A Travelogue of the Interior

faith questions


A “perverted attack”? A difference of opinion? Or a hill to die on?

A funny thing happened the other day.

OK, maybe not so funny, but it happened.

I wrote a post ruminating on what might be an underlying dynamic contributing to the sex abuse climate extant in the conservative evangelical church at the moment. My post got re-posted at the David C Cook Facebook page and folks started to comment, some positive (agreeing or furthering the discussion) some negative (disagreeing or trying to shut it down altogether). One comment in particular called me out with this:

I have never seen such a perverted attack on the complementarian view of gender and the biblical view of marriage.”

Negative comments don’t bother me. I worked professionally in high tech for 15 years and was on the receiving end of many a negative comment — usually from men because this was high tech 20 years ago and high tech was all men — and can I just say, I love men! I love men for lots of reasons, but one reason that has to be at the top of my list of “Reasons Men Are Awesome” is that they tend to be (and yes, I am making a sweeping generalization) direct, confrontational, emotional-in-the-moment, and volcanic, meaning they blow up, say their peace (or is it piece?) and when its all over, they readjust their clothing, smooth down their hair and quite innocently ask if you want to grab a sandwich. As If Nothing Happened.  Because nothing did. We disagreed, argued about it, moved on. No meta-communicating about the process, no grudges, no social punishment. Just sandwiches.

But, as usual, I digress.

I am quite sure the fellow commenting about my perversion and attack on the Bible loves Jesus as much as I do, submits to God’s word as much as I do, and was contending for the gospel as best he can. And so I got to thinking, what is he reacting to? Why the volcanic blow up (offers of sandwiches notwithstanding).  And I think at least part of what’s happening here is that he’s picturing complementarian theology at one end of a fairly broad spectrum, and I was addressing it at the other.

Here’s where it gets sticky and I ask for help, and friends, this is a genuine inquiry. I’m not trying to advance an agenda, I am trying to understand something and need some help from thoughtful people no matter where on the issue they land today.

Is it fair to put complementarian theology on a spectrum from uber-conservative (let’s say Christian Patriarchy) to fairly liberal? What would exemplify the progressive endpoint of the spectrum? Conversely, does egalitarian theology also exist on a spectrum? If so, what might its end points be?

I and others toy with comparing the current debate about women’s roles in the home and church to the centuries-past debate about slavery, where the Bible was used on both sides of the divide toward dramatically different ends. Ultimately, the liberal/progressive reading of Scripture won.

The thing is, in hindsight, trying to make a Biblical case for a spectrum of possibility concerning enslaving Africans (from the uber-conservative “God approves of African slavery because Ham” to the arguably more progressive end, “benign imperialism in the form of compassionate slavery can be good”) is horribly offensive and so clearly an egregious use of Scripture that I can hardly stomach it.

But here I am, asking if the idea that women are subordinate to men by virtue of a Divine edict of beneficent hierarchy, can be put on a spectrum and patiently waited out while the debates rage and the dust settles.

In other words, is there a Biblically-meaningful difference between The Gospel Coalition vs Christians for Biblical Manhood & Womanhood vs the Christian Patriarchs?

I like to think that had I been a contemporary of famed William Wilberforce, I would not have needed a trip to the slave boats to become an abolitionist, I would not have been someone who politely conceded there are “differences of interpretation and we all mean well,” and turned away while African men, women and children were abused in the name of God. I tend to see the call for women’s full equality in church and home in the same terms. I don’t see nuance, I admit that.

That said, I am also quite aware that using slavery as an exemplar leads to conclusions of this kind.  So I ask, what alternate/other/better/more useful metaphors, historical or otherwise, can we employ in our pursuit of a robust theology of gender?



How does a Christian magazine end up posting a letter defending statutory rape?

A week ago, the Christianity Today (CT) imprint, Leadership Journal (LJ), published a letter written by a man in jail for statutory rape of a teenage girl in his youth group.

It was published as a cautionary tale for pastors and other (male) church leaders lest they too “fall into sin” which, in this case, was positioned as an extra-marital affair between consenting adults. Only at the end of the letter does the reader learn with horror that the female participant was in middle school when the abuse began.

Within hours of the article being posted, a huge — and I mean huge — backlash walloped CT and the Journal, and after an appalling 5 days (the editors’ first instinct was simply to delete all negative comments), the letter was replaced with a genuinely awesome apology and retraction (it is included in the link above) demonstrating that finally, after countless emails, blog posts, comments and tweets, the publishers understood just how warped their point of view was that allowed them to publish a rape apologia couched in Christian vernacular and supported with Bible stories.

