Why I don’t leave, even though…

I am for full gender equality in congregational practice. Period. Everything. Preach. Teach. Eldering. 

I sojourn within a tradition where this is far, far from the normative practice.

I have friends in other traditions or churches with fully inclusive practices and they wonder how I can stay. And often I do as well. Because this issue is not just about one practice over another, e.g. acapella vs. instrumental worship. This is about human identity and dignity and about the image of God in the world. This is an issue of justice and mercy. It’s big stuff for me. And I certainly understand others who leave, especially women with ministry gifts. In fact, I think some who leave serve the interests of change within the tradition they are leaving. Change will require that some leave and that some stay.

But I stay.

And surely, in part, its because this is my tradition. These people taught me to love God. It’s what I know and these are the people I’ve learned to love. More, I’ve been around enough to know there are no easy fits for me elsewhere. I’m not an evangelical. I’m not Reformed. I’m not episcopal in terms of polity. So, its not obvious where I’d go.

But this is not why I stay.

I stay because I recognize the journey this has been in my own life. I haven’t always held this position. This journey was one I made over time and with the best resources in front of me. It was my job to think about stuff like this. I had the time to do it. And I had wonderful conversation partners and great books and experiences that were pivotal along the way. In other words, my privileges as a minister with a good education and broad experiences made the journey possible for me–privileges others don’t have. I had things both to learn and to un-learn that allowed me to arrive where I am today. There was grace for me, in other words, all along the way.

So, I stay because I want to allow this to be a journey of grace for others as well, a journey that may be more difficult for them than it was for me. I know smart, sincere, truly spiritual people who are where I once was. I recognize their views and concerns because they used to be mine. And while I think their walk with God and others would be enriched if women were fully included in every aspect of a congregation’s life, I know that many of these people are better Christians than I am and that I still have much to learn from them.

And I stay because I have seen people like this consider and listen and engage, and some even change their views. I used to think that people who didn’t agree with me were just closed-minded. And some of them are, as are some who agree with me. But I find that most people are not this way. Many want to be challenged and to think well and to consider things that affect their mothers and sisters and daughters. 

And I stay because progress is being made. It seems glacial most days. But things are changing. Things happen everyday at Rochester College and at Pepperdine and ACU and in some churches that would have been unthinkable when I was a young minister. And there are gifted, gifted women who are brave and who have prepared themselves and who are making a difference. Is it enough? Is it fast enough? No. But change is happening.

As an aside, the slow pace of change is a bi-product of our polity. Because all of our congregations are autonomous, there is no way to do system-wide change. We can’t take a vote at a convention. Our ministers have only persuasive authority within a congregation. Any change is going to come slowly, especially change of this magnitude.

As another aside, an interesting indicator to me that things have changed is that the stately old traditional church right across the street from ACU recently hired a pulpit minister away from a congregation in our tradition with a long history of full-inclusion for women. This does not necessarily signal a change in policy at the University church. But it does show that the minister they hired is not radioactive because of his views. This is different. The inclusive congregation’s former minister was my dad’s cousin, Bill Love, and he was not welcomed to speak at ACU because of his association with this church. He was radioactive. Things have changed within the system as a whole that will make the rate of change congregation-to-congregation quicker.

Finally, I stay because churches are bad at change. They don’t know how people and groups actually change. Many use violent processes and leave casualties on both sides. In my mind, I can see faces of ministers who were bloodied and who were bludgeoned out of ministry over this issue. This doesn’t have to be that violent. We can do this hard work better and with more care. And this will make us better regardless of outcomes. And I am committed to that.

I stay. But I am not timid about advocating for change. And I’m at a place, Rochester College, where gender inclusion can be modeled and celebrated. So, I have work to do.

About Mark Love

I am the Director of the Resource Center for Missional Leadership at Rochester College. Part of my job includes directing a master's degree in missional leadership, a situated learning degree. I am married to Donna and have a son, Josh Love, who lives in Portland, OR. With Donna, I have also inherited three great daughters and three amazing granddaughters.
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102 Responses to Why I don’t leave, even though…

  1. Jarrod Robinson says:

    Thank you, Mark. This is a delicate bit of theological autobiography that I resonate with on many levels.

  2. Craig says:

    thanks for this. i’ve often struggle with why we (though i left a few years back) are bad at change? very rarely has someone left a church that is moving in a progressive (?) direction and left the c of C. more often (and i have no statistical data to back this up, just a hunch and what i’ve been involved with) people leave because of a stalemate and leave for home or churches of another denomination, etc. Again nothing to back this up but years of working in these environments.

    • Mark Love says:

      Craig, that’s an interesting hunch. I’m going to pay attention.

    • Becky says:

      About 15 years ago a friend told me her grandmother had been tracking “membership” of the c of C, and was seeing a noticeable decline year after year (she had some connection to David Lipscomb U.) I now attend elsewhere, as do my siblings and father, and when I visit congregations with other family members the groups are very small and the members are mostly older people which seems to bear out her grandmother’s feeling that our numbers would continue to dwindle. Very sad, but in a small town like Reno (still considered a mission field) we have no less than 7 different congregations because we can’t tolerate each other’s differences.

      • That is truly sad. The church of Christ came from the Restoration Movement. That movement was all about unity on the basis of God’s word, but it has become a legalistic group with little tolerance for differences. We were part of a church of Christ congregation for 5 years until the legalism drove us away.

  3. Mark Manassee says:

    And I am grateful you stay!

  4. Jee Kim Wong says:

    Thank you and thank you and thank you again. You are simply amazing!

  5. Glenn Boyd says:

    Beautifully written on a very difficult subject. I have changed my views over the years regarding women’s participation in ministry, but I still have a difficult time with women in the pulpit and women elders, especially elders, which I just cannot fit into Scripture. Any thoughts about this would be appreciated.

    • Mark Love says:

      Glen, I plan to write a few more posts that talk about my shifts over time. They aren’t really about insights into biblical texts as much as they are about the questions and assumptions I start with.

