, the acquisition – and yes, the teaching of it. I love to teach. I love to declare truth. I’m passionate about it. Where did that passion come from if not from the Lord?

This is the challenge: I have been for the most part fairly conservative in my theological leanings. At one point I strongly held a Calvinistic view of soteriology. Reformed Theology (RT) in general is fascinating and deeply satisfying to me on a certain level because it is so systematic and tidy. I like all the blanks filled and the PowerPoint presentation with multilayered bullet points to define and refine every detail. My brain is wired to analyze the life out of darn near anything – and then analyze my analysis. I think it’s a sickness…

But for reasons that go beyond the scope of this post, the fascination with RT has led to dismay on many fronts. I am especially dismayed by the marriage of Reformed Theology with Complementarianism, and the implication that Complementarianism is integral to an orthodox belief of the Gospel message. The favored translation of Complementarians (the ESV), is “unapologetically Complementarian“, and their changes to passages like Genesis 3:16 in their 2016 revision proves the point. The implication is that you can only be “biblical” if you believe Complementarianism is true. If not, well…

This is essentially what was taking place in the Twitter freak-out over women preaching on Mother’s Day. The question that rang louder and louder in my ear was, “But is that true”?

Let me be clear: I do not doubt the Gospel, the reliability of Scripture, the existence of God, or any of the foundational doctrines of the Christian faith (read my most recent post). What I am arguing here is that Complementarianism is not one of those foundational doctrines. It should not be used as a measuring rod for biblical faithfulness, orthodoxy, or saving faith (especially saving faith) – and the insistence that it must makes me queasy. At bottom, I am questioning the notion that is the only “biblical’ way, or the best way.

I’ve started on this journey before and stopped and turned around because it was too uncomfortable. I’m sure if I look in my archives, I will find a similar post with similar laments and frustrations. I have been avoiding this path. I don’t want to take this journey. But it keeps coming back. The “certainty” I once had about complementarian views of biblical manhood and womanhood no longer hold as much weight. The cognitive dissonance is becoming too much to bear. I can no longer avoid this question. I must take a deep breath and dive in.

The end goal is drawing deeply for the well of God’s Word, drawing closer to Him, and growing in my understanding of who He is and who I am in light of that.

Comments about the Gospel and justice will have to come in a later post. Right now all my emotional and mental energy is focused in on this question of women in ministry.

I don’t know where I will land. I just know I want to follow Jesus wherever He leads.

More later…grace and peace…

Monday Randomness…

I now have a group of friends that are holding me accountable to publish a blog post at least once a week. So you’ll be hearing more from me. Yay! I’m grateful for good sister/friends that are seeking to lift each other up. That is so very important.

After a long, arduous journey, I am slowly rediscovering my love of writing. Really my need for it. I process my thoughts through the words I write, and I am doing A LOT of processing right now. Processing and changing.

So let me just be real with you. I am in the midst of a major thought shift. I can’t quite put my finger on the source, and I have no idea the outcome, but I do know my heart and mind are changing about a few things. Where I will land is anyone’s guess, but I thought I’d share with you where I am in the process.

A few weeks ago, I spent some time walking through my foundational beliefs. The question I posed to myself was this: What are those things that are absolutely non-negotiables for you and what are “peripheral” issues that you have beliefs about, but that you hold more loosely. Peripherals can be things where I don’t feel I have enough information, or where I have information and think I know what I believe about the topic, but still feel like there are grey areas that are open for debate.

The litmus test for a non-negotiable is it has to be a belief or doctrine that makes us “wise unto salvation”. This list is surprisingly and delightfully small. Things like the Trinity, the Virgin Birth, Resurrection. While each of these items can branch off onto all sorts of rabbit trails, my goal was not to adjudicate every possible split of every theological hair related to each item. The point is that I believe in the Trinity, in the Virgin Birth, the Resurrection, the Inspiration of Scripture and so forth. If I desire to be consistent, I can’t not believe these things and still consider myself “Christian”. These are the biblical and theological hills upon which I will die.

But those peripheral issues…whoa boy. That is where it all got complicated. After three pages worth of discussion about race, and a page and a half about so-called “biblical manhood and womanhood”, I had to take a break. These are easily the biggest topics, at least for me, and it seems for the American church today.

I am not going to get into the discussion about race for the purposes of this post. I’m not even close to a place where I can discuss that. And my mind and attention have been moved to another hot-button issue – womanhood.

What is meant by “biblical womanhood”? How do I know if I am a “biblical woman”? Much of this debate centers around two camps: Complementarians and Egalitarians. Complementarians say that men and women are both created in the image of God, and therefore are equal in worth and dignity. However, there are distinctive roles and functions that are specific to each gender; primarily, the focus is on the headship of the man and the submission of the woman in the church and home. In contrast, Egalitarians focus on the mutual submission of believers to one another and consider gifting to be the determining factor for leadership in the church and home, regardless of gender. These are generalizations and are not intended to bring out the nuances of each position. But these are the nutshell definitions as far as I understand them.

This is a hotly contested subject that shows no signs of abating. And as a woman who is passionate about ministry, theology and the Bible, I have a stake in this conversation. I long to be faithful to the testimony of Scripture, and truthful about the reality of life on the ground. My reality right now: I can’t say that I’m “Complementarian”, but I don’t know if I’m “Egalitarian” either. Are these the only two options? Is there a third way? And how do I find the answer?