A number of bloggers have written about the ordeal — some of them sexual abuse survivors themselves, others who have grasped the consequence of gender discrimination in the church and the ways in which warped theology contributes to a climate wherein abuse thrives. One blogger in particular caught my attention and it is to her ideas that I wish to add.

She unmasks the nuance that had the predator/prey relationship been between an adult male and a teenage boy, CT and LJ would never have published the letter. It would have been so obviously despicable, unrepentant and narcissistic. The same holds true had the rapist been an adult female pastor, teacher or coach and her victim a teenage girl (or boy). We are crystal clear in these scenarios that these are not “extramarital affairs” or “consensual relationships.” We are crystal clear that one person is a target of sexual deviance and the other a predator who manipulates others for their own gratification.

So why — how — did the editors at CT/LJ miss this?  Why could they not see the same dynamic in this situation?

Surely a part of the answer is that in many Christian circles, a relationship between a dominant male and a submissive female is normative. It is proffered as the ideal model for marriage and the operating model for church governance.

When I was growing up, I picked up the message that the “ideal” Christian wife was younger than her husband, less educated, less professionally accomplished, embraced her calling to be submissive, and above all desired to be shaped by her husband’s wishes, ideas and leadership. The “ideal” Christian husband was the exact opposite: he was older than his wife, well-educated, had professional or pastoral aspirations and above all desired to be the spiritual authority and leader in his home. Authentic partnership and mutual submission were nowhere in the story line, although looking back I find it funny how few of us actually lived out this leader/follower narrative. Either we were terrible church-goers or God was particularly merciful. I’m thinking it was a combination of both.

Lest you think this mentality has gone the way of all flesh, look no further than the embarrassingly popular Duck Dynasty patriarch and his encouraging of child marriage to see this idea alive and well. The clear message from Phil is that a man should marry a girl — 14, 15, 16 tops — so that he can mold her into a well-trained, subservient wife. Her humanity and the giftedness and calling of God on her life are irrelevant at best, and more likely simply non-existent. She exists solely for him, the argument goes, because Genesis says so. He is entitled to her.

(As an aside, are you aware that the Duck Dynasty patriarchs are putting out a Bible? Yep. Thomas Nelson is publishing a new King James version with commentary from Phil and his son Alan. Words fail). DC FF Bible

As sex scandals continue to rock the conservative evangelical world, comparisons are being made to the Catholic abuse scandal of years past. I am convinced that part of the reason we all reacted so vehemently to the news of widespread sexual abuse of altar boys by priests was precisely because we could all understand deep in our bones just how powerless, how un-equal, how un-consenting these boys were. We didn’t have to be told that a teenage boy does not willingly, naturally become a sexual submissive to an adult male for the purpose of that man’s pleasure. But we have to be told this very thing when a man’s victim is a girl. Especially if she is a teenager.

So here’s where it hurts: we could see the horror of male clergy abuse of boys clearly because it violated our worldview, wherein boys are agents in their lives and have full and unfettered rights to their bodies. When they are made powerless (we even have a word for that: emasculated) we can see straight away that something is horribly, egregiously wrong.

But girls, in this worldview, are powerless by design, by divine edict. Their bodies belong to their male protectors, the men who are entitled to them. It is their God-given role to be powerless, to require male leadership in order to thrive, and so when girls are victimized, we don’t recognize it as such. At first blush it looks normal, maybe slightly off but only slightly. The man was a little too old for her. She was maybe a little too young. Things will even out eventually. 

(Interestingly, there is no equivalent word for what happens to a girl or woman when she is robbed of agency or power — linguistic relativity would argue that this is both a reflection and a cause of female powerlessness).

I am not the only person to wonder if this horrible rape-apology letter would not have been published had there been women on the CT/LJ editorial board. Strong, opinionated, educated women, women who were viewed by their male peers as equals, whose voices were weighted equally in shaping editorial decisions.

For me, this week-long decent into a necessary yet excruciating discussion of sexual abuse in the Church that I love so much has reminded me again why I am a proponent of women’s full equality in marriage and church. The Bible I read says God made men and women to complement each other (no, I am not a “complementarian”). We are not the same. We see differently, experience differently. We are shaped by different forces in our culture, by our biology and the ways we were nurtured. Equality does not imply sameness. To the contrary, it is our difference that is our strength. We need each other — in marriage, in friendship, in church governance, in ministry.

In our equality, in our diversity, as peers, in partnership, we bear God’s image and accomplish God’s first, formative call on our shared humanity:

So God created mankind in his own image,
    in the image of God he created them;
    male and female he created them.

