Every year the media remind us that Augusta National, maybe the poshest golf club and course in the world, doesn’t permit women to be members, and then they all seem to forget the story the rest of the year. Year-long pressure might be more effective.
Still, there are some legal issues — Does a private club have the right to restrict membership? E.g., Do Christian universities have the right to hire only Christians? And there are some civil issues — Is this right in our world today? And there are some Christian issues — Is it right for a Christian to participate in Augusta?
I remember three things about the afternoon my parents dragged a 13-year-old me to a famous and local golf tournament: 1.) being bored out of my mind, 2.) having to keep very quiet and 3.) learning what exclusive meant in country club speak.
I’m not sure how it came up, but when it did, when my dad explained that at this clubexclusive meant Blacks, Jews, Hispanics and women were not welcome, I was appalled. I wanted to leave immediately. But my parents insisted we stay. We were merely spectators, they explained. Not members. We weren’t complicit in the bigotry. I disagreed (still do). But at least that day I learned something valuable: that wicked things weren’t always ugly and charred. That they can be lush and manicured and that Christians sometimes stood around and applauded them.
So when I read the story of Augusta National Golf Club holding firm to its ridiculous and misogynist membership rules and refusing to offer IBM’s new CEO, Ginni Rometty, the same membership they extended to her male predecessors as sponsors of The Master’stournament, I expected a familiar furor to bubble up, to boil over. But it didn’t.
I suppose I’m just tired of this being an issue. Weary of Old Boys Clubs and “No Girls Allowed” signs. Weary of uber-accomplished women being told they are still not up to snuff—or up to par, I guess—because they are not men. I’m weary of companies proclaiming their misogyny by sponsoring these sexist events. Weary of people buying their products—making bigotry good for business. I’m weary of tradition and fear of change being guiding principles in clubs, in business and—if I’m being honest here—in the church.
But while I can defend Augusta’s—or any club’s—right to exclusivity till the cows come home, the Church can’t be defended for the same. We aren’t allowed to hang up “No Anyone Allowed” signs—not if we want to be like Jesus, at least. And yet we put those signs up. Again and again and again….
I’m pretty sure if we look to Jesus for tips on when to include and when to exclude, we see that there may be a time and a place for taping up our “No Girls Allowed” and “Boys: Stay Out!” signs (good news: since this is a blog by women writers and co-founded a writers group for women). But we need to be careful.
In Are Women Human? Dorothy Sayers writes, “We are much too much inclined in these days to divide people into permanent categories, forgetting that a category exists for its special purpose and must be forgotten as soon as that purpose is served.”
Sayers wrote that 65 years ago. And it’s still true today. Once upon a time, I’m sure prohibiting women served a “special purpose” at Augusta National (though, honestly, I’m afraid to think of what that special purpose was). But it seems to me, since the times have a’changed quite a bit, their special purpose today may leave room for women. At least, I hope it does.
Same with our church ministries or events or committees (or blogs or writers guilds!). There are special purposes—appropriate times and places—for men- or women-only in the life of the Church. But if we want to live out Jesus’ command to love God and love our neighbors, we can’t be content to live with segregation as much as do. We can’t allow fear of change or a cling to tradition to keep us from moving or worshiping or serving together as the Holy Spirit might be prompting us.
We certainly can’t be content to claim spectator status and stand behind the ropes and clap when we exclude—when we should be welcoming—one another.