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When One Issue Drowns Out Others

When One Issue Drowns Out Others

After interviewing Allan R. Bevere a few days ago I discovered another video. First, here’s my interview with Allan. We were talking about the United Methodist Church General Conference in 2019 looking for a way forward as a denomination with regard to same-sex marriage and related issues.

The new video is from the Adventist News Network (HT Spectrum Magazine), which is an official project of the Seventh-day Adventist Church. Long time readers of this blog will know I grew up Seventh-day Adventist, but am now a member of a United Methodist congregation. Here it is:

The issues in the two denominations are different. While United Methodists discuss homosexuality and same-sex marriage, Seventh-day Adventists are discussing ordination of women. In many discussions, I have heard the arguments against women’s ordination expressed in terms of the danger of a slippery slope toward accepting homosexuality. The claim is that the same arguments might be, and have been, used for both.

In the process of discussing these issues, however, we see a number of things:

  • Money becomes a key. In the United Methodist Church it becomes a question of how much power our brethren in the global south should have over the church seeing as they are financially supported by the American church. In the SDA Church the issue of tithe has now been raised, as the North American Division wants to reduce the percentage of its tithe sent to other divisions.
  • People are accused based simply on their viewpoint. I understand how this happens. Sincerity does not mean one is right. One can be passionately and sincerely wrong, even when rightly motivated. (I should know! I’ve been there and might be now!) But one can be firm on one’s convictions and still be respectful.
  • Each side accuses the other of bringing disunity. This is a choice that comes to all. When a “Martin Luther” moment comes is it an act of disunity or an act of conscience?
  • One’s opponents may be seen as guilty of putting a stop to the gospel message, such as the implication in the Adventist News Network video that those who support women’s ordination are holding back the work of the gospel and preparation for the coming of Jesus.
  • Conformity is seen as unity.
  • Everyone starts looking at the legal ownership of church property (see the first point)!

I have made my opinion on women in ministry clear, so I can’t stand back and play facilitator to a discussion. I believe that those God has gifted in any way should serve in that way, and I do believe women can be and are gifted for ministry. I believe God equips those he calls and the equipping is quite enough evidence. On homosexuality I’ve tried to stand back. A very good friend who passed away recently said to me once: “Henry, it’s very hard to be both a prophet and a facilitator.” He was very right. So I’ve refrained from any pulpit pounding type statements on homosexuality. It doesn’t mean I have no opinions; just that I’m going to let others do the discussion, and there’s no lack of those ready and waiting to engage.

But let me turn to two other issues on which I’ll make something of a statement. I’m a firm believer on the one hand that we should have unity in essentials, liberty in non-essentials, and especially charity in all things. (Note the interesting and difficult history of the saying I paraphrase.) On the other hand I believe in keeping your essentials to a minimum, as reflected in the doctrinal statement I use for my publishing company, Energion Publications. I’ve discussed this before, and will link to my post Not All Doctrines Are Equal, which links to several others.)

For my first issue I’m opposed to just about any form of prosperity theology, or even letting finance drive the train. Financial management is necessary, but it’s generally the first thing to get in the way of good moral decision making. We simply don’t take the time to find a way to do things that is financially responsible and yet morally right.

In the case of the controversies I’m mentioning, this comes up in wanting to diminish the influence of some people over finance. Money is the presenting issue, but behind it is the fact that someone does not like the viewpoint of the other person. Whether I agree with someone or not, I believe as a Christian that I must respect that person. The believer in Africa, South America, or Asia is not diminished before God because I don’t like the way he or she will vote in a conference. Financial status should not change the nature of our relationships in the family of God. In this case, I think it would be better to lose a vote than to in any diminish another person.

Of course, this must include not diminishing the person who is on the other side, or who is being argued about. Whether we are talking about the level of a person’s financial contributions, their sexuality, or simply their gender, it can be (usually is) paternalistic and diminishing when the person with the power discusses whether to share that power with the person who does not. In the kingdoms of the world it may be necessary. I think Jesus calls us to better behavior. (Not that I know how to always do it right.)

