Wednesday, September 19, 2007

"Sexism" and the Churches of Christ

I finally got in late Tuesday night, home from Abilene.

The rest of the lectures and classes I got hear (Monday night through Tuesday afternoon) were just as good as the ones I talked about last time. The Landon Saunders speech on Monday evening was something like an oracle.

Tuesday morning, I got to attend the Restoration Quarterly breakfast; even to got sit next to Carisse Berryhill who at Harding Graduate School and now at Abilene has always been so friendly and helpful to me in my studies. What a great lady and scholar she is.

I also got to hear Mark Shipp (on the early chapters of Hosea) and Glenn Pemberton (on the ambivalence we have in Churches of Christ about someone getting "a call to ministry" and the call narrative in Isaiah chapter 6).

After lunch, I went to Mike Casey's presentation on the subject of his latest book, Sir Garfield Todd. The best presentations you hear come whenever someone is speaking from a mind filled up from study and writing and reflection and prayer. That's the sort of thing I got to hear all day. What a pleasure. I even happened upon fellow blogger Bobby Valentine; so good to finally meet him in person.

That said, there's one perceived negative I want to mention and explore.

Something that most any observer of the ACU lectures would pick up on is that it has now become quite vogue (at least at Abilene during lectureship week) to come down hard on the "sexism" of the Churches of Christ.

In the opening lecture, for example, "racism" and "sexism" were mentioned together. Knowing the current situation in Churches of Christ, it was easy to connect the dots. Anyone who would argue for the traditional practice and position of the Churches of Christ on gender-and-worship questions is an unwitting "sexist" at best.

The next morning I attended a class in which the presenter told the story of a conversation he'd recently had. Someone who had attended the church where the presenter preaches told this preacher that he wouldn't be coming to his church. One of the reasons for staying away? The "sexism." The story was told in a way that affirmed the viewpoint of the dissenter. The upshot was that Churches of Christ have got to do something about their "sexism," or else.

To be fair, I should mention this. I realize that someone might say that, in the perception of someone unfamiliar with the Churches of Christ, current practice in most of our congregations might be taken as blatant sexism. It has sometimes been perceived (when our buildings weren't so plush) that acappella churches simply couldn't afford a piano.

But has it occurred to people who increasingly favor the s-word that congregations of the Church of Christ that are so "progressive" they encourage women to preside at the Lord's table would seem hopelessly sexist to many outsiders because they have not also ordained women to be some of the preachers and elders?

And I wonder. Where is the tolerance for people who hold to traditional positions on these questions, not because of their misogyny (if they know their own hearts and are extended a measure of trust) but because they think that's what the Word of God really says?

Why must these people be told they're guilty of "sexism" by their loving brothers and sisters who evidently assume that the other side can maintain their stance only when they maintain inherited-but-flawed interpretations combined with a bad heart and good-ole'-boy attitudes, the feeling created by the s-word.

Isn't there a way of taking issue with the traditional position on this set of questions without ascribing to others the motive of a latent sexism? I say there is. Study Scripture. Review history. Talk about tradition. Analyze arguments. Speak about how people think and feel. Make any points pro and con. Unveil what you believe is the vision and intent and heart of God according to the Scriptures.

Christian people should be able to do that without resorting to labels and names that serve no good purpose.


James said...

I'd actually say the way to go about it from both sides would look a bit like the following:

From the churches which ascribe to more traditional roles, I believe there should be concerted effort to educate themselves on why they believe in these roles. If someone asked why it was important to you, would it sound sexist or would it sound like the church (everyone, men and women) believed that they were contributing in roles they felt they had the most to add?

From people visiting churches with more traditional roles I would expect that they could respect the differences. If the opportunity for women to contribute in every role in the church is something important to someone, and they have come to that conclusion after studying and reflecting, then they should focus their attention to churches that offer that flexibility.

As they say (I think), peace doesn't come at the point of a sword, so attacking each other over differing beliefs is counter-productive. Make your points, live with the results, not everyone agrees.

Bob Bliss said...

