What’s New: a report on ACU Summit 2013

For those of you who couldn’t make it, or who, like me, were there all too briefly and missed some of the wonderful offerings at ACU Summit this year, I have compiled a list of sessions by men and women addressing the topic of gender justice in our churches. There were also several classes taught by women on various topics within their expertise (homiletics, spiritual disciplines, child psychology, ethics and racial justice, etc.) and this is, if anything, more exciting! (And, if there are sessions that I somehow missed in this list that I should add, please let me know!)

Recordings of sessions will be available to order here.


“Gender and Grace in the Body of Christ,” Sara Barton & Gary Selby (3 parts)

“How to Preach to Women,” Amy Bost Henegar (3 parts)

“Welcoming Jesus: Moving Children from the Margins and Into the Midst,” Dana Pemberton

“Voices in the Margins: Edges Defined by Race,” Tanya Smith Brice (2 parts)

“Luke According to the Professor and the Preacher,” Josh Graves & Lauren Smelser White (3 parts)

“Women Still on the Margins,” Stanley Helton

“Who is in Charge Here Anyway?: A Personal Journey,” Steve Sandifer (2 parts)

“A History of Women in Ministry in Churches of Christ: Women Exhorters, Deacons and Missionaries,” Lynn Mitchell (2 parts)

“Does ‘All Flesh’ Mean Me?” D’Esta Love (2 parts)

“Pushing Jesus Off a Cliff: The Church’s Response to Women,” Curt Niccum (part 3 of 3)

“Charis Project Presents: Race, War and Gender,” Doug Foster (2 parts)

“Going Out (of Bounds): Dating Violence in American Culture,” Chelsie Sargent

“Dislocated Exegesis: How Where You Read the Bible Influences How You Read It,” Kasey McCollum

What’s New: Nadia Bolz-Weber, “Today We Are Closer”

Nadia Bolz-Weber is the founding pastor of House for All Sinners and Saints, an ELCA mission church in Denver, Colorado. She’s a leading voice in the emerging church movement and her writing can be found in The Christian Century and Jim Wallis’ God’s Politics blog. She is author of Salvation on the Small Screen? 24 Hours of Christian Television (Seabury 2008) and the Sarcastic Lutheran blog. Her theological memoir, Pastrix: the Cranky, Beautiful Faith of a Sinner & Saint (Jericho, 2013) comes out in September of 2013.

The following reflection was written on the election of Elizabeth Eaton as Presiding Bishop, and first published at Huffington Post.


Today We Are Closer: Lutherans Elect First Female Bishop

When I was 12 years old, and still wearing white sandals to church, all of the Sunday school teachers in our church suddenly were men, instead of women. Like a gendered, ecclesial, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It’s not that the women who were our Sunday school teacher became men, or anything as interesting as that — it’s that their positions were taken by men. It wasn’t until years later that I realized this was because 12 was the age at which boys were considered to be men (a ludicrous idea), and women, according to 1 Timothy were not permitted to teach men. Therefore 12-year-old boys in the Church of Christ had more authority than grown-ass women. Now, at age 44, I have a 12-year- old-boy of my own and while he is an amazing creature with a body full of energy and a mind full of Doctor Who episodes, he is no man.

Teaching Sunday school to 12-year-old boys was far from the only thing forbidden to those with a particular set of plumbing. The women in my church, born female like myself, and yet old, wiser, stronger than me, and those to whom I looked to see an image of my future self as old, wise and strong, could not preach, or pray aloud in front of men, of even be an usher. Yes, Church of Christ women did not have the “authority” to hand a man a bulletin in church but did have the authority to hand him a plate of fried chicken and potato salad an hour later at the church potluck. Weird.

Today, 32 years after watching the women in my church faithfully do what they were allowed, I watched about 1,000 people in Pittsburg at the church-wide assembly of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America faithfully elect Elizabeth Eaton, a woman, to be the Presiding Bishop, the leader of the largest Lutheran denomination in America. She succeeds the faithful and fiercely gracious leadership of Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson. (I know that the big story is that a woman was elected but what is equally remarkable is that the excitement about the new bishop was only matched by the affection for the out-going bishop).

The Lutherans elected a woman Presiding Bishop. That, is huge.

