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,
— Alan Hooker (@awhooker) November 27, 2013
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:
— Tony Jones (@jonestony) April 11, 2013
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