  6. I am a feminist, and the wife of a Southern Baptist Elder. I have told my pastor I have the gift of speaking, I have been told he will pray about that. Still, God asks me to stay. Thank you, thank you, thank you. We need to stand together. It feels very lonely. Today,a little less so.

  7. Bruce Bates says:

    I think just about all the fruits of the Spirit pour out of and apparently went into this article. How beautiful! Thank you for the calming yet bold example you are setting for all of us.

  8. scrumpyfu says:

    The reason I stay is because of something my preacher-father drilled into me: You never find a church that’s perfect for you – if something’s wrong, you stay there and work on it. So that’s what I do, despite feeling miserably disconnected. And yet, by the same stroke, I’m finding myself supporting my wife who’s gaining more of a leadership role just by being who she is in our congregation. Any change that’s gonna come will be from that sheer force of presence, of doing, and by me just shutting up.

  9. Andy Gill says:

    I definitely feel that there is a need to reform from within, and for some to reform from without. I do question though – if some churches are even really, truly, Churches (if that makes sense), though I think, either way, a capital or lower case “c” both ends need Jesus and need constant growth and sanctification. More me processing this post right now than anything else, good stuff, good challenge!

  10. Pat Ellison says:

    It’s what 62-year olds think about, too. Even in churches that have progressed on the issues of ministry leadership there is a defiant refusal to wake up to God’s very call to look around outside the host of dear faithful who have cradled us in their community, to speak of the Kingdom and to testify to friends and neighbors who are struggling with so many kinds of life issues, witness that the Lord comforts, the Lord seeks, the Lord cherishes them as well. Sleep and resignation wish to prevail. But, slow but sure, quietly and persistently, let’s wake them up. Stay. And wake them up.

  11. Sue says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful words and your grace! As a female who feels called to more than women’s ministry, I appreciate those who stay & are willing to wait for the changes I am sure are coming. After much prayer & inner struggle, I am one of the ones who has left and joined a denomination that embraces women in all aspects of ministry. It was a bittersweet move for me as these were also the people who taught me to love God, the place where I raised my family, and most recently, the people who helped me bury my husband. The untimely passing of my husband made me realize that we are not guaranteed the time we may need to see these changes come to fruition. I pray for the day that all of God’s children may serve fully within their gifts.

  12. Thank you for staying, and even more for allowing us to stand on your broad shoulders. Shoulders that are beaten, bruised, and tired, i am sure, but broad nonetheless and still supporting us as we march forward together.

    • Mark Love says:

      Casey, I don’t feel beaten and bruised because I stand on shoulders as well. Nice to have you and K in my corner.

  13. Lindsey says:

    I’m currently deciding whether or not to leave the CoC for a number of reasons but largely driven by the lack of gender equality. I’m lucky to be a part of a progressive church where women have more opportunities than your average CoC (being in Nashville has its advantages), but even the incremental changes that have been made can feel too little, too late. But as you pointed out, I don’t see many other options for me in other denominations as I can’t shake the feeling I would just be trading one set of problems for another. So far, I’m sticking with my people and my heritage, warts and all, but keeping in mind I may eventually need to move on.

    • Mark Love says:

      Lindsey, thanks for struggling with this and sharing that struggle. It makes a difference when people hear how actual lives are affected.

  14. Karen Parrish Fletcher says:

    This is an excellent statement of your belief and faith. I have left. I am sad because I love the traditions and the people I grew up with. I left because I was dying spiritually. I tried to stay because like you there is much work to do. I left when my influence was gone and my spirit broken. I am sad that is what had to happen for me but I am glad that you are able to stay and I pray you can continue on to work towards change. May God Bless you in your journey.

  15. jarw611 says:

    Thanks for sharing. I would like to add that I don’t leave because this is my family….my church family. My church family is not perfect and is still maturing, just as is true of my family…my husband and 3 kids family. We’re all a work in progress.

  16. Dale Simpson says:

    Amen, brother. Amen. I am where you are on this issue, and have been for about 30 years. And I am a member of the same fellowship of believers.

  17. Judy Thomas says:

    Thanks Mark. I think of your mom when I am mulling this topic. You are right–things are changing. There are things happening at my church I never I would to see . Praise God.

  18. Mary Jackson says:

    Thank you for this as it expresses so many of my own feelings. I would add that I was willing to be a part of a less gender inclusive experience myself to help work for change (and things did change in at least one church where I was a member), but am less willing to make that decision for my daughter. When we moved, we found a gender inclusive Stone-Campbell tradition church as we wanted our daughter to use her gifts in as many ways as her brother.

    • Mark Love says:

      Mary, I very much understand that. I live in a predominantly male family. Boys, boys, boys. I’m sure that made it easier for me to stay. But many of my best friends have only daughters, and this was important to me for their sake.

  19. David says:

    Great article. As a person not raised in the church, it always puzzled me why the church wasn’t more gender diverse. Once I began a more in depth study into the word, I began to see scripturally why, perhaps, things are the way they are. Interestingly, over time, I’ve seen/heard many lessons that are thoughtful to include a historical reference, so to better envelope a message in context. Coming full circle, I never hear a historical reference to contextualize the roles of women now versus then, so the ground there is still uneven. As a man primarily raised by a woman, I feel sad that we miss out on so much perspective simply because church leaders have a Y chromosome instead of another X. I too will stay because it feels disingenuous to tell my daughters that the genders are equal everywhere but church and leaving feels too much like quitting.

  20. Ray says:

    Mark, thank you for this testimony, which resonates deeply with me. For those who have a similar journey and have chosen to stay for all the reasons you mention, your words here are incredibly encouraging and uplifting, a reminder of a bigger gospel-shaped picture that we try to live for — and continue to be formed by.

