from the room

Continuing reflections on the “Fierce Urgency of Now” session at the Christian Scholars Conference

If you haven’t read Jeff Baker’s preliminary remarks, take a moment and do so, as this introduction framed the session and sets the stage for these further reflections.

Three distinct, landmark initiatives were represented in the panel: the Women in Ministry Network, 1voice4change, and gal328.org. Each of these initiatives brings something unique to the effort, and each stands as an example of specific strategies for support of and advocacy for women in our churches. It was an instructive juxtaposition of a variety of foci and strategies, ranging from the quiet, peer-to-peer support of women doing ministry in Churches of Christ to the newly dubbed gal328 “Twitter Offensive” to 1voice4change’s call for women keynoters at CofC lectureships.

But what has stuck with me as I’ve ruminated on the session and the discussion is the commonality that cuts across the differences in these strategies, and the consensus from the room that what we need, more than anything else, is a way to invite others into the experiences of women called to ministry in Churches of Christ. We need to invite others into the personal narratives of vocation; we need to invite others to experience the ways in which God moves through and speaks through and blesses with the voices and minds and bodies of women.

This represents a significant shift.

What this wisdom from the room tells us is that we can’t assume that winning an argument about the meaning of a text or about the superiority of our hermeneutic is going to move us toward our goal of gender justice. This wisdom from the room tells us that what changes people, what changes minds, what changes hearts, is experience: an experience of the new, an experience of the Spirit.

This is good news, y’all, but it’s also not necessarily an easy sell for a church that has tended to set biblical truth and experience at odds, and has (at least traditionally) limited the movement of the Spirit to the inner illumination of the meaning of the text. Part of what must happen, I’m convinced, is that we must do some remedial theological work on our deficient pneumatology. We have assumed, wrongly, that human experience is inherently unreliable as a theological resource–because we’ve assumed the Spirit is not at work in our experiences.

So, we have work to do. But what’s new? There’s always work to be done. The wisdom from the room points us to some specific actions: first, let’s continue to collect personal narratives, and make good use of the narratives already gathered up and archived, in text and audio, at rudetruth.blogspot.com and halfthechurch.com; second, let’s support 1voice4change.com‘s initiative to bring the experience of hearing God’s Word powerfully proclaimed through the voice and presence of a woman to as many as possible at one time in a keynote at Pepperdine or ACU Summit.

Part of the good we will reap, I predict, is not simply that we will begin to see the women in our churches as full imagers of God–but that we will begin to see that God’s own self is more powerfully present in our human lives and experiences than we had been bold enough to imagine.

 

What’s New: “The Fierce Urgency of Now,” from Jeff Baker

I asked Jeff Baker to share his introductory remarks from the Christian Scholars Conference session, “The Fierce Urgency of Now.” What follows are his words, and even without the power of the in-person presentation I and others present were blessed to witness, these words are a stirring call to action. My thanks to Jeff for convening the panel, and for being willing to share these words here.

 

Good morning.   Thank you for joining us today to talk about strategies and tactics for social change within the Churches of Christ.

….

We are ambitious with this panel and want to be transparent with you all about our purpose and process today.   This panel is borne of discussions and frustrations we have experienced as we have considered and tried to seek change within our congregations, sometimes succeeding, sometimes failing.   We hope today to give some structure and to identify some tools and methods for efforts to generate constructive, sustainable and just change within our churches.

Now, we are not talking about change for the sake of change, and we not talking about style.  We are talking about culture and foundational principles, and we confess that this requires implicit judgment and criticism of a status quo.   If we believed that the Church of Christ were perfect and thoroughly righteous, we would not be concerned with change at all.

We believe that injustice remains (and even thrives) broadly within our tradition and that we have a gospel calling to confront it.

Next, we also are not focused today primarily on how change has happened historically, because, frankly, it has happened too slowly.   The Church of Christ is conservative (in the classic sense) and slow to turn.   With few exceptions, the Church of Christ largely lags behind the nation and culture-at-large in bending toward justice, even toward clearly acknowledged issues of justice like racial discrimination and segregation.

This naturally begs a question: what is the issue of justice about which we should be concerned today?

There may be many:  poverty and prosperity, economic injustice, domestic violence, war and pacifism, racial reconciliation, healthcare or the environment.

