A Letter for Highland on Women's Roles

I've been struggling for some time with how I should best stand up for gender justice in my local church context. A few years ago I made a decision which has recently become known to those in leadership at my church. In light of that, I'm sharing this here so that my views and decisions can be known more widely among my brothers and sisters at Highland in the hope that we might make more progress in this area. I also share this here to promote reflection, discussion and even action among others struggling with similar issues in their own church contexts.

To begin, I want to start with honoring those at Highland, and among the elders in particular, who disagree with me in calling for the full inclusion of women in our common life together. I am aware of those passages in the corpus of St. Paul that shape the consciences of many on this matter. I do not judge anyone for having their conscience so shaped. Nor do I claim to have the truth in this matter. I simply feel compelled to share with those in my church, as I already have to some in leadership, the vision of the Kingdom as I discern it to be manifest in the life, death, burial and resurrection of Jesus.

For those looking in on this, some background context about my church.

Highland is a part of the Churches of Christ. Historically, the Churches of Christ have been sectarian and fundamentalist, but recent decades have seen changes in this regard among many of our congregations. Many of our churches are now ecumenical and grace-oriented in outlook. Historically, then, Churches of Christ have been patriarchal in practice. However, some churches are making progress on this front and my church, Highland, has been a part of this progress.

About ten years ago Highland went through a discernment process that changed many of our patriarchal practices. I was a part of this, serving as the Chair of the Steering Committee who oversaw the process. After this time of discernment a variety of public worship roles were opened up to women. At Highland women--by themselves--can teach adult bible classes (in fact, my wife Jana teaches with me and is a better bible teacher than I am) and during our times of worship woman can lead prayers, read Scripture, welcome and call us to worship, and offer the communion meditation.

These have been wonderful changes. The voices of women are heard every Sunday. In calling us to worship. In prayer. In the reading of Scripture. In welcoming us to the Table.

My two sons are growing up hearing the voice of their mother from the pulpit on Sunday morning.

For all this the Highland elders--the pastoral leaders of our church--are to be greatly commended. They endured and suffered much in making these changes.

And yet, our progress on this front has been stalled leading me to make, as a matter of conscience, some decisions about my participation in the life of Highland. These decisions have, until recently, been private. But since I've now shared these decisions with our leadership I'd like to make a public record of them in the hope that Highland would reengage this conversation.

As a part of Highland's discernment process regarding women's roles two roles were left off the table. First, we did not consider if a woman could preach. Second, we did not consider if a woman could be an elder of the church. These two roles--preaching and serving as an elder--were to remain in the hands of men as they represented more formal roles of "leadership" and "authority." In short, women can do anything at Highland except these two things, preach and serve as an elder.

Let me pause here to also register a disappointment in this regard. During our discernment process it was determined, and publicly stated by the elders, that women could lead the praise/singing time during our assemblies. And yet, while this role was formally opened up, to date no woman has been asked to lead our worship. This failure to move forward on something the elders publicly committed to has been most discouraging and disappointing.

But to offer some clarifications. In many ways the roles where woman are--formally or functionally--excluded do have an egalitarian feel. Women sing on our praise team and sing solos. Our preacher can invite women up as a part of a sermon and allow them to share, though they have to be "hosted" onstage by the male preacher. Elders are often introduced as couples and the elder couples are often called onstage to pray over and minister to  people. Highland recognizes that the wives of the elders are carrying as much of if not more of a pastoral burden given the gifts of the particular couple (i.e., some of the wives, and this is often publicly acknowledged, are better pastors than their husbands). Still, there are many times when only the male elders are called forward and in the elder meetings only the men make the decisions.

I would also like to note that there are passionate egalitarians among our elders. These elders fight for gender justice within the larger group. So the elders don't speak with one voice on this issue. It's a live conversation among them.

In short, while patriarchal norms still govern how we see the preaching ministry, worship leading and eldership the lines are blurry and the conversation about gender justice ongoing.

Still, our progress on these fronts has stalled leading me to make some decisions that I've shared with the Highland leadership and now want to make public.

Specifically, about two years ago I decided that I could only be a part of Highland if I took concrete measures to express my solidarity with my sisters in Christ. To express this solidarity I decided that I would no longer participate in any activity at Highland where woman were excluded. (Let me pause to thank Jamey Walters for inspiring me with this idea.) This would mean that I would decline all invitations to preach at Highland as well as any invitation to serve as an elder.

Where women in our church are excluded I will stand in that same position.

Let me rush to say this isn't as heroic or courageous as it might be sounding. I've not been invited to be an elder. I don't sing well enough to lead worship. So these are pretty easy commitments to keep. And I'm not invited all that much to preach. I might preach once every year or two.

