It’s even rarer when someone gives it up joyfully. And yet you get the sense that that is exactly what’s happening in Indiana.
In case you missed it, last week I blogged about the dramatic shift that leaders of one congregation are entering into around gender and power. Specifically, after prayer and discernment, they are choosing to open up their church leadership, at all levels, to women. This is a full-blown reversal from the church’s historic, restrictive posture.
There’s a lot to appreciate in this willful power exchange, but I think I’m most glad to see the emphasis on mission. For these church leaders, there is a deep conviction that accomplishing God’s mission requires both men and women using their gifts. Truly, it’s “all hands on deck.” I’ve blogged about mission before, here and here. And you’ll see the focus on mission in the quotes below.
The brokenness of the world is reflected in the “equity and dignity between men and women,” according to Teaching Pastor Tim Ayers, who preached on Feb. 9 the second part of Grace Church’s new teaching series. In that message, Ayers spelled out the results of the leadership’s painstaking exegetical endeavor into the Bible’s position on female leadership.
“Our governing board and our pastors deeply studied the overall tenure of all of Scripture related to leadership within the people of God,” explained Ayers. “Then, they wrestled with God’s initial intentions, the world’s brokenness and God’s desire to repair that brokenness. Then, they affirmed that the task of the Church is to heal the broken places that resulted from the Fall and to live out in this world as best as we can God’s initial desires for His world. And they came to the conclusion that one of these broken places is the inequity that exists between men and women.”
Ayers insisted, “This decision is not a slippery slope. It is getting in line with God’s initial designs for His people, it is taking the whole of Scripture seriously, and it’s standing against the structures of a fallen world.”
The Grace Church teaching pastor stated that “the issue in 1 Timothy is competence and character” and that “according to Paul, race and class and gender are not the issues.”
“We need the best people that God has given our community at the table,” Ayers stated, “people who meet the character demands that Paul gives us, people who know the Word, people who walk in submission to the Spirit of God, and who live lives of prayer.”
The leadership’s decision to lift Grace Church’s gender restrictions and affirm female leadership did not come as a compromise to culture or to “make a point.” But rather, said Ayers, the decision was about a desire to allow all the people of Grace Church to join God in His mission in bringing salvation and hope to the world.
I love to advocate for others.
I’m less able to receive advocacy from others.
So, really, I’m trying to grow in both of these things. I want to be a better advocate, particularly for the women in my life. And, I want to receive someone else’s advocacy with grace.
In that spirt, I want to thank my friend and colleague Jessica Fick for her generosity in hosting me on her blog yesterday, with a post about…advocacy. And what’s in it for me.
I’d love it if you’d head over to Jessica’s blog here and take a look. To whet your appetite, here’s the few paragraphs:
Over the years, it has been my joy to advocate for women around me, both in my life and in my ministry context. Indeed, using the power, privilege and access that culture gives me because of my gender to advocate for women has been a transformational experience, both for me and the women around me.
For me, advocacy has meant empathizing when a colleague has been hurt because of negative gender stereotypes.
Advocacy has meant theological engagement with people who are asking women in my life and ministry to take back seat because of their gender. One time, I endured a 2 hour debate highlighted by me being repeatedly called a “false teacher” because of my position on the issue.
Advocacy has meant intentionally investing in women, mentoring them and developing their leadership gifts.
Advocacy has meant hiring women into leadership roles in my organization, leveraging my positional power to gain for them some measure of such power. For instance, when I started leading my current ministry team, there was one woman. Last Fall, during a meeting, I looked around and realized I was the only man in the room.
The bottom line, then, is that I see advocacy for the women around me as a key part of my ministerial calling. After all, advocacy is a Biblical idea. Proverbs 31:8 reads like this: “speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves, ensure justice for those being crushed.”
But here’s the thing…I’m no hero….
Click here to find out why!
In Jesus Feminist, Sarah Bessey writes:
“We keep it quiet, the mess of the Incarnation–particularly at Christmas–because it’s just not churchy enough, and many don’t quite understand. It’s personal, private, and there just aren’t words for it–and it’s a bit too much. It’s too much pain, too much waiting, too much humanity, too much God, too much work, too much joy or sorrow, too much love, and far too messy with too little control.”