We are going to situate our discussion today within a cause in which we all are involved, the just and full inclusion of all people into the life and leadership of our churches, regardless of gender.   We believe that the Church of Christ  – with very few exceptions – has unjustly silenced and excluded women and girls from full participation and flourishing in the Church of Christ and that this is unscriptural and contrary to the will of God and a full vision of the church.

Our purpose today is not to persuade anyone of the rightness of this cause, but rather to discuss objectively and creatively how and why we can take action to change toward justice in our peculiar context, whatever the issue.   Whether you agree with us on the issue, we hope that we all can assume it for purposes of the discussion about social change.   Let us not debate the merits today, but let us consider the ways and means of effecting change.

One final note for framing:  The title of this session is “The Fierce Urgency of Now.”

This is a phrase from King’s “I Have a Dream” speech.   He said:

“We have also come to this hallowed spot to remind America of the fierce urgency of Now. This is no time to engage in the luxury of cooling off or to take the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.”

As we have advocated for change in our own congregations for the full and just inclusion of women, we often, very often, have heard from leaders, ministers and elders, that they agree and are sympathetic but that we must wait for fear of offending or hurting those who disagree.   This shifts the burden of persuasion and proof from the status quo and calls for slow generational evolution, which costs very little to those who would sustain the status quo.

If our cause is just, right, scriptural and good, then we effectively are sacrificing half the church to appease a few who admittedly are impeding a congregation’s growth toward righteousness.

Therefore, if the cause is just and right and if we should not be satisfied with “gradualism” or the old trope of letting an older generation die off, if we believe that we should change sooner than later, if this is the time, how do we do it?

This is our purpose today, to reckon how to provoke and sustain change toward justice in our churches right now.

How do we grapple with a religious tradition with no formal political processes and structures?  How do we seek broad change among radically autonomous congregations?

How do we advocate with little power for justice before those with nearly all the political power?

How do we make arguments of justice within a tradition with a strong adherence to sola scriptura but with a prevailing orthodoxy in oral tradition?

… Now let me share my working diagnosis of our task.  These are observable assumptions that I propose are real and important, but I invite my colleagues and you all here to critique and refine these ideas as we go.

I like to refer to social and political advocacy within the Churches of Christ as fighting against an amoeba.  It’s squishy and unstructured.  I question whether there is any such thing as the Church of Christ, at least any one thing.  There is very little to bind our churches across the spectrum of those who claim the name.  Even so, in the Churches of Christ, we have two institutions, congregations and universities, and this is where the action occurs.

If we had a political mechanism to access, movements for social change would be more straightforward, even if they weren’t easier.

At this moment in history, here is what I believe about seeking change in the Churches of Christ, and I hope that we will refine these ideas in here today.

First, this is the moment for massive social change on this issue.  Many, many churches are on the verge, and this is the moment to make them move.

Second, we can only achieve this by building power, and the only way to build power is to organize and encourage those who are willing to stand and speak and press their communities to move toward justice.  Jeanine has a suspicion, that I share, that there are thousands of people sitting beside unknown allies every Sunday morning but who all think they are alone.   We know that isolated individuals never move entrenched communities to change.  Rather, it takes a coordinated, organized community to amplify voices and build power to counter the power of the status quo.    In raw terms of activism, perhaps cynically but certainly realistically, the movement must raise the price of keeping the status quo so that it is greater than the cost of change.  Part of that cost is the righteous anger and constructive steps to move our community toward the path of justice.

Third, unity is good.  Justice and reconciliation are better.   There will be conflict, and this is the decision to make.   Are we willing to be disruptive and confrontational, in creative and useful ways?   The Woman’s Suffrage movement ultimately required war-time pickets of the White House, arrests and force-feedings before we got the 19th Amendment.   The Civil Rights Movement required Bus Boycotts, Bloody Sundays, arrests, marches, sit-ins, Freedom Rides and the provocation of brutality and murder.   These were disruptive, creative, non-violent and fruitful, and we would not witness the justice they achieved had they accepted the tranquilizing drug of gradualism.    The question now is how do we move and act within the Churches of Christ to advance the cause of justice for all people in the church, to free those subjugated as lower-class Christians and human beings.    What will it to take, and how do we ensure that once the victory is gained that those who disagreed are not alienated, isolated and vilified?  How do we ensure reconciliation on the other side of justice?