Frank, in our day the "isms" are getting the attention. No one wants to be accused of an "ism" and how do you defend the accusation of an "ism?" It would seem to me that dogmat"ism" exists on both sides of the aisle.

Royce Ogle said...

Misunderstanding and misapplying the roles for men and women as set forth in Scripture not only creates problems in the assembly but also in the home.

Perhaps it would be wise to balance time given to teaching on the biblical leadership of men at church and in the home, with teaching, also from the Bible, on men loving their wives as Christ loved the church. There is a difference between a husband and a dictator.

As for the passing of the elements for the Lord's Supper, are women excluded from passing them up and down? Why not also back and forth? Were those women who "labored" with Paul in the gospel just carrying luggage? I doubt it.

Whether "sexism" exists in our church or not, I am not offended in the least by the question. If it doesn't exist great, if it does it should be purged.

Grace to you,
Royce Ogle

Anonymous said...

One thing the coc taught that I used to attend, is to find your identity in Christ. Because of their teaching on accountabiltiy to God, drawing upon His counsel, seeking truth, and following the Holy Spirit, I can agree to disagree.

When I hear someone say, I believe God says........that's awesome and wonderful. They are accountable to God, not me. I respect their choice and opinion because it is theirs.

Someone recently told me they believed my position as a supervisor and having authority over men,(yes, I'm a woman)was pemissable according to his understanding of scripture. I respect that and am encouraged by his support. Ultimately, however, according to what I was taught, the approval I need is from God. I must answer for my own choice and respect the choices of others.

My first elders in the coc are a mixture in their views. I have disagreed with everyone of them on at least one issue or another. They are and will for eternity be my most beloved leaders, my first and my last. They taught me not to trust in their humanity but in the Christ I see in them. They are transparent, humble, and I would never question their love for Jesus. They have been a thorn in my side and when I questioned God's authority, they were a pain in my BUT! May God continue to bless their ministries.

Stoned-Campbell Disciple said...

Frank it was providential that we ran into each other in the CRS. I am glad we had the opportunity to meet and visit.

I will be in Lubbock in October perhaps we can meet again.

Bobby Valentine

Anonymous said...

My parents never distinguished between the potential of their daughters and their son. They allowed us to thrive and pursue our own talents, gifts and interests. No worthy pursuit or interest was forbidden to any of us. By example they taught us to be humble and compassionate toward the powerless.

At age 30, on a Sunday morning at the church of Christ I was a part of all my life, I had an epiphany while observing a bright little 2 year old girl in the next pew. She had already begun her training as a follower, a submitter. Her curiosity, her self-confidence and her gifts had already begun to be squelched in favor of the little boy down the row. Even at age 5, he could be permitted to stand and speak to the congregation, whereas his grandmother, a wise woman in her 60s, could not. Tears came to my eyes as I realized that the dehumanization of little girls was taking place in churches of Christ Sunday schools and pews everywhere over and over by lovely, otherwise caring people who were following what they were taught God wanted and not what their conscience would dictate in any other setting.

In the workplace, in schools, at home, these same Christians would say "it just isn't right" if Jane were limited to A,B and C, while John has a whole alphabet of choices. It would be unjust. What you call sexism is plain old INJUSTICE. How absurd it seems to cast God as it's Author.

Does it really matter what we are "raised to believe" or what is a tradition when our conscience tells us that it harms or demeans another human being?


Anonymous said...

Thank you Susannah. I no longer attend the Church of Christ but my heart breaks for the little girls who grow up limited by a questionable (at best) interpretation of scripture. As a teenager, I remember sitting in a Sunday School class unable to find a book in the Bible. Unable to ask for help (we couldn't even speak in Sunday School, I simply gave up. The male teacher glared daggers at me, assuming that I was being defiant. I left not to long after that experience. That memory makes me want to cry. I can't for the life of me understand women, like my mother, aunts, and cousins, who allow themselves to be so marginalized. I used to have anger towards them (more anger at them, actually, than towards the male leaders). I have tried to replace that anger with prayer, compassion, and understanding. God bless you and bless all those who strive for the truth, even if the truth you find is different than mine.