  21. Dana says:

    Good words, Mark. As a woman in ministry among our particular tribe of faith, staying is part of my calling. I feel so very grateful for that. Serving in a county with more than 50 CofCs, and being the only female minister (officially) among them all is an awkward and beautiful place. Besides, I was given the spiritual gift of pot-stirring, and a girl’s gotta use that where she can–grin!

    • Glynnis Fleming says:

      This makes me smile, Dana! I am also a pot stirrer in my tribe! In my case, I’ve gotten out of the kitchen (I rarely cook anything) and into the congregation!

  22. Damon Parker says:

    Mark, I appreciate your words. It reminds me that while I am fortunate to be at a church that has made remarkable changes, there are always those in our midst who wish for changes that I may not. Sometimes I am on the “we must change” side, and sometimes I am on the “we can change that” side. We can only hope to find grace and give grace wherever we land.

  23. Jake2475 says:

    Gender equality is a tough subject in the CofC. Is it a traditional topic or a Biblical topic. You will have a hard time converting the CofC’s in the south to conform to this thinking. People argue over order of worship when its changed. I know that we are to find the truth in love, but this does not happen when it comes to topics like this. Mark, I believe that you are doing this and this is why you stay. Keep praying and eventually God will answer, whether go or no go you will be blessed by Him.

  24. clara morey says:

    There are so many things women can do in the Lords Church without being a minister. God made male first then made female. Christ is head of the Church just as the husband is head of the wife. It firmly states there are to be no division among us. I have taught in Sunday School classes for years also in meetings where there were classes for everyone. i think we should get busy converting people and there are a number of ways to do this as this is a commandment. Why waste time deciding about women being ministers. Search the scriptures division among Churches does nothing but make that Church weak. I was born and raised in the CoC and am now 81 years old. Instead of growing I see the Church becoming weaker because someone thinks there should be changes. My prayers are for the Church that we can reach people who hasn’t heard the Gospel or bring those back who have left.

    • Mark Love says:

      Clare, thanks for reading my blog. I would only suggest that the church you remember as being strong got that way by making changes to the way things had been done before.

      • clara morey says:

        Mark I remember going on vacation or visiting all over the country and every Church of Christ the worship service was the same. With praise groups, instrumental music it seems it has gotten more into the entertainment business. I find this more in the mindset of young people who seem to always need a change. What will be next? Handling snakes is also in the Bible. We never go wrong following the word of God. When Jesus was going about calling the Apostles for his purpose why didn’t he call a woman to be a leader? We as Christians are the Body of Christ. We are to please God not man. As far as Elders they are to look after the flock, teach, not go off in a room and make a decision and then let the congregation know without the congregation knowing what is going on.
        God doesn’t need instrumental music, praise groups etc for the worship service to be more meaningful. Again, our worship is to praise God and please him not please man which seems is the order of the day now.

      • Mark Love says:

        Clara, I have no doubt that our congregations were more uniform years ago then they are today. From my reading of the NT, that makes today more like the early church which displayed impressive diversity from place to place. I cannot imagine two more different looking churches than the ones in Jerusalem and Corinth. Imagine a jewish xian from Jerusalem visiting the free-for-all that was in Corinth!

        I’m going to assume that you think that I’m interested in pleasing God.

        Are you saying that your NT following church handles snakes? Or should?

  25. Mark Love says:

    Thanks, Lloyd for sharing your experience and for your encouraging remarks.

  26. Wayne Leeper says:

    Elders and Deacons are to have wives. (I Timothy 3:2,11) That is not my requirement but God’s. Women are not scripturally allowed to teach men. (I Timothy 2:12) Again, God, not me, speaking. Your article sounds good and logical from man’s point of view, but it is in direct violation of God’s

    • Bobby says:

      Hey Wayne! I’m glad you brought this up. In the coming posts, I think Mark will address a fundamental difference in the way you and he see Scripture. It’s important to note that both you and Mark have both read I Timothy as serious disciples of the Christ. But the two of you are reading from different perspectives.

      For instance, the letter of 1 Timothy was written by Paul. Clearly the early church thought that these words were valuable and included them in a collection that we now call the New Testament. But for my own reading of 1 Timothy, it is important for me to think about the time and place in which Paul is writing. Perhaps Paul is addressing a particular issue within a particular community with whom Timothy is engaged.

      One of our struggles as 21st century believers is that we must find a way to understand such particulars. Are they universal principles to be applied? Were they only given for that context? Is there a way we learn to posture ourselves in community?

      I believe that you and Mark would answer those questions very differently. But I have no doubt that both of you would take your interpretive stances very seriously and humbly. Perhaps you are right, but it could also be that Paul doesn’t say that Elders should have one husband because in that particular setting there were no female elders. Or that the female elders didn’t have polygamous tendencies.

      And as for Paul’s command for women not to teach men and to keep quiet, the text does not indicate that this is strictly in a corporate worship setting. Are we to assume that this command should be taken into schools, workplace, and other public venues?

      Interpretation is tough! May we be gracious and full of mercy as we seek to understand one another and these texts.

  27. Debbie Curtis says:

    Thank you, Mark, for your insightful thoughts on this matter. As a lifelong cofC member, I struggle daily with my decision to stay. One of my children has already moved on to a more progressive church in the area (not a cofc). The other child does not worship anywhere. These children are in their mid twenties. They always enjoyed Winterfest and Jubilee, but would return to the same stagnant 1950’s congregation when they came home. Eventually, it was too much for them. I am considering a change. I’m 54 years old and I don’t see the church as I did when I was young. It seems we are often not about the business of spreading the “Word” or living our faith, but crossing our t’s and dotting our i’s. So much time is wasted placating those who want NOTHING to change. I wonder how much more time will we have to get on with the business of the real work Jesus left us to do. Thank you for letting me know I am not the only one struggling!

  28. Carrie says:

    No one has made me think more than you have, Mark.

