Well, yesterday’s blog was widely read. I’m not used to that. My audience is typically fairly narrow, consisting mostly of family members. In fact, yesterday was so unusual that wordpress actually sent me a message alerting me that people were actually reading my blog! I kid you not.
So, evidently, the post struck a chord, or perhaps a nerve. And I feel like today I need to say a few things by way of response or clarification.
First, I was overwhelmed and moved by those of you who shared parts of your story with me. Some were stories of staying with varying degrees of change in women’s roles. Some were stories of leaving, which were sad and wrenching to me. It was important that I hear again the stories of pain. On the other side of the issue, I heard stories of loss. With all the changes, people have lost their church. And those stories need to be given attention. But they don’t carry the same weight as the stories of pain. The stories of pain in this case are largely the stories of women, and it was good for me to hear them again. I was grateful for them all. I am convinced that God works in human lives, and so the stories we tell each other are important in knowing God.
Second, it occurred to me at several points during the day that I needed to clarify some things. I want to be clear that when I say that things are happening at Rochester College, ACU, and Pepperdine (and other places I’m sure), that this doesn’t mean that there is some big agenda that each has for women in Churches of Christ. I do know that Rochester and Pepperdine practice full inclusion in the life of the institution. Women and men can do the same things in the life of the University. But these institutions are also respectful of congregations and their varying practices. I know, having directed ACU’s lectureship for seven years, that this is a tough balance to maintain. My point here is that decisions have been made at a practical level for the life of the institution that do not represent an active agenda for changing churches.
Third, I want to be clear that in my own practice of ministry, its not my goal to have everyone think like me or to have churches do what I think is right. My goal is to create an environment in congregations where the Spirit of God can move and the congregation can discern together what it is that God is calling them to. None of the congregations that I have served fully embody my doctrinal preferences and that shouldn’t be my standard for success. The ability to talk about things in open, careful, and honest ways, however, is a goal of mine. If it is not even possible to talk about issues related to gender, and other topics, then I can’t in good conscience serve there.
Along those lines, I was particularly touched by those who said they couldn’t go as far as me in their views, but wanted to know how I dealt with the places where they got stuck. I like these better than the responses of those who flung Bible verses at me. Actually, these responses amuse me. What are they thinking? Poor Mark. Just doesn’t know his Bible very well. I’ll help him out. These verses are so simple that they will clear things right up and he’ll see the error of his way. I am tempted to respond, “thank you. I was unaware of those verses. Never mind.”
Actually, the point many of them seem to be making is that I don’t take the Bible seriously enough, or that I am satisfying myself and not God. Clearly, I don’t think that’s what is going on. I care just as much as they do about doing God’s will and just as much about taking the Bible seriously. In fact, in practice, I think I take the Bible more seriously because I try to take it on its own terms. I try to let the actual phenomenon of Scripture dictate how I read Scripture. Most of my auditors who felt I’m not taking the Bible seriously start with assumptions that the Bible itself doesn’t support, e.g. that the Bible’s message is simple, univocal, flat, without diversity, not subject to interpretation.
This leads to another observation. The changes in my views came less because I discovered some novel way of exegeting a text. My hunch is that I would largely agree on the substance of individual texts with people who hold a different view from me (though not all). The difference lies in the questions and concerns I bring to the text which are more properly theological than they are exegetical. In other words, the question “how is God related to texts?”, not just “what does this text say?” is the difference maker for me. So, those who disagree with me are right to point out that our differences lie in what we think of Scripture. The fact, however, that they hurl passages at me with which I am very familiar expecting that this bare act alone should suffice in turning me from the error of my ways suggests they don’t understand how Scripture is important to me.
So, it occurs to me that the most helpful thing for me to do in helping others understand my position is not to unpack specific verses, but to talk about the shifts that I have made regarding how I read Scripture. I think a lot of people have an intuitive position on the role of women, but don’t really know how to deal with Scripture texts that don’t support their views. I think I can help with that. (By the way, those who hold a restrictive view on women also have intuitive views that can’t be supported by certain Scripture texts). My posting frequency has been way down lately and is bound to remain that way for awhile. So, be patient with me (it is a fruit of the Spirit, which is somewhere in the Bible), and hopefully I’ll trace the journey in ways that will be helpful.