Wednesday, February 17, 2010

don't miss this!

Now that there's a new beautiful website for the Women in Ministry Network, if you're one of those readers who tried to click on the gadget in my sidebar to join the yahoo group and found that that didn't work (it doesn't, and I never managed to figure out how to fix it)--no worries, because you can go here and get yourself connected.

Also on that same page is a contact if you have any publications or sermon texts you would like to submit to the site. And I'd like to encourage everyone who has anything like that to do so. If you feel odd about it--as if it were some kind of weird self-promotion--think of it as both a historical archive (because what you have done and said is important!) and a public encouragement for other women to lift up their God-given voices as well. This is why I started my little sermon blog--not that I really thought a sermon blog would get any readership (it doesn't) but because I wanted a public record of these events. They are small and unimportant in themselves (except to me personally, for whom they were momentous) but taken together with all the other small, quiet actions of women in our churches, they help paint a picture of the real situation in our churches regarding gender and vocation and ministry. And by that I mean, the real situation is that women are raising their voices...the "status quo" is not complete silence (and as some have pointed out in discussion recently here, perhaps it never was to begin with). That should be recognized far more than it currently is, and we can all take the simple measure of making the public record complete on this point.

(I'm loving and overusing the parenthetical comment today for some reason...hmph...)

Thursday, February 11, 2010

new Women in Ministry website

This is exciting! Check it out:

by CW: The One-handed Church

Our congregation’s women’s brunch last spring was bittersweet for me. As much as I loved the music and the message, the food and the friends, I couldn’t escape the painful reminder: We are missing so much by excluding women from public roles in our worship assemblies.

Who could listen to either of our main presenters and not acknowledge their spiritual gifts? These women are obviously talented speakers and writers, but God has also blessed them with supernatural powers to speak to our hearts, to encourage us, to strengthen us. Later that day, another of my spiritual heroes led us in our closing prayer, and I was so touched to hear her words as we together reached out to praise our Father. But our men, unless they happened to be helping out that day, didn’t get to hear those women’s words, and that’s a real shame.

Growing up in the Church of Christ, for years I just accepted that certain roles were only for the men. I was shown the “restrictive passages” (1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2), and that was that. As I grew up and came into my own “owned” faith, I found myself drawn more and more to women’s Bible studies that gave me the chance to hear from those who were silenced on Sunday mornings. That’s not to take away from the many men who blessed me with their lessons, their prayers, their testimonies, but I cherished those occasions when I could learn from spiritually gifted women, too.

Years ago, I heard our minister’s lessons discussing which of our traditions may be gospel or cultural. That study and others turned up the volume on this question that kept resonating in my heart: Did the Lord really intend for His church to do its work with one hand tied behind its back?

Obviously, women are hard at work in His church. It is hard to find a ministry at my home congregation or anywhere that does not rely on male and female members’ time and energy. Rightly so, in our church we have no problem asking and expecting women to serve—with one notable exception. You would think that no one could argue with women serving, and yet our congregation only allows men to serve the Lord’s Supper. Even the strictest interpretation of those restrictive passages would still allow for women to participate in this way. (In fact, every Sunday hundreds of us women are serving when we pass the tray from the person on one side of us to the other, but somehow we’ve decided that a woman shalt not pass a tray whilst standing upright.)

But what about other types of service like reading scriptures or praying? What about making announcements aloud? What about teaching? We’re already doing that, too! In our small groups, in Bible studies and in our homes, women do all those things in the presence of men. Countless times I’ve been blessed to hear one of my sisters share her thoughts or her interpretation of a particular passage, and it’s been uplifting and encouraging. I’ve also heard women pray from their hearts and find ways to articulate our praise, our thankfulness, our humble requests. In those environments, are we no less worshiping God? Yes, it’s special when we’re all assembled in the Family Center on the first day of the week, but it seems strange to change the rules for that setting as opposed to other gatherings when we humble ourselves before His throne.