God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.” Then God said, “I give you every seed-bearing plant on the face of the whole earth and every tree that has fruit with seed in it. They will be yours for food. And to all the beasts of the earth and all the birds in the sky and all the creatures that move along the ground—everything that has the breath of life in it—I give every green plant for food.” And it was so. God saw all that he had made, and it was very good. And there was evening, and there was morning—the sixth day.


“Men want significance and women want security.”

Ella, ever the gadfly in our house, is doing a book report on J.R.R. Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings.eowyn-wiki I can’t believe anyone reading my blog does not know the story, but just in case, it traces an epic quest of 9 male characters (4 hobbits, 2 men, 1 dwarf, 1 elf and 1 wizard) through Middle Earth to defeat an overpowering evil. Along the way, Tolkien incorporates a very small number of notable female characters: 2 elven queens and 1 human woman (and an embittered hobbit, but she’s beside the point).

In the movie version of LOTR, the female characters are bold, courageous and determined, but the one that captured Ella’s imagination was Eowyn, a noblewoman who disguises herself as a man so she can ride into battle against the great and growing evil, even at the risk of death.

Ella’s identification with Eowyn got me thinking about a phrase I heard routinely at church as a teenager, this little ditty that, “men want significance and women want security.” This statement was evoked as a way of instructing us girls that since we were created by God to want (and need) security primarily, we would find our deepest satisfaction in marriage and homemaking. Likewise, we were not — and ought not try to be — like men, who had a deep, God-given need and desire to participate in an epic story and struggle valiantly with their fellow brothers-in-arms — to give their lives for something significant. You can see the chalk outline then of the male/female model, where the men engage in epic battle in the public square and the women wait at home for the return of their conquering hero. This idea is illustrated quite clearly in the hugely popular (among Christians) Wild at Heart and Captivating books by John and Stasi Eldredge:

In an interview with Beliefnet, they explain,

“In fact, in “Wild at Heart,” I (John) said every man wants a battle to fight, an adventure to live, and a beauty to rescue. And in “Captivating” (Stasi) -every woman wants to be romanced; every woman wants to play an irreplaceable role in a heroic adventure, not just to be useful but to be irreplaceable; and every woman longs to have a beauty that’s all her own to unveil, both an external beauty and an internal beauty as well. To be the beauty and to offer beauty.

The woman in this scenario, it should be noted, was part of the man’s spoils, his reward for having fought the good fight, so she had certain essential obligations to look the part. By extension, as I have heard many times in my short, happy life, when women refuse to be the prize, when women take up arms (metaphorically and physically), it demotivates men and deprives them of their masculine prerogative.

Some of my friends loved this narrative and Could Not Wait to fit themselves into it vis a vis marriage.

But me. Oooh no, this narrative made me crazy — C.R.A.Z.Y. Even as a young teenager, I knew deep in my soul I had very little desire for security (as it was conceptualized anyway) and even less desire to be someone’s prize. I was drawn to all the stories of epic questing and never, ever imagined myself in the role of fair maiden. My go-to childhood superpower? Flight. Way better than Spidey sense or a Lasso of Truth.  I wanted wings more than roots. If there was a mountain to be skied, I was at the top of it. If there was a boundary, I pushed it. If God was offering something, I was first in line even if I was uninvited by the powers that be. The edge has always been my comfort zone.

Even as a child I wanted to see the world, and I still do. When I get cranky and irritable my husband starts making travel plans, because he knows how essential it is for me to breathe fresh air and set my sights on something new, set myself against a task yet untested.  I am beyond fortunate that he’s that way too, and so when life throws us lemons we let the lemons mold and rot in the fridge, and we pack up the kids and hit the road.

I see the same hunger in both of my daughters, although scarcely can they identify it yet. What captivates them: challenge, risk, adventure, the open road. Julia will go on epic quests in the interior of her own imagination, and I guarantee you she is the hero in her own story, and rightly so. Of course, we all of us love to come home after our adventures, sleep in our own beds, get reacquainted with the cadences of daily life. It is not either-or for me, for my daughters.  It is both-and.

There are those who would argue (and have) that what feels to me like an innate desire to engage the big wide world and play a part there, to be significant, is a socially conditioned response fomented in the 60s by radical feminists and is (thus) not the way God made me. Who knows, maybe they are right. I guess someday I’ll find out if I became the person God imagined before the foundations of the world, or instead became some silly, deformed cultural cliche. I, for one, have more confidence in God than that, though. I have confidence that He is able to do all He sets out to do, that He is able to complete His work — even in me.

Perhaps it is security that gives us the courage to quest and seek a role in God’s epic adventure. Perhaps it is the desire to contribute in some significant way to a story larger than our own that drives us to form the securest of bonds with kindred spirits, those born of blood and those born of faith and covenant too.

