Jesus, not the Church IV

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In Dan Kimball’s discussion on new generations and their view about spirituality he made this list:

1) The Church is an organized religion with a political agenda.

2) The Church is judgmental and negative.

3) The Church is dominated by males and oppresses females.

4) The Church is homophobic.

5) The Church arrogantly claims all other religions are wrong.

6) The Church is full of fundamentalists who take the whole Bible literally.

In his article he focused on three of these points, though to his credit he does note all six are worth thoroughly exploring. But he doesn’t explore them. And for a very good reason. Points 1, 2, and 5 are issues that the broader Evangelical church pretty much sees the same way. Sure, there are differences in responses. But we can agree that those points are approached in the same way, which is some derivation of “yes, but…”

However, the other points are more difficult, not least because these are sources of great conflict within the church among other Christians. There simply is no speaking for the whole of the Church, not even the whole of Evangelicals on these issues, and if one does take a stand it almost always will mean being rejected by others who think they are right on the topic. Our overemphasis on these issues has made us a myopic people. We don’t really even care if one believes in the resurrected Christ if they don’t agree with us on these topics. Kimball avoided these, and in doing that likely saved Christianity Today a lot of angry notes.

But, I’m feeling a little more intrepid. If these are the rejections then we need to bring out discussions out into the open. Be civil about it, to be sure. Maybe that’s the problem. We have a hard time being civil.

Though, I dare say, there’s something important in that. What inflames passions so much? Underneath these issues is a root cause, I think. Which is worth exploring.

Issue with the Church number three says, “The Church is dominated by males and oppressive to females.” Yes. Yes it has. And yes it often is. Don’t think so? Then go to any conservative Christian forum and assert a woman can be a pastor of a church. Now, of course, people won’t see that as being oppressive. They will argue Scripture, and argue some pretty clear verses of Scripture. They will argue the symbolism of Jesus and the symbolism of the Disciples. They will argue with tradition and with other pretty convincing sources both that women have a behind the scenes role and that women are not oppressed.

But, this doesn’t change history. There may be some good arguments in these various approaches, however, history shows that these arguments have often been employed not to bolster Christ, but to bolster the power of men, men who see themselves as the representatives of Christ.

The Church then has a lot to answer for and it’s not going to do well if it’s only answer is to place women in a spiritual role that is a century or more behind than the cultural role presently found. It’s well and good to talk about the importance of submission, but the question is not about hierarchy or power or control or a person’s place. The question is about the Holy Spirit and the Spirit’s work in our world, a Spirit who gives gifts and motivates men and women towards all sorts of roles. In trying to police the Spirit, in trying to maintain societal restrictions the church is telling the Spirit how to work and what works will be acceptable. The Spirit doesn’t care about what leaders or self-appointed church police have to say. Which leads to conflict, and frustration, and all sorts of issues that are not inherent to God’s work but are inherent to human need to give God boundaries and interpret his work in the most restrictive ways possible.

What the church has to do, in action not just in theologizing rationalizations, is help women to find their Spirit given roles, and in doing this help define the boundaries of the church not by societal or cultural oppressions but by the freedom, joy, and power of the Spirit who redeems and inspires, bringing each person to their own fullness, and gathering together a group of people who celebrate their abilities. For too long the Church has been about limiting and squashing and denying, all so there could be some sort of symbolic representation of Christ. In doing this such rules have forgotten that the Church is the symbol. The gathered people are the symbols. The unity and diversity and freedom are the symbols of Christ who releases us from the Law so we can move past the cultural and religious boundaries to embrace the heavenly status that makes us all equal in status and roles.

God did make men and women different. Different enough that it seems silly to try to parse out yet more differences because of philosophical or religious interpretation. The Spirit who gives gifts does not give in order to tease and alienate, forcing women to have talents which must be hidden. The Spirit gives gifts and talents and training so that these gifts will be used, even if their use bothers insecure men and Law dependent leaders.

The Church has failed in this area for too long, much as it failed in a clear message of racial equality. Just another way it showed that the Spirit wasn’t quite as important for the functioning as preferred order and rules. Now, however, we are in a different time, a time in which we can find a new freedom of the Spirit, and a time in which gender roles can exist within the differences God has made, and without the distinctions and oppressions humanity has for too long enforced.

We need to move on, and only in that way, only by having freedom in our churches without oppression can we adequately respond to this most important critique.

One Response to “Jesus, not the Church IV”

  1. James McGrath Says:

    I think the biggest issue in much conservative Christianity today is its use of ‘clobber passages’ and its attempt to use legislation to prevent people from seeing things differently than they do. My own understanding of the New Testament is that it calls Jesus’ followers to persuade others, and the importance placed on faith suggests that people who do or don’t do certain things simply because of the law or peer pressure are not really doing them for the right reasons.

    The Bible suggests that if we condemn others we condemn ourselves. How is it that so many who consider themselves Christians fail to see that they are doing precisely this? There is outspoken condemnation of people who are understood to be violating a small handful of passages, while those doing the condemning themselves ignore (or at least fail to put into practice or even emphasize) the vast number of passages on things like social justice and poverty.

    http://blue.butler.edu/~jfmcgrat/blog/