However, I have begun to decline preaching invitations. Because of this my commitment has now been made known to some of the Highland staff and eldership. I've let them know that I won't preach at Highland until we allow women to preach. I'm writing this make that decision more public.

Let me also clarify that this is not a criticism of Highland's ministers and staff. The staff is wanting to move this conversation forward and has, in fact, tried to extend invitations to women to preach. So the sticking point isn't with the staff or ministers. At the end of the day this boils down to how Highland needs to rethink how power and authority are to be used in the Kingdom.
Jesus called them together and said, “You know that those who are regarded as rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be slave of all. 
It should not be so among us, these exercises of power. It should not be so.

Let me end on a confessional note. We are all seeing through a glass darkly. One day, we will see Christ face to face.

Until then, may God have mercy on us all.

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61 thoughts on “A Letter for Highland on Women's Roles”

  1. Good for you! May God indeed have mercy on you all as you work through this.

    I think what makes this so difficult, and this won't come as a revelation to anyone, is that most conservative types genuinely see gender and sexuality issues as issues where the bible is quite clear. When approached with the normal flat/wooden/literalist mindset that is so common, that is in fact our heritage, it's not surprising that so many people see progress in these areas as necessitating an abandonment of clear biblical teaching, and thus an abandonment of loyalty and obedience to God. No wonder there is wailing and gnashing of teeth.

    So we can't just force progress on people which requires them to give offense and affront to their god. But we can draw, motivate and invite people to reexamine their preconceptions and underlying methodologies in regards to biblical interpretation and application. I think if we just say "god damn it, I'm going to take my toys and go home until you XYZ", we put them in a bind where they have to choose between god and man (as they see it). It doesn't sound like that is what you're doing BTW.

  2. My wife and I (and sons) have been members of the Episcopal Church for about 20 years, and have been members of two parishes (at different times) during that period.  From the outset, we have had women priests, women in every public worship role, including preaching, women as members of the vestry (presumed equivalent of the elders), and women as the junior and senior wardens, to two top vestry leadership positions in the church.  That in 2012 gender roles and equality remain problematic in some denominations seems very strange and foreign to me.  I do not understand why modern women and men are willing to continue to struggle with this basic unfairness and handicap to the church.  There are welcoming places for you to come!

  3. As a former Church-of-Christ member, I am well aware of the historical CofC stance on the role of women. Limited roles for women are also evident in many other groups. Regardless of how church polity ultimately plays out, one real question I have is this? Why is patriarchy bad? Isn't it actually instituted in scripture? I have heard this word hissed from the lips of liberal Bible critics as if it were somehow equivalent to the F-bomb. I've heard it touted by the fundies as essential to salvation. I'm  left to try and understand what the Bible means, and actually if it applies. I find myself in a place of tension when I read about the husband being the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church in Ephesians 5, and then immediately in chapter 6 we have the passage about children obeying their parents - certainly that is relevant even if enlightened children don't believe it's necessary! If the chapter 5 admonition is culture-bound to the early church, why isn't Chapter 6? Or is it? How can one passage regarding family life be irrelevant and the other relevant? What about the greater themes from Genesis to Revelation? Does God, through scripture, intend for men to lead?  As Americans and Westerners, we don't like authority, or gender roles, or anything that limits our autonomy, freedom, or ability to make money and/or do damn well what we please. So is some of this push for full inclusion of women into elderships, pastorates, etc., really  just a form of rebellion against a scriptural authority that rubs us the wrong way? After all, we define who we are, what we are, and where we are. Of course the treatment of women as property, non-voters, and discrimination in all venues is wrong - I don't think that's the issue here with the church. What I tend to think is that the church, in its various forms, has perhaps gotten too accomodating of culture.  

  4. First, thank you for your honesty and your solidarity with our sisters in Christ.

    Second, a question: When the women in your church are allowed to perform Communion meditations (and to welcome others to the table), are they allowed to serve communion?

    Third, another question: You said that you "no longer participate in any activity at Highland where woman were excluded".  Why does that refusal only extend to the practice of a function and not the wider context of that function?  For example, while you refuse to preach, you still participate in that portion of the service in which women are denied the opportunity to teach you.  I do not say this with judgment, but in a genuine desire to understand your position.

    Peace.

