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LBN
Massachusetts
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It definitely makes sense to have men's groups and women's groups. Regardless of what one believes philosophically about gender, no one can disagree that men and women have different experiences in the world. (This is why academia has "gender studies" despite not exactly being sold on biological gender as destiny.) For example-- professionally, my field is 80% male. There, people make different assumptions and have different expectations of me being a woman, and I have also learned explicitly and implicitly throughout life to behave in a particular way that has something to do with me being white and something to do with me being upper middle class and definitely a lot to do with being a woman, presumably both biologically and socially. So having a group of women scientists to talk through that experience with? That has been very helpful. (Even as our experiences are usually VERY diverse!) At the same time, the most important mentor in my professional career has been a man, and I have learned so much from him about what it means to be a good/faithful/ethical person as well as a good scientist. Fundamentally, I don't think being a woman should be the most important thing about my being a scientist, even if I absolutely agree that me being who I am affects not just my people skills but even the way I do my research. I feel the same way about being a Christian and also just a human being. Women's groups, sure! I lead one. Having every retreat be a women's retreat focusing on "being a woman of God"? Not so much. Now, to your real question, which I think is quite separate-- I think the question is what it means to "note and take seriously" differences between genders, whatever they might be. Do I have a problem noting that testosterone and estrogen have different biological effects? No. Do I have a problem noting (and taking very seriously in a non-prescriptive way) the fact that regardless of whether it's nature or nurture, our gender is a very important part of our life experience? No. Do I have a problem jumping from biological difference to dictates about how we "should" be as godly men and women? Yes. Do I have a very specific problem with some understandings of "Biblical manhood/womanhood" that claim to be based on biology, for instance "men initiate / women respond" or "men want adventure / women want to be rescued" or "men want to be heroes / women want to be told they're beautiful"? Oh yes. And this is why I end up posting long messages like this on blogs... :)
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Oh man! What a relief to hear a pastor say that out loud. I'm serious. Sometimes I have wondered if I'm just crazy for feeling this way. I just can't find a meaningful Biblical discussion of the topic. Surely if there was some fundamental, deeply important understanding of manhood and womanhood that was crucial to our identities as human beings and followers of Jesus, surely it would be addressed explicitly somewhere in Scripture? And yet... all I can find is "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him, male and female he created them". Everything else seems to require quite the interpretive dance to pull out a specific theology of gender. I don't think Ephesians 5 suffices for that, I really don't. At the same time, I love being a woman (and a wife). Whatever that means! My parents always told me, essentially, that "being a girl means being who you are; whatever you do is something that girls do, because you're doing it". And being a woman certainly DOES mean something very specific in any given cultural context; regardless of any metaphysical difference, my childhood/life is obviously very differently shaped from that of a boy born in 1978, and understanding that as part of who I am is important for my journey. I do also believe that God created us male and female (on purpose, yes!), and that there must be something to that. I often wonder if our existence as male and female is meant simply as the most basic building block of God's theory of diversity, that we are all different and somehow that difference is a crucial part of community and love, that we do not just become carbon copies of some single ideal in order to be worthy of love. I'm not sure we have to pin down that difference to a particular set of characteristics for that to be true, any more than it would be healthy to do so for the differences between one's children ("this one is the smart one, this one the pretty one"... we all know how well that goes) . (I am perhaps influenced by my mother's Buddhism, which de-emphasizes the self; I always thought one of Christianity's joys was its insistence on each soul/self as God's unique and beautiful creation.) Given all of that, I also think that there is something very important to be noted in the fact that the fall/curse is framed in terms of gendered relationships. If there is something crucial about the love across difference and if gender was God's archetype of that in some way, then it makes that its brokenness would be a pivot for humankind at the fall. I certainly do believe that the fall accounts for the very specific brokenness of the whole world with regard to ungodly definitions of "man" and "woman" across all cultural boundaries, and I think we would be very foolish not to take that into consideration when laying out a philosophy of gender by observing the world around us and its history.
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There are dozens of responses floating around the blogosphere, actually. Seems to have touched a nerve. The one that struck me the most so far was from http://www.missional.ca/2011/07/what-a-godly-man-looks-like/. Also from a "guy's guy" sort of guy, like the one Chip posted. Excerpt: "Some say there is a crisis of masculinity in the church. I agree. Godly masculinity is being threatened every time 'effeminate' or 'feminine' are used as criticism. Godly masculinity is diminished every time we buy into the hateful distortion of sin that equates strength with dominance and violence. ... More than this, the God in whose image we are made becomes that much more obscured from us and watching world when we buy into the lies of the 'machismo man'."
