Monday, November 25, 2013

Sexism and schism: a response to Tony Jones

Tony's recent post on Theoblogy has--as Tony's posts often do--kicked off a discussion that free ranges across denominational lines and ideologies. Links to and discussions of It's Time for a Schism appeared in multiple places in my information pipeline, expected (my twitter feed, Facebook newsfeed) and unexpected (in an online support group I participate in, on a discussion thread on a Church of Christ preacher's blog series I'm following). It's these unexpected places that prompt me to respond here because, clearly, Tony's post has contributed to furthering the conversation  about gender justice in Churches of Christ, a conversation I'm very much invested in.

My first response to Tony's post can be found here on Theoblogy, but I'll repost my comment here as well:

hi Tony,
I appreciate your passion on this. As a woman, a theologian, and life long CofCer (that's Churcha-Christer, verbalized) I want to affirm your anger and the need for justice. And, also to defend why I "stay" within a church denomination that (typically) refuses not only to allow women into leadership and (paid) ministry positions, but to allow women's voices to be heard and women's bodies to occupy space "up front" during corporate worship.
First I want to say that I don't counsel other people to do what I'm attempting to do. The "stay or go" question is vexing and complicated and there's no one size fits all answer, I think. But I don't encourage people to stay in a church environment that has become toxic to them (my husband left years ago and is now happy being an Episcopal priest).
So, since I don't counsel other people to stay put as a more righteous or effective response to this injustice, why do I? Because I can, and because at the moment I think I can do more good by staying rather than leaving. It's a unique possibility given my location and resources and education and network, and so I'm doing my best to utilize these things well. 
But I engage the work, not because I want to reform the institution or change the Church of Christ, per se. I engage in this work because I care deeply about the women sitting in the pews for whom leaving is still an unimaginable possibility, and the little girls who grow up hearing things that make them feel like, and I quote, "Jesus only died for the boys." There are so many of them. And for those who find the courage to leave, hallelujah: be free in Christ to serve and glorify God with all that you are. For those who are still stuck, I'll stick around.
For anyone who's connected with the CofC and is interested in working toward gender justice in the CofC, is still around and thriving. :)

    I want to be clear about what I affirm, and what I challenge, about Tony's call for schism as I understand it (and in this phrasing I acknowledge that of course I may be interpreting some things wrong, and welcome dialogue on any errors as this is always helpful). 

    First, Tony's post is being heard by at least some in Churches of Christ who may be unaware that the kind of schism he calls for--a principled individual severance with an oppressive system--has been happening in our churches over this very issue over the last few decades, in increasing numbers. People have left over what we have learned to label "women's roles in the church," and are continuing to leave. Many are of course women gifted for forms of service and ministry restricted to them; many are those who leave in solidarity with those women. But typically, this schism has been a slow, diachronic, quiet one, more of an exodus of people who aren't interested in making it hard for those they leave behind, whom they love as brothers and sisters and fathers and mothers in Christ. They leave as Ursula K. LeGuin describes those who walk away from Omelas: one day, they simply go.

    And so it's easy for those who aren't looking for the missing ones to continue without ever realizing who is missing. Part of what we in Churches of Christ need to realize is, then, that these of our number are missing. This is the reason hosts a wiki named "Exodus," a collaborative project aimed at shining a spotlight on those who have left and pursued ministry elsewhere. This is a list of people who have courageously moved, like Abraham, from the familiarity of home to the unknown land of Ur on the strength of faith in God alone. They ought not be forgotten.

    I believe Tony's post and the discussion around it may be calling some attention to this, and that is indeed a result for which I am grateful.

    The main thing I find most helpful about Tony's posts on this is that he is issuing a call for effective action. Tony is tired of talking. And here once again I want to affirm, for I am also rather tired of talking. We've been talking a long time, we in the Churches of Christ, and precious little has changed. Talk, after all, is cheap.

    So here is where I return to my first response, and aim to perhaps clarify some of my comment, and also pose a genuine question.