  5. My mother would be proud!! This is the first "thing" in a while that has brought tears to my eyes regarding the death of my mom, Carolyn Jean Davis, who gave a new meaning to the words "active in the church". If you ever attended Okolona C of C in Louisville, KY. then you know the role she played.  Vocal as she was about many things, this is a topic she and I discussed for many years with great passion. The lack of progression is quite possibly one of the main reasons I haven't attended a CofC for several years. We joke about the CofC and "how things are done" but in retrospect "we" have put words into the mouth of God by only and always interpreting as we "see fit". I am female, am proud to be, and very much enjoy the role God chose for me however I believe if God gave me a talent then he expects me to use it, whether it be from a pulpit or a soapbox. All will be thankful that I don't choose to sing in a leadership role. :)  Thank You Dr. William Carroll at ACU for sharing with those of us you grew up with.  I will do as well. :) 

  6. My mother would be proud!! This is the first "thing" in a while that has brought tears to my eyes regarding the death of my mom, Carolyn Jean Davis, who gave a new meaning to the words "active in the church". If you ever attended Okolona C of C in Louisville, KY. then you know the role she played.  Vocal as she was about many things, this is a topic she and I discussed for many years with great passion. The lack of progression is quite possibly one of the main reasons I haven't attended a CofC for several years. We joke about the CofC and "how things are done" but in retrospect "we" have put words into the mouth of God by only and always interpreting as we "see fit". I am female, am proud to be, and very much enjoy the role God chose for me however I believe if God gave me a talent then he expects me to use it, whether it be from a pulpit or a soapbox. All will be thankful that I don't choose to sing in a leadership role. :)  Thank You Dr. William Carroll at ACU for sharing with those of us you grew up with.  I will do as well. :)

  7. My mother would be proud!! This is the first "thing" in a while that has brought tears to my eyes regarding the death of my mom, Carolyn Jean Davis, who gave a new meaning to the words "active in the church". If you ever attended Okolona C of C in Louisville, KY. then you know the role she played.  Vocal as she was about many things, this is a topic she and I discussed for many years with great passion. The lack of progression is quite possibly one of the main reasons I haven't attended a CofC for several years. We joke about the CofC and "how things are done" but in retrospect "we" have put words into the mouth of God by only and always interpreting as we "see fit". I am female, am proud to be, and very much enjoy the role God chose for me however I believe if God gave me a talent then he expects me to use it, whether it be from a pulpit or a soapbox. All will be thankful that I don't choose to sing in a leadership role. :)  Thank You Dr. William Carroll at ACU for sharing with those of us you grew up with.  I will do as well. :)

  8. Thank you for going public with this, Richard. I find myself in very similar situation in a CofC in the midwest. The visibility you are providing will have an impact on the conversation in our churches far beyond Highland.

      

  9. Hearts and minds...  So difficult to change.  Authoritarian law-keeping often feels safer, easier, and the better option.

    I admire your courage to critique your own faith practices, and that of your church home, Dr. Beck, and as Dan G said, remaining "in the game" vs. jumping ship.

    It is difficult to quantify and express the harm caused by policies and practices that implicitly -- if not explicitly -- suggest that females are "less than" men in God's eyes.

    I did not want my daughter to absorb this indoctrination any longer.  I didn't want to keep "eating" this spiritual message either, however subtly it was communicated.  We now belong in a very openly egalitarian denomination/congregation.  It was the right move for us.  No regrets.  Very grateful, in fact, that we finally made the change.  Hard and slow, changes be, though.  No doubt about it!

    I'm sure that both you and Jana are a huge blessing to Highland CofC (as well as Freedom Fellowship.)  Grace and peace to you and your family, always~

  10. Richard, I have private protests similar to yours. One of mine was that I wore pink to every/most church services for several months. Prior to this I was known to weare pink from time to time so I am not sure anyone noticed, but my 3 young daughters thought it was pretty funny!

  11. What a great explanation, and how courageous of you to say so... I have always found it odd that some would consider a female president before a female teaching the word.  In some ways I wish I had explained my reasons for accepting positions with other denominations when I was so loyal to the C of C for 23 years.  However, when it came down to it...many of the C of C denoms I was interviewing with were going to be hindering me from doing ministry due to my gender.  My call to ministry will always outweigh... But as always, I am so thankful for my heritage, the people in it, and what it taught me about life, the word, and the Lord.

  12. I have wanted to say this ever since I've been reading your blog:  I think the deeper question here is, are you in the right church?  I sense that you may not be.  This is just me talking, so take it FWIW.  The journey continues.  Godspeed!

  13. Thank you for your compassion and support. Things won't change until men are willing to stand up with their sisters, and people are willing to stick around and push through the pain. I love the CoC too much to leave her when she most needs grace-filled, compassionate, courageous, biblically-equipped people. I will stick it out with her so that my daughter can FULLY live out God's will for her ministry. 

  14. Agendas have to progress, that is why there is a reluctance to change. Change can impact the world and the church. You miss Paul's (God's) intent, maybe you believe they are separate. I believe these changes serve more harm than good. If your wife has to be up from of the church for impact that is sad news. Glad you have removed yourself from leadership positions.

  15. Awesome!  Love the stance and especially the mix of courage and humility displayed here.

    I refused a "deacon" role several years ago because women were denied this role despite 1) clearly serving as such  and  2) the eldership knowing there was nothing "wrong" with it yet refusing to act on it for fear that one of our church-sponsored programs would lose funding.  No regrets.

