Changing the Conversation

10407400_10100100734260217_7945582648318187037_n“Is that a religious thing?” a male coworker looked at me blankly. He had no grid for this. Somehow in the middle of a discussion on whether we should all go to a trashy strip club in Reseda (advertising no c-section scars) and reminisces of past business trips, it was discovered that my husband had taken my last name. One thing led to another and I was left in the awkward position of explaining egalitarian theology alongside our choice of its expression to a group of coworkers. A few had gone to church at some point and one had taken a class at school on sacrifice and religion. The coworker asking if it was a religious thing? He just wanted to go to the strip club, but had become a little derailed by this new subject.

Tons of Bible passages used for and against women in leadership, a mix of Greek, proper hermeneutics and ancient contexts flooded my head but none of it would quickly express what egalitarianism was. What it came down to was this: Yes, it was a “religious thing.” I started talking about Jesus and how he died on the cross, giving himself up for us and how he lived a life as a servant to others. Egalitarianism was part of the Christian idea of giving up what we wanted for other people, in this case both husband and wife submitting to each other–in sex and life. There is no boss based off of gender. I explained that in many of our circles Nick is expected to be the leader and I am the one expected to submit to him. This is why Nick decided to make a statement by choosing to take my last name as an expression of how we will live (I gave Nick final decision since this would effect him the most–people attacking his masculinity–which they did).

In hindsight I found this brief discussion (and many others at work) interesting. None of my coworkers on the trip had much of a concept of egalitarian gender philosophy even though many in the church are somehow under the impression that egalitarianism is part of the broader secular culture. No luck–except for voting rights (thank you largely evangelical feminist movement of the 1920s!). It is probably more realistic to describe the broader culture as post-patriarchal in many ways, but egalitarian?

There were many questions at work about how I got Nick to take my name and why we just didn’t stick to our own last names. Many were surprised to hear that I didn’t get him to do anything–that he wanted to. After hearing the story people admired him and one girl wished she could find a guy like him.

In explaining what egalitarianism was, I always found I had to go straight to Christ and it always came down to what have always been very basic Christian principles such as giving deference, reverence and preference to one another in Christ. It came down to loving God and loving others.

I think that too often the beauty of egalitarianism, or Christian mutuality, gets lost in more reactionary argumentation to other Christians (refuting the use of 1 Tim or 1 Cor 14) or biblically evidencing one of many out-workings of egalitarianism such as women in leadership. It is also helpful to consider that this issue we are dealing with in the church is a whole web of issues. It is a worldview and way of life and not merely an objective or dispassionate look at a couple of prized passages. We are confronting an ingrained church culture, personal and corporate experience, power, gender identities and fear.

Lots of fear.

Overall, these discussions have brought me back to what bothered me about what is called complementarianism when I ascribed to it in the early Biola days. I was obeying an interpretation of a couple of verses even though deep down its practices and teaching seemed contrary to Kingdom proclamations, also known as the Gospel.

“Lord,” he prayed, “we ask that your Holy Spirit would go with us to our homes. And may the men continue to be priests of their home Lord, and rightly share your word in their families.”
My eyes shot open, unable to contain my shock. I quickly searched for my sister’s face in the third row; she and the people sitting around her were equally stunned at his clear attempt to undercut everything I had just preached; to somehow make up for or cancel out my asking the congregation that we rise up and be a community that values the voices of women.  Shake it off, Sarah, I said quietly to myself. You’ve still got to pray for people. I tried to focus on my breath as the song continued, hoping my already red cheeks weren’t giving away my surprise at his comments. After a few moments had gone by, one of the church elders, a man roughly my father’s age, approached me quietly. –Split Frame of Reference

Hello everyone,

Sorry I have not been contributing as much lately (I am a horrible blogger as far as consistency goes anyway!). One reason is that my work schedule often keeps me until 9:00p and the other is that I have been trying to collect my thoughts and reflect on what I have noticed within evangelicalism.