Last, we must know and love our community and work within it as a prophetic ministry, not at enemies, but as members of a family who seek its good, full and abundant thriving.   We must speak its language and love its people.    There is too much at stake to burn it down, but there is also too much at stake to wait passively for another generation to pass us by.

What’s New: a report from CSC 2013

The Christian Scholars Conference–now the Thomas H. Olbricht Christian Scholars Conference, in honor of its founder and visionary of many years–has in recent years been a locus of cutting edge discussion in Churches of Christ theological issues as well as an increasingly substantive, cutting edge interdisciplinary academic gathering. It is, no contest, my personal favorite academic annual event.

In 2009, two landmark sessions initiated what has become a sustained, continuous look at issues of gender in Churches of Christ. The first session, convened and moderated by Dr. Ken Cukrowski of ACU, was simple in concept–and devastating in impact. A panel of a dozen women, of all ages and various occupations, told their stories of experiencing what it had meant to grow up in the Churches of Christ and what this had taught them–and what they had had to unlearn–about what it meant to be a woman, in church and in life. The power of making intentional space for these voices, these female voices which otherwise had no public space where they could be heard in our fellowship, was incredible, and even in the moment, those of us in the room felt it. It was a moment where the Spirit was palpable.

(This session, and the power of the narratives of these women, inspired the crowdsourcing project hosted at rudetruth, which is still open should anyone wish to add to the narratives archived there.)

This powerful session was followed the next day by an equally compelling and heartbreaking session, where we heard from those who had been–in the language of our memorial page–been called elsewhere. Micki Pulleyking, Katie Hays and Andre Resner courageously shared their narratives of working within, and leaving, the Churches of Christ, because of our deafness to the call for gender justice. I would like to make the claim that there was not a dry eye in the room at the end of this session, but I can’t be sure simply because I was too teary myself to see clearly.

What began in 2009 has been faithfully followed up each year by many, including Lynette Sharp Penya, who has presented her own cutting edge empirical research into attitudes on gender roles within our churches.

This year, in a session entitled “The Fierce Urgency of Now: Strategies for Social Change within the Churches of Christ,” Jeff Baker, Natalie Dunn Magnusson, James W. McCarty III, and I talked about the various initiatives and groups currently working toward gender justice in Churches of Christ. And the wonderful news is, there are several–perhaps more than we on the panel even personally know about–but we represented three key groups: the Women in Ministry Network, gal328.org, and 1voice4change. The point, however, was not merely to promote these efforts but to talk about them as exemplars of different strategies for working toward social justice within our churches and our fellowship more broadly. (Keep an eye on the blog here, as this post serves merely as an introduction to frame a full report on this important session.)

In addition, several others in our midst presented their own research and scholarship, and we had our first ever gal328 meetup for Thursday breakfast–though I caught only the tail end. When I walked into the campus Starbucks I saw a room full of energetic people deep in conversation who all counted gender justice worth getting up early in the morning for. I am encouraged, and I hope you all were too!

And finally: there were an outstanding number of big red buttons distributed and displayed proudly on lapels and jackets and at least one baby carrier! As we continue to collaborate with our friends at 1voice4change.com, keep an eye on the website for updates.

I’ll conclude this post with one of the most precious and serendipitous moments of the conference, for me. I was on my way to the car when I encountered a friend-I-hadn’t-made-yet, who called me over and asked if I had a moment to chat. At the end of our conversation, a blessing was literally pronounced on me–right there in the parking lot. Many times I have received a benediction in church, but never before in a parking lot. And these (as I remember them) were the spontaneous words of blessing pronounced on this work: “you have God’s grace in your heart, and on your tongue.” May we speak our words in the knowledge and strength of that grace, friends. Amen.

–JTB

What’s New: a post from Heavenly Hats

…So I spoke. And I prayed. Clumsily, most definitely, but with excitement. I have always loved writing and talking and here was an outlet to do what I loved, about a subject I loved, in front of people I loved. I remember, as people came up to hug me after the service, the overwhelming feeling of disappointment I had. I could never do this at my church.