  16. Richard, as a leader in a new church that has gone to full egalitarian mode (our primary person to help preach is a woman), it would be hard to go back to a church that is more patriarchal. I still see these churches as brothers and sisters in the family, but I'm glad I have the local church family that I've been blessed with.

  17. I did this at my old Church of Christ.  I didn't make a big deal about it, so few people knew.  I saw no outward signs of encouragement in others because of my solidarity.

    I got a sympathetic nod from the worship leader. None of the elders ever spoke to me about it. None appeared to have any interest in including women. Some probably did have an interest, but it probably didn't interest them enough to endanger the budget or to get pestered.

    I lost interest in trying to redeem the Church-of-Christ institution --- it just wasn't happening where I was --- when there are other churches out there that can serve as the institutional framework for a better Christianity and that have already wrestled with this issue (and others). Such redemption looked more and more like reinventing the wheel with my hands tied behind my back.

    Highland, though, seems to be the kind of place where congregational progress could be made and from which such progress could be a redeeming influence on other CoCs, so I especially wish you well  because of your chances of success. In the end, my wife and I decided we didn't want to play a silly waiting game while sacrificing our daughter for a cause that couldn't use us.

  18. So tired of this conversation! I don't see the problem and as Dr. Siburt would say, "grow up and get to work." I wish we could all just get on with the kingdom work. Women, if you can preach, do it!

  19. Kevin, perhaps we have different definitions of Kingdom work, but for me, advocating for true equality for women is Kingdom work. If it is not, I am not sure what the Kingdom is about. 

    "Women, if you can preach, do it!". I agree but in almost all CofCs, men have to allow them and they don't. 

  20. Rob, you can pick apart what I said and criticize it if you want, but I think you understood what I meant. Look, I am on the same side you are regarding equality, but you know as well as I do that sometimes you have to just move on as Jesus did. Yes, advocating for equality is kingdom work, but beating a dead horse isn't. What I meant is that we cannot allow this issue to stall us from other important matters or worse, quite using our gifts in protest like Richard. I think sometimes we remain in a system that perpetuates a problem not because we are advocating for change as much as we are afraid to change ourselves, which just might require us to leave the familiar and actually move on.  If women who are called to preach remain in CofCs waiting for permission, that's on them. Move on!

  21. Kevin, I didn't know what you meant, that is why I replied. I wasn't trying to be critical. I struggle everyday with whether to stay or leave (I have 3 young daughters). Obviously some have chosen to leave, others have chosen to stay (at least for now). In my experience, the decision to stay or leave is often complex and involves unique factors in every case, but you are right for some it may involve fear. However, I'm not sure how you or I could make that judgment when referring to anyone else's situation. 

    victim blaming? Just because some women with leadership/teaching gifts (and men that support them) choose to stay in the CofC (for any number of personal and/or principled reasons) doesn't mean they deserve or should simply accept discrimination. 

  22. This is really exotic to me. In Sweden, we have women bishops. Some fundamentalist churches do not allow women to preach. But nobody would deny women to serve as elders.

    Still, I very much appreciate your way of being in dissent. Very firm, and very, very kind. Excellent example of nonviolence!

  23. 1 Tim 2:12 "But I do not allow a woman to teach or exercise authority over a man, but to remain quiet." (NASB) 

    What does the Bible (not man) say a woman is not allowed to do (within the spiritual context)?

    1.) is obvious: Teach (understood to be in the formal sense rather than not allowed to teach at all... after all Priscilla seemed to be actively involved in convincing Apollos)

    2.) is a little less obvious: Exercise authority over a man (what is exercising authority?) Obviously this refers at least to being an elder of the church since that is a position of authority. Less obviously is if it applies to song leading, prayer, and such.

    Oh I wish God explained why He decided that a woman was not to take up this role... oh wait, he does in the verses that follow verse 12:

    1 Tim 2:13-14 "For it was Adam who was first created, and then Eve. And it was not Adam who was deceived, but the woman being deceived, fell into transgression." (NASB)

    God had two reasons for this command 1) Man was created first and 2.) Woman led man astray back in the garden when she led him to eat the apple

    These are not cultural reasons that have changed over the years and so now we can let women teach and exercise authority; these reasons still stand and God has not changed His mind on the subject. We may disagree to what degree these verses can be applied, but two things are sure: A woman cannot teach (spiritually/ formally) and a woman cannot be in an authority position such as elder.

    This isn't a question of male chauvinism; it is about different roles in the body and God Himself (through Paul) said that these are roles woman are not to have in the church. God said; that settles it... regardless of whether I believe it.

  24. And just maybe, next year at opening chapel we'll let the chair of the staff senate lead a prayer... even if she's a woman.

