Friday, July 26, 2013

women aren't instruments

I'm not an amen-er.

Though it is often one of the few exceptions to the otherwise iron-clad rule that women must be silent in the churches of Christ (exceptions are made for singing in our distinctive a capella 4-part harmony and saying "amen"), while I'm an enthusiastic and competent alto, I've never been an amen-er. In my experience, few women are. (The habit of silence runs too deep. Plus, how mortifying it would be to be the only one saying "amen." And, what if someone else thought it was disruptive? The danger of this suddenly becoming sinful and a stumbling block is just too great.)

Even now, when I've spent years learning to use my voice, and how and when to use it, I find myself inhibited when it comes to the public vocal assent to gospel truth when I hear it.

This makes the moment I inadvertently amen-ed Claire Davidson Frederick's remark at the Christian Scholars Conference this past June all the more remarkable and personally memorable. That amen was torn out of me, from some deep place in my soul that resides somewhere close to my toenails. It came out of nowhere from the very depths of me, and my own voice surprised me.

Claire had said, "Please, please, whatever you do, don't put the issue of women in the church in the same context as using instruments in worship."

And I practically shouted, "Amen! And THANK YOU!" from the back of the room.

I had never heard this put quite so succinctly before. This is not a "worship issue."

We've talked about this thing for so long as "women's role in the church," and implicitly defined that for so long as "women's role in public worship," that we've overlooked that we're talking about people, not instruments.

When we talk about women in the church, we're talking about whether or not women are seen and valued as walking images of God, called to full expression of that image in service to others. If we frame the conversation in terms of "can women do X in worship" parallel to "can we use instruments in worship" then we've already reduced women to a status akin to inanimate objects. Women are not instruments.

This has an important implication for the way one particular scripture is called upon in our discussions--the one alluded to in the name of the site. The interpretation of Galatians 3:28 as a theological benchmark of human equality across social divisions, including gender, is typically refuted in non-egalitarian Churches of Christ by the observation that "this has nothing to do with worship practice."

And what I want to say, okay--and that's relevant how, exactly?

Because women aren't instruments. And this is not a "worship issue."

As a theologian, I read Galatians 3:28 as a sketch of what it means to be redeemed humanity, created in the image of God and called to live out that image in our relationships to each other, within the body of Christ and as ambassadors of Christ to the world. It's not a statement about how to worship. It's a statement about who we are and who we are called to be. If it has anything to do with worship, it's because the way in which we worship ought to reflect our identity as a redeemed humanity and the identity of the God who has made us, called us, and redeemed us.

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