when it comes to church, i firmly believe that the “best criticism of the bad is the practice of the better.” at the same time, i think it’s sometimes worth calling out its inconsistencies when it comes to the so-contrary-to-the-non-oppressive-ways-of-Jesus as a reminder and to gain resolve & clarity on why we feel so passionate about change.
yes, i recognize “the church” is a flawed system made up of imperfect human beings.
it also has an incredible ability to influence people. it possesses a wild amount of power to sway us certain directions. many often believe lock, stock & barrel what leaders say from the pulpit, TV screens, books, and most any other medium where someone is “teaching”. we assume the ones talking must know what they are talking about and just go with it.
their charisma is intoxicating. their clarity and certainty is comforting.
when it comes to issues of equality and inequality, this means a helluva lot of people are being influenced to believe in complementarian theology and practice. so many sit in the pews and nod their head when they hear about biblical manhood & womanhood and how men just need to step up and be the head of their households and women just need to support them properly. book after book gets written about this topic; the truth is that on the whole–the ones that sell like hotcakes–are those that adapt this hierarchical theology to contemporary culture in a slick, inviting way. don’t even get me started on mark driscoll’s new book & ed young’s new gimmick (i couldn’t bring myself to include the links).
but like it or not, people are listening. these guys are strong, clear, certain, charismatic communicators. and thousands and thousands and thousands of men & women are following them.
they are influencing a helluva lot of people.
when i was on a megachurch staff years ago we pulled together a really challenging premarital workshop that was egalitarian & honest & real. we tried not just to talk about budgets and the number of kids each person wanted. we shared from ephesians 5:21 (submit to one another out of reverence for Christ), the part of the passage no one ever starts with. i remember all those sweet young couples in there going “huh, i’ve never heard this before.” there were a lot of other things we explored together, but the point is this–the message was new and liberating. i am still proud that even for a short season we offered another angle.
a chunk of months after i left the staff i saw the premarital workshop being advertised again for the next round of soon-to-be-marrieds. the wording, the content, and the leadership had completely changed and the new focus was on exploring “biblical manhood & womanhood” and “God’s given roles for marriage.”
we all know what that means. yeah, it doesn’t go down too good for the women. or the men either, actually.
it broke my heart, but i wasn’t surprised. now, many years later, i feel sad when i think of the thousands of people being influenced by this usually subtle & sometimes direct teaching. not only in premarital workshops but in the daily grind of church culture where men are in charge, women are serving their butts off, and the power differentials Jesus tried to knock down continue to get perpetuated. mega-churches influence thousands of people. add the smaller churches who espouse the same theology and all of the books & seminars & bible studies being written and sold by people with power, and it multiplies exponentially.
it’s a helluva lot of people being influenced.
i’m sad for all the awesome women who are sincere and want to do the right thing before God and will read all kinds of books & go to all kinds of groups to learn to be a good christian women and always come up short. i know the feeling.
i’m also sad for all those men who will never be able to lead strong enough to be valid christian men and for all the ways they lose out on a strong and equal teammate.
mostly i’m just sad that many people don’t know that there are other options and ways to view the scriptures. i do not know one mega-church that actually teaches egalitarian marriage. i am sure they exist, but i believe they are very rare. many will say “we value women” and “we believe in equality.” but the truth is that deeply embedded in the cultural norms, teaching, and ethos of their bodies is a particular way of interpreting biblical roles for men and women that continually keeps women underneath men instead of in equal, free relationship with each other.
our best hope is to continue to be the change we want to see.
we can create smaller missional communities that teach a better way. we can play our part in restoring sexual brokenness and being people of change and hope. we can encourage women to lead more freely. we can model the beauty of equal marriage. we can blog our hearts out about equality and justice. we can learn how to bravely practice cross-gender friendships and write challenging pot-stirring books. all of these things are helping turn the tide, and that is beautiful. i may be a bit more skeptical than some, but i do believe major shifts are happening, and that’s always how we get to a new place. i think it can happen faster if more brave leaders use their power, influence, and charisma to directly influence change.
there will always be those who hold deeply to their interpretation of the scriptures that support male headship. i respect that. but there is a far wider population who only believe it because that is what their pastors, leaders, books, radio & TV shows, and podcasts tell them to believe. so many have never looked at it from another angle because no one in power has showed them another angle.
God, whether we influence a small amount of people or a lot of people, help us be brave and use our power & voices & lives to show another angle from which we can serve you and others better and actively participate in turning the tide.