Tuesday, December 09, 2014

Gender, Social Systems, and Change: Observations of Churches of Christ - and my 2 cents

Gender, Social Systems, and Change: Observations of Churches of Christ and my 2 cents
(This is a long post -- essay)

Each of us is embedded within a variety of social contexts that have their beautiful parts and have their ugly parts. To others who share my various social systems I may appear to be one of the beautiful parts and to others I may be one of the ugly parts. I accept this reality. I am honored, however, to share a social system.

Whether it is a family, a work environment, a faith community, or a neighborhood, there are no social systems that are perfect. None can be. People are imperfect and in relationships we connect imperfections and synergize them. People are also amazing and in relationships we connnect these amazing aspects and synergize them. Social systems bring together its members and create something more than the sum of the independent members. In short, it's a beautiful mess.

Each of these social systems has an emerging and evolving culture of their own. Healthy social systems move toward stronger and well differentiated interconnnections and strong secure attachments with healthy boundaries. This is enabled through constructive conflict, generosity, and a good dose of repair when there is hurt. Unhealthy social systems either impose or neglect, destory or disengage, exploit or abdicate. They result in hurts that go unreparied and often a drift apart into ambiguity or an explosion. All are destructive.

One of the social systems I am embedded in is the faith community called, Churches of Christ. It is a branch or tribe of Christianity that I was raised in, formed (and continue forming) my faith within, and work within (professor at a university affiliated with this branch of Christianity). I know this social system very well and I love it very much. It is my family of faith. It is also the religious social system for whom I have the most critique. I love us and I want us to be better - thus critique.

And like any family, there is diversity among its members. There are disagreements, concerns, struggles, and fears. But also like any family, there are the things that keep the family a family. There are overarching agreements, similarities, and deep rooted loyalties that facilitate the very life of the social system.

In Churches of Christ, there is an agreed upon high respect for scripture (Biblical scripture), unified belief in Jesus as the Son of God, and that it is through Jesus that the redemption of all things is even possible.

In Churches of Christ, there are also many differences such as how to understand scripture, what the implications are for Jesus being the son of God, and what and who is involved in the redemption of all things. There are also differences on such relevant matters as gender roles in family and in church.

This "Open Letter" is such a case in point. It is a response written by blogger Adam Faughn to a congregation who has a female preaching intern and embedded within the "open letter" is a video of the preaching intern. What the "open letter" contrasted with the embedded video allows for here is a case study in how a social system is going about trying to both stay together as a system amidst diversity while at the same time trying preserve the integrity of the system itself.

For many outside the Churches of Christ, the idea of a female preaching intern may be a big fat yawn because "we dealt with that 20 yers ago (or 40 years ago)." If this is you, I urge you to consider that each soacial system changes at its own pace and addresses issues more organically and locally than might be assumed. Just because such matters have been "dealt with" in one social system does not determine when they should have been dealt with in another. Your social system has yet to deal with some issues that others have long since resolved.

For others outside the Churches of Christ, this is evidence of the embedded sexism within the social system called, Churches of Christ, and therefore serves as evidence that their choice not to associate with Churches of Christ, Christianity or perhaps religion itself is justified. I understand. But please also understand that every social system in which each of us is embedded has its own injustice. All injustice is ugly. This one happens to be one of ours - one of many.

What we see here is a family, a family of faith, having a a disagreement. One side is excited to assert its freedom and putting into practice the gender equality ethic asserted by the Apostle Paul when he said there is no longer male nor female. The other side fears that such actions are sinful disobedience and reference other words of the very same Paul. Thus, an "open letter" such as this serves as feedback into the larger social system in order to make things right.

However, each side asserts their position is right and has used scripture to support their claims. My assumption for both sides is that they are doing their very best to go about doing justice and at the same time both cannot be correct. This is a social dilemma that will likely not be resolved by one side convincing the other of its position, but rather will be resolved being able speak without being silenced, to share their views without being shamed, and to be accepted based on the extension of trust rather than compliance.

I want to make three statements on the matter and then close.

1. It is my desire that this family argument can be conducted in a manner that brings out the very best in each of us. In our fellowship we have a history of just giving up on each other and splitting and then not associating with each other. This is an embarrassing legacy. We have an opportunity right now to genuinely disagree while not pulling the plug on the very meaningful and important relationships we share. We cannot make claims of unity by cutting off all who disagree. The inevitible end to that process is being "right" and very, very alone.

2. From a theological position, I side with those who affirm gender equality in all church matters. We owe it to God, to srcipture, to society, and to young girls and women to no longer read scripture into sexism, but eliminate sexism by use of scripture. But I assert it locally, not generally. What I mean is that I hold my beliefs to myself and do not require others to hold them in order to remain in the same social system. It impacts my selection of a local congregation. It impacts how I converse with people at work. I hope I conduct myself in a manner that is generous toward others and authentically me. It is my hope and desire that I will not be cut off for how I geneuinely and honestly understand scripture. It is also my hope that although I have no intention of imposing, that I will influence. I want to influence without coercion so that if change happens or when change happpens it is authentic and legitimate.

3. If someone or some group does decide to cut off from me or my home congregation or various other shared social systems because of my beliefs or because of this matter, I will openly say this: that is going to hurt. And the closer the relationship the more it will hurt. Cutting off, however, will not convince me to change my mind. Perhaps there is some other way to engage in discourse that could change my mind as I am open to truth, but cutting off will not be a successful strategy to change me. I can understand if cutting off for the sake of preservation of a set of beliefs is more important than remaining in relationship (sort of), but I cannot deny that it will hurt. I will hurt and pray and grieve and heal and move forward with less of a social system.

In conclusion, this is an important conversation to have in its context. Let's have it without hurting each other. Let's show that we love each other.

1 comment:

Joy Samuels said...

Your thoughtful and well written article shows why you are so loved by those you know you, students and colleagues alike! As someone who 'used to belong' to this particular faith expression, I have followed the FB posting with more than passing curiosity. Primarily I have been curious to see where moments of possibility are evident. Possibility as defined by curiosity, by hope and grace rather than by declarative sentences which create a causal link from the English translation of sacred texts to proscribed behavior as litmus test for faithful response to God. Thank you for demonstrating good questions and holding open the possibility for God to be present in new ways is also a loving and faithful response to God!