Money comes up in terms of church property as well. Allan Bevere noted that the one thing that may connect us soon is our pensions (speaking as a pastor). One of the things that will likely cause controversy is those congregations who, no matter what happens, may want to withdraw from the United Methodist Church. Then we face the specter of people claiming the name of Jesus fighting it out in secular court due to church property. Quoth Paul, “Why would it not be better to be wronged? Why would it not be better to be defrauded?”

Second, however, is the issue of hierarchy. All of these issues become issues of power. Who gets to tell who else what they should and shouldn’t do, and who gets to enforce the result. Again, after noting how the rulers of the nations behaved, Jesus told his disciples it was not to be that way with them. The greatest should be a servant. (Mark 10:41-45) I wonder how the debate would change if we saw it as a question of serving rather than having power over. (In fact, I have a problem with the whole idea of a separated class of ordained clergy, but that is a different debate.)

I hope and pray that both my former and my present denominations will find a Christ-like way through their divisions. I don’t actually feel very hopeful. Perhaps it’s “Oh me of little faith!” Still it doesn’t look that good, no matter which direction the wind blows on the various doctrines. There is likely a right and wrong answer.  I tend to believe in moral absolutes while doubting our ability to come very close to them. But we must not violate much clearer moral values, such as the way we treat one another, in the pursuit of those truths.

When we pursue absolutes at the expense of other absolutes, the resulting mess is absolute.

Women Teaching in Seminary, Oh Yes! (@KaitlinCurtice)

Women Teaching in Seminary, Oh Yes! (@KaitlinCurtice)

On Tuesday I noticed a tweet, after comments on the Desiring God blog regarding women teaching in seminary. The answer was, not surprisingly, no. The men who do ministry should be taught by men who model men leading the church.

Here’s the tweet:

I thought this such a good idea that I immediately chimed in with the names of two teachers, one in my undergraduate theology program and one in graduate school who had been important, even critical influences on my learning and development. I intended to blog immediately afterward and talk about why I list these two women, both of whom have gone on to glory, in particular. Unfortunately, life happened, and a couple of days have passed. I’m still going to do it.

Preliminary Thoughts

But first, ever the wordy one, let me write a note on my view of women in ministry. I’ve been accused of not really being egalitarian, not by other egalitarians, but by complementarians. The reason seems to be that I don’t say men and women are the same. Come to think of it, I pretty much don’t say men and men are the same. That is, we’re all different. What I do say is that this isn’t the issue. The issue is to see each person as one who is gifted by God, to recognize the gifts God has given, and to not merely allow, but to do everything to encourage that person to use those gifts.

How many women should be in church leadership? Precisely the number that God has gifted for that leadership. How many women should teach? Precisely the number that God has gifted to do that teaching. My main scriptural argument in favor of women in leadership is that the Holy Spirit gives gifts as the Spirit wills (Hebrews 2:4, among many others), and that when such gifts are recognized, quenching the gifts is quenching the Spirit. It is also not men who have the right to allow or not allow women in ministry. Their call is a call from God. Men have the choice of recognizing or not recognizing God’s call.

I do understand the other view and the scriptures on which it is based. I believe that it is a case of using advice produced for a particular time and place and making it universal. I believe making it universal hinders the advance of the kingdom.

Many

I have been taught by many women. Doubtless, complementarians would approve of having women as teachers in elementary and high school. I have to mention home school years with my mother and my older sister Betty Rae, both strong influences on my. Ethel Wood at Wildwood Rural School in northwest Georgia, who discovered I already knew how to type, and used my help in the school office. There I learned some skills that would come back to me later when I became a publisher. But this isn’t just about having women influence one’s life. It’s about training people for church leadership.

Theological Education

Lucille Knapp

Lucille Knapp taught first and second year Greek at Walla Walla College (now Walla Walla University). I was privileged to take both these courses and to become friends. She was determined not just to teach us Greek but to help us use it to understand the Bible better and to help us grow in our spiritual lives in ways beyond just language.

