Tony Jones’ curious call for schism

entry men and women cartoon by nakedpastor david hayward
“Entry for Men and Women” (by nakedpastor David Hayward)

I’ve used this older cartoon because of all my gender cartoons this one is by far the most popular with over 300,000 notes on Tumblr alone. You can buy a print of it HERE.

I found Tony Jones’ post It’s Time For a Schism Regarding Women in the Church a fascinating read. I’m sure you will too if you haven’t read it already. Jones is obviously passionate about the issue of women’s equality. He has certainly written enough about it in the past. I read Jones because as one of the key progressive and emergent theologians he can help me know where the action is. Since I try to draw a cartoon every day I’m always looking for material and he’s often pointed me in the direction where I can find an idea. So again he has not failed me.

I’m in an interesting but not unique position. At this time I do not go to church. But I’m very interested in and even passionate about it. I care about the church and believe in its identity, its right to exist, and the benefits it can provide. I cartoon and write about women’s equality in the church all the time. It’s because I care about women, know that we are equal, and feel that if they are a part of the church they should have the same freedoms, rights, and responsibilities as men. Not all Christians or churches think this way, so I spend my time trying to change their minds. Because even though a woman is free to leave a church and find another she is happy with, she also has the right and can take responsibility to affect change in an organization she chooses to be a part of.

For Jones’ great schism to occur, he demands that we leave churches that are not egalitarian; that ministers, pastors and leaders of non-egalitarian denominations and churches quit; that egalitarian authors not publish their books by houses that also publish complimentarians; and that if you speak at conferences without fair representation you decline the invitation. In fact, Jones radically calls those who believe in the full equality of women to break fellowship with those who do not.

What I find most curious about Jones’ call is that his vision for “a million little schisms” is already taking place. He rightly acknowledges the church is no longer a “monolithic authority” that can be protested against. I agree! The church is no longer seen by many as the only option that must be overthrown or split. It used to be an institution that was universal in its power, vast in its influence and singular in its demand for allegiance. As an institution it was omnipresent, omnipotent, and omniscient. But not anymore.

Now, if a woman isn’t happy in a church that is not egalitarian, she has the power to simply walk away. This may not be the happiest solution, but it is one that many choose. Actually, I’d say the majority of members of The Lasting Supper, our online community, are mostly women who have left the church. They have already performed one of the million little schisms Jones calls for.

In fact, Jones’ more recent post is a letter he shares with us from Shirley Taylor, head of the Baptist Women for Equality, in his post Steps for the Schism. These “steps for the schism” aren’t about schism at all. It’s about something that has already been happening over the years. Here’s a quote:

“Because there isn’t a Baptist church anywhere near her in Texas that allows women to lead, she and her husband attend their local Methodist church, where she reports that they have been ‘welcomed with love and acceptance.'”

So, Taylor is obviously an empowered woman who has taken her destiny into her own hands. She has executed one of Jones’ million little schisms and left her church and gone to another one where she is deservedly happy. At the same time, and this has nothing to do with her “little schism” but is another strategy altogether, Taylor offers steps for the church to move toward equality… things like encourage bookstores to have a section on gender equality; hold marriage seminars that promote egalitarian leadership; target women’s ministry groups to train women to teach; approach egalitarian seminaries to get their graduates to promote equality in their churches; teach about the equality of women in Sunday School; and provide literature to youth groups that present women as equals.

These aren’t steps for schism but steps for reform. Admirably, she’s doing what so many others are already doing. She has left an organization that won’t treat her as equal while at the same time attempting to reform that same organization. Personal revolution. Universal reform. That’s her strategy! That’s the movement I’m involved in. That’s the one I’ll continue to promote. I solemnly swear three things. I will…

  1. be personally free;
  2. help others to get free;
  3. challenge institutions that resist.

Sometimes it’s swift. Sometimes it’s slow. Even though there is discouraging news daily, I hope we are making progress. Even though while we become more egalitarian those who disagree become more extreme, I have to trust that at some point this polarization will become an embarrassment to all of us. But I’m going to start with revolutionizing myself and trust that I will send ripples that affect change in this divided world we all live in along with its institutions.

So I guess I’m not sure what Jones is saying. For me his call fell on deaf ears because this has already been happening for years everywhere I look. He’s called “Charge!” when the troops have already left. If he’s trying to lead us we’re already there. But if he’s suggesting personal revolution with universal reform, I’m in!

UPDATE (Nov. 27th): Tony Jones tweeted me this morning after I posted this. This is what he tweeted:

In his post, Maybe Schism Was the Wrong Word, he shares his conversation with Sarah Cunningham who “fundamentally disagrees” with Jones’ position. Jones recants of using the word “schism”. Jones and Cunningham obviously disagree over this issue, yet he is fellowshipping and even collaborating with her at upcoming events, which goes against the words and spirit of his original post. I’m confused.

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