Tuesday, July 6, 2010

The Church and Patriarchy

Spiritual writer Richard Rohr has observed that in recent centuries most churches have been on the wrong side of most human reformations and revolutions, until after these reformations succeeded. Consider the issue of civil rights: Many churches in America remained silent, while many others either overtly or covertly worked against just legislation and practice. There were, of course, Christians like Martin Luther King, Jr. who led the charge, but these constituted a minority.

Western Christianity has evolved largely into a matter of the head. This took the form of highly academic theology in Europe, and in America it was expressed through a narrow, dogmatic fundamentalism. In both forms Western Christians seemed to show little interest in the things that Jesus of Nazareth was passionate about.

Any version of Christian faith that shows little interest in issues such as human suffering, inclusivity, poverty, political and spiritual oppression, planet care, and care for the outsider lacks credibility and authenticity.

Today, churches seem to be the most formidable institutional structures resistant to egalitarian roles for women. In the early 1990’s I pastored a church in Eastern Kentucky where our female choir director was not permitted to lead congregational singing because to do so, the deacons argued, would usurp male authority. Still today few evangelical churches ordain women into pastoral ministry, or for that matter, even elect or appoint female deacons or elders.

Sara VanScoy is a medical doctor and psychiatrist who served 11 years in the Air Force. She earned a master’s degree in divinity (summa cum laude) at Bethel Seminary in Jonesboro, Arkansas in May 2009. Though praised by her professors for her gifted preaching and teaching, she can’t even get in the door of a church to be considered for a pastoral position. In a recent article by religious professor Anne Eggebroten in “Sojourners,” Sara told Anne: “It’s sad, really, that the only place in my entire life that I have experienced gender discrimination is the church.”

Even in some mega-churches, like Grace Community Church in Sun Valley, California where John MacArthur is pastor, you will find only male pastors, deacons, and elders, along with specific teaching that women are to live in submission to men. In 1987 the “Council on Biblical Manhood and Womanhood” was formed to counter the influence of the Evangelical Women’s Caucus and the newly-founded Christians for Biblical Equality.

Isn’t it sad that Christians have to fight these battles? The solution, I believe, is not to abandon Christianity, but to reform it.

We must allow the fresh wind of the Spirit of the living Christ to blow away these patriarchal structures, as well as all oppressive, exclusivistic, and dualistic beliefs and practices that have become encased in many forms of institutional Christianity.

The God Movement, proclaimed, embodied, and expressed through the life, teachings, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, is among us. It is even within us (Luke 17:21). We need eyes to see and a will to respond.

God needs women and men today who will have the courage to challenge the religious powers that be and become selfless instruments of peace and ready conduits through which God’s unconditional love can flow out to the world.

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