And I don’t like what I see.

Vicious fighting amongst ourselves. Qualified humanity. Basic and rampant immorality (biblically defined). False piety and ego.

In addition, I have been reading other studies and literature on human beings at their worst and am continually disturbed by how easy it is for average people like us to be sucked into a mentality that dehumanizes, kills and or takes advantage of others–often for the “greater good.”

These are all pieces of what I am processing. Honestly, it is a bit like watching the planes crash at 911 and watching it again and again once you realize it has actually happened. I have become disillusioned with evangelicalism as it exists today in the United States, yet I am very much an evangelical. While the subject is very uncomfortable for me, I can’t stop reading and wanting to know what exactly went very wrong, why and on a practical level what we can all do to change things on a systemic level. Note I am not saying that every evangelical I know or meet (that would be a lot of people) is this or that–I try and not make individual judgments–but I am saying I believe there is something very wrong and rotten about us as a subculture.

We think it is our mission to transform our culture–but into WHAT!? Seriously.

All that said, take this post as a stream of consciousness–more a process of thought than a finished product.

Are Christians Liars?

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The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected…–1 John 2:4-5a

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another, even as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all men will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” –John 13:34-35

Problem…?

“You’re a Christian!?”

I was a teenager eager to share my faith to anyone who would listen and this was the reaction I got from a girl my age who was active as a satanic priestess. I hadn’t really said anything that shocking. Mostly, we just talked. I learned a lot about her life and religion and we discovered that we both believed human beings were sinful by nature.

Curious, she asked what I believed and I told her I was a Christian. She couldn’t believe it. I elaborated by telling her what God had done for me and what He did for the world. “That’s beautiful.” Her eyes glazed for a moment before snapping back into reality. After some more conversation I learned that her experience with Christians had been extremely negative. They were the ones that were simply, mean spirited.

No one wanted to hear her out or truly engage her as a person.

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Other folks I have spoken to have described to me how they were dehumanized in church or by Christians. Many Christian folks have also described this to me. They are routinely treated like outsiders or spoken down to.

Others have told me about strange evangelistic encounters where the evangelist will tell them about Jesus and argue with them but never be willing to answer for themselves or their beliefs–the evangelist is always right and quickly moves on to the next target if an individual does not wish to convert on the spot.

People are notches for his evangelistic belt, not people who can contribute to him personally or who have intrinsic value.

The Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) has very few minorities of any kind or women around. Currently the leadership blocks publications by other leading evangelicals who differ theologically on certain hot button issues–even though people who held to these positions helped to found ETS. I have been called a liberal for being more Arminian than Calvinist and some Calvinist friends have been attacked for not being Arminians.

Factionalism abounds in evangelical circles.

Personally, I have had regular nasty encounters with Christians. Often these individuals wish to correct me or a loved one on an insignificant point (like A.D. or C.E.) or tell us how “godless” we are. Some wished to school us on the clear teachings of Scripture while having sex outside of marriage.

Sexism? Yeah, there is a lot of that too.

Yes, There is a BIG Problem

It turns out that on a statistical level “born-again” believers are not that different from non-believers in the way we live our every day lives. Sure we own more Bibles, are less likely to approve of the “F” word on t.v., go to church more and invest in some non-profits (often churches), but the Barna Group notes that when it comes to “the substance of people’s daily choices, actions, and attitudes–there were few meaningful gaps between born-again Christians and non-born-agains…In virtually every study we conduct, representing thousands of interviews every year, born-again Christians fail to display much attitudinal or behavioral evidence of transformed lives.” (UnChristian, 44-45).

