Wednesday, July 24, 2013

I'm not arguing with you.

Growing up Church of Christ means, among other things, that you soak up a deep love for, respect for, and intimate familiarity with scripture. You learn how to navigate your Bible early, memorize the books of the Old and New Testaments, and I remember well the weekly memory verse and little golden star charts.

You also learn, as you mature, that taking scripture seriously means digging into the text and thinking through it, analyzing it, applying it logically...and that, at the end of this process, if you've done it right, you've come to the only possible correct conclusion about its meaning and proper application.

And this means, people who conclude otherwise are just, well, wrong. And they must be argued with, convinced of their wrongness, and persuaded to agree with the correct interpretation of scripture.

It's important to be right.

It is this spiritual formation in the Church of Christ that sent me into theological study. I needed to understand, or at least try my very best to understand, what I believed, and if, at the end of my efforts, I could not understand it all, I could release the remainder into mystery with the assurance that it was not simply an easy way out. 

Along the way, I learned that yes, it is important to be right. It's also not what the eternal fate of my soul depends on, and that's a good thing, because it's a certainty that I've gotten some things wrong, despite my best efforts. It's important to be right--but the stakes are not eternal; they are temporal. They are now. They are other people. They are the church. They are the world.

And I've learned that, despite my love of a good argument and my enjoyment of the process of analyzing and interpreting texts, that argument is not always the best way to engage others when an interpretation of scripture is at stake.

And, so, on this matter of the silencing of women in worship and exclusion of women from leadership in Churches of Christ, I'm not arguing. I'm not going to engage in debate with the goal of convincing you that you're wrong to believe what you do and practice what you do and interpret scriptures the way that you do. I'm not going to engage in argument to persuade you that I'm right. I'm just not arguing.

Instead, I'm inviting. I'm inviting you to reexamine scripture, belief and practice, experience the way God uses the words of women to encourage and instruct and edify, and consider the possibility that despite our best efforts, we get stuff wrong, and sometimes must repent.

There is nothing to fear from this, and it is my lifelong formation in the Churches of Christ that assures me of this. There is nothing to fear from going back to scripture, with an open, searching spirit, and asking, once again, "what does this mean? what shall we do with this now?" There is nothing to fear from listening to another interpretation, studying another position, and considering it as a real possibility, and making your best judgment. This is why has long offered an extensive annotated bibliography of study resources.

And so I invite you, not to an argument or a defense of your convictions, but to an open search of what God intends for the church, and for the women and men and children within it. And I am certain that God will bless you in it.


Jamin said...

I like this approach of inviting. My favorite technique in discussing most things is to ask questions -- questions that allow someone to lay out their own beliefs and assumptions. What tends to happen is that in doing so, people are exposed to the inconsistencies and weaknesses of their argument. It may not pay off right away, but questions plant seeds that, sometimes, grow, even if slowly. This is also a less combative, less confrontational way of having the discussion. You let someone discover for themselves instead of just telling them. I think that's consistent with what you're saying about invitation.

Anonymous said...

I do like this approach. What is the next step, though, once someone has examined and comes to a different conclusion than you (or the Church of Christ)?

Mary Lou said...

Well said. Amen to that.

You will want to respond to the commenter above about what happens next if we don't reach agreement, but I think you've already given us a signpost on that with your point that reaching agreement isn't necessary for salvation. Thomas Campbell said it was okay if we can't reach agreement on every point.

JTB said...

Jamin--yes, I think that (ideally!) this happens for everyone involved--it's always instructive to find those places for yourself, and even if no one changes their mind, everyone benefits by understanding someone else's point of view and by better understanding their own.

Mary Lou's right that my response is essentially that unity isn't dependent on agreement. Pragmatically, however, disagreement on issues that impact liturgical practice (as this one does, though I think it should never be construed solely as a liturgical issue, but a very deep theological one) are often the ones that tend to strain our ability to live and worship with each other--simply because we can't get any space between the question of what we do when we're together and our disagreements... But maybe that, too, is not a threat to the mysterious unity that is spoken of as a mark of the church. (I'm thinking out loud here...) Perhaps we assume that unity means proximity, and proximity is painful without agreement, so we assume unity requires agreement. But what if part of trusting this mysterious unity, grounded in the identity of the triune God, means giving each other space, instead?

Paula Harrington said...

I appreciate this article and your views. We need to be people who build bridges not destroy them.

Jo said...

You all should try to get some of Naomi Walters's sermons online. Have any of you spoken with her?

JTB said...

I think Stamford regularly has audio available on their website--you can find Dale's and Naomi's remarks from earlier this month there.

One of the things I hope to do eventually at is have an audio archive and also a youtube channel where we can upload videos. :)