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I sympathize with this post tremendously-- thanks for writing it. There was a prayer time maybe ten years ago when God vividly called me on my anger problem specifically in this context... and I wish I'd made more progress since then. (Being a small-ish woman who couldn't beat up a fifth grader, I tend towards fantasizing about lightning strikes rather than hand-to-hand combat, but still.) I don't have any solutions but I think the most challenging but uncreative thing is for me to pray for the people that make me the most angry. And to then also try to take proactive steps towards justice in my own communities on the issues that trigger me (e.g. this kind of misogynistic crap in the church), rather than stewing over the national/global discourse over which I have no immediate control. Incidentally, Driscoll has responded to the outcry over that FB post on worship leaders. He doesn't really "get it", in my opinion, but he at least kind of acknowledges that this particular instance was inappropriate. (http://ht.ly/5DTZo) Excerpt: "I then put a flippant comment on Facebook, and a raging debate on gender and related issues ensued. As a man under authority, my executive elders sat me down and said I need to do better by hitting real issues with real content in a real context. And, they’re right. Praise God I have elders who keep me accountable and that I am under authority."
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I don't think Coakley is a great example of compromise-- it's not exactly her current position of compromise that's making news, it's the fact that she very recently said she'd do X and then after winning on that platform, said she'd do not-X. I would consider that false representation more than compromise. Anyway... :) I do think compromise is a good thing when it can be done consciously, with honesty and integrity-- even about important things. (This rules out by definition compromises that damage honesty/integrity, like lying or cheating.) In the political context I think this is pretty obvious: it's rare you can vote for a candidate where you agree on everything, so you have to compromise, but you do it consciously and trying to weight each issue against the next. But in all the other contexts of our lives, not to be boring and beat the same drum we always do, but maybe it does in real life often have something to do with our relationships? For instance, in figuring out how to live together as a community of faith when we may disagree on seemingly central issues. I agree with Chip that it's more than just listening with respect -- you can listen without so-called compromise -- but instead it may actually involve actions that you would not otherwise take if you were not invested in the relationships/community in question (e.g. giving money to your local church even though some of it might go to causes you disagree with, or explicitly welcoming people who have different views about Hot Topic X, even though they might not be quiet about those views). The J Thomas quote in the image above strikes me as the opposite of this -- "for all others, you need not care a rush" -- that kind of No Compromise stance explicitly de-values others/relationship and that is the heart of what seems unappealing to me...
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I think about this a lot as someone who came to faith in elementary school. I was raised an atheist at a secular humanist / UU church. And I was actually a pretty self-aware atheist but eventually started asking questions about the possibility of "a God" as I got a bit older. My parents were very supportive as I found my way to faith in God and eventually faith in a triune God. (Good thing, since I was still several years away from a driver's license. :) ) At the time, I sometimes wished I had just been brought up "Christian" (because I was pretty confused at points), but now that journey is one of the things I really value about my experience of God, especially in the ways it freed me to explore relationship with God with relatively little baggage/expectations. So I have really mixed emotions when I think about teaching my (someday) kids that God/Jesus is The Way. Does it work to say "this is what we believe and have experienced" rather than "this is what is true"? Or is that crazy? Is one more "honest"? Is one more helpful? (The feelings get even more mixed when I think about someone else teaching my hypothetical kids about this stuff... since it stereotypically seems to take the second approach.) Anyway, it sometimes feels a little like the debate about Santa Claus almost, in that the "real" story is arguably much more nuanced and sometimes less literal (Santa Claus represents the spirit of Christmas, Genesis 1-3 is a way of understanding what God did in creating the world), but we teach the kids the simple literal version (Santa Claus slides down the chimney, creation happened in seven literal days). But you can certainly argue that it's still good parenting to tell your kids Santa is coming. I don't mean to be flip, and obviously the parallel is very loose, but still. :)
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I think it can be a problem in some situations. I went to a college filled with pretty driven people, and campus ministers there, rightfully, tried to challenge people's assumptions about tying their self-worth to their careers, etc.. However, at least for a few years, the message received by many of us seemed to be that pursuing any conventional career (medicine, law, business, grad school) was intrinsically less valid or godly, and I think that was very unhelpful for those whose passions lay in those areas. I think some of this could qualify as telling people what they "should want" and quashing their passion as a result. And I don't think this is that unusual a scenario. But I don't think this problem is is intrinsic to the very nature of churches, as this thinker might be arguing (I can't tell). Ideally, a good church community could nurture the diverse passions of its members and give them much more freedom than they'd have otherwise...