I know being saved does not make one perfect–but it is a serious matter if there is little real difference between believers and non-believers. Sure we have a lot of cultural differences like less swearing, Bible studies, and are slightly more likely to help the homeless…but in many important ways we are no different from everyone else. According to that same study, 59% of young adult Christians believe cohabitation is acceptable and 44% believe sex outside of marriage is. I have heard our statistics for divorce and pornography are also extremely high (sometimes slightly higher than those outside the church). The Barna Group found that when it came to inappropriate sexual behavior 30% of born-agains admitted to this activity in the last 30 days as opposed to 35% of other Americans (only slightly better in this study).

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We should take all of this very seriously. No, I am not saying Christians are perfect or that anyone who struggles is automatically not saved. However, the Bible is clear that while works do not contribute to salvation, works do follow from it. In other words, we would expect that our behavior would be significantly different from the world where it counted. We would be more loving, caring and moral people. 1 John calls those who do not keep God’s commands and who do not love others and yet claim they know God liars.

By this we know that we have come to know Him, if we keep His commandments. The one who says, “I have come to know Him,” and does not keep His commandments, is a liar, and the truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the love of God has truly been perfected. By this we know that we are in Him: the one who says he abides in Him ought himself to walk in the same manner as He walked…The one who says he is in the Light and yet hates his brother is in the darkness until now. The one who loves his brother abides in the Light and there is no cause for stumbling in him. But the one who hates his brother is in the darkness and walks in the darkness, and does not know where he is going because the darkness has blinded his eyes (1 John 2:3-11).

The Bible tells us that as Christians we can set our mind on the Spirit and turn away from evil. It says that if we walk by the Spirit we will turn away from evil.

For you were called to freedom, brethren; only do not turn your freedom into an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole Law is fulfilled in one word, in the statement, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, take care that you are not consumed by one another.But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please. –Gal 5:13-17

The apostle Paul spells out to us what it looks like when we are not walking with God and what it looks like when we are.

NOT Walking with God:

Now the deeds of the flesh are evident, which are: immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmities, strife, jealousy, outbursts of anger, disputes, dissensions, factions, envying, drunkenness, carousing, and things like these, of which I forewarn you, just as I have forewarned you, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. –Gal 5:19-21

Walking with God:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. Now those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.If we live by the Spirit, let us also walk by the Spirit. Let us not become boastful, challenging one another, envying one another. –Gal 5:22-26

If we are truly in Christ our behaviors will reflect it. This does not happen over night or all at once, but transformation will be evident–even if not always occurring in a linear fashion.

What does it mean if most of us are no different where it counts? What does it mean if our movement is characterized by factionalism, enmity, strife and sexual immorality is rampant?

The world might hate us–it hated Christians in history and hates Christians today, but why does it hate us?

Are we at least known to be loving, kind and gentle people?

1 Timothy 2:8-3:13: Payne’s Literal Translation

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Many are under the false impression (both opponents and many within the church) that 1 Timothy 2 and 3 keep women from being overseers in the church or teaching men authoritatively. Some of this is due to less than adequate translations. For example, there are no masculine pronouns in the section giving the requirements for overseers. Further, literally “anyone” masculine/feminine  (not any man) may take on this role. Another interesting thing to note is how translation effects how we understand Paul’s words on women teaching. The following is Dr. Philip Payne’s literal translation of 1 Timothy 2:8-3:13. Be warned that this could be a bit wooden since it is trying to be more literal. It looks like interpretive parts are in [brackets]. I have put in bold sections you might want to compare with other translations such as the NIV or ESV.

8 I desire men to pray in every place, lifting up holy hands without anger and quarreling.

9 Similarly, [I desire] women [to pray] in suitable clothes, to adorn themselves with modesty and propriety, not braiding their hair with gold or wearing pearls or expensive clothing,

10 but with good works, appropriate for women who profess reverence for God.

11 Let women learn in quietness, in all submission.

12 I am not permitting a woman to assume authority she does not rightfully have to teach a man, but to be in quietness.”

13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve, [so woman should respect man as her source; seizing authority to teach men disrespects them],

14 and Adam was not deceived, but the women being thoroughly deceived [Gen 3:13] fell into transgression.