I think she’s spot on. And anyone who has witnessed a birth knows it! The birthing process is a lot of things, but it’s certainly not clean, controlled, measured and clinical.
Instead, it’s messy. Very messy.
Beautiful, but messy.
And it seems to me that this is how it is when God breaks through. It’s beautiful and it’s messy.
Last year around this time, I wrote the following about Christmas:
“Let’s face it, for Jesus the Incarnation was a messy journey from power to powerlessness. Think about it. It’s a long way from the awesome trappings of Heaven to the sordid confines of Earth. In fact, Christmas marks the largest power exchange in human history.”
This year, I’m reflecting a bit more on the mess that comes with the Incarnation. Because the more I dig into this stuff, the more clear it becomes that this process of exchanging power is anything but clean and easy.
Here’s what I mean:
I open my eyes more fully to the injustice perpetuated every day against women…and it hurts. It’s hard to read the stories, and the solutions feel elusive and beyond me. I feel powerless. It would be much easier–much less messy–to remain blissfully unaware.
Or I willingly and even joyfully release my male privilege, intentionally choosing to release power so that others can flourish, only to be left with…what? I’m not sure. After all, paradigm shifts are often messy.
Or twice a week, every week, I write about male privilege, sending off my post and then wondering what you all think. That’s rarely an comfortable experience. Challenging Tertullian means it’s messy in my soul sometimes!
Or, lastly, I press into relationships across gender lines, trying to figure out how to have deep friendships and meaningful partnerships with the women in my life. Sometimes it feels like one step forward, two steps back.
All in all, it’s a messy business. Thankfully, it’s also a beautiful business.
Just like the Incarnation.
As in, my daughters’ team of under 8 girls needed a coach, and I needed some venue to express my love of all things soccer. Somewhere along the way, need morphed into, well, a calling of sorts. Like, I feel called to coach soccer. Even more to the point…
I feel called to coach girls soccer.
There are more than this, but here are two key reasons why:
First, I see coaching these girls as a way to make a tiny dent in the largely anti-female culture of American (and global) sports. I’ve blogged about sports culture before (here, here and here), but in case you need a reminder, we live in a world where boneheaded talk radio jocks say things like this:
“I enjoy many of the women’s contributions to sports — well that’s a lie. I can’t even pretend that’s true. There are very few — a small handful — of women who are any good at this at all. That’s the truth. The amount of women talking in sports to the amount of women who have something to say is one of the most disproportionate ratios I’ve ever seen in my freakin’ life. But here’s a message for all of them … All of this, all of this world of sports, especially the sport of football, has a setting. It’s set to men… It’s a man’s world.”
I wish this sentiment was an aberration, but I’m afraid it’s not. And while we rarely experience sports as this overtly and verbally sexist, Tertullian is still there, lurking in the shadows. Recently I read this article, about a group of elite women cyclists and their supporters, who are seeking to create a Tour de France for women. The litany of legal, financial and attitudinal barriers they are facing is staggering and depressing.
So, by choosing to coach girls, perhaps I can punch a small hole in a long-established male-favored sports culture.
Second, coaching the girls gives me an opportunity to try to be a healthy male role model. To be sure, I don’t know the full stories of each of the girls on my team, but I know enough to know that many of them could use a positive and encouraging male role model in their lives. And, sure, I’m only with them 3 hours a week, but I am acutely aware that I when I am, I have an opportunity to bless and encourage them, in a way that they might not get consistently at home.
That’s right, what I’m saying is that soccer coaching can be ministry.
Both of these reasons–culture shaping and role modeling–are ways that I’m trying to leverage my male privilege to bless others. In the overall scheme of things, there are small, almost token acts.
And yet, at the end of the day, I don’t live in the overall scheme.
I live in my neighborhood, with these girls and their families, coaching and playing soccer.
Last week I posted some more musings on the topic of power. Then, this week, I came across this interview with InterVarsity’s Nikki Toyama-Szeto. The whole piece is a worthwhile read, but I was particularly struck by something that Nikki said about power. Here she’s talking about a woman mentor who sponsored during in her formative years:
“My mentor in the Daniel Project, Andrea, an amazing person, invited me to work with her in advancement. It was wonderful to work with her and observe how she used power. She had power but she stewarded her power. She knew what power she had. She knew what I had and what I didn’t have. So if I was starting on a project, she would always use her power to extend the reach of my power. And so I felt like there was a way that she was aware of power, and used it in a way that, to me, felt empowering. I felt blessed by the power she had….rather than controlled, limited, or stonewalled because of it. I think it is folks with power who don’t think they have power who are some of the most dangerous folks. Dangerous because they don’t realize when they swing, how far their impact is, the effect of the things that they do. I don’t want to be that person that has power but pretends that they don’t.”
