Abraham Kuyper FTW.(via bluedollar)
…and the women will follow
Something’s been bugging me for a while. I wasn’t going to address it in a public space, at least not an Internetty sort of public space, but I read a couple of things today that reminded me that what I heard isn’t an anomaly, but a symptom of the sort of clueless gender talk that still permeates the church’s discourse about itself.
So several months ago there was an extended survey/ focus group sort of exercise at my parish about what we thought we needed, as a church to follow God’s mission well. It was a fairly extensive survey, and the summary of the results was pretty interesting.
It’s worth noting that the team that compiled the results, my husband among them, tried to convey many different opinions and desires (often conflicting) so that everyone who took the survey felt heard. So just because this got said out loud at a parish meeting does not mean that it represents the convictions of the parish leadership. Just wanted to make that clear.
What I heard was this:
“We need to draw Godly men into the church. If we draw Godly men, the women will follow.” *
When this was read aloud, there was a ripple of (positive?) noise in the audience. It was loud enough that I don’t think many people more than a few rows away heard the woman behind me—a fabulous, intelligent, capable woman, active in service to the parish and completely unaffiliated with any man, as far as I know— saying, “Hello? We’re here! We’re here.”
But that’s just the thing that’s bugging me, that’s so worrisome about the statement above. What it says to women, in essence is, “We don’t see you. Unless you are affiliated with a man, you are not of value. If you’re single, we’ll have a ministry for you to try to get you a man, so you can then be married and thus become visible and valued.”
Do I think the originator of that statement (who could very well be reading this post) intended such a message? Very likely not.** But that’s the message that this kind of statement sends, that it’s men who are important and it’s more men we want to see and we don’t need to attend to the women among us because, married or single, their presence and participation in the life of our community hinges on relation to a man.
That is the message we send, and we (and I’m not talking about only my parish, but about the evangelical church in the USA in general) send it pretty much every day.
I’m a home schooling mom of young children. I’m in a pretty busy and exhausting stage of life. My parish, and most evangelical churches I know, offers a lot of support for women like me. They do a wonderful job and I am so, so grateful. But imagine what it feels like to be a single, professional woman and all you ever hear is how family friendly we need to be, or how we need to make church friendly to men and don’t worry about the women, they’ll just follow the men right on in. Think about what it implies when all the women’s Bible studies are offered in the middle of a weekday. If you’re not a mother or a wife, and especially if you aren’t particularly focused on achieving motherhood or marriage, you are invisible. Or you can easily be made to feel that way.
Church. O, church. Please be careful. Think about the words you say. Think about the words you leave unsaid. When you talk about the kind of people we need to focus on bringing into the church, think about what that means for the people we choose not to focus on.
As always, a little cultural comparison can help us see how insufficient our assumptions and language are when it comes to building up the body of Christ. My husband works on a project that offers training to trauma healing facilitators in a country suffering from the aftermath of decades—centuries, really—of instability, exploitation, and war. He recently went on a trip there to document the work of the trauma healing teams, and in the area he was in, widows made up 80% of the congregations he visited.
80%. In this place, where God is moving and healing people and churches are springing to life one after another and growing, growing, growing? Single women ARE the church—single professional women, because they are almost all the breadwinners for their households. Can you imagine what the statement above would sound like from the pulpit of one of those churches?
And in a crazy way, the widows my husband met are already benefiting more from the support of the Western evangelical church because they are distant and different and exotic. We can send money and pray for them without the fuss and bother of actually attending to the matter of empowering them for full participation in the life of our communities. You know, they way we’d have to do if we attended to the voices and full humanity of women like my sister in the pew behind me that night at the parish meeting.
I’m aware that I’m doing this annoying thing here, where I speak from a place of privilege on behalf of someone or a group of someones who lack that privilege. Maybe I have let my imagination run away with me and I’m just completely full of crap. Ideally, what I should do instead of blathering on is do my best to quietly draw your attention to these women and support them as they speak so that their voices will be heard. So. Imma shut up and get out of the way now. I’m going to commit to listening to and seeing the unheard and invisible with as much respect and honor as I can.
Speak up, sisters. I’m listening, and I hope everybody else will, too.
*(That’s not a verbatim quote, but I no longer have access to the document. It’s very close to the original, though.)
**My husband offers a charitable reading of the statement along these lines: “The demographics of the church have shifted in the last few decades. There are far fewer men than women. The commenter who said that was probably responding to the demographic shift.” Perhaps. I contend that there was more causality implied than hubs’ reading offers. Even if he’s correct in evaluating the intent of the statement, though, I contend that the effective message is the same as the one I address above.
If the Church was faithful to its mission towards gay people, the idea of Christianity as homophobic would not just seem wrong, it would be a punchline. It would be like saying the Red Cross secretly infects people with polio, or something. People wouldn’t even debate it, they would scoff. And a strongly-worded blog post isn’t going to make that happen.
Yes, we need to improve our language, but that’s not the challenge, or it’s only one peripheral consequence of the challenge. The challenge is to make it dead-obvious to the entire world that any gay person will be embraced and affirmed in any church, in any family, in any community. And yes, in this day and age, that includes “Side A” gay Christians, which doesn’t mean jettisoning orthodox Christian teaching, because hey, we’re all sinners, and we’re all wrong about something. (I uncomfortably straddle “Side A” and “Side B” teachings, since I am bound to affirm the Roman Catholic Church’s teaching on the morality of gay sex, yet support legal civil same-sex marriage.)
That’s the challenge, that’s the real challenge, and if it’s not obvious, it’s a tremendous challenge. Let’s get started.— PEG (via wesleyhill)
N.T. Wright, Surprised By Hope (via churchfu)