Over in the Progressive Christian channel, Tony Jones has proposed a radical idea this week. He seems to think that the only way for the church to resolve the tensions surrounding the role of women in the church is for those in the egalitarian camp of the church to break off ties completely with those they disagree with. Tony states:
The time has come for a schism regarding the issue of women in the church. Those of us who know that women should be accorded full participation in every aspect of church life need to visibly and forcefully separate ourselves from those who do not. Their subjugation of women is anti-Christian, and it should be tolerated no longer.
– If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.
– If you work for a ministry that does not affirm women in ecclesial leadership, you need to leave that ministry.
– If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.
– If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.
That is, we who believe in the full equality of women need to break fellowship with those who do not. The time for dialogue and debate has passed. The Spirit has spoken, and we have listened. It’s time to move forward with full force.
In principle I hate schism generally and, as a Catholic, this worries me more than a little. After all, Catholics are not generally heralded by those over in the progressive channel for being champions of egalitarianism, although our so called “complementarianism” is a bit different that what you find in neo-reform circles. One wonders if Tony means to do away with the us as well. I’m not sure, but I think his proposal raises a lot of questions.
So Tony, this is for you.
I here are a few of my own concerns with your project. I will take your idea proposal by proposal:
Proposal 1:“If you attend a church that does not let women preach or hold positions of ecclesial authority, you need to leave that church.”
A few years ago I read your book “The New Christians” in it you published the values and principles of Emergent Village, a movement you had no small part in forming and leading. If you recall you stated:
“We are committed to honor and serve the church in all its forms – Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Pentecostal, Anabaptist. We practice “deep ecclesiology” – rather than favoring some forms of the church and critiquing or rejecting others, we see that every form of the church has both weaknesses and strengths, both liabilities and potential.”
another principle stated:
In order to strengthen our shared faith and resolve, and in order to encourage and learn from one another in our diversity through respectful, sacred conversation, we value time and interaction with other friends who share this rule and its practices.
From where I’m standing it looks like you have turned your back on both of these principles with this move. To honor the Catholic Church is to honor it’s own way of change, which is very different than yours. I will admit we still have a lot of thinking and praying to do about how best to honor women in ministry in our church, but it does not look like we will be meeting your standards for inclusion any time soon. If you truly value learning through diversity why cut out the diverse opinions that you might be able to learn from?
I work for an organization called Bread for the World. Although we are not a church I consider what I do with them my ministry. I am able to talk to people from all over the country about how following Jesus can help inspire and inform their work to end hunger in the world. Bread does not formally affirm women in ecclesial leadership, but we also don’t condemn it. We welcome people from both sides of the issue in. In fact some of my coworkers are ordained women, and some of my coworkers oppose ordaining women. The power of our movement comes from the fact that, in spite of all our differences, we are able to unite Christians with one voice against hunger. Through this work we are able to urge policy makes to pass legislation that has raise millions out of poverty and saved countless lives. Do you really think that the egalitarians really need to break from the complementarians in our ministry? Is it worth the lives of the countless millions we can help lift from the cycle of poverty and malnutrition when we work together to stand with one voice?
I understand this is a bit of an extreme case, but I can imagine there are other ministries doing great work that this schism could take down if people really got behind it. My question is the price of this slash and burn activism worth it? I don’t think it is.
Proposal 3: If you write for a publishing house that also prints books by “complementarians,” you need to take your books to another publishing house.
This one seems excessive. It effectively creates intellectual ghettos. Catholics, like myself, would probably get cast as complementarians (though I would certainly not classify myself that way). Would that mean that if a publisher printed or distributed one of my books, than that publisher would be off limits for you, Tony? What if I wrote an essay? Where is the line? One of the things I love about you and the community you’ve built is that there has always been a place for respectful dialog and conversation. I fear that if we can’t even share a publisher things would quickly become polarized and conversation would become more and more difficult. What you are suggesting is essentially intellectual redistricting. I can’t see this as a good thing.
Proposal 4: If you speak at conferences, you need to withdraw from all events that do not affirm women as speakers, teachers, and leaders.
I guess I’m not aware of too many conferences who don’t affirm women as speakers at all. Perhaps I’m living under a rock. I don’t think this will be much of an issue with us Catholics, we generally have a good number of women teachers and speakers, probably not enough, but I think that trend is across the board. Even your own progressive youth ministry conference is slightly more male (and dramatically white). My concern with this is that you would refuse to allow prophetic voices to come into these places. I know the voices that have helped push and prod me towards justice came to me where I was and challenged me to move forward one step at a time. One of Trip Fuller’s “rules” you hear him talk about is the need to make the tent big enough for every previous version of yourself. I have always loved this insight and have tried to follow it in my own writing, giving room and grace for those people I have the strongest tendency to disagree with (the people I used to be like).
I hope this will add to the discussion in a productive way. I love all the friendships I have over in the progressive Christian world, I learn a lot from you folks and would hate to lose those friendships. My vote? Lets keep learning from one another!