  25. Most of all, if these critics knew me, they would know that it
    isn’t feminism that inspires me to advocate gender equality in the
    Church and in the world; it is the gospel of Jesus Christ. -----Rachel Held EvansI could not have said this any better. Let's just say her stance is and has been my stance for years.
    Jeanenne Nichols

  26. I believe this was Paul (a man) saying that he did not allow women to teach or exercise authority over a man because he says "I don't". This scripture doesn't say that God said a woman should not teach or exercise authority and remain silent.  If the elders of a church body were to grant women the authority to teach, preach, and/or serve as elders/deacons, then they would not be undermining or "usurping" (a word I heard often growing up) authority in that body of believers.    

  27. Eric, yes. This is the better wording of the thoughts I've been thinking. This is where the discussion needs to be. I profess no wisdom in myself, but I try to be objective and loving when I think. Everything you said falls right into line with what feels appropriate to my understanding of the sexes. I appreciate your presence on this blog.

  28. I am a former female youth minister within the CoC.  Before I left my position, my husband did the same thing you are doing.  I can't say it was terribly effective, because the leadership was rather happy to have him silent.  ;)
    I have to echo the voices of a few others who have left the denomination altogether.  I certainly believe that equality needs to exist within the CoC, but I have to wonder whether it is more helpful to leave it, let it reap the rewards of inequality (which I believe is a continued and inevitable decline), and contribute your gifts in a place where they will be valued and useful.  Kevin's statement about fear being as much a driving factor in staying as advocating for change hit home for both my husband and I.  I stayed because it was my job, my income.  His line used to be, "I'm a reformer, not a runner," but he now admits that it had as much to do with a fear of leaving his base of familiarity as anything else.  He is in academia, too, and we both understand the difficulty of leaving a church when you work for a university that requires you to be a member of a particular denomination or faith, especially when so much of your life revolves around that denomination: relationships with friends, publishing, even your housing is dependent on remaining where you are.  Finally, at some point, it just becomes impossible to honestly seek the truth within yourself and when teaching others when you have so many external factors affecting your theology.

  29. Richard, knowing well Highland's history of this progress and having a role in some of its growing pains some years ago I do applaud your spirit of graciousness. I further appreciate how many in the leadership have allowed their own faith walk to evolve. Your stated position here of solidarity is indeed quite magnanimous.

    Those of you at Highland who are in harmony together in  your thoughts and heart of hearts -- including those in leadership and currently serving in the ministerial staff -- are still nevertheless in positions to disciple and nurture the spiritual calling of women who have chosen to remain in fellowship at Highland, whatever their ages. Some have surely waited decades whilst others are just beginning. God's calling can and does meet and compel individuals at different crossroads along their journey with him.

    So with the above in mind what are you and the group of anointed leaders and ministers who share your conviction doing to help these ladies -- single or married -- prepare for their road of service ahead? Must they suspend their training or are they being given opportunities and practical experiences to hone their skills and grow in the gifts God created within them? Are mentors being assigned to these ladies? It takes a while sometimes to find the right niche (just look at Paul!) 

    To be sure, I had loving friends and some wonderful support at Highland while I was going through the trials during my time there. The few elders and their wives who gave constant encouragement will always be precious to me. However I think my experience would have been less awkward had I been given a mentor who met regularly with me to counsel, pray and study with, as it seemed this to be the leadership practice with the men attending Highland who planned for lives in the ministry. And it would have been of tremendous benefit to have had a minister with years of experience in the track God set me on take me under his wing (there were no 'hers' of experience at that time). Instead, no one really seemed to know how to guide or mentor in the direction. A lot of my time alone was spent in conjecture. trying to read between the lines and not cry when rumors from the church got round to me -- it was difficult to know how far to plan and develop ideas, never quite sure grasping what tools and resources could be used, or what direction I was expected to go. Surely Highland has come further in this area/idea of mentor-ship in the 20 years since I was there? So it would be great to learn what plans you all have.

    Highland has a remarkable history of upholding its women and God's calling on their lives, in many ways they have been ahead of the times for the Churches of Christ. I do pray that they will not become like some of the Churches of Christ who have a tendency to use women as a stop-gap until the right man comes along. Rather than guiding the ecclesiastical development and integrating women on the ministry path they were previously used for, the leadership discards them.

    God did not mean for us to dangle in the wind whilst others wait and debate where and how hard to drop us. The grace of his grip is far more forthcoming than that.

    Thanks!

  30. My general observation is the cofC has moved sideways to backwards in this area over the past decade.  Hard line elders really stepped it up after the Highland decision and got serious about oversight of their flock and budget (as mentioned above).  Heaven help us the budget is adversely affected.  Randy Frazee told me women are full participants at Oak Hills, but I don't know if they have women elders. 