I remember her particularly for gentle conversations urging me to consider unfamiliar ideas that hadn’t been part of my world before. She also connected the beauty of literature with my spiritual journey. When I graduated, I received a gift from her of a book of inspirational poetry, along with a note that urged me to remember that faith and theology were not just about the technicalities of biblical languages and biblical studies, which were my focus, but also about the experience of beauty and of God’s presence that was available through art and literature.

There were some people who thought she should shut up and just teach Greek. It was OK that she teach technicalities, but she should quit trying to influence others and shape their spirituality in any way. I’m glad she resisted those voices and continued to model spiritual leadership to her students.

(A bio and obituary.)

Leona Glidden Running

When I arrived at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, though my degree was an MA in Religion, concentrating in biblical and cognate languages offered by the graduate school, I almost immediately meet Dr. Running. Some of us thought she truly deserved her last name, as she was an active and vigorous person who didn’t let any grass grow under he feet. Ever. She didn’t believe in letting grass grow under our feet either.

One of my favorite memories of her was taking the final exam in Akkadian. I was the only student for that term for Akkadian, so the class had been somewhat informal. She handed me the final exam, which was a legal size sheet of paper filled on both sides with cuneiform text. She said, “Translate this. You have two hours.” Then she walked out of the room.

Now my guess is that I might have produced a good translation of a few lines in two hours. I don’t mean getting the gist, but getting a workable translation. The idea that I could produce a decent translation of that much text in two hours at the end of my first quarter was ludicrous.

So I struggled through, grabbing the first possible translation I could find and writing it down, knowing that I wouldn’t have time to recheck, and also knowing that I had to be making substantial errors. I managed half of the first page using that approach. At the end of two hours she was back, took the paper and made no comment. I got it back the next day with a grade — an A. So I asked her how this was possible. I was actually gratified by how few red marks there were in my translation, but I mean that with reference to my expectations. The page was still doing some bleeding! She said, “I wanted to see your first pass. I didn’t want you to have time to double check. I graded accordingly.” She had deducted only for things she thought I should have gotten without taking a second pass.

She also invited me to tutor Greek and Hebrew for the seminary students, guided me through what to charge so I could help pay my way. (I had a fellowship, but it didn’t cover all expenses.) When my Uncle, Don F. Neufeld, passed away, she was the one who recognized that I was grieving when I was still telling myself I could handle this. She made sure I made the trip to his funeral and took care of myself. She remained a friend after graduation.

She was, like Lucille Knapp, an example of leadership. She modeled that godly leadership for me.

(A bio and her obituary.)

Different Styles

Even though I didn’t select them for that reason, I like the fact that they exhibited two very different styles. I chose these two names because their influence on me was powerful.

I will still tell classes that while I value my knowledge of biblical languages highly, it was not learning the biblical languages that did the most for my hermeneutic. It was learning about people, learning how people react. Often elements of the tone of a Bible passage become much clearer when I think about the way people react to different things. Lucille Knapp is responsible for starting me on that way of thinking, and I’m eternally grateful.

Dr. Running, on the other hand, taught me that thoroughness is important, but so is diligence and vigorous pursuit of a goal. It isn’t just your last read that counts, but the way you attack a text in the first place. In coming to understand a text, it’s important not to get hung up or lost in the forest while carefully examining each tree. Of course, that has to be balanced by thoroughness, but she both modeled that for her students and expected it of them.

Conclusion

My life and work would be significantly less productive without these two women who taught, one in a theological school, and the other in a seminary. I thank God that their gifts were not suppressed, and that they were there for my benefit.

(Image credit: Openclipart.org. Modified by me.)

A Note on My View of Egalitarianism

A Note on My View of Egalitarianism

Speaking of equality, I want to write a brief note on egalitarianism as I see it. As with all labels, the boundaries are often a problem. Back in early science classes, I learned to distinguish vegetable, animal, and mineral. At certain levels, those distinctions become pretty muddy. It’s not just in social science.