  29. Thank you, Mark. I lost my brand loyalty to the CoC long ago, but I ended up getting replanted in one, anyway. My view has always been to bloom where I’m planted, and that blooming as taken many forms over the years, largely based on what women were allowed to do in a given congregation. It’s been difficult, but also exhilirating to encourage (from within) changes toward nearly full egalitarian stances now, and those came about while my daughter and son were growing up and watching. We operate in the crucible of a living situation, and God is at work! Breathe on us, Holy Spirit! We need You, even beyond the page of egalitarianism.

  30. Janet Ray says:

    “And I stay because progress is being made. It seems glacial most days. But things are changing.” I can absolutely appreciate your rationale for “staying”, I have probably articulated each reason myself. But…. substitute “person of color” for gender in each argument, and I wonder how tolerant we would be in 2013 of “glacial” change. When is a situation SO wrong it is intolerable, even if it results in upset?

  31. Jill says:

    I feel honored that this is even an ongoing discussion. Thank you Mark, for this thought provoking stuff! Thank you Clara, for being 81 and being relevant enough to read a FB article and respond. Whether you know it or not, you are someone who we are all fighting for! I stayed too (well actually, now I am the Children’s Ministry Director at a Baptist church, but this is an identical issue for them so it feels like I stayed), even though the path was round about :), and you know what? It’s open, respectful, educated discussions like this one that will continue to grow us as God’s people.

  32. Kathy says:

    Thank you for your candid wrestling with this, Mark. Your thoughts resonate with me very deeply. We have moved from a gender inclusive congregation to a very non-inclusive congregation. I didn’t think it would bother me so much, I guess because I thought there would at least be an open dialogue about it but this congregation has the “radioactive” view of anything remotely different. Because we are raising small children, two boys and a girl, my husband now feels very strongly that we need to be in a gender inclusive congregation for both the boys and our girl to see that example. I agree, but I also feel pretty sure that this topic will be in our history by the time they are adults (anyway, I pray it will) and there will be other issues with which to wrestle. And so, my prayer for them is that we can be in a congregation that is wrestling in a holy and loving way to seek the will of God in this and all issues. I think that is the type of discipleship I wish for them,
    For our sake and for theirs our family cannot stay where we are currently not because of the lack of inclusiveness per se, but because of the lack of thoughtful, gracious wrestling. Thank you for this post which gives me hope that there is more of that type of wrestling taking place across the country in the cofC.

  33. Nancy Le says:

    thank you; it’s an encouraging post for women in ministry, no matter how constrained or unconstrained they may be

  34. Sarah Keith says:

    Thanks for a thoughtful and beautifully written post. The very first woman I thought of was your Mother, who has “ministered” to so many for so long. I am one of the lucky ones who have been blessed and inspired by her. God bless you in your work.

  35. Deanna Love says:

    Mark, Thank you for mentioning Bill in your writing. And I say amen to your ideas. I was very reluctant to accept the change in our congregation; now I miss it so much. Please say hello to your family for me. God bless you.

  36. Tim Coburn says:

    Thanks for this post, Mark. Spot on. Many of us are on this same journey.

  37. Don Sinquefield says:

    The only change that should be happening in the Church is the change to go back to GOD’S word. You cannot change anything from Gen 1:1 to Rev 22:21….Read this and believe God meant every word of it!!
    Rev 22:16 I Jesus have sent mine angel to testify unto you these things for the churches. I am the root and the offspring of David, the bright, the morning star.
    Rev 22:17 And the Spirit and the bride say, Come. And he that heareth, let him say, Come. And he that is athirst, let him come: he that will, let him take the water of life freely.
    Rev 22:18 I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto them, God shall add unto him the plagues which are written in this book:
    Rev 22:19 and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part from the tree of life, and out of the holy city, which are written in this book.
    Rev 22:20 He who testifieth these things saith, Yea: I come quickly. Amen: come, Lord Jesus.
    Rev 22:21 The grace of the Lord Jesus be with the saints. Amen.
    Don Sinquefield
    Harding University 65-69
    at the Ola TX Church of Christ

  38. Tim Archer says:

    Might I suggest one other reason to stay. Maybe, just maybe, you’ve made a misstep, be it on the role of women or some other issue. Staying in a group where others disagree is surely healthy for that, providing a balance to your teaching and possibly a corrective.

    It’s easy to think that others will eventually come to our position if they study what we’ve studied and learn what we’ve learned. We need to remember that many times it’s the exact opposite process that needs to take place. That is, we need to hear their experiences and insights and discover that what we’ve learned may not be what we should have learned.

    God bless you on your journey.

  39. I have been a member of the Bering Drive CoC in Houston for the past 31 years, where I also have served as a pastor-shepherd-bishop-overseer for 19 of those years. That means I received one of God’s greatest blessings reserved for his people in the 20th century–namely, sitting under the preaching of Bill Love for 25 years, and hearing the pure Word of God that flowed like living water from his lips. Those who refused to allow him to preach in their church or their lectureship simply judged themselves unworthy of eternal life. Bill preached (as he wrote, and titled his book) “The Core Gospel.” Woe to all who preach anything else!

  40. Wes Crawford says:

    Mark, thank you for this thoughtful and personal reflection on this sometimes volatile issue. I pray that as Churches of Christ continue their inevitable move toward gender inclusion God will bless our journey. I too am encouraged by the strides taken in recent years, and I look forward to seeing where God takes us next.

  41. William Lawrence says:

    I rarely reply to posts, even more rarely to religious posts. But this struck a chord, along with the fact that I actually know some of the folks who have commented. Two thoughts…
    I have decided that we could stand in front of God at the judgment and he could ask two questions, the answers to which would determine our fate. The first would be, “Did you study my word to determine what I wanted you to do for me?” And the second is the logical follow-on. “And did you do that?” I think if we can, with clear conscience, answer both questions “Yes”, God will not have a problem with our discipleship. But that does not mean we would all have done the same things.
    Second thought. There is an old C of C tradition that became almost scripture, and that was “We speak where the Bible speaks, and are silent where the Bible is silent”. I still hold with the first part of it, but believe the second part of it is not valid. To me, where the Bible is silent, that spells freedom to learn what we can and make our own decisions. And again, we won’t all decide the same things.