The more I think about it, the less the bifurcation irritates me, and the easier it is to simply dismiss it out of hand. The truly stupid part of this idea, sold to me in those formative teenage years, is that any one of us can be cleanly located, because of our gender, into one or the other little, tiny box. As if God has boxes at all.

God made each of us in His image and called us to wage war against evil and bring heaven to earth — what role could possibly be more significant?

God made each of us for Himself and named us — brother, sister, daughter, son — what relationship could possibly bring greater security?

Let the Owen Strachan’s of the world keep on deriding women like me. I’m sticking with Eowyn.


Reblogging from Mimi Haddad– The Bait & Switch of Complementarians

This is so good I am reblogging it, originally posted at Christians for Biblical Equality.

Love this most of all:bait-and-switch

Please do not tell girls or women that they share equally in God’s image; that they are equal at the foot of the cross; that they are equal in the kingdom of God, that they should cultivate their minds equally, unless you are prepared to give them equal authority to use the gifts God has given them. To do otherwise is to bait girls and women with the truth of Scripture as it points to their inheritance in Christ, and then to switch—to deny them the opportunities to walk in newness of life—in using their God-given gifts with equality authority. To advocate for the education of females based on the aims of Christian discipleship is inseparable from God’s aims for men and women created in God’s image—where both shared authority in Eden (Genesis 1:26- 28); and as recreated in the image of Christ who extends equal authority to his disciples, both male and female (John 20:18-23).

Read the full post here: http://blog.cbeinternational.org/2014/05/the-bait-switch-of-complementarians/


God’s Got Your Back?


I love the “Keep Calm” meme but this particular instance has Got To Go.

I keep seeing and hearing this. It shows up in Facebook posts and on Christian radio, in Internet memes and bromides of every sort.

This little saying, “God’s Got Your Back” is meant to encourage us by reminding us that God is concerned with the circumstances of our lives, and while life looks to be spinning out of control, God is there in the background, sovereign and everything, and is going to make everything work out OK (we usually spiritualize this by quoting Romans 8:28). You can rest, dear Christian, because your happy ending is just around the corner and if you have faith to see that, you will also have peace and can relax knowing that Everything Is Going To Be OK.

Because Jesus.

It really would be nice if shutting our eyes to the realities of life somehow caused our faith to thrive. It really would be nice. But it doesn’t.

I might be the voice of one crying in the wilderness here but in my right-now-more-angry-than-humble-point-of-view, this is horrible theology.

God does not have your back. God doesn’t have mine either.

Try telling Job “God’s got your back” as he sits there in the ashes, scraping at boils with a potshard and staring at the shrouded bodies of his ten dead children. Were they lined up in a neat row from youngest to oldest or do their bodies lie crumpled at the scene of the crime?

Try telling David “God’s got your back” as he takes the humiliating descent from Jerusalem into a wilderness of his own making, the messianic throne hanging in the balance, while his favorite son, Absalom, rapes ten women on a rooftop as a way of proving to David he has been dethroned.

While you are at it, how about saying it to the women on the rooftop, the nameless ones, the ones we would today call sex trafficking victims. Did God have their backs? Did anyone?

Want a more immediate example? How about the 230 Nigerian school girls stolen from school by the worst sort of cowards, men petrified by the idea of an educated, empowered female? Look these schoolgirls in the eyes as they endure rape and torture, as their rapes are negated by the “virtue” of marriage (that is so profane I can barely type it), as they watch powerlessly while their friends and sisters are emotionally, sexually and physically abused — look them in the eye and tell them God’s got their back.

I hate this saying because it smacks of faith in faith, not faith in God, a God who does not answer us with explanation or even necessarily with provision but with theophany, with Presence.

I hate this saying because it only really works with our first world problems. As those brave Nigerian girls remind me, their lives cannot be reduced to a bromide and if not theirs, then not mine either. This is a desecration of all that is holy, a denial of the tension of life in God, a shutting our eyes to what is real in the world and to what is God’s part in it all.

I hate this saying because we don’t have a beat on what God is up to. We are merely projecting our wishful thinking and calling it Christian faith. Nope. We simply don’t know looking forward at people’s experiences whether they are going to come through unscathed or whether they will be wounded for life. We cannot know if the illness will lead to life or to death, if the child will thrive or be crushed beneath the weight of disability. We pray. We hope. We come alongside the ones who weep and we weep too. But for the love of God, we don’t tell them God’s got their back.