What I mean by egalitarianism is that all activities and offices should be available to men and women based on their gifts, not on their gender. If a woman has pastoral gifts, she should pastor. I’m actually less concerned with the office of pastor than with the exercise of the gifts of a pastor, but since I believe that offices should follow gifts, the two would generally go together. I do not mean that there must be an equal number of men and women in pastoral roles. I do not comment on how many women or men might be gifted for those roles. I don’t know. I suspect that there may be more women gifted for those roles in the church at the moment. I also believe that authority follows gifts in the same way as an office does; the greatest behaves as a servant.

I’m not going to try to define complementarianism here, though I previously objected to a definition of complementarian which was alleged to include my own position. This is because I don’t believe that men and women are the same. They are not. I simply believe that either a man or a woman may have any set of gifts, and if they do, they should make use of those gifts as God’s servants. I’m stating this in church terms, but I hold the same view in society in general. The issue for me is not how many of what hold what position or job; rather, the issue is whether a person who has certain gifts can fully exercise those gifts.

Now specifically in the church I think there should be less difference between the practice of the complementarian and egalitarian positions than there is, assuming we both take the same view of authority that Jesus did. “The greatest among you will be your servant” (Matthew 23:11 NRSV). In the church, this issue should not be one of seeking power. I think God, through Jesus Christ, has set the goal, which is leading with grace. That means that Christian leadership, no matter who exercises it, should be based in service. Those who follow leaders in the church should be doing so because they respond to that grace, demonstrated in being the servant of all. To whatever extent the battle over gender equality in the church is a struggle for supremacy, rather than for servanthood, it’s on the wrong track.

I don’t mean by this that those who are suppressed or oppressed in churches by leaders who seek power should just roll over. What they should do is either follow servant leaders or become servant leaders themselves. Move on to where you can do that! Let those who seek power exercise it over empty buildings if they must. Let’s live as servants in the world and be a servant church.

Rachel Held Evans, Owen Strachan, and Adrian Warnock Went on a Radio Show

Rachel Held Evans, Owen Strachan, and Adrian Warnock Went on a Radio Show

It wasn’t as funny as if they’d gone into a bar, but it was considerably more enlightening. It might appear that having two complementarians against one egalitarian was unfair, but Rachel clearly had no problem with the format, and the host pointed out that, though he was playing neutral moderator, he was more inclined to Rachel’s position.

I very rarely listen to something that long. I much prefer the written to the spoken word. If you want to get my attention, write. But the participants were enough to get me started and the quality of their discussion was enough to keep me listening.

It will surprise nobody who reads this blog that I agree with Evans down the line, though I might be a bit more liberal than she is on hermeneutics. The important points on hermeneutics came out more toward the end, though you’ll miss some references if you skip to that point, where Owen Strachan talks about having to obey all of scripture and not pick and choose and warns of a slippery slope. Evans quickly points out that there are other things we don’t follow, yet somehow we don’t feel we’re on a slippery slope.

The fact is that nobody obeys “all of scripture” in the sense of keeping every command. Everyone has some way to distinguish between commands that apply and those that don’t. It’s just that they generally tend to ignore the ones that they have, in their own view, really excellent reasons to ignore. In ignoring them, they hardly notice the fact that they are ignoring commands.

So the question is whether one’s application of a scripture to a situation (or failure to do so) is justified or not. I commented some on this on my Participatory Bible Study blog.

I would add to this discussion this note: When Owen Strachan refers to using the simple or plain portions of scripture to explain those that are more obscure, I find it interesting that he sees commands and theological statements as simple, while stories and history are apparently more obscure. I would see it as precisely the reverse. When Paul says in one place that he doesn’t allow a woman to speak, and in another we have a very clear indication of a woman in authority, I think it would be best to find an interpretation of the command (or theological statement) that doesn’t suggest that Paul was violating his own command, rather than trying to explain away the action and make it appear that it didn’t violate our view of the command.