    • William Lawrence says:

      One more thing and I’ll go. Just because we with it was so doesn’t make it so. I don’t understand why God dictated some things, but he did. I have to learn to accept those things and believe he had his reasons. Culture aside, the Bible says what it says, and on some of these controversial subjects, it seems quite clear to me. I am really interested in the thought process that has led you to be able to believe the women’s role is all-inclusive, as you say. I just can’t get there.

    • Becky says:

      I grew up hearing that phrase over and over again, too, but even though the congregation was very legalistic, the “be silent” was taught as not binding your opinion in those unspecific areas on other brethren. More tolerance of other understandings is certainly what we need in the church. Do you remember being called to be a “peculiar people?” Because I’m sure we seem very peculiar to people outside the church.

  42. Tim Brinley says:

    Hi Mark,
    I read your article at Sara Barton’s recommendation after hearing she was chosen by Pepperdine to be their new chaplain. I have known that Pepperdine has been headed this direction a long time, actually since 1994 when one of their Bible professors daughters, a ministry major, and her husband were part of our mission team. Since then, to be quite honest, I have not pursued the reasoning that you certainly have to have employed to the verses that, historically, I mean
    aeonically historically, have proved a barrier to women teaching, eldering, exercising authority over men, and assuming the highest levels of responsibility in christian churches. I would like to have the chance to trace your journey from your convictions that a woman teaching or exercising authority over a man in a spiritual setting was prohibited by scripture, to where you are today. If you can help me, let’s take this off line for now. I’d like to hear just your thoughts.

  43. Sherrill Lee Page says:

    very thoughtful words, Mark. through Bill Love’s ministry at LSU I began asking theological questions which eventually led me out of the church of Christ & after several years of searching into the Episcopal Church. I now have joyfully served as an ordained Episcopal priest for a little over 20 years. it is a treasured gift to me that I was continually able to share my journey with Bill with his encouragement & blessing. thank you for your theological wrestling & your faithful ministry. God’s continued blessing of joy & peace!

  44. kmweaver57 says:

    I was introduced to your blog by a dear friend of mine today and it is indeed and breath of fresh air. I feel that women should have full participation in the church. However, I have suffered a broken relationship with a person I cared about over the issue of women’s roles. There are still days when I am the only one who holds these beliefs in the C o C. Thanks for reminding others like me that we are not alone and to persevere.

    God bless

  45. KM says:

    To bad you couldn’t stay true to your bible

  46. Lynn B says:

    Thank you Mark. This morning while doing the dishes I thought, Mark has not written in a while. I had actually gotten on line to write you, to ask you to write, I miss your words, wisdom, and truth spoken with recognition that there is no place to arrive, just a place to actively participate with God. As I continue to “stay” knowing that I am not leaving, the question of “why” surfaces often. Thanks you for writing, for reminding me, and affirming my heart to stay!

  47. MacManiacal says:

    I came across this on Facebook and sat and read the article and every response. Our congregation is at a unique crossroads as we are building an eldership right now so these questions have been on my mind for some time now. Here is my response to stand up for what I believe based on my faith in God through Christ. It’s a bit long so bear with me and read every word.

    As a leader in the Church of Christ that I attend, I can’t say that we have an issue of gender equality. I don’t hear of any discussions on the issue. I am also blessed to work with a great community ministry supported by many different denominations in our metro community. I talk with and work hand in hand with female ministers and church leaders. The conversation usually comes up early in our relationships about their positions in the churches they serve in.

    Many of the men that I work closely with never speak of their positions in the churches they serve in. I personally don’t go around telling what position I hold in my congregation nor do I mention the position I hold in the ministry I serve in. If it does come up it usually is brought up by someone else. I have even had a woman minister that is in the Christian Church point out to me, at our first committee meeting, that we are sister faiths. Since that meeting I have learned to respect the work that she does and I do not question the passion she has for God and serving him. But, I just can’t get that first conversation out of my mind. In my opinion she was setting a ground rule, that we can work together and accomplish a great deal, just don’t bring up the issue, and I haven’t.

    It is my understanding that in many denominations, women are forcing the issue of gender equality into the church. It’s like that first conversation with the Christian Church minister. What has struck me so odd is that what she is doing is ignoring scripture and forcing me to agree with her. In my reading of the scripture it is VERY clear about the roles of women in the New Testament Church of Jesus’s Day. That was some 2000 years ago. The issue we face today is, should we still follow that teaching, or, should we ascribe to the modern definitions of women’s roles in society and change the Church to match it?

    In this humble servants opinion we should make our Church His and go to meet Him there and keep our opinions about what the Church “should be” to ourselves and model our churches after the scriptures! If you have an issue with that take it to Him in prayer. It’s His inspired word that we follow, not his word until I change it because I feel that it needs to change to match the world.

    Scripture plainly and undeniably calls us to be different than the world. So why do we waste so much time debating within the church about what the church should do for us?
    Romans 12:2 “Do not conform anymore to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind”

    We are conforming if we change the roles of women in the Church to anything other than what scripture tells us. Otherwise we are no better than the world and you will have to make a decision to stop changing the Church at some point. Where is that point? I personally do not have an issue with women doing more in the church than they do now. Just don’t go for the two roles that scripture reserves for men.

    When we go to meet our maker it will be an individual task. We all will have to answer for what we we did to make this world better because God calls us to be better than the rest of the world. Whether we fought for gender equality in His church will IMHO not rank high on His list when we are asked if we served him faithfully.

    Jesus usually used agricultural parables so I will end with this:
    Somewhere in this debate is a sermon on wanting greener pastures with rich black topsoil, rather than accepting the red clay in your field, they both will grow good seed if planted and nurtured. but if you sit around complaining about the red clay too long, planting season will be over and you will have no harvest. Most modern greener pastures produce less seed because they were altered by man. It looks good on the outside but doesn’t produce much fruit.