I hate this saying because it trivializes suffering, and friends, God does not trivialize human suffering. To the contrary, God so honors suffering that He shows up in the midst of it to bear witness, to absorb our grief and pain and confusion into His very own self and hold it there, to hold time eternally still so we can take all the time in the world and in our lives to process our grief. We wish God would just intervene, end the suffering, punish the evildoers. Someday God will. I believe that. I do.

Lastly, I hate this saying because it relieves us of duty. I mean, really, if God’s got your back, I don’t really have to, now do I? But we are the body of Christ on Earth. It is our job to have each others’ backs. To stand against evil even if it costs us our lives. To take our place alongside our brothers, our sisters, and defend them from all manner of arrows, those slung by outrageous fortune as much as those that originate in the pit of hell.

There is so much more to be said on this topic, so many nuances and angles to this idea of God having our backs. We didn’t even touch on the way this idea centers our theology on us (personal salvation and sanctification) rather than on God’s Kingdom agenda, that shalom pervade earth as it does in heaven, and our role in that epic story.

Maybe that’s a post for another day.







The Woman in the Fascinator

This past Saturday, whilst cleaning out embarrassingly messy closets, I came across this photo:

photoIt was taken the third week of June, 2001, at Royal Ascot — one of the most famous horse racing events in the world. A woman simply Does Not Go To Royal Ascot without wearing a fascinator, and this was mine, purchased a few days before at Harrod’s in London. I still have it in a hatbox at the top of my closet. About once a year it comes down and the girls try it on for size and I, I remember it all.

My favorite musical growing up was My Fair Lady, so this particular moment was rich with signifiers. On at least two occasions during the afternoon, I muttered under my breath, “Come on, Dover! Come on, Dover! Move your bloomin’ arse!” There was champagne flowing and pageantry, Royals and drunks and exquisite horses. It was a fabulous experience and is now, more than a decade later, a great memory.

I stare at the woman in the photo, and I realize I am looking not at myself but for myself. She was 31, still a newlywed. She strikes me as sassy and beautiful and full of life, someone I would have loved to be around as much as possible. My kind of person.

I can guarantee you that was not how I felt about myself on the day that photo was taken.

I felt ugly. Fat. Out of my element. Awkward. An outsider, face and palms pressed to the window, wondering what it felt like to be on the inside, with the beautiful people, the popular people, the ones who mattered.

I knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that I did not meet cultural expectations for what a beautiful woman was, let alone a Christian woman. I had more than one fine young man point out that I was not feminine, not attractive, not Godly. I was too opinionated, they said. Sharp tongued. I was mannish — athletic, intellectual, interested in theology, assertive — and what among my male peers would have been considered “robust discussion” was “argumentative” and “nitpicking” when I engaged. I was not demure, not a follower. I would make a lousy “helper,” they said.

How these words sunk into my soul! Made me feel less than and ashamed. Made me hyper-focus on my body and its flaws, convinced me that my personality was rank and displeasing to God, was something to mitigate, wrestle down, erase.

I actually tried, my senior year in college, to change. I had lost a very important relationship due, apparently, to my flaws, and so, trying desperately to hide an excruciating pain, I set out to cultivate a “gentle and quiet spirit” — which meant holding my tongue, dressing in feminine clothing, listening to Every Word that proceedeth from the mouth of the boys in my College group, those not-quite-yet men whom God had put in authority over me, who would be my spiritual leader someday. The ones to whom God had given the keys to the Kingdom, the ones God had determined before the foundations of the world that I would be beneath.

Friends, it lasted two days. Two. I couldn’t do it. Could Not. My authentic self simply leaked out, seeped through my skin. My best friend, a boy who loved me for who I was and (dare I say it) loved God for who God was, laughed in my face when I told him of my failure. “Well duh, Geek (his favorite nickname for me). You are never going to be gentle and quiet and who would want you to be? You are never going to be a follower. You carry a machete and you carve your own path through places most of us are scared to go.”

I loved that boy with my whole heart and seeing myself in his eyes did more for my understanding of God than I could possibly have known at the time.

And now I see, as I stare into the dark, dancing eyes of the woman in this picture, how wrong they all were. She was beautiful. Audacious. Brave. Funny. She loved Jesus more than life itself and wanted nothing less than Him in fullness. He would answer the prayer of her heart, to give her Himself, and she would learn just what it meant to follow Jesus to the cross, even the grave. Soon the body she was ashamed of would grow another human being, and then another. Her face would wrinkle, her hair begin to grey, but her voice, the one that caused her so much shame, God Himself would fill it up with the vowels and consonants of grace, truth and tears.