  31. I am so thankful for your boldness in publicly sharing this.  I am currently beginning to pursue a life of fullness in the Spirit and asking that Highland be a place where the Presence of the Spirit is hosted in a tangible, more visible way.  I know this is risky.  I know that there are people who are not so sure about the activity of the Holy Spirit.  To be completely honest, I'm sick of religion and the ways the Church have put God in a box not wanting Him to be let out of that preceived box.  I'm stauchly committed to walking with God in a way that is counter cultural.  I want to invite the activity of heaven into my everyday.  I want to walk this earth marked differntly by the purposes and agendas that God has divinely ordained for

  32. I appreciate your inner conflict and making the choice to bring your actions and thoughts together as one. I admire your decision to not believe one way and act in another - just to go with the flow, waiting for changes to be made. 

  33. Well said Richard, indeed "may God have mercy on us all" as we continue in this discussion. As I consider this issue I can't help but wonder if our children or our childrens children won't look back on our discussions with some sense of amazement. Just as we do today when we consider how some in the church used the bible to justify owning slaves or burning witches. On both sides people line up with their "proof texts" using the bible like it's our own personal "How To" manual. Maybe rather than trying to find a verse that "proves" our stance we could instead consider the trajectory of the scriptures. The direction they seem to be pointing in and the heart of God they progessivly revealing to us. Perhaps it would also help our understanding if we sometimes considered the scriptures as descriptive rather than prescriptive. I submit this in all humilty and hopefuly as part of a evolving conversation.

  34. "Gender Justice".  Perhaps we could force women who accept historical gender roles into repudiating them.  Definitions are needed in the article; and what you may perceive as "justice" for some may very well be the opposite for others.  There is no question that there are vast differences between men and women just as there are vast differences in the gifts to the church.  Maybe the important question might be how we properly nurture and appreciate the God-given distinctions between men and women.  Society has blurred these, to be sure. One contemporary singer years ago asked the question, "Am I a man or lady? I don't know which."  Why would we seek to compound the problem?  Gender neutrality is not working for America.  Maybe the church is the only place where gender is still recognized; and yet we are getting the "surgery" in the church whether we like it or not. 

    Maybe you should be less concerned with what Highland does and find a group that is already doing what you seek.  "Gender Justice" is a meaningless term in your article - women can already find churches offering gender-neutrality.  Only a reality-fleeing college professor could come up with a term like that in that application!

    I do not judge other groups regarding their practices.  If I am uncomfortable with a group, I move on.  Sounds an awful lot like you want to take your toys and go home!  But I do understand the need to seek the truth at all times.

    Why not just allow people to worship as they will without trying to get them to worship as you want?

  35. I am afraid many people are being deceived by the culture at hand, being shaped by it.  There is a great danger in the blurring of gender roles.  I find myself in the minority these days.  As I have always headed opposite the conventional wisdom, I have chosen to agree with teachings that have stood for thousands of years.  No, not the oppression of women, but the appreciation of various gifts and roles.  The herd always rushes to its death.

  36. Obviously, you've hit a nerve here. But that's obviously your intention, but not without serious reflection and in admirable humility as noted in several responses. I often recall experiences your blogs prick in my memory of ministry attempts in Churches of Christ. Having gone through the traces from a rigidly conservative school of preaching to ACU graduate study to SMU's school of theology, I struggled mightily with the issue of gender equality, especially experiencing gifted leaders in ministerial preparation at Perkins....many of whom were women. The struggle for equality that women wage is one that the courts may again lead the way on. I remember feeling ashamed of my people that we had to be prodded by such action at least in the larger culture in 1954's supreme court decision on school integration. Civil rights under the presidency of LBJ took a major leap in law. This, of course, in issues of racial equality. I wonder if Jesus came today if he would appoint a woman apostle or two. It surely would make matters easier for those who struggle with fender roles. And what would Paul do? The first thing would probably be to come to terms with modern feminist and disabuse literalists who commit hermeneutical suicide with his occasional pronouncements to specific congregations. As Sayers Tiny Tim

  37. Yes, as Tiny Tim would say, "God bless us every one!" And may God have mercy on us every one, especially those church leaders who feel every bit as threatened as did the temple rulers of Jesus day!

  38. wow. publicly shaming your brothers, and using public forums to embarrass them into changing their minds. I don't know you, but i'm ashamed of the way you are essentially blackmailing your church family until they see things the way that you do.  "Go to him" wasn't enough i guess.  

  39. As I noted in my post I had informed the leadership group at my church. This post is just letting the members of the church know. And to encourage others in other churches to ponder similar actions in their church contexts.