    While validating this call to effective action, I don't think that schism, either in the classic sense or in the individual severance sense, is a strategy for effecting systemic change. 

    This is tricky territory here on the "stay or go" question; it's a question I've been asked many times in friendly and unfriendly ways, and a question ever CofCer concerned with gender justice wrestles with at some point. It's tricky territory because it's hard to hear someone's explanation of the reasons they "stay" without feeling like some judgment is thereby passed on those who "leave." So I want to be clear in stating: I consider those who leave courageous. I know what kind of guts it takes to leave. Many who have "left" are among my private canon of personal saints, and you people know who you are. I praise God for your lives and witness.

    So when I say, again, that leaving is not a strategy for systemic change, that is no judgment on those who have left. It is an observation that Omelas doesn't disappear when those who walk away, walk away.

    So I want to construct a way of staying which is faithful to the call to effective action I hear at the heart of Tony's post, because what we disagree on here is not urgency or necessity or justice but what, in the end, effective action is. Schism leaves unjust systems intact--and untroubled.

    This brings me (finally!) to my question, which is, simply, is it really schism you're calling for? Or is it that, like me, and so very many others, the call is to effective action, and the challenge is to imagine adequate models for it?

    *a technical note: I am blogging via phone while sick in my hotel bed after a very full AAR and I promise to link everything properly later! Apologies in the meantime.

    Thursday, November 07, 2013

    Overheard on the way to NWSA

    First Man: "Did anyone see Stephanie get on the plane?"
    Second Man: "She's not coming. I just got an email saying 'I'm counting on you.'"
    First Man: "She's not COMING? ...I can't BELIEVE her."
    Second Man: "I just got the email."
    First Man: "She is such a FLAKE. She scheduled this meeting and now she's not even here. She is so SCATTERBRAINED. I just can't stand her."
    Third Man with a pic of his toddler as his laptop wallpaper: "I don't really know her at all, so..."
    First Man: "...Wants to be in charge, doesn't want to do any of the work."

    Wednesday, November 06, 2013

    unscientific survey

    A few days ago, I found myself trying to adequately convey to a class of 30 undergrads what I meant by the phrase "unmarked identity" (ostensibly, we were discussing Rawls and his "original position" behind the "veil of ignorance") and why it's problematic.

    So, on the spot, I tried this: "Okay. Girls. Answer this: do you ever walk into a room full of people without being consciously aware of the fact that you are a woman?" A pretty much unanimous "no." Then I asked the boys. "Do you ever enter a room full of people feeling conscious of the fact that you are a man?" Blank stares like the question didn't even make sense. No, of course not.

    This, y'all. This is why "unmarked" equals "privilege."

    a break

    "I need a break…I need a break…I need a break…I need a break…"

    As mantras go, it's not that edifying.

    But these are the words that I found pouring out of me this past weekend. And not just words. I found myself crooning them, like a blues singer, in a melody I've not heard before and that I didn't plan. And it just didn't stop. All the anxiety and exhaustion and inadequacy and anger and longing and sadness flowed into this spontaneous song as I held Z in my arms and she hugged me because she could tell that whatever Mommy was singing, it was sad.

    It was also peaceful and beautiful in a way I've rarely experienced. It was confession and prayer in a way that took me by surprise.

    When it ended, I carried Z into the kitchen to get her the snack she had asked for, the thing that had pushed me over the edge into that surreal moment of prayerful confession, and did what I needed to. No less tired, no less lonely, no less anxious and sad, but less angry.

    I don't know what it all means. But I do know that, whatever that was, it helped. It didn't solve anything and it didn't change anything, but it helped.

    Friday, November 01, 2013


    Today the internet told me,

    "In Genesis, Eve wanted to become equal to God. Thus, that women want to be equal,
    considered the same as men, is to be expected....So God assigning men to teach and to lead in their congregations and in their families is a way to remind women that they are
    human and therefore not above instruction and correction."