As my own daughters stand at the precipice of adolescence, I think about these things. How to teach them to inhabit their bodies without shame. How to gird them against the onslaught of a culture that will tell them they are less than, a Church that will tell them they are less than too. Writing those words, my hands shake at the keyboard for how wrong it is, at the rejection I know they will experience by men, by women too who, enslaved to their own theology, cannot let others live free.

I watched my daughter get ready for bed last night, brushing her hair and teeth, tidying her room, laying out her soccer clothes for the morning. I was overwhelmed with the reality that I can’t change the world for her.

So, instead, I will take her picture, and when she forgets who she is, I will show her. I will capture her words and when she forgets how to speak true, when she sits in mute silence, I will remind her what her own voice sounds like. I will tell her over and over again the story of how she was made in the image of God, how the same One who formed her in His imagination now calls her to become His unique likeness in the world. I will pray that she learns beyond a shadow of a doubt that every inch of her is fearfully and wonderfully made.







When Repentance Isn’t

High profile Christian leaders are dropping like flies these days. Psalm-51-10-web

First went Bill Gothard, founder and leader of the hugely influential Institute in Basic Life Principles. He was accused by more than 30 women of sexual misconduct. You can read the backstory here if you are interested and you can read Gothard’s quasi-apology here, presented (as difficult as this is for me) without comment.

Next up (or down as the case may be) was Doug Phillips, founder and bombastic leader of Vision Forum, a Christian organization that promoted Christian patriarchy, homeschooling, and Quiverfull beliefs. He confessed to a lengthy and cliché-drenched extramarital affair with the oh-so-young nanny and has since been legally charged by her with grooming a minor for sexual abuse, among many other violations of appropriate pastoral and professional conduct. You can read the story here and his (yep) quasi-apology here.

As these stories were unfolding, Mark Driscoll, founder and boorish leader of Mars Hill Church, a mega-church based in Seattle and incorporating 15 additional churches in 5 states, was publicly charged with plagiarism. His accuser was summarily silenced by the evangelical money machine, her job threatened unless she publicly apologize to Driscoll, which she did. Only it turned out he actually had plagiarized, several times over and apparently with impunity, though not one person that I am aware of ever publicly apologized to her for, um, doing her job as a journalist. But I digress, because soon thereafter it was discovered that Driscoll had paid a marketing firm to purchase (possibly with church funds), a large number of copies of his book, Real Marriage, to make sure it got onto the NYT “Best Sellers” list. You can read the plagiarism story here and the Real Marriage marketing story here. Once exposed, Driscoll and clan again made a quasi-apology and tried to move on. Except that shortly thereafter, a number of ex-pastors from the Mars Hill franchise came forward apologizing for serious spiritual abuse of congregants and then pointing to Driscoll as an abuser himself. Again, you can read here about the details and you can also read a copy of Mark Driscoll’s (wait for it) private quasi-apology (leaked to Reddit).

As I have watched these dramas play out over the past few months, I’ve wondered if there is a thread that connects them. Certainly these fellows share a particular view of women — they hold complementarian beliefs wherein women are subordinate to men by virtue of biblical mandate — and it is tempting to wrangle out a causal connection.

But I suspect there is something more fundamental going on here: in a nutshell, power corrupts, no less so in the Church. The problem of course is that in the Christian gospel and in the Church it birthed, there is no such thing as the exercise of power one over another. The gospel is a great equalizer, the “rising tide that levels all boats” as the old saying goes. This is illustrated perhaps nowhere more blatantly and counter-culturally than in the Epistles where Paul takes aim at the Roman household codes (where men ruled authoritatively in their homes, girls were married off by fathers and uncles to secure economic and social bonds with other kin groups and children and slaves were economic assets). In scandalous contradistinction, in the New Covenant brought about by the death and resurrection of Jesus, men serve their wives in love and together husband and wife steward their children with compassion, tenderly and for the child’s well-being. Slaves are honored as equal participants in the life of the extended family and community, and the religious privilege of Jew over Gentile yields to extravagant spiritual gifting, given without distinction by the Holy Spirit to everyone, regardless of gender, ethnic heritage, age or social status.

These men — Gothard, Phillips and Driscoll — they all seemingly forgot this and set themselves up in a hierarchy, with rich white men at the top of the heap and (conveniently) themselves at the tippy top. They created organizations where the seconds-in-command were mini-versions of the head honcho, where disagreement was verboten, where the privileged doled out gifts to a favored few, where women were valued only to the degree that they were complicit in their own oppression.

