Paying for School

My ongoing adventures in life and the pursuit of more...

Friday, July 1, 2016

Women: My Confession and my Credo

I don’t know if this is my philosophy or my theology but it is what I believe and what I hope is my practice.  My Credo.

When the movie, Selma, came to theaters, we were living in the States again.  My daughter went to see the movie.  I chose not to prepare her for what she was going to experience.  She came home devastated.  She asked us if it was true that white people like us had treated black people like that. In school she had learned history but those brief lessons did nothing to prepare her for a very recent story of people who have been segregated, abused and lynched here in America.

There’s another story I haven’t adequately prepared her for: her own.

When my daughter was little, she would ask me if I would turn the church I was pastoring over to her when I was finished. And as she has grown into a young woman, the sense of vocation has not left her. Of all the things she talks about doing with her life, the one constant has been full-time ministry in one capacity or another. What I don’t want to tell her is how hard it will be for her, as a woman, to live that vocation here in America.

I am part of a network of churches that is connected relationally across the U.S. and around the world.  In each country, our churches observe their geographical boundaries as the boundaries of their own orthodoxy and orthopraxy.  So in Canada, for instance, our churches had a position on women in leadership that was egalitarian in belief, if not in practice.  Egalitarian meaning that leadership roles were assigned by God based on vocation, not on gender.  In the U.S., same network but different practice: we have staked out an egalitarian position but we have no requirement that anyone in the U.S. actually has to live by it.

I attended my first U.S. National Gathering of our network of churches about 3 years ago.  It was held at the “mother ship” in California. Thousands gathered from all around the U.S. as well as others from around the world.  One main session during the day featured a message by two women. Workshops were on the schedule immediately following their message and I attended one on financial stewardship (or how to raise more money by including self-addressed stamp envelopes with your mail-outs).  Just before the session started, two guys in the row behind me were having a conversation about the previous session and they were both shocked and a little repulsed that two women had preached to us. I turned, assuming that they were being ironic or that they were old.  Very old.  But they were neither old nor being ironic.  They were late 20s or early 30s and very earnest about how troubled they were about women being turned loose to preach to men.
And I was shocked. After 30 years of ministry, it takes a lot, but that did it.

It was strange for me to feel so surprised by their conversation because I spent a long stretch of my Christian life as a complementarian.  Short version – we all share equal status before God but we have different roles and preaching and pastoring is reserved for men.  It’s hard for me to even write that last sentence now without being unfair to that position or judgmental about those who hold it…because I was one.  But after being born again again, I have come to believe that the complementarian position is wrong – not just intellectually, but morally.  And one of the things I have loved about my Canadian Tribe and my U.S. Tribe of churches is that we brought the Gospel into gender reconciliation and prevailed against the dominate culture because we have a better Story.

However, I’m coming to believe that telling women in our movement today that we are egalitarian is like telling my African-American friends that we’ve abolished racism.  Making room on the stage isn’t the same as making room in our hearts and heads.

And it’s especially not the same as putting women in key leadership roles where they will have male subordinates.

The story I still need to tell my daughter is that no matter how loud her vocation might be, as a single female, she has almost zero chance of finding a paid position as a senior pastor or almost any other kind of pastor.  There are two things against her: she is a woman, and she is single.  We might cope if she’s married and “under her husband’s authority” (stomach turn) but we really don’t know what to make of her if she’s single and feels called to lead men and women.  In fact, I think we’re suspect of single people anyway, marriage being the evangelical ideal, but that’s a post for another time.

She will be shocked. She will feel stuck.  She will feel judged.

So, here is my credo:

Single men and women are not broken or missing any pieces.  Jesus completes them, not any man or woman.

The Gospel applied will always mean that walls of division are dissolved in favor of reconciliation.  Therefore, gender is not the basis on which people are deemed appropriate for service in the Kingdom of God.

Vocation is affirmed by the Church and the Holy Spirit but not conferred by the Church.  We recognize the story you are in but we do not get to tell you what story you are allowed to be in.

