Thursday, March 18, 2010

Mercy Street CofC in Abilene Reporter-News

"Women in the Church Moving Toward Equality," February 25, 2010, by Sarah Stirman.


JTB said...

(re-posted because that's the only way I could figure out how to add minor edits, sorry y'all)

from Katie:

I read the article with interest, of course. I want to argue with Prof. Ken Cukrowski's insistence that there must be a painful catalyst for congregations to begin considering the practice of gender justice. Of the congregations of the Churches of Christ that "made the change" -- that is, they existed before as an all male revue and now have women in every level of work, worship, and leadership -- I know of NONE of them that say there was a painful catalyst, or even an "irritant" to use Ken's word, that caused their reexamination of scripture and subsequent conversion of heart. Yes, the change itself can be painful to some (while it is literally, quite literally, life-saving for so many others). But those who call for change, plead for change, wait for change -- they are not usually (or ever) causing significant pain for the churches of which they are faithful members. Nor are they "irritants." (I know that's not exactly what Ken meant to call the battered and despairing women and men who yearn for justice in their churches, but it's easy to make the connection.)

Each Church of Christ that has made the complete conversion to gender justice has produced documents to describe the process of change in their particular situation. Each one is different. Those documents are available online at, and I keep hoping a sociologist will examine the documents to find what the actual catalysts for change were in each case, and what the processes in each place have in common. Stamford, CT; West Islip, NY; Cahaba Valley, AL; Brookline, MA -- these are the self-sustaining congregations we know about where women are in FULL participation, no limits but for the relative giftedness of the participants. It would be such a helpful project to find out from the elder-shepherd-leaders who guided these churches through their own "Jerusalem Council" (Acts 15) experience about who God counts among the completely saved. (Were Cornelius and his household the "irritants"? The "painful catalysts"? Hmm.)

peace -- Katie Hays

JTB said...

It seems to me that the "irritant" factor must be significantly ameliorated when the "irritants" are members of a community who are known, in relationship with others, and whose yearning for justice is seen in tandem with their faithfulness and belonging. Of course that's just another way of stating the truism that it's people, not an issue. When you care about the people involved, as it seems like any healthy congregation should, then it's harder to dismiss their experiences, concerns, needs...and therefore harder to label them as an "irritant" single-mindedly obsessed about an "issue."

But other than maybe the irritating and possibly misleading use of "irritant," I think Ken's right on--there has to be something that shows up in people's experiences as anomalous data in order to spark the paradigm shift. And it might not be anything obviously related to gender justice at all--could be an entirely unrelated hermeneutical insight about the insufficiences of traditional CofC biblical interpretation. What's sort of awesome, if you think about it, is that life is full of catalysts for re-examining scripture and re-shaping our long as people are paying attention to such things. So yeah, it may not be "painful"--although as you note, paradigm shifts with regard to anything as existentially fraught as one's faith tend to be angsty for people, as any realization that there's no "risk-free theology" always is...which is more how I'm inclined to interpret the painful catalyst/irritant comment.

I love that you read my blog. Thanks. :)

Katie said...

Yes, yes, Jen, we are in agreement that it makes sense to talk about an "issue" and "data" and "catalysts" and hermeneutics and all that stuff -- there are worlds in fact where those are the only acceptable ways to talk about THIS THING. But I hate letting those conversations go by without running them through the "it's personal!" filter. It's personal, because it's persons we're ultimately talking about. Me. You. My daughter. Your daughter. Ken's daughters. Cornelius. His whole frackin' "household" -- it's always about people, actual people, people all the way down.

Or maybe, if I stick with the Acts 15 trope, it's not really about the people at all -- it's about the windy Holy Spirit of Almighty God, blowing where It will. In which case, the Holy Spirit is the painful catalyst, the irritant. I like that. One person's Paraclete is another person's Provocateur. "Now that is worth some money, think about it, that is worth some money," to quote Paul Simon.