  48. Chuck Bronson says:

    Dear Mark, Grace to you and peace in the name of God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

    Congratulations on producing one of the most captivating blogs I’ve found yet on spiritual matters. I just discovered it this week from a posting on FaceBook. You and I crossed paths only once before, at the Abilene Lectureship the year (2004 or 2005?) it featured Al Baird, Gordon Ferguson and others from the ICOC in a special series of sessions exchanging viewpoints with Jim Woodroof, John Wilson and others from the “mainline” churches of Christ, marking at least a tentative/partial reconciliation between the two groups who had become quite estranged from each other over the previous decade or so; and I will always remember you with great appreciation for the role you played in bringing that meeting together.

    Apparently, you are now a colleague to one of my former roommates, Keith Huey (whose wife, Barbara, was a co-case-worker with me at West Tenn. AGAPE many years ago). I also see other names familiar to me among those commenting on your blogs, which encourages me even more to offer my own 2 cents (well, maybe 4 or 5).

    Firstly, along with some of your other responders, it is very difficult for me to imagine how you, or anyone well-versed in — and presumably professedly faithful to — the NT Scriptures, could espouse “full gender equality” in “everything,” even “eldering;” and, along with other responders, I would like to see/hear your explanation (or anyone else’s of comparable competence) for how you came to arrive at such a position.

    Secondly, your blog and most of your responders’ comments incline me to repeat almost identically what I wrote in reply to another church blogger, Patrick Mead, and his series on “The Problem with Elders” of several weeks (maybe it’s now been a few months) ago. Basically, most of us are viewing the issues through the lenses of the systems and structures we have allowed our contemporary culture to sythesize for us, rather than viewing things from a more purely biblical perspective. For a fuller treatment of this, I would encourage you and anyone else so inclined to visit the Notes section of my FaceBook page for my reply to Brother Mead’s series. But, to add a more pertinent note not contained there, if Christian women — especially the more mature — feel that they are not well-utilized in the church, how many of them are following the clearest (not to mention, only) admonitions addressed directly to “older women” in the NT, Tit. 2:3-4? To paraphrase: older women are to spiritually mentor or disciple younger women. But from my studied observations, most older women, including most elders’ wives, are not very involved in discipling/mentoring younger women in any meaningful spiritual sense. If they were, I believe they would find plenty of rewarding work there to keep them both busy and gratified. This passage also paints a rather clear picture regarding how younger Christian women are to conduct themselves, as does 1 Tim. 5.

    Thirdly, in your reply to Clara Morey, you said, “Imagine a jewish xian from Jerusalem visiting the free-for-all that was in Corinth!” We needn’t imagine. The Apostle Paul, although born in Tarsus, had lived and studied in Jerusalem and became a Christian before going to Corinth, didn’t he? And didn’t he become very critical of the way the Corinthian church was behaving?

    Fourthly, William Lawrence, in his response, said that he has “decided that we could stand in front of God at the judgment and he could ask two questions, the answers to which would “determine our fate.” This not only sounds incredibly presumptuous, for anyone other than deity to “decide” what God could say on judgment day, but there are at least two “sneak previews” of “that day” and what God-the-Son, at least, could or will say: Matt. 7:21-23 and 25:31-41. Why would any of us uninspired ones dare to presume to add to or detract from these inspired and authoritative insights into the judgment day and/or “decide” what questions or other criteria will “determine our fate”? Maybe he just didn’t choose his words carefully enough, but what he actually said borders on blasphemy in my view. I pray God doesn’t hold it against him.

    One other observation: after reading virtually all of the responses from others, it seemed to me, Mark, that you expressed your appreciation much more to the ones more complimentary and/or who expressed agreement with you and rarely replied at all to those expressing disagreement. Just wondering whether that was pure coincidence or how telling/significant?

    • Mark Love says:

      Chuck, thanks for finding my blog and taking the time to reply. I’ve tried to say this to everyone I’ve responded to, but may not have. The posts I didn’t likely were posts where I felt the readers weren’t trying to understand my position before they made judgements, not only about my position, but about me. But you’re probably right that I was more responsive to people who were in sympathy with my position.

      As for Paul visiting Corinth. Paul had no small problems with the worship in Corinth. Second, Paul encouraged Gentile churches to be Gentiles, not Jews. Very different from those in Jerusalem who are continuing to go to the temple and likely worshipping after the pattern of the synagogue. And for that matter, what is taking place in Corinth is very different than what we read about worship just 30 years later in the Didache. This idea that the first churches were identical in shape and practice simply cannot be substantiated from a close reading of the text. What accounts for these differences? In part, churches were adapting to the cultural meanings around them. As Paul puts it, “I take every though captive to Christ.” So, I think your observation that I am trading the values of my culture for God’s word is both an oversimplification of my position and God’s word and misses the fact that part of the genius of the gospel is that is always adapts to the culture around it. The question is not if this adaptation happens, but on what basis. So, I’ll ask that you grant that my own perception of what I’m doing in reaching my position on gender is moving deeper into the meanings of Scripture and not jettisoning God’s word for the sake of my own preferences. You don’t have to agree with that. But I want you to grant that that’s what I think I’m doing.

      • Glynnis Fleming says:

        I think that it is most difficult to arrive at the conclusion that no text occurs apart from the culture in which it is written. Somehow, this stance is interpreted as heresy. I can’t get my mind around why this is not a point of logic.

      • Mark Love says:

        Glynnis, great comment. My next post.

  49. Chuck Bronson says:

    Dear Mark — and Glynnis,

    The way this discussion is going reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, which I posted on FB back when it asked for such things, before it arbitrarily changed formats and lost it: “I know you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant!” And I’m sorry that my response, and therefore this particular blog, is becoming so long and involved, but it’s because what you’ve written is so vague and ambiguous I must devote much space to asking for clarifications.