Any reading of the Gospel that subjugates one gender to another is a misreading of the Gospel and it is neither beautiful or Christ-like.

If God has obviously poured out His Spirit so that “daughters shall prophesy,” who am I and who are we to tell God that they shall not? Women are gifted and called to preach to all genders.  If my understanding of other New Testament Scriptures leads me to another understanding, I must question my understanding.

We are doing violence to the body of Christ if you or I deny any woman’s vocation and gifts to the rest of the body.

I will happily follow any woman who follows Jesus anywhere our King and Savior leads.

I will not feast at the table of leadership and privilege as long as anyone is not given equal access or expected to be satisfied with the crumbs that fall from the table. Therefore, I must intentionally, actively and consciously affirm and embrace the vocation of others regardless of gender.

We must stop lying to ourselves and especially to women that we are equal when our behavior, conversation and praxis communicates otherwise.  It should be women and not men who tell us when we have achieved equality and egalitarian practice.

To my daughter, I pray that you will find within the Church ways to exercise the gifts and vocation that come to you from our Father.  May your experience be one of inclusion and embrace and may you find the dividing walls truly broken and the stones that were once used to build them, turned into paving stones for a road both men and women can walk on together without worrying about who gets to choose which direction we are going.

I'm aware that I'm writing this as a male.  I would appreciate hearing from my sisters about their experience and their perspective on our beliefs and our practices in the Church towards gender and the egalitarian/complementarian argument.   


  1. I am in complete agreement. Good words my brother.

  2. Replies
    1. You're very welcome. Thank you for being a shining example!

  3. Brian, I hope Emily pursues her dream. I hope that she actually is the one who does the talks, the preaching. When I was a teenager, I wanted to be a minister. I spoke to people in the church and was told that it might work somewhere, but not on PEI. Still, I went to MCC for a year, to study the bible and think this through. Stalemate after stalemate and I just gave up. I have been regretful of this decision all my life. I wish I had pushed through all of the obstacles. I PRAY THAT EMILY DOES.

  4. And this is one of the reasons I like you!!! Thank you!

  5. Thank you for your comments. Many of the things you have posted the Lord has shown me this week! I don't feel that women can speak into this topic and have any real impact for obvious reasons. It is important for you to keep talking out about this. The misuse of scriptures to keep women in "line" grieves His heart. The scriptures have been used to shut us up. I would love to share my heart but was called too strong etc... for too many years. The Lord bless you and keep you. I am healed and have forgiven my abusers. Praise the Lord for what He has shown you.

    1. Thank you! May you continue to walk in healing, love and mercy!

  6. This is great! I was thinking about this from both the overt and covert ways in which the issue is perpetuated. The overt way is obvious and how you have outlined. I am interested in the covert ways women (and men) are stuck in categories, especially in church. I think this can happen in a number of ways, such as, rallying the women for bake sales, knitting groups, prayer and intercession, etc. I wonder about taking a hard look at the discourse surrounding activities in church and deconstructing the gendered assumptions embedded. I'm sure this is not true for every church. But I wonder about the production of men's and women's roles in liberally-minded churches. While they may be able to preach and teach, in what other ways are they (men and women) subjugated based on the normalizing gaze of patriarchy?

    1. Great comments and observations. I think we've misappropriated the term "help meet" from Scripture as well and as males we feel authorized to relegate women to "helper" status as a result while we take the lead. A quick word study will reveal to anyone who can read English that this is a yuuuuuuge mistake. Thanks for the comment!

  7. Brian, this is a great post. Sorry I am late to read it. I shudder to think of all the great teachers and preachers that have been relegated to obscurity because of their sex. "The Gospel applied will always mean that walls of division are dissolved in favor of reconciliation" is a sentiment we can find throughout the Epistles (especially Galatians) and through Jesus' recorded ministry. Thanks and keep pushing back the walls that limit those who are attempting to follow God.