Thus if Junia stands out among the apostles in Rome, while women submit (and don’t speak) in Ephesus, I’m going to guess that the command has something to do with Ephesus.

 

Shades of Outrage but Comments Closed

Shades of Outrage but Comments Closed

I pointed earlier to a post by J. R. Daniel Kirk responding to the post at The Gospel Coalition by Jared Wilson. Wilson has now responded to some of the outrage generated by his original post. But generally his new post says we shouldn’t read his excerpt as saying what it actually says, but should understand it as saying something completely different. He then closes comments.

I have two issues here:

1) The minor one is that the effort to respond and then cut off public discussion. E-mail is an easy way to take on only those you want to, and not have your responses subject to public scrutiny.

2) This is not a good characterization of complementarians that I know. I’m egalitarian. I’m quite willing to argue the issue. But I believe most of those complementarians of my acquaintance would not be any more comfortable with this language than I am. It’s important to recognize nuances of one’s position. It’s easy to make all of our arguments based on what some position might lead to or what might be associated with it.

Wilson tries to maintain that his excerpt is saying nothing more than the ordinary complementarian position (fourth paragraph), and then wonders why people are so perverse as to fail to realize this, especially after the author has said that he really, really didn’t mean what we read his words to say. But unfortunately if language means anything, that summary is inaccurate (the fourth paragraph), and Douglas Wilson’s denial is disingenuous.

Consider this paragraph, the second in the exerpt:

When we quarrel with the way the world is, we find that the world has ways of getting back at us. In other words, however we try, the sexual act cannot be made into an egalitarian pleasuring party. A man penetrates, conquers, colonizes, plants. A woman receives, surrenders, accepts. This is of course offensive to all egalitarians, [note that this is not said to be offensive to all decent people, but to egalitarians] and so our culture has rebelled against the concept of authority and submission in marriage. This means that we have sought to suppress the concepts of authority and submission as they relate to the marriage bed [in other words, authority and submission is appropriate to the marriage bed, and is suppressed] (bolding and bracketed comments are mine).

I vigorously reject this paragraph. Obviously I do so as an egalitarian. But I also reject it as a fundamental statement of complementarianism. Were I to accuse my many complementarian friends of holding such a position, they would justifiably accuse me of constructing a straw man.

Wilson accuses detractors of decontextualizing this post. Is this excerpt insufficient context? Let him tell us what context would suffice to make this acceptable. The only context I could imagine that would justify the paragraph would be one that made it the statement of a villain in some sort of theological novel.

(See also this post from Political Jesus regarding Douglas Wilson and a discussion of slavery.)

Responding to TGC on Sex and Power

Responding to TGC on Sex and Power

Well, I’m not responding. I found someone who wrote a better response than I could manage. That is J. R. Daniel Kirk. The payoff quote:

When Jesus came and showed us what Christian manhood was all about, he did not conquer, but allowed himself to be conquered; he did not pierce, but allowed himself to be pierced; he did not plant by scattering his seed forcibly, he planted by giving up his own life–the grain of wheat falling to the earth and dying that it might produce a crop 100-fold.

A certain number of the differences between egalitarians and complementarians might be resolved if we all took our concept of authority and power from Jesus and the way he loved. Not all the differences, but a good number. “As Christ loved the church.” It’s not about putting you or me in charge.

If Your Spouse is Abusing You, Get Out of There

If Your Spouse is Abusing You, Get Out of There

A video from John Piper is making the rounds (HT: Tim Ricchuiti).

I’m not going to comment directly on the video. Rather, I think it is worthwhile to give my answer to the question asked. What does a woman who is abused do? (Note also that I’m aware there are men who are abused, but the question was not framed in that way.)

My answer is simple: Get out of there and report it. But especially get out of there. Don’t give a physical abuser the opportunity to do more damage.