I have spent much time praying for God’s guidance with this issue, and I have struggled, wondering how much of my dissonance comes from my own ego: Who’s to tell me I’m not good enough to pass a communion tray? Why is what I have to say less important because I was born a female? How are my contributions to the work here not deacon-worthy? I have kept quiet, afraid that my objections were driven by my own pride and selfishness. But over and over again, I have felt the Spirit leading me to question our traditions, to speak up, to acknowledge that the cost of this silence is too great.

I don’t necessarily need to be the one in front of the microphone; I’m happy with my role tapping on keyboards and pushing buttons running MediaShout or the sound board. I’m so blessed to get to use my computer skills for the church’s work, and I can barely describe the joy it brings me to feel like a vital part of this family. But what about our women who are spiritually gifted speakers and teachers? What about our female prayer warriors? Shouldn’t they have the same opportunities to use their God-given gifts to serve Him? Not only would they be blessed to use those gifts, but we all would be blessed to hear from those women among us more regularly. At events like the women’s brunch, that fact is painfully clear.

God is at work in His church, and He is doing awesome things at our congregation! He has blessed us with so many capable leaders, but too often we have hidden some of our greatest resources behind the scenes or behind their husbands. We have squandered some of our blessings by silencing those He has gifted. For too long the generations before us ignored certain brothers and sisters because of their skin color. Looking back now, we can recognize that tragedy. How many more generations will have to pass through our doors before we recognize how much we’re missing by not utilizing the resources He’s provided? It’s time for us to reach out to Him and to those around us with both hands.

--Charis Weiss

Tuesday, February 09, 2010

gal328: Frequently Raised Objections

Just revisited this for the first time in awhile. It's still right on target. And it makes me curious: what is the most frequently raised objection you hear? What is your response to it?

FRO (Frequently Raised Objections), by Lance Pape

  1. Do you really pronounce the site name “gal three twenty-eight dot org”? Isn’t the word “gal” sexist? It’s ironic that your site’s name perpetuates a damaging stereotype.

  2. If Jesus was such an egalitarian, why did he choose 12 men as his disciples/apostles?

  3. Aren’t you afraid you might be wrong? Why risk your eternal soul over something you can’t possibly be sure about?

  4. Gender justice is a sell-out to culture. Secular feminism raised this issue and now you are trying to make the Bible conform to a secular agenda.

  5. What about 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36? Shouldn’t it tell you something that you have to work so hard to “explain away” texts like these? The plain sense of these texts seems clear enough.

  6. You chose Galatians 3:28 as the theme verse for your site. Aren’t you aware that Galatians 3:28 is simply saying that both men and women enjoy equally the promise of salvation?

  7. Churches of Christ have a long history of quarreling over opinions and majoring in minors. This gender justice thing is just another example. Shouldn’t you be paying more attention to core issues like evangelism?

1. Do you really pronounce the site name “gal three twenty-eight dot org”? Isn’t the word “gal” sexist? It’s ironic that your site’s name perpetuates a damaging stereotype.
Lighten up. It’s meant to make you smile when you say it.

2. If Jesus was such an egalitarian, why did he choose 12 men as his disciples/apostles?

Jesus embraced Samaritans against all odds, yet he did not choose any Samaritans as apostles. God was in Christ reconciling the world to himself, breaking down the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles, yet Jesus did not choose any Gentiles as apostles. In Christ there is no longer male and female, yet Jesus did not choose any women as apostles. Jesus was no “respecter of persons,” but his ministry had to be conducted within the constraints of a particular historical context.
Furthermore, the number (12) and kind (Jewish men) of the apostles function symbolically to recall the twelve tribes descended from the sons of Jacob, thus designating Jesus’ new community of followers as the New Israel descended from twelve.
In the final analysis, the “demographics” of the apostles no more suggest exclusively male leadership as Jesus’ vision for the church than they suggest exclusively Jewish leadership as Jesus’ vision for the church.