I think there are plenty of insights into power in this quote. For one, power must be stewarded, and that stewardship can either result in someone being controlled or blessed.
Or I love the quote that “her power [extended] the reach of my power.” Could it be that, used rightly and stewarded well, there’s a trickle down effect where power blesses and shapes other power?
Or the tie between self-knowledge and power. Know yourself and you’ll steward power well, with the converse also being true.
What about you? What sticks with you from this quote about power?
After all, the brother authored a powerful book, full of vivid, poetic imagery and compelling teaching featuring a strong call to justice and righteousness.
On the other hand, I “like” the prophet Amos in the same way I “like” a trip to the dentist. Or a performance review. Or someone sitting me down and setting me straight.
What I mean is that it’s not always easy to have our experiences or our perspectives challenged.
And in Amos’ case, the challenge is about injustice and false spirituality. For me the central message of Amos is that God cannot abide injustice and so God’s going to do something about it. As humans, then, the right move is to whole-heartedly join God in that pursuit. To not be on the side of justice is, well, akin to the ironic horror of “a man [escaping] from a lion only to meet a bear.”
See what I mean? Amos is a handful.
One particular hotbed of injustice in the book of Amos is the city gate. In Amos’ day, the gate was the hub of civic life. If you had judicial business, you went to the gate. If you needed the marketplace, you hit up a vendor at the gate. If you wanted to debate the issues of the day, forget an early morning at your local Panera and instead go to the gate.
As one commentator puts it, “when the Bible talks of the ‘gate’ it may mean: the ‘market’, the ‘law court’ (either formally in criminal cases or less formally as the place where family business or disputes were settled), the public forum where community business was discussed and gossip exchanged or the administrative center – the ‘Town Hall’.”
Basically, the gate is where you took the pulse of the city, for good or for ill.
In the spirit of Amos, I want to call out some injustice right now at the global gate. Specifically, in the cosmopolitan yet socially traditional country of Dubai.
According to this article, over four months ago, Norwegian woman Marte Deborah Dalelv was sexually assaulted while on business in Dubai. After a court process, her attacker was sentenced, but only to a 13-month sentence for sex outside of marriage and alcohol consumption. I daresay that sentence feels too lenient for the caliber of the crime.
But then it gets worse.
Because Dalelv was ALSO sentenced. To 16 months. For the same two crimes with perjury added in. Simply put, the Dubai court didn’t believe her.
It could be because Dubai’s legal standard for what constitutes sexual assault is steeped in male privilege. One London-based group is calling on Dubai, and the United Arab Emirates to which the country belongs, to overturn the decision, with the following rationale:
It said the UAE’s claims that it is attempting to end discrimination against women was undermined by a legal system that “prohibits the achievement of justice for cases of sexual violence against women”. According to the Emirates Centre for Human Rights, UAE law states a rape conviction can only be secured after a confession or as the result of testimony from four adult male witnesses to the crime.
An outright confession, or the testimony of four adult male witnesses? Really? That threshold for proof is just not good enough. It’s too high. Ultimately, it’s unjust to the violated woman.
And so in this case and too many more around the world, we join the prophet–we join the Lord–in yearning for a day when justice is established at the city gate. From Amos 5:21-24:
“I hate, I despise your religious festivals;
your assemblies are a stench to me.
Even though you bring me burnt offerings and grain offerings,
I will not accept them.
Though you bring choice fellowship offerings,
I will have no regard for them.
Away with the noise of your songs!
I will not listen to the music of your harps.
But let justice roll on like a river,
righteousness like a never-failing stream!”
UPDATE: I know I’m good but not this good! About 10 minutes after I posted this, I read on the front page of cnn.com that Dalelv had been pardoned (here). She can now go home to heal. Great news for her, and yet the fact remains that the U.A.E. laws need to change!