    For the first instance, you said, Mark, that: “Paul had no small problems with the worship in Corinth.” What you mean here by “the worship” needs clarifying. These days, most of us refer only to what goes on in our corporate church assemblies (if not exclusively in our church buildings) as “worship”, “the worship” or “worship services;” whereas, Jesus and the NT seem to define true Christian worship as at least potentially everything we do, whether in or out of the corporate assemblies of the church (see John 4:21-23, Romans 12, Col. 3:17). Yes, indeed, “Paul had no small problems with” the conduct of the Corinthians in their assemblies; but that was only a relatively small part of what he had no small problems with.

    Then you said, “Second, Paul encouraged Gentile churches to be Gentiles, not Jews.” While I agree that he did not try to make Jews out of Gentiles, as some Jewish Christians did, nor did he try to make Gentiles out of Jews, I think it’s a mistake to say he “encouraged Gentile churches to be Gentiles.” He encouraged/exhorted Jews and Gentiles alike to become Christians — perhaps a subtle, but still very significant distinction from either of the other two categories. After becoming Christians, any pre-existing cultural distinctions must take a back seat behind the common identity we all have in Christ: “There is neither Jew nor Greek” (Gal. 3:28) “but Christ is all and in all.” (Col. 3:11)

    You continued to say, “Very different from those in Jerusalem who are continuing to go to the temple and likely worshipping after the pattern of the synagogue.” This makes it sound like temple worship and synagogue worship were essentially the same, which they were not; and/or that the Christians in Jerusalem continued meeting together in the temple indefinitely, which they didn’t. How could they? By the time Gentile churches were established outside of Judea, the Christians in Jerusalem “were all scattered” because of the “great persecution” which arose after the stoning of Stephen. (Acts 8:1) Indeed, that persecution and scattering is what God used to sort of “jump start” the establishment of churches outside of Judea. And I don’t believe that mimicking “the pattern of the synagogue” was relegated only to Judean/Jewish Christians. I’ve heard it said that all the NT churches throughout the world, whether from predominantly Jewish or Gentile origins, mimicked “the pattern of the synagogue” as opposed to imitating or following the more formal patterns of temple rites and rituals; and all the evidence/indications in the NT, sparse as they may be, seem to bear that out — 1 Cor. 14 being the most extensive look into what those early Christians did in their assemblies.

    You also said, “The posts I didn’t likely were posts where I felt the readers weren’t trying to understand my position before they made judgements, not only about my position, but about me.” I can certainly empathize with you there, Mark. But look, further down in your same post, didn’t you do that very sort of thing to me, in ascribing to me an observation which I did not make: “So, your observation that I am trading the values of my culture for God’s word is both an oversimplification of my position,” etc.? I made no such observation, Mark. And if that’s how you interpreted something I did say, either I wasn’t as clear as I should have been, or you didn’t read as carefully as you should have. In fact, the further into your response, the less it sounded like you were responding to me or what I actually wrote. To wit, I never expressed and do not hold the view to which you referred here: “This idea that the first churches were identical in shape and practice simply cannot be substantiated from a close reading of the text.”

    You go on: “the genius of the gospel is that is always adapts to the culture around it. The question is not if this adaptation happens, but on what basis.” Here again, Mark, you need to give at least one specific example/illustration or otherwise clarify what you mean. Do you mean that evangelists or apostles like Paul adapted their manner of proclaiming the gospel to culturally different audiences, like the one in Athens (Acts 17:16f)? If so, no argument there from me. But I’m more inclined to infer that you mean that all who became Christians from disparate cultures continued practicing their previously prevailing cultural norms, regardless of how strongly they contrasted with/differed from the traditions/customs which characterized the preceding Christian communities up to that point, perhaps only dressed up in or otherwise given some new “Christianized” symbolism, in which case I must beg to differ. Prime case in point: Acts 19 and Ephesus – The gospel proclaimed by Paul and his coworkers produced some rather dramatic clashes, even violent conflict with certain prominent practices of the incumbent culture there: “Many of those who practiced magic brought their books together and began burning them in the sight of all.” (vs. 19) So many converts from those who had previously been devotees of the goddess Diana (or Artemis) were abandoning their previous pagan practices that it threatened to ruin the Ephesian economy and Demetrius the Silversmith fomented a near-riot to try and turn the tide. (vs. 23f) In fact, the book of Acts is mostly a record of repeated and ongoing clashes and conflict between the onset of the gospel and the cultures into which it was being introduced — even in Jerusalem (maybe especially there)! So how can you assert that it “always adapts to the culture around it”? I don’t see it adapting in the NT; I see it clashing and conflicting and overcoming, even turning the world upside down! (Acts 17:6)

    Finally, you said, “So, I’ll ask that you grant that my own perception of what I’m doing in reaching my position on gender is moving deeper into the meanings of Scripture and not jettisoning God’s word for the sake of my own preferences. You don’t have to agree with that. But I want you to grant that that’s what I think I’m doing.” Granted, Mark; I give you the benefit of the doubt that you are sincere in your quest for the deeper truths of God’s word or even in your perception or belief that that is what you are doing. But, Mark, I still have not seen you make your case for “full gender equality” in “everything.” That is the main thing I and others have asked you to do. My friend/brother, Tim Brinley, suggested you do it privately to him alone; but I say why not do it as publicly and as boldly as you have declared your position? Stop hiding behind your vague ambiguities and tell us, at least as clearly as you told us why you stay: How did you come to take your position so dogmatically declared at the top of this blog, and why do you think the church as a whole should take the same position?