3. Aren’t you afraid you might be wrong? Why risk your eternal soul over something you can’t possibly be sure about?
Granting that well-meaning people may disagree about the Bible’s teaching on gender, there is no compelling reason to assume that the traditional, restrictive position is theologically “safe.” The status quo is self-authenticating. It creates the illusion of safety while depicting alternative visions of community life as inherently risky. But in light of God’s self-disclosure in both Testaments as the advocate of the voiceless, the liberator of the oppressed, the friend of the marginal, and the reverser of human power structures, I submit that when the status quo restricts and excludes in God’s name, it is profoundly risky and should bear the full burden of proof.

4. Gender justice is a sell-out to culture. Secular feminism raised this issue and now you are trying to make the Bible conform to a secular agenda.
There is no doubt that gender justice is enjoying a lot of attention in our culture. Violence against women, objectification of women through pornography (including the soft porn of mainstream advertising), lower pay for equal work—in so many ways our enlightened democratic society is coming to grips with the reality that gender discrimination has led to all kinds of gross injustice. As during the movements for abolition in the 19th and civil rights in the 20th century, the world outside our church doors is rumbling once again with profound change. I am convinced that, once again, God is at work in such rumblings.
I submit that these rumblings are a third chance for us. Do we really want to repeat the hardness of heart that allowed us to defend the supposed Biblical warrants for slavery right up to the moment when we were dragged kicking and screaming into God’s future? Do we really want to repeat the rigid thinking that made our Christian colleges some of the last to embrace racially equitable admission policies? What is needed now are people who take Scripture seriously and who can read it courageously with the fresh eyes that our new, God-given moment makes necessary and possible. God does new things (Isaiah 43:19) and awakens in his children new capacities to discern the new thing in their midst. Just ask the daring souls who decided the question of the inclusion of the Gentiles (Acts 15). There was plenty of Scripture to quote both ways on that question, but the more inclusive vision carried the day to the glory of God and our eternal benefit. Scripture, like the God of Scripture, is living and active. Take another look in the light of a new context; you may be surprised what you find there.

5. What about 1 Timothy 2:11-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:33b-36? Shouldn’t it tell you something that you have to work so hard to “explain away” texts like these? The plain sense of these texts seems clear enough.
The simple fact is that sometimes the truth really is complicated. When a passage insists that women “will be saved through child-bearing” (1 Timothy 2:15) rather than by grace through faith, we are on notice that something is up—something complicated.
Our context plays a huge role in determining which passages seem perfectly clear, and which need to “be explained.” To a plantation owner in the deep South circa 1860, the implications of Ephesians 6:5-6 seemed clear enough:
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with fear and trembling, in singleness of heart, as you obey Christ; not only while being watched, and in order to please them, but as slaves of Christ, doing the will of God from the heart.
A century and a half later, in a new context, we are not persuaded by the claim that the ownership of one human being by another is part of the God-ordained order of creation. We are utterly unconvinced by the once seemingly self-evident claim that this arrangement enjoys a universal, Christological endorsement.
What is needed is interpretive humility, and a sensitivity to the theological undercurrents in Scripture. I am convinced that Galatians 3 and Acts 15 recommend themselves as good starting points for thinking theologically about gender while 1 Corinthians 14 and 1 Timothy 2 do not. For a detailed annotated bibliography of the relevant literature, see our “Readings” page. And we will continue to provide resources on the “Articles” page that explain and clarify our understanding of the Bible’s egalitarian vision of gender relations.