  40. As you know, Richard, I am a minister in the United Reformed Church in the UK, whose 40th anniversary we celebrate in October.  The URC was intitally a marriage of the Presbyterian Church in England and most English and Welsh Congregationalist Churches.  In the latter women had been ordained to the ministry of Word and Sacrament since 1917, in the former since 1956.  So, of course, I take this struggle you are engaging with theological patience yet firmness, and tactical wisdom and care, to be the last-stand resistance of the retreating principality and power of sexism in your church. 

    Personally, I am glad and encouraged to see that, keeping your eye on this particular prize of neither-male-nor-female gender equality, you love your church so much that you are hanging in there rather than bailing out.  However, you must know that when this campaign ends -- I pray not by the defeat of fellow-Christian opponents but, contemplating Christ together (Rowan Williams), by their transformation into friends -- there will be another, harder, even more unpleasant one to be waged -- against the principality and power of homophobia.  Though by the sound of things in the Churches of Christ, waged by the next generation perhaps!  Anyway, keep the faith!

  41. Two areas of concern: 1) You begin by honoring the elders.  Then you said they were rulers lording over the congregation.  Are you familiar with "Brutus."  2) Either the church is the body of Christ or it is not (Eph. 1:22-23; Col. 1:18, 24).  Questions: is there a church in existence today that is the blood bought bride of Christ?  Was Paul sectarian when he said, "There is one body..., one Lord..., one faith..., and one God?  If there is only one body, is it God's will that the one body be divided with different names and different doctrines?  Is it okay for men to go beyond what is written in the New Covenant and still be considered faithful to God?  What did five of the seven churches in Asia, according to the book of Revelation, do that was so bad that Jesus was ready to remove their lamp, except they repent?  Is it still true today that Adam was formed first, then Eve?

  42. No, slavery was not instituted in Scripture.  Slavery was practiced by some in the Scriptures, but guidelines were given for such situations that are a far cry from what know of slavery in early years of this country.  Eph. 6:5-9 is one place.  

  43. What is the difference between heritage and Scripture?  I see the word heritage used frequently, but very little talk of Scripture about why we should change from what the church of Christ has practiced from its inception in Acts 2.

  44. That would be nice except for the fact that Paul said that "All Scripture is given by the inspiration of God..." (2 Tim. 3:16).  In 1 Cor. 14:37, just a few verses after he gave the teaching concerning women in the worship to be silent, he said that if anyone is a prophet of spiritual then let him acknowledge the things that i write to you are the commandments of God.  

    Friends, if we give up on the Scriptures on whatever subject it gives instruction, then the question is not, "Am I in the right church?", but "Do I believe that the God of heaven and earth is capable of giving reliable and understandable instructions to His people?"  And, "Are those instructions still relevant today?"  Jesus died to establish and seal the New Covenant with His own blood (Mat. 26:28; Acts 20:28; Heb. 9:15; 12:24; 13:20).  Galatians 3:15 says that once a covenant has been established then on man can annul or add to it.  Is the New Covenant still in power?  If it is not then what agreement do we have with God whereby we can be saved?  Remember that Jesus said, "For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."  The church that Jesus built was purchased with the same blood by which the New Covenant was established (Matthew 16:18; 26:28; Acts 20:28).  This is God's teaching on the subject, not man's wisdom.  I think I follow God's wisdom.

  45. Not sure if this is relevant to your question, but I think I might have been unintentionally misleading when I spoke of "our heritage". I am not a member of the CoC denomination, nor have I ever been.

    That being said, I was born and raised in a very conservative, fundamentalist (depending on your definition) environment that held to the full innerency of scripture in much the same way that I suspect the CoC traditionally has. This is what I meant by heritage.

    As to the meat of your question, this thing has been hashed and rehashed and I probably don't have anything original to add. Definitely check out this short essay, it says what I would say only much better than I could possibly say it.

    http://reknew.org/2007/12/women-in-ministry/ 

  46. When Paul (if it was Paul) wrote that  "All scripture is given by the inspiration of God" he had no idea that his letters to Timothy and the Corinthians would be canonized into the scripture we call the New Testament.  The scripture he was referring to was the scripture of the Jews known at that time--the Torah and other Old Testament writings. 

  47. So is some of this push for full inclusion of women into elderships, pastorates, etc., really just a form of rebellion against a scriptural authority that rubs us the wrong way?

    Speaking for myself that is flat-out not true. And, from my limited reading of RB's blog I would not be led to think what you question is true of him either.

    What is at stake here is what I'd refer to as "the heart of Christ".  Did not God's work on the cross in Christ make us New Creation who are not forever bound by sin of Adam and the consequences? 

    You say that "patriarchy (is) actually instituted in scripture" whereas my reading would conclude that patriarchy is "accomodated" in scripture.

    I agree with you that too much "world" gets mixed into the ekklesia, however, at times the world gets it more right than the "children of light."

