Choosing Church: A Lament (Part 2)
There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. Galatians 3:28
Galatians 3:28 reminds us that we are joined by the Holy Spirit beyond race, class, or gender. How can churches preach “all are one in Christ Jesus” while discouraging strong women leaders like my friend Amy, the EPC candidate?
How can we be unified as
the body of Christ,
when we discriminate against each other based on the particular body God has given each of us?
When we disagree with the status quo, we have a choice to make. We can let go of the disagreement, stay in the current situation, and suffer alone. We can stay and fight alone until we win or are removed. Or we can leave and either join another community already in agreement or start something new.
How do we make that choice? How do we decide when to suffer, when to fight, and when to leave?
Do not suffer in silence.
Take, for example, another couple in ministry in a community that is not supportive of women. Let’s call them John and Jenny. John has the visible leadership role, though Jenny has the clearly stronger leadership traits. John and Jenny have a pretty egalitarian marriage, all things considered, providing Jenny with the space and opportunities to grow into her leadership gifts more fully. Yet, like the elephant on a leash, she has been conditioned to subordinate herself to his leadership in the community.
With people like Jenny, I am too impatient. It kills me to see potential being wasted, to see Jenny silencing herself for the sake of not making her husband look bad, or for not drawing attention to gifts and skills she is not “allowed” to have. I want to rush her into freedom she doesn’t feel the need to seek. It’s too painful to wait and watch and hope.
Brothers and sisters, do not let your voices be silenced. Whether you are called to lean into your current situation and slowly affect change from within, or whether you are called to let go and move on to a place where you can experience safety and freedom–do not stay and suffer in silence. Do not allow the fear and ignorance of others to silence your prophetic voice.
You have something to say.
You are unique and valuable.
You are the catalyst for change.
And you are not alone. There have been many men and women before you who have advocated for women in ministry and leadership. There are many more around you now.
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart. Hebrews 12:1-3
Fix your eyes on the pioneer and perfecter of faith. Go or stay, my dear siblings in Christ, only do not be silent. Speak.
What Community Means
So, how do we decide when to lean in and when to let go? The truth is, there is no perfect system, no one right answer. Every situation is different, and everyone is called differently. Ask God to reveal to you what your role is in your community.
Are you a catalyst for change? Are you in a toxic environment? Is your voice being heard? Are you an advocate for those without a voice? Is there room for you to grow?
For those of you who can stay and work for change, I admire and commend your patience and forebearance, your long-suffering and perseverance. I wish I could be more like you.
For me, being in community means being in a safe place. It means being accepted and valued. It means having the freedom to live fully into my gifts and calling. It means being able to listen to a sermon or pastoral prayer without getting angry. It means not having to be on the defensive constantly. It means being able to be fully myself. It means being able to disagree with others in the community without losing anything. It means having my voice heard, acknowledged, and welcomed.
A Seat at the Table
There is a lot of talk nowadays about being “invited to the table,” meaning being included in the conversation rather than having to wait for those at the table to discuss and decide and hand down a verdict. I know that language is useful to many people, but it reminds me of Thanksgiving dinner.
At Thanksgiving dinner, the adults sit at the adults’ table with all the food, nice plates, and wine. The children sit at the kids’ table with pre-prepared portions of food on paper plates and juice in plastic cups. As I grew older, I was put in charge of the kids’ table and made sure everyone had what they needed and that they didn’t bother the adults unnecessarily.
This metaphor of being invited to the table makes me feel like I am still at the kids’ table. I may be in leadership over everyone else at that table, but I am still considered “a kid.” Even if I’m invited to sit at the adults’ table, I’m not really one of them. I’m just a kid with a new seat, closer to the mashed potatoes.
I don’t want to have to fight for a seat at the table or wait to be invited. I want to be in a place where my seat at the table is a given, where it is taken for granted that I have been called and equipped with gifts and skills for leadership.
I’m tired of having this debate. I’m tired of being forced to defend myself and my fellow women believers at every turn. I’m tired of being angry at the injustice. I’m tired of being disappointed at the realization that, yet again, it’s really all about fear of sharing power, fear of losing control, fear that the truth may not be quite so neat and tidy after all.
I’m ready to move on from the kids’ table and step into the life God has called me to live. This reality is not what we are meant to be. The table is too small, and there are not enough chairs.
Where is the beauty and innocence of the first Christians?
Where is the unity and trust among believers?
Where is the sharing of wealth and power?
How can we regain our connection with the ideal, the beginning, the first bloom of the coming together of the community of God?
To be continued…