Now, normally I cringe when asked to speak about being a “woman in ministry” wanting, as I do, to live in a post-gender world, a world where the election of Elizabeth Eaton is celebrated because she is an extraordinary leader (which she is) and not because her gender is, in anyway, interesting or worthy of comment. But we don’t live in that world and here’s why: while there are women pioneers in other male-dominated fields and careers that historically have been forbidden to women, like medicine and law, there are not hospitals all over the country when women are still forbidden to practice medicine. There are not courtrooms all over the country where you still cannot argue a legal case were you born female. But as we know, there are still countless churches across the country where women, like myself and Elizabeth Eaton, would not be allowed to preach. As much as I long to never again be asked to speak about being a woman in ministry, and as much as I want the day to come when the gender of clergy is not in any way interesting, we are not there yet. There are still little girls in white, Sunday school shoes who will never hear a voice that is like theirs speak the Gospel, who will never see curves like the ones they will have under the robes of the one raising bread and wine behind an altar and speaking ancient, holy words of promise and forgiveness, who will never know without reservation that she is made in the image of God in all her glorious girl-ness.

But today, today we are closer. And this makes me want to put on white sandals and dance in all my glorious girl-ness… in my clergy shirt.

What’s New: history & milestones

Yes, for those of you paying attention, this was already announced this via the gal328 Facebook page. But I want to take a moment to mark the importance of these additions to the site, because the history of gal328.org, and the larger history of gender justice in the Restoration Movement and Churches of Christ of which it is a part, teach us something about who we are as a fellowship.

Many of us who are here now became a part of gal328.org when Lance, Katie, Chris, Mary Lou, and Joe first launched it. Those of us who were around back then remember what an oasis the site was–not simply a place to further explore the Bible on issues of gender, but a place to ask the questions we couldn’t voice without trepidation elsewhere. This site exists because of their work. It exists because Chris and Mary Lou continue, as they have since 2005, to financially support the site. It exists because of the dedication and persistent hope of many, many people. Read that story here.

And then read the timeline Chris and others have put together recording the milestone events for gender justice in our churches. This is the larger story that we join our efforts to, and it begins, not 2001, but c. 1810.

This is our story, and we should know all of it.

Good News!: Roanoke Church of Christ

from the website:

“With firm conviction that the scriptures teach the redeeming act of Christ on the cross has broken down all barriers between humankind, and after many years of prayer and study, we of the Roanoke Church of Christ now recognize the contributing gifts and talents of all the redeemed, regardless of gender.  This, along with the other ministries of this church, has given us the greatest sense of mission and purpose we have ever known.  If you are a newcomer, we welcome you and invite you to join us in the grace and freedom of Jesus Christ our Lord.”

And, in case that weren’t enough to make you giddy…they’ve linked to us here at gal328.org on their homepage!

What’s New: How to Eat An Elephant: Not Just Another Post About Women’s Roles in the Church, by Lauren Smelser White

A wonderful reflection by Lauren Smelser White at the Tokens blog on the complexity of theological discernment, the necessity of reflecting well on all our sources of knowledge of God, and the pros and cons of approaching the issue of gender in Churches of Christ, as we do here at gal328.org, through the language of justice.

She concludes, “I still want to trust that when Scripture-honoring Christians engage issues afresh for the sake of seeking God’s liberating truth, they will discover deep-rooted truths that set all persons free to live into their God-given talents.” Amen.

Voices of Experience: Sons and Daughters

Paul Mathis is a graduate student at Abilene Christian University working on a Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy as well as a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry. This was originally posted on July 28, 2013 at Paul’s blog, a second time.

“Sons and Daughters”

For the past three weeks, I have been teaching a series of lessons on Wednesday nights with a classmate and friend of mine, Meredith. I asked Shawna to take some pictures of the two of us teaching.



Although I did not think much about it at first, over the past few weeks, it has hit me just how incredible an occasion this is; for me, at least.


When I was preaching, I fought against the idea that the preacher should be held in higher esteem. I was just another member attending church with my Christian family. I just happened to dominate what took place during the worship hour. But I was not special; I was not different; I was just like everybody else. I have believed that about other preachers, as well. For the past several years, I have attempted to treat preacher, elder, youth minister, and “regular member” alike.

And I want to continue doing that. I love the ministry team at Highland, yet I do not love them any more than I love the rest of my church family. However, I am starting to realize exactly how sacred the act of teaching or preaching actually is—and it has nothing to do with who is doing it.