I am an egalitarian as I have stated on this blog any number of times, yet I won’t criticize complementarian philosophy as natural leading to abuse, as some have done. I treat this issue as a non-essential. Complementarianism is not abuse.

Violent abuse, on the other hand, is a crime and not just something to be dealt with in connection with the church. It remains a crime irrespective of the theological positions of the abuser. I think we’ve had enough cases of church cover-ups. I also cannot see any way in which abusing one’s spouse or one’s children can be justified, or that one ought to endure it. It should be reported.

Many women in such a situation would not feel comfortable taking their case before the church, especially with a husband who might be in a position of authority, or where the church leadership is all male. In such cases again, I would always emphasize getting out of reach of the abuser first, then reporting it either to the authorities or to someone trustworthy who will, in turn, report it to the authorities.

For me the key theological issue here is that abuse violates the divine mandate for marriage. For some it seems to be easy to hear “wives submit to your husbands” (Eph. 5:22) without also hearing “be subject one to another” (Eph. 5:21) and “love your wives as Christ loved the church” (Eph. 5:25). How was that again? “As Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.”

That’s the New Testament idea of having authority.

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Seventh-day Adventists and Women in Ministry

Seventh-day Adventists and Women in Ministry

Well, really only some Seventh-day Adventists, in particular, Pastor Doug Batchelor and the Amazing Facts ministry versus the Southeastern California Conference of Seventh-day Adventists. As a former SDA, I still keep track of SDA doings, in this case through the Spectrum blog, and what interested me was the role reversal.

We frequently see more liberal members of a denomination trying to bring women into ministry, while the church structure stands opposed. In this case, we have a conservative member arguing against women in ministry, and eliciting a response from the official church, in this case the conference. I believe the issue would be more controversial at the general church levels.

The arguments, however, are based on much the same material as they are elsewhere.

Here’s the video (warning: this is a more than 1 hour video):

(I note that the Amazing Facts web site does not make it terribly clear that it’s an SDA ministry. I regard Seventh-day Adventists as fellow Christians who differ on some points of doctrine, but remain within orthodoxy as I understand it. I deplore a tendency to try to preach without identifying oneself. If you’re not part of a denomination, you don’t need to so identify. If you are, however, it seems dishonest to me to obscure the fact. As an example, the introduction to the video says this is coming from “Sacramento Central Church,” but if you research further, that is Sacramento Central Seventh-day Adventist Church. I understand the prejudice that they are trying to avoid, but I nonetheless think it would be better to be open.)

The response from the conference can be found here. You can find a summary on the Spectrum blog, but essentially they take issue with his presentation, his relationship to church authority, his biblical exegesis, and his logic.

My reason for posting this here is simply to show how the controversies in some smaller denominations are very similar to the ones we face in some of our larger ones. Perhaps if shared agreements don’t lead to dialog, shared disagreements could.

Beyond Complementarian

Beyond Complementarian

I found this story appalling. In making decisions about a Christian school and whether the principal should be fired, women were not even allowed to speak.

While I do believe that a denomination or local church should have the right to do what it believes is right with a school it finances, including expecting the teachers to support the party-line, I do not think that it is right to maintain such narrow boundaries. Both the offense and the way it was handled speak more of paranoia than of concern for education.

What I really wanted to note, however, is that complementarians of my acquaintance would pretty much unanimously oppose this type of action as well. It seems that what often happens in controversies happens in the egalitarian debate–those who are not egalitarian are complementarian, and those who are not complementarian are egalitarian, and the line is drawn very near to the opposite end of the spectrum. (Please notice that I’m aware this is not the topic of the original story, nor of Cheryl Schatz’s blog post.)

It’s sort of like the political spectrum where everyone who is not 100% laissez faire can get labeled a socialist, while on the other hand people who would support many socialist ideas are labeled as laissez faire by the “real” socialists.

We should realize that there are many shades in these camps, and that the labels can be problematic, especially if we narrow one and broaden the other, from either direction. Labeling is useful; mislabeling is confusing.