…Why did God give me gifts that were not female? Why did God give me the desire to teach and preach and pray, when obviously, it was against His will for me to do those things? I confessed to my friends that had I been born male, I would have majored in Bible and become a preacher.

Read the whole post here.

What’s New: a memorial page for those called elsewhere

On the menu bar you will see a new tab, labeled “Memorial.” When you click on it, it will take you to a new page. This page is an interactive wiki, and it is open for anyone to edit.

That may be a risky move, I know.

The idea behind it is simply this: women called to ministry in ways that question what we’ve been accustomed to call traditional “women’s roles in the church” have to face a choice–do we ignore the claim of God on our lives, or do we follow it…even if it takes us right out of the church we love and long to serve? Or to put it another way, do we serve God, or men?

Many women have, courageously, followed the example of countless biblical heroes and followed the call of God out of the familiar and into the unknown. They leave. Because they have to. Because the Churches of Christ give them no way to stay, even if they really want to.

And worse, when they leave, no one mourns their absence. No one mourns the loss of their voices, their gifts, their wisdom, their leadership, their presence. How can we miss voices that were never allowed to speak? How can we miss gifts that were forbidden use? How can we miss leadership that was never allowed expression?

This problem, of absence being unremarked because there was always an absence-in-presence to begin with, is what this wiki project is about. It is time to name our losses. It is time to grieve them. It is time to repent of the sin that caused them.

If you are a woman who has left the Churches of Christ because there was no place for you, please add your name to the Memorial. If you know of someone who has left to follow her call elsewhere, please add her name (with permission) to the wiki.

It is time we honored these women.

featured article: Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath by Paul Casner

I’m happy to say that, thanks to the help of behind-the-scenes tech gurus, the links are now all functional! However, switching from the old style sheet format to the new will take some time.

We’ll “feature” each article as it gets reformatted (though, again, all are accessible). There is such a rich collection of personal reflections, bible studies, and theological explorations gathered here on this site! It may have been a while since you last delved into them, or maybe you’re new to the site and just beginning to explore. Take your time. There’s a lot here.

Today, begin with Paul Casner’s “Jesus, Lord of the Sabbath.”

it’s a new day, it’s a new life, and I’m feeling good…

Welcome, everybody.

As we work out the remaining glitches in transferring the old site’s content, please let us know what problems you encounter and we’ll put it on our fix-it list! Right now, as some of you have noticed and reported, the article links are broken (and I assume this carries over to the other pages under the Resources tab as well). Thanks for bringing this to our attention!

In fact, the bulk of gal328.org is now organized under the Resources tab: the articles and essays by Lance Pape, Katie Hays, D’Esta Love, Mary Lou Hutson, Dale Pauls and many others; the congregational statements and studies on gender from Manhattan Church of Christ, Stamford Church of Christ, and others; the amazing and extensive annotated bibliography of study resources amassed by Christopher Hutson and others. Also under Resources you will find a map of gender inclusive Churches of Christ, based on data compiled by Lynette Sharp Penya and Stephen Johnson of Abilene Christian University, and a page listing links to other organizations such as One Voice For Change.

As we move forward together, sisters and brothers, let’s give thanks to those who started this good work. There are so many people who have gone before us, seeking to make the way straight, and it’s not been easy. Let’s honor them and their work by taking it up in our turn.

The time is now.

Welcome to gal328.org!

Our Purpose 
The purpose of this site is to promote gender justice in the Church of Christ by…

  1. facilitating communication and mutual support and edification among Churches of Christ that practice or strive toward gender justice.
  2. offering resources for those seeking insight into the scriptural, theological, and experiential warrants for gender justice in the church.

A Definition of Gender Justice
In general, gender justice means recognizing that men and women are created by God, redeemed by Christ, and gifted by the Spirit truly without distinction or partiality. In Christian community, gender justice means encouraging both men and women to exercise their Spirit-given gifts in the church’s work, worship, and leadership, and celebrating the truth that the Spirit grants such gifts without respect to gender. Concretely, gender justice in the Church of Christ includes opening traditionally masculine leadership roles and activities (deacon, elder, minister, worship leader, preacher, teacher, etc.) to women, and encouraging men to discover and cultivate their gifts for activities traditionally performed by women.