What also strikes me was that in each case, there is no “Eve” for these “Adams.”  Gothard was single and intentionally surrounded himself with young and impressionable (and only the most attractive) girls — they weren’t old enough to be called women. Phillips’ entire marriage was based on the idea that he was the boss and that his wife was not his equal, therefore insulating him from any attempt on her part to play her God-given role as ezer (the Hebrew word in Genesis to describe Woman at her creation; it is smartly translated “a strength corresponding to” and from which the Bible translators managed to conveniently infer “helper” or “helpmeet.” But whatever to that). Driscoll is certifiably sexist and his wife, Grace, while she seems like a delightful person, is a study in subjugation. She barely answers a direct question without first gaining visible approval from her overbearing husband.

I wonder how things might have been different if any one of them had relationships with women (wives, other pastors, friends) that were actually based on equality.  We hear all the time how (male) pastors and leaders in the church need to insulate themselves from female parishioners so as to avoid sexual sin, but I’m going out on a limb here to posit just the opposite.  I wonder, would we see a massive decline in this sort of pastoral sin, if instead of women being subordinate in the church, they were elevated to equal standing? Would we see men discovering all those stereotypes of the femme fatale are really just that — stereotypes — and we all have far more to gain by engaging with each other as partners, as family, than we do by keeping men and women separate and situated on a hierarchical ladder that leaves some in the risky position of having too much power and others in the equally risky position of being excessively vulnerable?

And I keep coming back to those quasi-apologies. Some argue they are carefully crafted for legal protection, but I think there is a more subtle and insidious reason they are so flaccid. When you exist in a hierarchy and you are at the top, it takes an extraordinary shock to the system to see your own privileged position and then see even further the ways in which you use your privilege to subordinate others. I’m thinking the reason we have such weak repentance from Gothard, Phillips and Driscoll is because at some level they still do not really see what they did as wrong. Their intent was beneficent imperialism, you see, and OK, so they might have missed the mark by a wee bit. But abusive? No way. They were just fulfilling their God-given role as Boss … and so the argument goes.

I’m suggesting that leaders who are insulated at the top ranks of a hierarchical system operate with an impunity that only “leaders” have, and this impunity blinds them to their need for repentance.

In the case of Gothard, Phillips and Driscoll, I hope I am wrong, and time will tell.

You know how we will know if these men are really repentant?

You will see Psalm 51 play out in the public square, as modern day Davids stand in their pulpits saying, “Let me tell you the story of how I stole a woman for my own satisfaction, murdered her husband to cover up the deed, and only repented because God, who loves me with an impossible and unrelenting love, sent me a prophet to drive me to my knees.

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When Sunday Isn’t Sacred

This past week I’ve been mostly offline while my kids were on spring break.

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We did some animal gazing in San Diego, carnival games in Santa Monica, and now are attempting to merge once again into the breakneck pace of Silicon Valley.

It’s not going well.

The past three months have been brutal for all of us: David has been traveling nonstop, I’m attempting to birth a book while going back to work in high tech and still keep my day job as a parent (oh and blog too twice a week). Between school and homework, basketball and soccer, family get-togethers and squeezing in a weekly Once Upon A Time, the kids haven’t stopped either. Our lives are full, spilling over, and not all of it good.

What used to be a rigorous 5-day week has become a full-octane 7-day week, and David and I battle together to reclaim hours, days and weekends here and there for playtime, for downtime, for community. We fight just to keep body and soul together. 

I felt long ago a call from God, yes, an actual call, to stay firmly planted Out There … in “The World” as Christians like to call it. What Christians mean by “The World” is Those People Who Don’t Go To My Church Or Confess The Same Things I Do In My Religious Tradition. The tribal aspects of this attitude will require robust commentary someday, just not today.

For my part, I don’t see life through Us and Them glasses.  I just see my friends and colleagues and acquaintances who have a different take on life and God’s place in it. I live in a multi-ethnic community, a true microcosm of the whole globe where gods, both grand and banal, are worshipped with varying degree of fervor.

God’s call on my life is to simply live out there, be myself, raise my family, participate in the schools and soccer clubs, accept the social invitations to pool parties and dinner dates.

I’m not an evangelist. I’m an image-bearer. It is what I am, not what I do.

What people see when they see me is what God looks like in juxtaposition to a flawed, wanting human being who nonetheless loves Him from a place so deep it can only be described in tears.

People with ears to hear and eyes to see will experience a God who loves outrageously, forgives extravagantly, has a wicked (and often) sarcastic sense of humor. They will see a God who is just fine with unresolved tension, a God who isn’t impressed with our moral machinations, a God who speaks more often in story and poem than didactic prose. They will see a God who, against all common sense, happily makes His home among fallible people.