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My context is my local church, so that's the context my thoughts are in. :) But I don't think anything I mentioned is really that specific to the Boston Vinyeard, except a few things that might be easier in a bigger church... But on the real topic, yes, of course, "what's next in the process" is a worthy question. By all means, each step is important. Talking about this at all is better than not talking about it. Starting one conversation is better than none. So let me try to re-say what I meant by halfway being nowhere, but be less dramatic about it. :) First, what I meant is that there is an activation energy for this kind of thing, and that putting it, say, three times the effort might give thirty times more impact. Sure, you can plant seeds anywhere and some will grow, but it'll be much more worthwhile if you take the time to fertilize the ground first, and your harvest will multiply. That was the point of most of my comment-- what could a church do to make the ground more fertile for this kind of conversation? There are options at each price point. :-P Second: I do stand by the fact that there is a real risk in going "halfway". By "halfway" I don't mean small steps. I mean saying "come here all you GLBT people, trust us with your hearts and spiritual growth, we're ready", without acknowledging that there is a cost there, and being ready, to some extent, to pay it. That's the "overpromise and underdeliver" that was mentioned. I think if we do that, there's a risk that we'll get hurt and the people we invite will get hurt-- and that's what I meant by being "nowhere". Finally, third, my point was that anyone thinking about this should count the cost. Not necessarily that they should pay the cost! Or pay it in any particular way. There is no one moral path here, and, incidentally, I also don't think anything I proposed even approaches The Answer. :) So I really didn't mean my question about commitment to be rhetorical: I meant it practically. My point is just that we can't be too abstract about the "what's next" question, because no matter what we do this has to be one priority among many. So any big or even moderately-sized dreams on this front have to also address the hard practical questions of priorities and resources (i.e. not just the theological questions of sexuality), and you know, woe to us if we ignore them and all that. I promise my next comment to this blog will be shorter.....
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I think this will only work if the approach is publicly affirmed and encouraged by the leadership. First, because this is clearly a question of marginalization and acceptance, I think the power structure has to be involved in addressing it. Second, this is uncharted territory-- we do literally need leadership here! Otherwise we'll just talk about it vaguely here and there and nothing will change. I agree one obvious next step is a Sunday morning sermon explaining and encouraging this approach. But that does run the risk of veering too much to a policy/theological statement, just by virtue of the time/place constraints. More to the point, I'm just not sure this is productive as a first public step in this process. I think it'd just bounce off, honestly. And the lay leadership would likely not be prepared to pastor it well. Is there a way to build up to it, by proactively encouraging this specific approach in other settings and providing opportunities to learn about what that might mean? I could imagine small or focused ways -- e.g. publicly offering a class or series of classes covering and discussing the material from Marin's book and how a church approach like that would work in practice. Or larger ways -- e.g. taking two hours to talk about this during small group leaders training, or asking someone like Marin to come speak to the church as a part of SGL training, or do it as a special event and promote it as something that's really important to us as a church and that you don't want to miss. I also think that having GLBT people tell their stories is a crucial part of this learning process. If the only Sunday morning presentation of this topic is Dave speaking, there's no way for it not be somewhat abstract. The church body needs to hear the voices of GLBT people of all sorts talking about who they are and who Jesus is or might be for them. How can we make that happen? Anyway-- I think to do this right there will be a clear cost. People will leave, sure. But also-- there is only so much training time for leaders, you can only ask people to come to so many meetings, there are only so many Sundays. Most of what we do will have to come in place of some other also very good thing (and some people will resent that, too). But we can't make this happen with just 45 minutes on one Sunday morning. So, count the cost. Doing this halfway will likely leave us exactly nowhere. Can we make that commitment?