    Tom

  48. If an elder is to have one wife how does that work. If culture change disrupts the body, how is that for Christ? My fraternal grandmother were my mentors an leaders, not because they could lead worship, but because the lived it.  Highland and others have lost their first love Christ and his church. Nothing wrong in the initial "progress". But now we are throwing out scripture so the "Eves" of the world can take control again. Not that men are better or deserving it is their punishment. I pray you will not continue to reinterpret scripture way beyond what it says. How can anyone feel good about divisiveness?





















  49. Thanks for all (well, most) of the comments and feedback.


     


    A couple of things.


     


    First, I shut down the thread. There were some pretty toxic
    comments coming in. I don’t mind disagreement, but the point of the post wasn’t
    about debating gender roles and no minds have been changed debating on blogs. The
    post was about how to live with integrity with a faith community when you have
    disagreements. About balancing monastic stability with remaining true to
    certain convictions you might have. And along those lines what I’m doing isn’t
    all that original. For example, I expect that many people manage their financial
    giving to their church based upon their judgments about how those finances are
    being used. That is, there are things in your church that you feel more or less
    comfortable financially supporting. My selective participation as outlined in
    the post is doing something similar. We can all volunteer or not volunteer in
    our churches for a host of reasons. Some of them principled reasons. It seems
    to me that gender inclusivity can be one of those reasons.


     


    Second, I do appreciate those of you who have suggested that
    I should jump ship to another denomination. However, I’m born and bred Church
    of Christ. I plan to do whatever I’m called to do within this particular
    tradition. That said, this is not an unconditional arrangement. I can imagine a
    rupture between myself and my faith tradition that I might be unable to bridge.
    But in this particular matter I feel that my church has made great strides and
    may take many more. Each of these steps, those that have been made and those
    that may come, are important ones for the Churches of Christ. Thus, for now at
    least, I see myself doing more good for gender justice in working with this
    church than switching to a church were the issues have already been resolved.
    I’d like to be where there is work to do along with the prospect of progress.
     





























  50. Thanks for all (well, most) of the comments and feedback.

    A couple of things.


     


    First, I shut down the thread. There were some pretty toxic
    comments coming in. I don’t mind disagreement, but the point of the post wasn’t
    about debating gender roles and no minds have been changed debating on blogs. The
    post was about how to live with integrity with a faith community when you have
    disagreements. About balancing monastic stability with remaining true to
    certain convictions you might have. And along those lines what I’m doing isn’t
    all that original. For example, I expect that many people manage their financial
    giving to their church based upon their judgments about how those finances are
    being used. That is, there are things in your church that you feel more or less
    comfortable financially supporting. My selective participation as outlined in
    the post is doing something similar. We can all volunteer or not volunteer in
    our churches for a host of reasons. Some of them principled reasons. It seems
    to me that gender inclusivity can be one of those reasons.


     


    Second, I do appreciate those of you who have suggested that
    I should jump ship to another denomination. However, I’m born and bred Church
    of Christ. I plan to do whatever I’m called to do within this particular
    tradition. That said, this is not an unconditional arrangement. I can imagine a
    rupture between myself and my faith tradition that I might be unable to bridge.
    But in this particular matter I feel that my church has made great strides and
    may take many more. Each of these steps, those that have been made and those
    that may come, are important ones for the Churches of Christ. Thus, for now at
    least, I see myself doing more good for gender justice in working with this
    church than switching to a church were the issues have already been resolved.
    I’d like to be where there is work to do along with the prospect of progress.

  51. Thanks for all (well, most) of the comments and feedback.



    A couple of things.


     


    First, I shut down the thread. There were some pretty toxic comments coming in. I don’t mind disagreement, but the point of the post wasn’t about debating gender roles and no minds have been changed debating on blogs. The post was about how to live with integrity with a faith community when you have disagreements. About balancing monastic stability with remaining true to certain convictions you might have. And along those lines what I’m doing isn’t all that original. For example, I expect that many people manage their financial giving to their church based upon their judgments about how those finances are being used. That is, there are things in your church that you feel more or less comfortable financially supporting. My selective participation as outlined in the post is doing something similar. We can all volunteer or not volunteer in our churches for a host of reasons. Some of them principled reasons. It seems to me that gender inclusivity can be one of those reasons.


     


    Second, I do appreciate those of you who have suggested that I should jump ship to another denomination. However, I’m born and bred Church of Christ. I plan to do whatever I’m called to do within this particular tradition. That said, this is not an unconditional arrangement. I can imagine a rupture between myself and my faith tradition that I might be unable to bridge. But in this particular matter I feel that my church has made great strides and may take many more. Each of these steps, those that have been made and those that may come, are important ones for the Churches of Christ. Thus, for now at least, I see myself doing more good for gender justice in working with this church than switching to a church were the issues have already been resolved. I’d like to be where there is work to do along with the prospect of progress.

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