6. You chose Galatians 3:28 as the theme verse for your site. Aren’t you aware that Galatians 3:28 is simply saying that both men and women enjoy equally the promise of salvation?
Obviously the argument of Galatians is concerned primarily with the question of Jews and Gentiles, not men and women. And, strictly speaking, the conflict doesn’t appear to be a boundary or “salvation” dispute (“Are the Gentiles in or not?”) so much as a status dispute (“Can an uncircumcised Gentile ever really be ‘in’?”).
This is a growing scholarly consensus that is well illustrated in the story Paul relates in Galatians 2:11-14. Paul recalls an incident in which he chastised Peter as a hypocrite when he was persuaded by Jewish peers to refuse table fellowship to Gentiles in Antioch. Paul counted Peter’s treatment of Gentiles as an affront to “the truth of the Gospel.”
Apparently, the “no longer Jew and Gentile” of Galatians 3:28 is not only a claim about Jews and Gentiles sharing equally in the promise of salvation, if by “salvation” we mean an other-worldly designation with no concrete social implications. We can scarcely imagine Paul consoling Gentiles forced to sit at a separate table with the assurance that they are equal in God’s sight, but must resign themselves to a different “role” in the community. In Galatians, Paul argues and imagines a community with no second-class citizens. For Paul, the new status enjoyed by both Jews and Gentiles “in Christ” is the reality that trumps all others—a “new creation” that will be reflected in every facet of community life.
Since the claims about race, class, and gender appear in parallel in Galatians 3:28, I submit that the burden of proof is on those who want to say that the implications for gender are not analogous to those for race. I further submit that Galatians 3:28 may be the best window into Paul’s theology of gender—one that is not complicated and obscured by the (largely unknown) circumstantial crises of gender that precipitated 1 Corinthians 14, and 1 Timothy 2.

7. Churches of Christ have a long history of quarreling over opinions and majoring in minors. This gender justice thing is just another example. Shouldn’t you be paying more attention to core issues like evangelism?
I resonate with this concern. Given our history, we should take great care in choosing the issues that receive our attention. I can only say in good faith that I am convinced that time will show that gender justice is different. I think history will someday show that it is as important to the truth of the gospel as the full inclusion of the Gentiles in the first century, and the important milestones of class inclusion championed by American Christians in the 19th (abolition) and 20th (civil rights) centuries.
Paul could say that “the truth of the gospel” was at stake in the way Gentile converts were treated by Jewish Christians at Antioch (Gal. 2:11-14). And, of course, the status of Gentiles in the community did have profound implications for the spread of the Gospel of grace in Paul’s mission field. Paul understood that the Good News was not really good news to the Gentiles of Asia Minor or Greece if it involved inviting them into the community of faith as second-class citizens. How could they have been expected to receive it as Good News on those terms?
I think that in the 21st century we will face similar problems on gender unless we work hard to come to terms with the last of the three claims in Galatians 3:28 (“no longer male and female”).
For a narrative approach to this same idea, I recommend “Elijah’s Twelfth,” a little piece of historical fiction by Dale Pauls that teases out the troubling evangelistic implications of dismissing justice issues as peripheral to the gospel.

Friday, February 05, 2010

belated tribute to genius

Finally, I am uploading some (sort of fuzzy, sorry, the camera is not behaving well lately) pics of my uber-awesome biz cards from Virgil O. Stamps Letterpress. In case you were wondering, YES, a handful of my cards are backed with a vintage SPAM ad. I'm not giving those away. They are too cool. Others are backed with B&W images of 50's housewives holding big baskets of laundry, or washing dishes, and looking, frankly, a little pissed off. And others with pics of 50's paradise-suburbia. Because Virgil knows, I like irony.

Monday, February 01, 2010

by Naomi: I didn't go to church today

I didn’t go to church today. I just couldn’t drag myself out of bed to go to a place in which I usually feel frustrated at best and oppressed at worst. As I write this, I feel the need to include a disclaimer: I feel lucky to live in a place where I can choose which church I attend and still be attending a Church of Christ. And I love the people at the church I attend. The church I attend is more inclusive of women in the worship service than many others in town.