    Finally (ah, another double “finally”, like Paul in Philippians!), to you, Glynnis, you wrote: “I think that it is most difficult to arrive at the conclusion that no text occurs apart from the culture in which it is written.” I suspect you did not say that the way you meant it, for it is NOT difficult at all to surmise (or conclude) that no text (by which I assume you mean biblical text) occurs apart from the culture in which it is written. Obviously, every book in the Bible bears at least some of the marks and/or signs of the time(s) and the culture(s) in and from which it was produced. What I believe you meant to saywhich I also believe, is that no book of the Bible was produced, as it were, in a cultural/historical vacuum or — as I’ve heard some put it — “parachuted to earth out of heaven” with no connection at all to earthly/human events, personalities and socio-cultural situations. THAT is what may be impossible to imagine. Where’s the “heresy” in that?

    Grace, Love and Peace, and Num. 6:24-26 everyone

    • Mark Love says:

      Church, sorry I didn’t read you well. My apologies. And thanks for asking me to explain more. First, I’ll say that the purpose of my initial blog was not to explain why I believe what I do, but to explain why I stay given what I believe.

    • Mark Love says:

      Sorry, didn’t mean to hit send so soon. I do provide examples, several I think, where the early church adapted forms around them from the culture. I don’t say that they adapted them without hesitation or care, in fact I give an example where they said yes and no to one particular form that they adapted from Greco-Roman society.

      As for worship, as you note we have little to go on in actual examples. But from my understanding, the worship in Corinth seems a far cry from what we know of synagogue worship. That the church continued in the temple at all says that the early church did not see themselves as a new religion, but as a continuation of their faith, honoring Jesus as messiah. This I think is confirmed by Matthews gospel that addresses Christians being excommunicated from the synagogues as late as after the destruction of the temple in 70 AD.

      The scandal of Paul’s gospel was not that Gentiles were welcomed into the faith. The scandal was that they were welcomed in as Gentiles, which is an ethnicity, not a religious designation like pagan. They became participants in the covenant promises made to Israel without becoming Jewish proselytes. Theres a raft of literature on this if you are interested. NT Wright, Luke Johnson, Richard Hays, James Dunn. Gentiles were allowed to remain ethnic Gentiles, and with that came new forms and structures. One example would be use of the term ekklesia to describe the church. Now again, these forms were all baptized. But forms are stubborn things and produce meaning, they don’t just serve ideas. So, even in borrowing from the world around them, they said yes and no to things.

      The examples here are numerous. Peters use of the oikonomia, rather than ekklesia, to describe the church in 1 Peter. Paul’s use of certain philosophical conventions or rhetorical forms in his letter writings (he uses some, denies others), Hebrews use of neo-Platonism. The religious vocabulary used by John’s gospel does not come from the Septuagint, but is more at home in hellenized circles. Even the designation deacon does not come from Jewish practice (Acts 6 does not fit here. They are nowhere called deacons and would have been filling a function already in place in the temple community), but likely comes from the predominant use given to public messengers or representatives of prominent people. This is why Phebe and Tychicus are designated as deacons in Romans and Ephesians and Colossians. Even the word gospel, used only once in the Septuagint, comes more likely from Greco-roman usage. The earliest Christians were adapting to their environment all the time in a very complex way. So, the Gentiles were still Gentiles, even if they were no longer pagans. And the Jews were still Jews. And that created all kinds of imaginative new expressions of the faith.

      I have promised to share how my approach to the issue changed over time. I think other forums are better suited for the kind of careful, empathetic environment required to lay out my position step-by-step. That will have to be enough.

  50. Mark says:

    I am glad this matter is finally being discussed though I have a feeling it is merely boiling over. I am grateful that Dr. Love is one more reasonable voice who is standing up for this matter. It is not so much a discussion of the role of women as it is a discussion of the continuing refusal to re-think and discuss old positions, of which the role of women is one of many and likely the most concerning. I know the women who say that they will not tell their daughters that they can’t lead a church or even speak from the pulpit when women can lead public companies and nations. I have heard the hard-line conservatives say that if even one policy changes, it might cause a brother to stumble (lose his faith) or wonder what else might change. We are not debating the Messiahship of Jesus. We are not questioning the credibility of the scriptures. This refusal to discuss old policy means that nothing can ever change. Thus, the cofC has become the church of grandpa. The real question for them is “To what did you convert this person?”. Did you convert the person to Christianity or the church of Christ? There is obviously a difference.

    There is a large contingent of female M.Div. students and D.Min. candidates who are going to be graduating soon. Most of them are rebels given the history of women in the cofC. However, someone has to go first. They are going to be seeking positions in churches and universities in the next few years. I am not advocating for the reversal of congregational autonomy. However, if these issues can not be openly discussed in individual congregations, then there is a major problem. I really think that these young women might help retain and bring new members, especially young professionals and families, and life in to churches.

  51. As the first woman to be ordained in the history of our church, I found this beautiful and encouraging. I get frustrated with the speed of change. I need to be patient. And pray. And stay. Thank you.

  52. paigegant says:

    Oh my. I can barely tell you what this meant to me. My husband graduated ACU in 1999 and he has been the minister in 2 small congregations. We are currently in a c of C congregation in Michigan (we’ve been to Illuminate at Rochester a couple of times!). I have always felt that women should be able to do anything and everything God gifts and equips them for. But in the past 15 years if I brought up even studying the issue I heard crickets chirping accompanied by blank stares. I have never pushed for change mostly because relationships are more important to me than issues. But this is not a small issue. This is not instruments/acapella, as you said. This is people made in the image of God. Recently it has become very hard to want to stay. I’ve been hurt by people who are angry with me because I don’t see things the way they do. I’ve wanted to run far away. But I treasure the people who have walked with me in my journey to follow Christ. Just like you I know people who do not agree with me but are better Christians than I am and I have much to learn from them. But it is so hard to stay when you’ve been hurt.

    When I read your words I felt hope well up in my heart. If you can stay, I can try to stay too. I can stay to work for the change that I think is right. Stay to love and serve, even when it is hard. Thank you for sharing your hope.

  53. Pingback: Gender roles and the cultures of the Bible | Tim Archer's Kitchen of Half-Baked Thoughts

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  58. Pingback: Mark Love: Why I Don’t Leave | One In Jesus

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