So I live, somewhat flayed and exposed, Out There, and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

But there is one huge problem and the craziness of the past 3 months has made me see it in excruciating detail.

You see, when you are Out There living life with Those People, Sunday isn’t sacred. Its just another weekend day for doing stuff — hanging out, having school functions, playing soccer and basketball and softball and volleyball games. Part of the price I am paying right now is that following God’s call on my life means I’m not able to get to church regularly. I’m just not.

I can hear the objections already.

“Your girls need to quit competitive soccer. What are you teaching them — that sports are more important than God?”

“You need to rearrange your priorities. Remember, the Bible says not to forsake the assembling of the brethren!”

“God won’t call you to something that pulls you away from the community of faith. I mean, think about what Proverbs says about keeping company with the wicked.”

And I blink back the tears, because its all there, the “us and them” mentality, the spiritualized guilt trips and the anxiety of unresolved tension. The inability to step outside a Western Christian 21st century moment and take a large view of God. I nod politely and say things like, “You are probably right,” knowing full well God is pleased with me even when some Christians are not. Knowing that my life is not something to be fixed but lived by faith.

I realize something else though, something that is oscillating at a deeper level.

This past year I have grown increasingly frustrated with the Evangelical Church. Or at least that’s what I thought.  But yesterday, sitting in church for the first time in months, I realized I’m not frustrated with the church, I’m frustrated with the institutions of Christianity that have taken over the airwaves and the blogsphere and social media.

I absolutely hate the insulting banter and the way we turn others into caricatures. I hate the battle that is raging for power and control and the right to define what Christianity is and isn’t. I hate the 140 character platitudes and oversimplifications.

And then it hit me.  What I have come to despise is this bastardized version of Christianity that is non-incarnational. It is a Christianity made up of bits and bytes, of tweets and blogs, of placards and platitudes and It Isn’t Christianity At All.  It can’t be.  

We cannot be Christians without sharing table fellowship.

We cannot be Christians without feet that bring good news, without hands that dress Samaritan wounds, without ears that hear the cadence of an actual voice, hear it crack and break under the strain of suffering, disappointment and loss.

God made it a priority to come in the flesh. God showed us how to live in our bodies as His followers, how faith works with our limbs. God made each of us a new creation, then grafted us together as a people, then modeled for us how we were to engage one with the other — in compassion, with mercy, for justice, as equals, authentically, in grief and in celebration, without pretense. He gave us His Spirit to make it all possible, because without Him present with us, we could not do any of it.

As I sat there yesterday, in church, it all hit me like a ton of bricks. All my frustration that has been mounting in these past months and, if I’m honest, these past years, is in part because I confused the body of Christ with the institutions of Evangelical religion.

I started thinking and feeling that The Gospel Coalition and Christians for Biblical Equality was Christianity. That it was Mars Hill Church and DesiringGod.org and WorldVision that was Christianity. All of these organizations are of course full of faithful Jesus followers; please don’t hear me saying anything else.  But the organizations are not Christianity. They are, well, organizations — with financial motivations and partisan constituents, with Boards of Directors and Executives and business plans.

They are not the Church.

You know what is the Church?

Joel, there at the piano, with his Welsh accent that makes the Word of God just sound more holy. His wife, Kady, glowing and about to burst with a new life, singing with a whole heart to her God. It is Jerry, there in the pulpit saying something in Mandarin to a portion of our congregation and not translating it for the other half (nicely played Jerry!)  My friend Bill, chasing his toddler, and my brother making us all laugh, and my longtime friend John who didn’t realize that a 2 minute “how are you?” was going to turn into a 30 minute “not so good” but who stood there with me and told me his own pain too and held the space for us both to wrestle. Marian, my 16 year old friend walking around in an 80 year old body who reminds me the point of this life of faith is not figuring it all out someday, it’s living the present moment in faith, hope and love, the greatest of these.

If it is not incarnate, it is not the church that Jesus built and builds to this day.

Does this mean we should all get off the Internet and social media and stop blogging?  Of course not. Everyone has to make their own tentative peace with the technically over-saturated world we occupy now, and I most certainly cannot tell anyone how best to do that.

Where I land is here: at the moment, my life as God has called me to it is challenging because my particular church meets mostly on Sunday mornings and I can’t be there always. I am grieving about this. I am looking for a way forward, a way through. I don’t want to leave my vocation as image bearer Out There in order to take communion with my Kingdom family. I don’t want to find a new church. I’m in a place of profound and painful tension.

If you are the praying sort, perhaps you’ll pray for me.

And if you have any insights into how those of us who feel called to stay in The World can still partake, given the Sunday morning preference for gathering the Church, I’d love to hear it.