And inclusion in the worship service is important to me. But we have (in my opinion) a long way to go. Aside from women’s role, however, the use of masculine pronouns and imagery for God (in the bulletin, in the songs we sing, in our readings, in our prayers, in our sermons) is exhausting and exclusionary, for me. To collapse the ontological reality of God (who/what God actually is) with one of the many metaphors for God (Father, King, etc) is idolatry. It hurts me to see the church missing out on the richness of who God is (masculine, feminine, and non-gendered) without even knowing that it’s happening.

I used to love church. I looked forward to Sunday mornings, Sunday nights (except once-a-month it was small group on Sunday afternoon instead), Wednesday nights, and Saturday nights (youth group). I took notes during the sermons, spoke up during class, and my parents had to all-but-drag me away from church when it was time to go. For a few years my indoor soccer team played on Sunday mornings and I was torn; I didn’t want to miss church! But my team needed me. Luckily, my church had two services, so I would either go to the early service and change into my soccer uniform before I left, or I would pack church clothes and shower gear and shower in the church annex after my games so that I could at least make it to second service, or if I were really lucky, Bible class! I used to love church. 

Excursus 1: In retrospect, maybe part of the reason I was so drawn to soccer is because I was good at it and my skills were utilized there. In my youth group, the females were the most consistent members. When it came to “Youth Sunday” we did all of the planning, and yet, were forced to delegate everything we had planned to male execution. It was clear from an early age that I was born to be a leader, and since I couldn’t do that at church, maybe I played soccer instead? It feels good to be a vital part of a team, a leading force, a fully participating member.

I didn’t set out to cause trouble or to be a “feminist activist.” Even now, I don’t know if that’s how I would describe myself. Anyway, when I started asking these questions in high school, this was a frustration I had with Churches of Christ on par with instrumental music. It didn’t make sense, it was silly, but that’s just a part of who we were as a fellowship. As a Biblical Studies major in college, it was something about which I had strong opinions, but not something that bothered me in the weekly worship of the church. But the more I know, the more systemic and overwhelming it seems. Hardly a day goes by that I don’t notice some sort of patriarchal language or tendency in either the church or the classroom. In a few months I’ll be graduating again, this time with a Master of Divinity. But to what end?

Excursus 2: I am extremely blessed to be married to a man who is supportive, understanding, and “on-board” in this subject. Ironically enough, Jamey and I will have the same degrees. (Actually, his undergrad degree is in Poli-Sci, so I’ve got the one-up on him as far as longevity-in the field. If we’re being technical.) He wants to teach and does not actually like to preach. I think I would really rather work (preach?) in the church (although, I have no way of knowing since I haven’t been able to intern in a church) but will most likely end up teaching because that is a career that is (in a few places) open to me. I have often phrased it like this: “I don’t know if I want to teach because I want to teach, or because I am not allowed to preach.”

Sometimes, I wish that I could un-learn what I have learned, un-know what I have come to know, so that I could love church again. But I can’t. And I’m scared that I will never love church again. I’m scared that it will always be a struggle for me to get up and go, and most of the time I won’t bother. I’m scared that on the Sundays I do manage to go, I will always be frustrated with the oppression of women in role and language. I’m scared that I will have to find another denomination in order to be useful to the church.

And people ask: Why don’t you just leave? It would be a lie if I said that I haven’t thought about it. Jamey and I both have. But this (the Churches of Christ) is my family, it’s where I grew up, it’s a part of who I am. I don’t want to give up on it just because we don’t agree about everything. It’s like any relationship in conflict: If it matters to you, you should address the conflict and hope for resolution before you just give up. But this is a fine line to walk. A woman in an abusive relationship should not stay in that abuse just because “It doesn’t have to be this way; he might change.” At what point does conflict become abuse? I find myself asking, with the woman who contemplates leaving her abusive husband: Where would I go?

Beyond that, if everyone who is frustrated leaves, who is going to push for change? It may never happen in my lifetime, but I want to be a part of forming a church where my daughters can be fully included in the life of the church, instead of being relegated to secondary status.

I used to love church. But I didn’t go to church today. Maybe next week.