We know the stories of people called to deliver a message for God: Moses made excuses, Jeremiah said he was too young, Jonah ran to the other side of the world, Ananias tried to remind God exactly who Saul of Tarsus was. These people, and others, hesitated to proclaim God’s Word, at least in part, because they did not believe they were worthy of proclaiming a sacred word.

When someone stands up to speak on a Sunday morning, whether it is in a worship setting or a class setting, they are proclaiming a sacred word. When someone stands up to speak in a mid-week class or a home-based Bible study, that person is proclaiming a sacred word. Whenever the Word of God is delivered to an audience, the speaker is doing something sacred; not because of the person performing the act, but because of the Source of the Word.
I have often been blind to my own position of privilege. Because I am male, white, educated, and not in poverty, I have access to a variety of opportunities that others do not have. Growing up in church, I always knew that I could eventually lead prayers, read Scripture, help with Communion, preach, and (in extremely desperate times) lead songs. There was never a doubt in my mind, or anyone else’s, that I could do any and all of those things.

When it comes to those who do not have the same access, I often find myself looking for ways to soothe my conscience by convincing myself, “Yeah, but they have other things they can do, so they should be happy with it.” In my church tradition, women are not allowed to be worship leaders. But they can sing on a praise team. They cannot be adult Sunday school teachers. But they can work with the kids.
And that should be good enough, right?
So now, I find myself on Wednesday nights, standing next to an intelligent, talented, gifted child of God. A child of God who did not have the same opportunities I had growing up. Who has had to be content with the “good enough” for most of her life. For a large portion of her church experience, she has been excluded from participating in the act of something sacred for no reason other than her gender.

But now we get to teach together. The Word being taught is sacred; not because Meredith and I are teaching it, but because the Word comes from the One who is sacred.
In my current church home, there is a measure of gender equality. Women participate in certain areas of worship: praying, reading Scripture, and delivering the Communion meditation. But they are not allowed to preach or teach a class that is conducted in the main auditorium. In other words, what Meredith and I are doing could not take place on a Sunday morning or Wednesday evening in the auditorium at our congregation.

And for a very long time, I thought that women like Meredith should think that is “good enough.”

When the Spirit came on Peter on the Day of Pentecost, he quoted from the prophet Joel in saying, “Your sons and daughters will prophesy.” Priscilla is listed before her husband, Aquila, at a time when the order of names was of extreme importance. Lydia was the first church leader in the city of Philippi. Junia was called an apostle by Paul. Women were praying and prophesying in Corinth.

They were all participating in all that was sacred.

It was sacred because of the Source. God wants all of His sons and daughters to prophesy. And I get to stand next to one of His daughters while she does it.


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Book Review: Dating Jesus, by Susan Campbell

Jeanine Thweatt-Bates holds a PhD in Theology and Science from Princeton Theological Seminary, and is author of Cyborg Selves: A Theological Anthropology of the Posthuman. This review was first presented at the Christian Scholars Conference in June 2010.


Dating Jesus: A Story of Fundamentalism, Feminism, and the American Girl

by Susan Campbell

Reviewing a book such as this, when your experience reading it has been as emotionally intimate as this has been, is a bit terrifying—knowing that whatever I say about it, I am saying much more about myself, in many ways, than I am about this text. But to say this is in some ways offering the highest tribute possible to Susan Campbell’s memoir of growing up in the [small] c’s-of-C: her journey precedes mine chronologically, is distanced from mine geographically, and differs in personal particulars, but nonetheless describes what it means to come of age as a girl in our denomination in words so honest that not only does my narrative echo hers at certain points, but the contributed bits of the many guest bloggers’ narratives at “rude truth” do, as well.