But still, it's not my experience that this all has to HURT so much, either at the beginning or even necessarily in the messy middle. Right now, for example, my congregation is learning to love several members who are same-sex oriented and in same-sex relationships. It's not because we're freaky liberal that we can do so. A couple of years ago when I raised homosexuality as an "issue" we should study I got big frowns from lots of people, so I let it drop. But now there's no more "issue" -- there are just these people, these beautiful people, with legions of angels preceding them and shouting, "Make way for the image of God! Make way for the image of God!" And so there has been rejoicing, and table fellowship, and learning, and love. No one has left the church. No one has even huffed in or out of my office. We have studied, those who want to, what it might mean to read the Bible in a way that makes these persons, too, God's beloved children. And, this past January, we commissioned two of them as deacons. It just hasn't hurt that much. And their lives, they have said to me and to our church, have been saved.

It seems to me that the pain is mostly located in the constant need to repeat the "no" or "not yet" or "not here" or even "not you." We attribute so much potential pain to the "yes", but that's not what I've found.

JTB said...

No, I didn't mean we should depersonalize it. Though "data" and "paradigm shift" are hardly personal metaphors, my bad...and fit better with framing things as "issues" and not people. That's my abstracting tendencies kicking in (there's a reason I keep insisting to everyone that I'm pastorally handicapped!)

We need to preach it more your way. What a relief it would be to everyone to discover that we no longer have to cram ourselves into these acceptable little boxes...not just for those of us who don't fit them and know that already, but for those who spend so much time doing the anxious, wearying and soul-draining work of constantly reinforcing the sagging sides of those pointless flimsy unreal cardboard boxes. Shouldn't it be a relief to learn that you don't have to say "no" all the time? That there's no necessity for refusing able help? That there's no reason to fear these supposedly out-of-place persons? Shouldn't that be received as liberation, too?

I like that. That's a message not just for "us" but for all. And that turns the presumption of the painfulness of the process of change upside down, into the anticipation of liberation. Yeah. I get it now.

Anonymous said...

Here's my 2 cents--
I'm always a bit nervous/reluctant to be interviewed by the A RN or the Optimist because the interviewee has zero say in how a story gets written. "Why exactly should I say yes to your interview?" is what I usually think. But, here I thought press coverage of the topic would be good.

Anyway, I was asked something like, "What do you think it will take for other churches to move in a similar direction?" I responded that in my experience I've been surprised by the reactions of churches when I speak on this topic. It usually takes some push/prod/irritant for folks to begin a study or make a change--a question, a daughter, they see Scripture in a different way that makes them rethink what they've always heard, an elder's daughter attends a different denomination, a student cries in your office, a different interpretation becomes apparent, practices don't make sense, the church is shrinking or graying, a daughter is gifted to and wants to preach, and so forth.

In general, sociologically speaking, I don't think that organizations are too different from organisms; they don't seek to move from homeostasis, unless there is some prompt. Obviously, I don't think that is necessarily a bad thing; in fact, that is what prophetic speech is at its best--a prod to action, pointing out what is usually uncomfortable but true.

On that same vein, change is much harder (in general) in homogenous places--think conversion in a Muslim country vs. a cosmopolitan place like Paris. It's the differences that help folks see themselves in a new light, or different ideas (cognitive dissonance) that prompt people to reconsider and reframe ideas. Change requires a huge input of energy, and most folks are over-committed and/or exhausted.

I think that many, if not most, folks are oblivious to the ways that culture has shaped their conceptions of gender; it is perceived as a default mode, and as such, becomes a blind spot, unless someone challenges that status quo.

Anyway, I don't remember exactly what I said, but it was something like that. It's 1:20 AM. I hope that was somewhat coherent; I must sleep.


JTB said...

Hi Ken! :)

I've been telling my theology classes all semester that dissensus is more constructive than consensus. What's fascinating about this discussion thread is that not only is it the topic, the discussion itself is a great example of the constructive potential of dissensus on a meta level. :)

It seems to me that language of catalysts, stimuli, irritants, cognitive dissonance, are descriptive in the sociological sense--certainly my first year in China could accurately be described as the painful catalyst that launched me down this crazy life-long path of theological investigation. It's when that slides into personal characterizations--that certain people are "irritants," "change agents" (gasp!)--that this language is problematic. I think it's clear that's not what Ken meant (and I don't think Katie intends to imply that he did, only that this interpretive move is an easy one, esp. for people who are invested in the status quo). But it's also helpful to point out, as Katie does, that not only (obviously) do we not want to reinforce this negative stereotype, but also that this doesn't necessarily reflect the way in which people experience this process of change. That's the takeaway for me here.

I love y'all. Seriously.