The Unhindered Leadership of Jen Hatmaker

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Because it’s my birthday, a day for fatuous self indulgence if ever there was one, I’m going to take this interview by Emma Green of Jen Hatmaker over in the Atlantic for the divine gift that it must surely be. Thank You! Dear sweet baby Jesus, for something so incredibly fun and easy. My singular wish has been sublimely granted.

So you remember, I am certain, one Jen Hatmaker, producer of funny blog posts and books, speaker on now (at least for this year) cancelled Belong Tour, podcast tribe builder on For the Love, who skyrocketed her career by bravely coming out for same sex marriage and getting punted out of Lifeway. She’s on the cover of Time and everything. She’s the person who, if you want me to froth at the mouth and wave my hands, you need only mention her name.

Emma Green is interested in teasing out the increasingly overt politics of Hatmaker, and then congratulating her for her bravery. Hatmaker has a new book out, and, writes Green, “It is distinctly non-political, full of references to wine drinking and gym misadventures. Yet it speaks, subtly, to the conflicted feelings women may have about the different aspects of their identity. Hatmaker’s readers, like her, face stark choices about when and how to speak up about politics, particularly those injustices committed by and within their communities.” Some of the issues on tap? What Hatmaker describes as, “the LGBTQ community and their inclusion in every manner of church.”

I want to pause here for a moment and agree that talking politics comes at a price. The last two years of political life in America have been tough for everyone. It’s not so much the catalyzing lightning rod of Trump, I think, as the deep disappointment in all corners with the last entire decade. Everyone, on both sides, has lost over and over again, taking turns, really–one side losing, then the other side losing, then the first side losing when they thought they were winning, back and fort and back and forth. Problems that ordinary Americans thought were ‘solved’ turned out to be as fresh and new as ever. Who, fifteen years ago, would have thought we would all be talking about the Civil War as if it just happened? And, in the midst of it all, because so many lies have been told by so many generations of politicians, deep distrust fuels every nuance of every conversation.

But some conversations don’t need to be that tangled. And some issues have been made political that manifestly do not need to be so. The inclusion of LGBT etc in every ‘manner’ of church is something that isn’t fundamentally a political calculation. First of all, to say that it is about ‘inclusion’ is an ugly lie. None of us get to be ‘included’ just because of who we are. The church is about Jesus who laid aside his glory and his throne and came to earth to rescue some of those lost and rebellious creatures whom he had made. He came to snatch some out of the jaws of death and eternal fire. He takes those whom he rescues and joins them to others and this Collective, this group of the rescued is called the Church, which is likened to a bride, adorned and cleaned up for her perfect husband. This is a theological issue. The church doesn’t get to do whatever she wants. She has to do what the Bridegroom says, which he has been abundantly clear about in a book available online, on your phone, on Amazon, and even on the bookshelves of some actual bookstores even in this country–a book called The Bible. None of us–not Jen Hatmaker, not the Pope, not Billy Graham, not President Trump, not the Nazis, not Antifa–get to change what it says to suit ourselves. Oh sure, we all give it our best shot, but in the long run we will answer for every word we say, and most especially for those who teach, rightly or wrongly about it.

One thing is says is that you should not devalue and hate people based on the color of their skin. If you think it says that you can, you are misreading it and you need to go do more work. It doesn’t say that. It makes distinctions about belief and practice, about being in the covenant community and out, but those are not racial distinctions, those are spiritual ones. Do you trust in God Most High as he has revealed himself in the Old and New Testaments? Do you put your whole self into his hands? Do your repent of your sins and turn away from your own darkness and towards the light? If the answer is yes, you can be ‘in,’ you can be included, no matter what you look like.

But that inclusion does not extend to what you do and what you believe. You can’t unconditionally be ‘in’ if you don’t believe and have faith in not only the One who came to save, but also all the things he says about himself and about you. He says, for instance, that you are a sinner and that he is perfectly holy. Sinning, doing wrong things, will separate you from him. If you don’t say you’re sorry and turn around, and trust him, you can’t be together with him. Sin is described, enumerated, laid out in detail in the Bible. Homosexuality is included therein. People who trust in Jesus fully and completely for their lives now and their lives later can’t just decide that that is not included amongst the list of sins. It is truly a misery that this is so, but there it is. We are not free to chose what is sin and what is not based on politics and feels. We, If We Want To Be Christian, have to accept what God says.

I know, I know, it is tedious to lay it all out. And don’t worry, having done so, I’m not going to go line by line through the interview. The part that needles me is down in the middle, where Hatmaker talks about how she sees her own work. She says, “I love leading women. The women that are in my community are unbelievably smart and talented, passionate, goal-oriented, ambitious, hilarious. Women at this point in history—certainly in our culture—we can do more, we can say more, we can go further, we can lead stronger than ever before in history. Once upon a time, a man would’ve had to give us permission to lead, and even then, it would have been in an incredibly limited capacity. And so it’s really wonderful to see women rise up in their gifts right now, unhindered.”

This is the bit that is curious, fascinating, and troubling. Because Hatmaker has clearly and unequivocally stepped outside the bounds of historic Christian biblical faith. But she made this step after she had built, through much hard work I imagine, what we nowadays call a platform, a personal brand. In other words, she got women to listen to her over time, and began to ‘lead’ them. I wonder how many of the women who read her books and blogs would have thought she was ‘leading’ them, or if they would have just thought she was chatting and sharing her life in a compelling and interesting way.

She’s right though. She does lead women. Right out of the center of the church and into big auditoriums where she and other speakers give their thoughts and feelings about life and the Bible, unchecked by the leaders the historically orthodox church has vetted and given authority to.* Indeed, she rejoices that women, like her, can now lead unhindered by anything that any man might say.

I don’t really want to get into the question of women’s ordination. That’s a pickle if ever there was one. But I do think that the church should not be so anxious and alarmed by women who want to do ministry, who want to teach bible studies, who want to ‘lead’ (let’s not argue about who right now) inside the church, and who come and ask for training and a blessing and oversight and accountability. Those women are not the problem. Those women should be grabbed by the cellphone and brought closer in–their gifts should be assessed, built up, given theological grounding, and used. What is not helpful at all is the phenomenon of women rising up in their gifts right now, ‘unhindered,’ in the name of Christianity, but without accountability to any visibly biblical manifestation of the church.

Because while they themselves may not be hindered, they are hindering others from seeing the full orbed, uneclipsed glory of God’s mercy expressed in the scriptures. And Jesus was very firm about that kind of ‘leadership.’ ‘Do Not Hinder These Little Ones, he said, probably gesturing not just to the child, but to his disciples as well. Better that you tie a millstone around your own neck and fling yourself into the sea than lie about who God is and what he is like.

Because everyone is welcome–the sinner, the troubled one, the confused, the person caught in a place that is evil and wrong. Everyone can come and be joined to the body of Jesus, his own flesh, which he left his Father’s house to go and rescue, to cleave to, to make holy and good. But they have to hear the truth, whatever the political sphere may have to say about it.

*If you want a primer on how to deal with this, go buy No Little Women by Aimee Byrd.

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