Friday, October 01, 2010

men we can trust. women, on the other hand...

This past week, I feel like I did some honest engagement with people of all sorts of theological opinions on the topic of women's silence in our churches. It was a lot of work, it took up quite a bit of time, it took a lot of focus, and it took a lot of strategic reading to avoid getting stuck on the horribly insulting things that do get said in pretty much every discussion I've ever seen/heard on this topic. While commenting, I read past the insults, the suspicions of character, the easy ad hominem stuff. But it's not that it isn't there--go back through and count up how many different ways that the moral character of women who want to serve God gets assassinated. It's a constant theme.

One of the things I've been pondering for the last several years is the way in which CofCs take for granted the upright, upstanding character of the people in our churches and in our tradition more broadly. Some of this has to do with our theological anthropology, and some of it has to do with our ecclesiology and the pragmatics of a strict "congregational autonomy" set up. We don't typically require a lot of fuss or background checks for Sunday school teachers or youth group volunteers, for example. And churches generally don't concern themselves with psych profiles or background checks for people who voluntarily go overseas to do mission work--these people raise their funds, typically from several churches, and so at least some of those churches don't necessarily know them personally or well, and yet we give people money at the drop of a hat and send them off--just trusting that we can take them at their word, because they say they're wanting to do this great work for the Lord. Even if we don't really know them from Adam.

Maybe that's awesome. But it's also naive.

And it totally backfires. Sometimes.

Because sometimes the people we fund are not good people. Sometimes they are terrible people, who do very bad things, all paid for out of church budgets by people who feel comfortable assuming that they can just take someone's word for it that all they want to do is serve God.

But if it's women making that claim, right in their own church community...forget about it. Obviously, there is something heretofore unknown that's wrong with their moral character. They have an agenda. It's about power. It's about money. It's about arrogance. Whatever it is, it's not what they claim--we can't take their word for it that they just want to serve God the best way that they can.

Do you see the disconnect? Men, we can trust. Women, on the other hand...


adoptingmama said...

This is the thought I've had rolling around in my brain this week: "Most of the men that are teaching, praying, leading singing, bringing thoughts at the communion table, most of these men while very nice have not received special training in order to get up there. And yet there can be and usually are just as or more qualified women in the congregation but they cannot serve based only on their femaleness." What's the deal with that? Thanks for the blog, I appreciate it.

JJT said...

Part of the deal with that, I think, is the CofC's highly idealized/democratized original vision of church leadership structure. Campbell inveighed bitterly against "ministerial hirelings" who did outrageous stuff like to go to seminary and receive professional training to enter ministry. Men like James A. Harding were basically itinerant preachers determined never to receive a salary or be "located" at a particular place. While we've obviously moved away from that original "pure" vision and practice, we still retain a strong sense that "anyone can do ministry" and "everyone does ministry" such that we don't necessarily seek skills or qualifications or interest our of people we consider de facto qualified simply by being a member of the church.

I mean, if they're male. Women just aren't in the pool "de facto qualified. --Despite the fact that the logic actually, on the surface of it, seems to present a decent line of reasoning for inclusion. (I wrote more on this over at the rude sermons blog, it's part of the thing I did at the WIM conference in 2008.)

So the question just isn't "what can you do." If it were, we could crack this thing open--because nobody will argue that women are incapable of strong spiritual leadership (well, I shouldn't be so optimistic. Probably somebody somewhere would, but nobody on this blog has.) That's why one of the things you'll hear so often repeated is a plea to think about calls to ministry on the basis of "giftedness." That is re-orienting our sense of ministry around the question of "what can you do?" instead of "who are you (male or female)?"