15 But she [Eve, who received the promise that “the seed of the woman (Christ)” will crush the head of the Serpent in Gen 3:15] will be saved through the Childbirth [Christ, the promised seed] if they [her descendents] continue in faith, and love, and holiness [all necessary marks of salvation] with propriety.

3:1 Here is a trustworthy saying: If anyone aspires to the office of overseer that person desires a noble task.

2 Now the overseer must be above reproach, monogamous, temperate, sensible, respectable, hospitable, with an aptitude for teaching,

3 not prone to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money,

4 a good household manager, nurturing submissive and respectful children

5 (for how can anyone who is not a responsible household manager nurture the church of God?),

6 not a recent convert, lest self conceit precipitate a fall into the same judgment as the devil.

7 An overseer must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so as not to fall into disgrace and the devil’s trap.”

8 Deacons similarly must be worthy of respect, not double-tongued, not indulging in much wine, not pursuing dishonest gain,

9 holding the deep truths of the faith with a clear conscience,

10 They must first be tested, and then if there is nothing against them, let them serve as deacons.

11 Women [deacons] similarly must be worthy of respect, not slanderers, but temperate, trustworthy in all things.

12 Let deacons be monogamous, managing their children and their own households well.

13 For those who have served well as deacons gain an excellent standing and great assurance in their faith in Christ Jesus.”

Yes, Ideas do Have Consequences (Even those not Recognized)

Its been interesting to chat with people in the United States on how our ideas about gender (especially theological ideas) have consequences and that sometimes our views can be more harmful than anticipated. Hearing from Domnic reminded me of a brief discussion I had with one person who thought I was being extreme in bringing up mutilations as one of many consequences around the world stemming from gender hierarchy. The fact of the matter is, that this is not an “extreme” example in the sense of it being uncommon or practiced only among fringe groups who hate women. What might seem absurd to us in the United States (mind you we used to believe in our country that an adult male having sex with a 9 year old was consensual and that husbands could rape their wives because they were married…thank you 19th century feminists!) but it is helpful and necessary for us to understand common practices such as these that happen around the world and are considered perfectly normative and possibly good. Sometimes it can help us see the absurdities in our own cultures that we take for granted that others might in kind consider extreme.

Gender hierarchy has consequences and these consequences will take different forms in different societies. When our own country was politically hierarchical (before women could vote…etc) we had many many problems that those who believe in some form of patriarchy (yes “Complementarianism” fits in here too) today take for granted.

Biblical misinterpretation in the church pulpits within Africa society have promoted male dominance with hierarchy that is harmful to females and ideologies that devalues women’s dignity and worth as full human beings. These have hindered women from using their gifts and talents freely within the society just because of their gender, resulting in to oppression and torture of all forms; female genital mutilation, lack of education opportunity for the girl child as preference is to educate the boy, early and forced marriages, lack of women church leaders and sex business even among underage girls and other social ills. Patriarchy is our worst enemy which has caused devastating poverty in Africa making women the worst vulnerable. –Domnic Misolo (Executive Director of the Ekklesia Foundation for Gender Education based in Kenya)

“My Vocation is Love!”

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Many of us (evangelicals) have been told at one point that God has a marvelous plan for our lives and, when times were tough, that He will work it all out for good–somehow. Sounds great. However, I have often been bothered by the ideas that are often included in this mentality. It is often tied up with expressions of American idealism: you can do anything you set your mind to (just trust God), work hard (and with God’s help) you can succeed and most especially– you can accomplish your dreams.

What does it mean that God has a plan for your life and will work everything out? These axioms are often told in situations where a young person is aspiring to live out a dream (perhaps to be a pastor or scientist), to young school children being encouraged to figure out what their gifts and talents are or to comfort someone grieving–Don’t worry, God will provide. Don’t worry God has a plan for this. Don’t worry God will work everything out.

