Tag Archives: church schism

The Power Of Persuasion

Recently, a well known theologian and blogger made a problematic call for a schism concerning the status of women in the church. He suggested,

If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.
If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.
If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.
If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.

Curiously, the blogger left out, as Alan Hooker noted,

that websites that happen to host complementarian blogs, sorta like Patheos! If the call to a schism was genuine, then indeed a full scale boycott of all things complimentarian needed to be extended online, yes? Or does Patheos get a pass? Just checkin’.

Now, what brings me to write this post isn’t the author, Tony Jones or the inner Christian debates about what’s the history of schism, what did people get wrong about slavery and who started what. No, today, I wanted to take the opportunity to discuss the nature of the debate as it took place. A few commenters on the relevant blogposts were labelled “mean” and “hateful” even though they had remained quite civil in their disagreement with the blogger in question. May I suggest that maybe this could be because as Christian feminists, the commenters did not believe in Jones’ methods (and the underlying presumptions thereof).

On the surface, it would seem that male theologians who identify as egalitarians would be the ideal allies for persons who identify as Christian feminists. When certain men and women hear/read the word feminist, things that come to mind include abortion, sexual reproduction, wives leaving their husbands, bra burnings, or vengeance demons.

Part of feminism is women’s empowerment, visually seeing women in leadership, having the freedom to make moral choices, being recognized as equal human beings. This is only one part. The other part of feminism that rarely gets discussed online but it was the feminism that appealed to me was the commitment to relationality. Along with being a theology of liberation, feminist theology is a relational theology that has diverse conversations surrounding divine and human subjectivity, mutuality, love, and justice. While there are those theologians who remain ever committed to theologies of coercion and dominance in various forms, it was the work of scholars such as Elizabeth A. Johnson (feminist) and Karen Baker-Fletcher (womanist) that aided me in viewing God’s power as one of persuasion.

In her Dancing With God: The Trinity From A Womanist Perspective, one of the pictures that Baker-Fletcher paints is one of Jesus in the Gospels, who like Wisdom in the Book of Proverbs, goes throughout the streets, inviting persons into relationship with YHWH. I found this vision of the Messiah compatible with the Church Mothers and Fathers like Clement of Alexandria and Justin Martyr, and their emphasis on the Logos. Logos Christology does not have to be seen as a phallocentric, male-dominated view of God’s Otherness; it can be understood as covenantal and participatory. The Word of God is something to be shared, a loving power of mutuality.

There are some Christians who see power as something to be horded, as having lordship over others. They choose money and influence over inclusion and diversity. The call to schism is problematic because schisms, throughout church history, have been very violent. The Protestant & Catholic Reformations lead to almost a century of war. Dialogue broke down, or the environment was made impossible for dialogue to take place. Emergent church folks love to talk about dialogue, but they just don’t like the other side of the coin: LISTENING. In place of the dialogue and the diversity the reflects the Commonwealth of God, we see leaders in the Emergent church go out of their way to defend the status quo, and shut the marginalized out; it’s about platforms, and soapboxes, the feelings shared are not mutual:

The marginalized do not need a handout in order to get into places where their presence is not wanted. But, really this approach, the approach of platforms and conferences, boils down to a view of power that matches the neocolonial structures of multinational corporations. Progressive movements such as the Emerging Church and “Lean In” are more so wills-to-power over others through the coercive forces of racial segregation and socio-economic class disparities.

Perhaps the greatest threat that feminism poses to TPTB (the powers that be) is the alternative understanding of power, relationality and mutuality. An all out schism in the historical use of the term, would put up decades, if not centuries of barriers to dialogue. Confusing calls for schism from ambitious leaders do not help the cause of mutuality; in fact, it does a great disservice. Why? Because the other side can look those who want equality for women in churches, and say, “see, they are just like us! they are willing to impose their will on others to get their way, why should we change?” From Christian feminism, I learned a better way, the power of persuasion.

“Out in the open, Wisdom calls aloud, she raises her voice in the public square”- Proverbs 1:20 NIV

Xander and Willow, BTVS season 6 finale, “Grave”

The Half-Baked Cake of Tony Jones’ Misappropriated Cultural Oppression: guest post by Gabe @Gabe_Pfefer

Editor’s note (Rod): I was outraged about how wrong someone gets slavery and church history; that’s all I wanted to say. ENJOY!