            This is not actually a very happy thing to observe. One would have hoped, after all, that the church which Campbell describes as “frontier revivalism frozen in amber” (38) might have unstuck itself from its fossilized convictions about gender in the years that separate my coming of age from hers. But, as she rightly observes, anachronism can become a veritable badge of righteousness, and on this issue, there is still no quicker and more effective rebuttal to the attempt to voice women’s experiences as relevant than “we cannot let culture dictate the practice of the church.”
            Campbell’s voice is strong, and compelling, and like many of us who have found that strong female voices are unwelcome—not just in our official assemblies, but in our formal leadership structures, and anywhere at all if they’re asking pesky questions—she has found an alternative venue for expression for this somewhat troublesome gift of God. It may be that, as Katie Hays observed to me somewhat wryly in conversation last year at this conference, no one misses these female voices when the women who possess them leave our churches—because they never got to use them in the first place. Perhaps years have passed without anyone wondering what happened to the voice of that pre-teen girl in Sunday school who asked, why a woman can’t be a preacher. She grew up and became a reporter for the Hartford Courant, and I suppose anyone who thought about it might have concluded, “and she lived happily ever after.” Luckily for us, the same courage that propelledCampbell to verbally spar—and hold her own!—with her Sunday school teacher has produced a memoir which once again brings her voice back into our midst, even if it has to happen cloaked in the “authority of the text,” the same evasive maneuvers performed historically by so many medieval women mystics. Now, we know what we’re missing; even better, we might even figure out why.
            That is, we might, if we read, and read with ears ready to hear a narrative that is both heartbreakingly funny and gut-wrenchingly sad, with some moments of prophetic pissed-off-ness in between. Not everyone is, still. Like the comment I received from a first-year seminary student’s first encounter with James Cone, “I feel like he’s yelling at me through the pages,” there are moments of, say, “snark”—not least of which is Campbell’s habit of footnoting scriptural references for the c’s-of-C practices she describes, and it’s not an aspect of the memoir designed to court a reluctant audience.
            In my opinion, to consider this a weakness of the book is to entirely miss the point. It is not the memoir’s only strength, but it is one of its strengths, and without the “snark” it would not be the honest narrative that it is. As one blog commenter observes, “it made me feel like I was sitting at the table with her”—and what better observation could there be of the profound, dare I say, sacramental even, intimacy made possible by the disarming honesty of an author, reciprocated in the receptive honesty of a reader?
            Moreover, it misses the point—never articulated directly by Campbell, and perhaps I am over-interpreting—that snark is a coping strategy. Robert A. Heinlein—another quite snarky author, come to think of it—wrote that the difference between human beings and our primate cousins is that we have a sense of humor; we laugh, and we laugh because it hurts. It is when we can no longer snark, no longer laugh, no longer grin and bear it, that we find we must walk away.
            It seems that Campbell reached that point, a point which I still hope will never manifest itself for me, and yet, as so many of us find, walking away does not exactly translate into leaving behind. There is a reason why my Episcopal priest husband still corrects himself in the instinctive use of the first-person-plural when speaking of the Churches of Christ. There is a reason why there is a thriving online community of ex-Cof-Cers. There is a reason why a successful Pulitzer-prize winning reporter and author finds herself revisiting the narrative of her coming of age and the way in which her life is mysteriously and inextricably bound up with the church of her youth.
            And, fantastically, the reasons are not all bad. You have to willfully ignore Campbell’s words, selectively read only the sarcasm, to miss that the description “revivalism frozen in amber” is immediately followed with, “If that sounds grim, it isn’t. If it sounds soulless, it isn’t that, either. The traditions plant in the believer—even someone who walks away from the church—a deep and soulful need” (38).
            Unfortunately, the reasons aren’t all good either, and the double bind which Campbell sketches from early childhood on, the message that 1) you must do everything you can to make yourself ready and 2) a woman can’t [fill the blank], becomes a message she describes as an adult as “hardwired” (149). “I was hardwired to understand that I don’t belong in the pulpit”—a dreadful perversion in modern metaphor of Jeremiah’s experience of the fire shut up in his bones. “As big a feminist as I am,” she writes, “I have on some level embraced the limitations set before me. And I fear bucking them. And that makes me both sad and angry” (149). Yeah. Me too. And how many, many others.
            Unlike Campbell, my first experience speaking in a pulpit did not leave me sobbing in front of the congregation before I even got started. But, in the first unprecedented moment in which my body (thankfully) moved on autopilot from the front pew to mount the steps up to that honest-to-God pulpit in West Islip Church of Christ, I felt lightheaded, and my surroundings, misty and surreal. It is not an easy thing to do, rewiring your circuitry. But what else can you do, when you wake up in the middle of the night and realize that, after all, all those years ago, you’d been dating the wrong Jesus?