How many young people in today’s economy are hearing phrases akin to these?

Without meaning to, many of us have made the idea that God has a wonderful plan for our lives and that God will work everything out for good into a materialistic fantasy. Does God promise that we will succeed in life? That we won’t starve to death (like many Christians around the world)? That we won’t experience a life shattering trauma? Does God promise our most dear of dreams will come true (often this is couched in the rhetoric of “calling”)?

Personally, I am never comforted by the “axioms.” My background probably has a something to do with it. While many people around me are confident that I will attain my PhD, pastor a church (not that I have plans) and be a brilliant professor/writer or work at CBE all because God will work it out for me–I am not so confident. Could all happen, but not likely for my age demographic (are 50% of our demographic still unemployed? Not counting all those working at McDonalds type places). Of course, when I think about what Christians around the world face every day–I am even less confident.

Well, if God has a plan, He will have a way…

True. But did God plan to not have many people of color be pastors before they split off into their own churches (out of necessity) for a time? Did God plan to have so few Christian leaders in Russia at a time of persecution? Did God plan for many Rwandans to be massacred?

What is God’s plan? What does He desire for our lives?

The saints of old and today have a different perspective on our calling out of His desire for our lives.

Over and over again in the Old and New Testaments God has shown a clear preoccupation with us loving each other. Unfortunately I’ve found that speaking of the love of God has become cliche, “feminine” or weak in many Christian circles (jars of clay?). However, I think there is a way of considering this that many people (young adults especially) could benefit from. It is something that many who have had near death experiences come away with and are preoccupied with and something the saints of old have often been telling us. In the words of a great doctor of the church, Therese of Lisieux:

I feel as if I were called to be a fighter, a priest, an apostle, a doctor, a martyr; as if I could neversatisfy the needs of my nature without performing, for Your sake, every kind of heroic action at once…Love, in fact, is the vocation which includes all others; it’s a universe of its own, comprising all time and space — it’s eternal. Beside myself with joy, I cried out ‘Jesus, my Love! I’ve found my vocation, and my vocation is love!’

Therese was cloistered, suffered greatly in life and died a long painful death at the age of 24 and I belief she is perfectly right.

In many ways we use vocation to define a person in our society. One of our first questions is often “what do you do for work?” What if our vocations as Christians were truly to love God and others? What if the reason we are here is for that purpose? While we are preoccupied with notions of “calling” (often meaning an official position or vocation) and realizing our dreams (often couched in God language) are we missing our true vocations?

I have been deeply disturbed by how the most vicious Christians are often looked up to and how those who speak of their own ministry “being all about Jesus” neglect truth, justice and compassion on the most basic levels. On a personal level it has been interesting to me (while sometimes painful) to hear the stories of many people who have left their churches. Some of them have been treated as less than human, severely stigmatized or are just tired of all the infighting and pretension. The lucky ones turn to the ever dreaded liberalism.

I’ve also seen how other Christians are treated who are not liberals. I’ve seen Christians who are actively engaged in sexual immorality (a clear teaching of Scripture) call other Christians differing in theology something akin to “evil” or “liberal” (sad we equate the two). I’ve seen “good” Christians (good by what standard I have no idea!) actively try and humiliate and attack their brothers and sisters in Christ (and we are not talking constructive criticism).

We are dying (yes the church in the U.S. is sick and it is dying) and we are killing ourselves.

In days of old the Christians were hated–but people knew they were the ones healing the sick stricken by ancient plagues or the ones rescuing exposed babies, buying and freeing slaves, showing hospitality to strangers and treating other Christians like family without care for class. Most Christians (and people in the ancient world) were in poverty, often wondering where their next meal was coming from and doing back breaking labor and were all too accustomed to having close friends and family die (and this is apart from persecution).

What was God’s amazing plan for their lives? At their best, they were living the dream–a vocation of love as God intended.