Sunday, January 18, 2004

Well, I suppose I’ll chime in on the Mayhemic women/ministry/emerging church issue, regardless of how tinny it may sound.

As a non-female, I want to acknowledge the pain and diminishment many women and girls have suffered at the hands of some male-dominated hierarchical power structures in the Church. Coming from a large denominational tradition where this war (women in ministry, etc.) has raged, I have seen the ill effects firsthand. My seminary career (92-96) was rife with such examples as I came into the final throes of a politically-charged takeover/transition of leadership from "moderate" to "conservative."

The women in ministry issue was but one of the powder kegs where the flags where planted. I saw people lose livelihoods, degree programs, families and friends. I witnessed the ostracization of female friends in ministry who were marginalized to the periphery for no reason at all. I had friends who not only dropped out of seminary, but they dropped out of the race in the Kingdom of God (KOG) altogether. All the sit-ins and protests could not assuage what was akin to a military takeover. I saw the 6 O’Clock TV crews feast on the goings-on while the world shook its head and looked on in amazement. I saw what should have been a powerfully arrayed and equipped segment of the Church crumble and shoot itself in the foot. And let it be said of those days that no matter who was right or wrong, neither side was without fault and both sinned one against the other rather opportunistically. My naivete was minced into the sobering reality of our fallenness as I had to come to grips with my anger over our bickering and the constant pull to one side or the other. I concluded to stand not for agendas/positions, but for the Kingdom of God and for people.

Yes, we (the church) have some issues to address wherein the male-dominated, hierarchical leadership structure in the church minimizes and marginalizes women. I think in any raw movement of God, there are moments in its life that offer us the possibility of clarity of vision in the process of our becoming. These moments present at the same time both danger and opportunity- a danger to further minimization/marginalization and the opportunity to move through, binding past hurts and promoting Christ-minded reception to the woman.

This being said, our current conversation is necessary. The pain is valid, the issues are valid and the discomfort anyone might feel, though unintended, is a necessity to realize where we are if we are to begin move beyond it proactively.

Mayhem was a snapshot. In my estimation, it accomplished what it set out to do……that is, to proclaim in several ways that you/we are not alone in "this." We just wanted to echo Jesus’ truth that He will never leave us or forsake us (Hebrews 13:15 and Matthew 28:20). It would follow then that FEELING left alone or forsaken does not make this untrue (more on this in a moment).

Even as monumental as Mayhem was (or as limited, depending on who you are) it is not a final commentary on all we are or ever will be. The lens through which our gaze passes is beginning to resolve into this blurry, pixellated image of the female (and the male), not unlike the prophetic image given to Beth Keck en route to Mayhem. Good thing is, there is no denominational hierarchy, agenda, finances and ego to uphold. This gathering was about a people on a journey together, not an indelible etching of a perfect scenario. Mayhem, the gathering, cometh and it goeth.

Must this issue of sexual polarity degenerate into vitriolic and destructive battles for supremacy? Are we doomed to fall into the patterns of stereotyping along the lines of dominance versus submission, superiority versus inferiority? It doesn’t have to and I don’t think those eager to rightly handle the conversation are going that route. What I am seeing thus far is a move toward reciprocal respect, love and empathy.

But that doesn’t mean we are immune to falling into our own ego plans to engineer a desired outcome based on painful past. It doesn’t mean we aren’t incapable of employing as the solution the very attitude we have defined as the problem (as Ann Belford Ulanov outlines in her book Receiving Woman). She asserts that we do so by criticizing the domination of masculine imagery (esp. linguistically) and caricaturing its worst expressions in a “quick fix mentality to make present what is absent” (p. 50).

How do we usually wind up talking past one another and betraying our sentiments and ground of meaning? I think we do so when we conceptually couch leadership in terms of who gets the “limelight,” etc. Where leadership in the KOG is concerned, aspiration to “visibility” and “center stage” is the deadly third rail, emerging church or otherwise. Top billing based on gender, economic status, race, etc., is a non-starter in the KOG where it involves paving the way into an inclusive future no matter how rocky roads past have been.

Regarding leadership, we MUST needs be talking about calling, heart, integrity, sincerity, humility, authenticity, sevvanthood and character as prerequisites to leadership shortly before we raise the question of gender. I realize that this statement will not be received in a vacuum devoid of painful emotions on this matter. I am not intending to negate anyone’s past experiences, but rather to acknowledge them. I am not saying that structures don't need flattening or changed either.

Pure, integral leadership is best ensured when it issues forth from a simple willingness to be hidden. There is much to be said in the effort to eradicate male buffoonery in the matter. However, we must avoid a reaction formation by establishing those to places of leadership visibility (be they men or women) just to balance an inequality. The fact that we have to envision leadership in ultimate terms of “position” or “place” reveals how little we understand it.

Therefore, it is not without cause that we also need to talk about gender issues in leadership. Our maleness or femaleness was God’s idea and we are blessed therein as we know and are known (by God and others) in that maleness or femaleness. It is the ultimate gifting.

We cannot navigate this terrain on the fumes of our woundedness and set our coordinates on the calibrations of our learned historical pain. There have been and are gross injustices enacted upon women. There is no freedom, no justice, no liberty as long as we tend toward blaming others for our present forms of emotional pain (this is applicable across the board, not just this topic). We must claim our baggage and finally say our stuff is our stuff. We are forever in bondage if we have to wait on the other party to straighten up, get it right or get healed. God holds out hope and healing and he knows I still need more.

The best leader is the one taking up the reigns of servanthood and humility and unity. I don’t care in what role or position and no matter how visible or invisible. If God calls, then by God, step up. I shall submit to such a woman anyday.

But, by the grace of God, I will retreat desert-ward, never to entertain an audience of more than myself again if we do not at least start here.