“Gabe Pfefer is a graduate of the M.Div program at Brite Divinity School in Ft. Worth, TX and a part time pastor in the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). He’s originally from Western Missouri and he grew up around farmers. He loves to cook, but can’t bake to save his life. You can see his post from February here

Anybody who’s kept even half an eye on the progressive Christian blogosphere this week will have no doubt encountered Tony Jones’ latest outrageous bid for attention. In his crusade to combat misogyny and complementarianism in the church, he called for an outright schism between complimentarian and egalitarian factions of Christianity. Mr. Jones brogressive jihad was met with disbelief and alarm by many, but that never stops good old TJ from doubling down on being scandalous. His latest salvo was this blog post (insert link here) in which he compares those who disagree with his idea of fragmenting the church to slaveholders and medieval torturers.
Now let me be clear, I am a vehement opponent of complementarianism, patriarchy, and anything less than full egalitarianism in the body of Christ. I understand Jones’ fury at those who remain stuck in the stone ages of oppressive attitudes about gender roles. I oppose with all my being any attempts to deny full inclusion to women in every aspect of the church. Where I and all but Jones’ most ardent fangirls and fanboys part ways with Jones’ thinking is in the idea that the church should schismatically separate over this issue. Yes schisms are historical and have at times led positive change, but they ALWAYS represent a wounded brokenness of the spirit of Christian unity. A schism over this issue would only deepen those wounds.
Aside from the debate over the appropriateness of a schism is the question of why Jones believes himself to be qualified or powerful enough to declare such an action. Yes it’s true he has written many well received books and has contributed a great deal to the archive of progressive theological thought. It’s also true though that he’s been a historically contentious figure with a reputation for causing conflict even within his corner of the Emergent movement. He’s hardly the most diplomatic fellow and although he presumes to often speak prophetically, his demeanor has frequently distracted from his message. Jones is never one to listen to or consider even the mildest of critiques without an excessive amount of bristling defensiveness towards his critics.
Even beyond my questions about his assumption of the mantle of would-be schismatic leader are my questions and outrage about his latest accusations. I was highly disturbed to see him resort to a slavery analogy to attack his critics. The horrors of the slave trade like the horrors of the holocaust should be, in my opinion, beyond the pale of access for use as weapons in casual battles of rhetoric. As a white male from a middle class background I was appalled to see Jones (another white middleclass male) so casually employ the images and symbols of African American oppression in this manner. He might as well have invoked the idea that his critics were akin to Hitler while he was at it!
It seems Jones has never gotten used to being challenged or not being seen as the brightest kid in the room. When his brilliance (in this case in the idea of a schism) was questioned he couldn’t take it and lashed out. I assume he believed that by comparing his critics to slave traders and sympathizers he would automatically cause his fellow progressives to reflexively distance themselves from these critics in their midst. His casual and completely basis appeal to racism falls flat however since he’s comparing apples to oranges and his analogy falls flatter than a Bundt cake without the baking powder.

Can The Concern Trolls In The Church Be Saved?

There has been a lot of feedback to Ross Douthat’s “Can Liberal Christianity Be Saved?” in the New York Times. Most notably, Diana Butler Bass’s “Can Christianity Be Saved?”

However, I would like to take the time to ask a different set of questions, beginning with, first, “Can Concern Trolls In The Church Be Saved?” Every few months there’s a news report or survey that is taken place that points to one harrowing fact: Both liberal and conservative churches are shrinking in the pews, or what we in Capitalist America call “dying off.” We associate a church that doesn’t fit the definition of success (i.e., making profit and growing larger, constructing a bigger building) in capitalism as “dying.” Having life, therefore is tied solely to living the American Dream. American Christianity therefore, since it is not living up to the American dream, is “dying.”

In this context, another question comes to mind, “What exactly is SALVATION, or BEING SAVED?” Does salvation look like a mega-church on every street corner? And if so, are mega-churches inherently wrong? (I would say no, but that topic is for another day) I must say I have to take sides with both James W. McCarty III’s Christianity Doesn’t Need Saving: A Response To Douthat and Bass [linked here] and Lee M.’s A Few Points On Liberal Christianity [also linked here]

“Professors of theology don’t “save” Christianity. Bishops, priests, and popes don’t “save” Christianity. Even popular pastors don’t “save” Christianity. God is already saving the world and uses faithful, though sinful, people to do it. That is all that matters.”-McCarty

“–Mainline denominations are actually not as liberal as people think but contain a wide range of theological and political views. For instance, in 2008, Barack Obama got only 44 percent of the white mainline Protestant vote (see, e.g., this study). Similarly, a review of official church statements on issues like marriage and abortion would show that mainline churches have hardly bought into “sexual liberation” hook, line, and sinker.”-Lee M.

Other great follow-ups and commentary around the blogosphere:

James McGrath: “Can Non-Liberal Christianity Be Saved?”

Brian LePort: “The Future Of Christian Denominations”

Amanda Mac: “The Future Of the Anglican Communion”

So, what exactly would Christianity being saved look like?