This is the crazy thing about it…both sides appeal to Scripture to argue their point and make their stand. Both groups are passionate about their position, and fully convinced they are correct. Some go so far as to question someone’s salvation or commitment to the gospel if they do not fall in line with the “correct” position. These extreme reactions are what I wish to avoid like the plague.

But what is the “correct” position? That is what I seek to explore. And perhaps it will take me my entire life to figure it out, but I want to be free and open about where I am on the journey.

The Pandora’s box has been opened. Let the fun begin…

This is the deal…

I suppose my mini-tirade from yesterday seemed to come out of nowhere. What can I say? I’m one that bottles it up, shakes the bottle, and then lets it all explode out of me all at once. I’ve tried to change my ways, to no avail. My thoughts have to simmer for a while before I can share them.

This is the deal: I don’t know where I land on this whole Complementarian (CM) vs. Egalitarian (EG) issue. Both sides have viable arguments; both are seeking to honor the witness of Scripture and follow hard after God. But holy moly, have we made a mess of things.

In recent weeks I have been reading about a drama unfolding within the ranks of the Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood (CBMW). Certain theologians within the CM camp are tying Trinitarian theology to CM in a way that is dangerously close to overstepping orthodoxy as set forth in the Nicene Creed and its final iteration that was ratified in Constantinople.

I do not wish to get into that on this blog; I will leave that to more qualified theologians. But I just can’t stop myself from expressing that I have grown tired of this debate. Flat-out tired.

Here is a an example: a few months back, John Piper answered a question about what kinds of jobs a woman could perform outside of the home. Specifically, someone posed the question if women should be police officers. His answer was – um, well – confusing. Here is a summary here: http://www.alliancenet.org/mos/housewife-theologian/john-pipers-advice-for-women-in-the-workforce#.V3VRLhUrKUk

Here is the actual answer: http://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/should-women-be-police-officers

Legitimate questions abound here, and I have yet to find the answers, despite nearly a year of searching. But this was my reaction at the time:

“I am a single 40-something woman. As an adult woman, I, of course have adult responsibilities that I must take care of. I desire to glorify the Lord in all that I do, and how I conduct myself in this world. I frankly do not wish to carry the torch for Complementarianism or Egalitarianism because my questions for both of them are so long and complicated I have yet to be able to land on either side.

This is my frustration with so much of what is taught in complementarianism, and with the John Piper podcast in question here: the submission issue, and how it should translate to me as I navigate in my real, walking-around life in this world. As a single woman I puzzle over how the vision of “biblical womanhood” fits the reality of my life. What I find concerning about Piper’s response to this question is that it basically cancels out any instance in which I in my work context would be in a position to provide direction to men I happen to work with.

In my current role in my department, I advise students, male and female, in relation to their progress in their academic program. If there is a problem, I am the one who provides feedback. Is this wrong for me to do? Am I exercising too much authority over the men that happen to be in this program? Or, what if I was offered the job of director of my department: would I have to say no because there are men that work in this department and my giving them direction for their job would offend their manhood? But if I have the qualifications for the job, am I sinning if I were to accept it? Am I not fulfilling my biblical womanly role?

Is this really what Paul is talking about when he discusses submission in the Bible? I mean, most (if not all) of the references about female submission in the NT have to do with the relationship between a man and his wife. If we carry this to its logical conclusion and apply it to all male/female relationships, I would not be able to be anything past a secretary, or waitress, or some other service worker in order to avoid any instance where I might have to give direction to my male co-workers. Which, in turn could potentially consign me to a state of economic hardship since these positions do not generally provide high salaries. Not to mention severely stunting skills and gifts that were given to me by God (who, incidentally also knew He was giving these gifts to a woman because He created me as a woman…). I have to work; I have no choice in the matter. Is this really what biblical teaching on gender says? How did Lydia (Acts 16) conduct her business? Did she stop dealing in purple cloth after her conversion? Did she only work with women?

If biblical womanhood is primarily expressed in the context of a woman’s submission to her husband, and her role as homemaker and child-bearer, then how do I as a single woman who cannot have children show forth my womanhood in a biblical way? Or maybe I’m missing something; if so, I am sincerely asking for direction. The answers I find in the Comp camp are thin at best, and sometimes feel downright dehumanizing and insulting. And Egal is just not a viable alternative for me. When I hear something like Piper’s discussion, I am even more dismayed and discouraged. Perhaps I’m not being submissive enough…”

I find myself at the same place today. The struggles I have are manifold: The theological camp in which I would feel most comfortable promotes CM as if it is a Gospel-issue that must be defended in the same way substitutionary atonement is defended. I beg to differ. But it so deeply entrenched in this movement that it is hard to separate them out. As a single woman, I struggle to find my place anywhere. I am a woman who loves theological debate and is not really into those things that have traditionally been pushed as “women’s ministry”. This is not a slight for women who are; it is simply a statement of fact that I have interests that don’t always align with what church tells me my gender should be interested in. Does that make me less of a woman?

I’ll stop there for now. This may not sound very encouraging, but hey, what can I say – I have baggage. It’s time I start accepting it. The good news is that God helps me carry my baggage. If I put myself forward as the good news, we’re all in trouble. But, in spite of my baggage, and the crazy train we are on in American Evangelicalism these days, God is still on His throne.

More later…