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Thanks for reposting the article, Dave. I agree on so many fronts-- this is the only way forward that I've seen, other than a magic potion that makes everyone agree. I think my real question is what we can do to make this real. How much of it has to come from the church leadership? How can we participate as individuals? One obvious thing is to invite my gay friends to my church, but that does feel a bit like asking them to be experimented on. Leadership is key to our church's approach to spiritual growth, so "it could happen" seems like incredible progress for me over "it won't happen" but it seems like eventually that has to resolve into "it could happen, and in fact it has" or "it could happen, but the fact that it never has says something concrete about the realities of this church/approach". (And it could say many things. Ask Larry Summers what conclusions to draw about why there are no tenured women in the Harvard math program. Then ask me. :-P) Anyway, I don't know what happens then in either case. And I'm not pushing for any resolution now! But in terms of inviting my friends into that situation, I might make a weak analogy to a girl who is interested in a guy who has never thought he wanted kids. But now he does say that if everything fell into place and the woman was the right woman, it could happen. If the woman definitely wants kids, would you advise her to commit herself emotionally to this otherwise great guy, not knowing whether, in the end, she can be the right kind of woman for him? Or would you say that she'd be better off in a relationship with a guy who openly "welcomes and affirms" having kids? I'm not sure. Maybe, maybe not, but it's got some risk. Dropping the analogy, of course it depends on how well you think the alternatives do at helping people engage with Jesus. My position would be that for some people, the alternatives work really well. But there are many others for whom the strengths of my church (e.g.) would be an incredible blessing, and I want everyone to be able to experience them. (And on a separate tack, in some ways this whole situation also sometimes reminds me of the challenges involved in explicitly trying to make an all-white community multi-ethnic. What does it mean to ask a person of color to step into that? But anyway.) At any rate, my real question is what specifically we can do as members of these communities (other than the obvious, inviting other people to come take a chance on us)? Changing our own attitude is one thing, if we are uncomfortable around GLBT people or uncomfortable inviting them to experience Jesus without first changing sexual orientation. But it sounds like most people here have already bought into Dave's general approach. What do we do next? What do people think?
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I'm late commenting on this post, but I just wonder why we have tend to have this conversation on these terms. I'm not personally convinced that talking about "the Greatest Church Ever for Men" is that productive. Imagine talking about "the Greatest Church Ever for Midwesterners". IMO the only people who would think that's a productive conversation are people who have never lived in the Midwest and think we're all pretty much the same. :-P The breadth of experience and personality there is just too vast. Then imagine talking about something more sensitive like "the Greatest Church Ever for Black People". So fraught. I think this conversation only makes sense if you de-univeralize it. How can our church minister to people who feel X or people who consider themselves Y? How do we serve people who are bored listening to sermons? How do we engage people who are not drawn to emotionally vulnerable conversations (esp. with relative strangers)? How do we welcome people who feel like their sexuality is not welcome in the church? How do we serve men who like cars? :) I think the man/woman discourse can be more of a red herring than a helpful divide in this pursuit-- one, you alienate as many people as you help by trying too hard to pin down what is "masculine" and "feminine", and two, the picture of people's needs just tends to become obscured by all the generalizations (e.g. serving men means serving people like XYZ)-- it makes it easier to miss those who do not conform to the mainstream expectations of their category, which few of us do in every way anyway. Of course I'm not saying it's not useful to talk in terms of categories sometimes, especially when we are specifically discussing issues of racism, sexism, or how to handle the specific messages that church or society sends men and women separately, etc.. But I still think it is best to frame it locally: How can we serve women who have felt excluded from leadership by the church? How can we serve men who have been told male sexuality is only dangerous? Etc., etc., etc. As a caveat-- I know some people/Christians put gender in a special category as uniquely ordained by God (as opposed to race, class, etc.). That could obviously imply that it is useful to talk specifically about MEN and WOMEN in some more universal sense, in a way that it's not when we are discussing "black people" or "Midwesterners" or "non-college-educated people". My personal opinion, however, is that Scripture is very quiet about the implications of what it specifically means to be men and women, especially outside of the context of a marriage relationship. And the diversity of men and women across time and society is so broad that any attempt to pin down "masculine" and "feminine" identities falls deeply short, typically extrapolating largely from personal experience and society (IMHO, etc., etc.). I think it's more of a mystery (in the spiritual sense of that word) than anything else. But-- even if you disagree with my stronger opinion in this paragraph here, hopefully we do agree that opinions vary widely on what it means to be men and women (Eldredge really is only one approach!), and any church approach that allows for only one of them wouldn't be very centered-set, now, would it? :) :)
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