Fellow Patheosi, Tony Jones, who blogs at Theoblogy, published one of those slap-in-the-face posts last week that really get people humming.
Tony called for a schism in Christendom, or at least in Christianity.
He wants to part company with those Christian communions who don’t allow women to “preach and hold positions of ecclesial authority, support complimentarity, or that do not affirm women as leaders, speakers, teachers.”
Since that sounds like he’s describing my Church, the Catholic Church, I was interested. Since Tony was speaking about something that I feel to the core of my being, which is the equality of women as full human beings, I was very interested.
I am a woman, a feminist, a Christian.
I am a woman who has spent a good bit of my life working for women’s rights. I am a woman who has made some serious mistakes in pursuing women’s rights; mistakes that I would not be able to live with without the forgiveness of Jesus Christ.
I am also a woman who encountered Christ in what I can only describe as a knock-you-down-in-the-middle-of-the-road conversion experience that left no doubt in my mind that God is real and that He loves us with an ecstatic love that is beyond our comprehension. But I don’t want to write about that conversion today. I want to write about what came after.
Conversions of the type I experienced are not long on explanatory material. People like Leah Libresco and T. S. Elliot, who reason their way to God, probably walk into Christianity with a more formed understanding of what they’re doing that I did. All I knew was that God is real and that He loves me and is with me every moment.
The rest of it was a learning experience that took years and is still on-going.
I walked into my encounter with Christ like a prize fighter with his arms down, and it knocked me flat. When I got back up, a hand reached out to help me, and I began a journey of discovery and inquiry.
I entered the world of faith with a lot of baggage from my life before faith. Odd as this may sound, it was not the things I had done which ultimately proved most difficult to deal with, but things that had been done to me. It was a long, slow walk from the woman I was when God filled me with His love, and the woman I have become and am becoming because of that love.
What does all this have to do with Tony’s call for schism among the faithful? What does it mean and how does it apply to the question of his assertion that those who believe in women’s rights should no longer associate with those who do not? What, in fact, does his assertion that the definitions he uses actually separate those who believe in women’s rights from those who do not?
Do the things he lists say anything at all about women’s rights? Or, are they window dressing that dances around the real issues of violence and suffering that are far too often woman’s lot in this life? And finally, what does my conversion experience have to say about that set of delimiters?
I understand where Tony is coming from. I do not know what life experiences have led him to this passionate espousal of women’s human dignity and full equality before God. But I would venture that they are not any more profound and powerful than the life experiences that led me into a prolonged and ultimately failed anti-God period in my own life.
I didn’t just espouse leaving those who did not accept the full equality of women behind. I did it.
And I meant it.
I meant it all the way through.
When I ran headlong into the living God that day, I was unprepared, did not imagine, and could not comprehend the power of the love and joy that Being poured into me. I was home and I knew it.
I also knew that this God I had met and Who was now walking with me every step of my every day, had very little to do with the god I’d heard about in sermons when I was a teen ager. He had nothing at all to do with the denouncing, loveless god I’d been taught to think was God.
That little g, woman-hating god I had been shown as a teen was more like a shade of the devil than a glimpse of the real God I encountered at my conversion. I had met the real God and He was love.
But the baggage remained.
I spent years, thinking and praying through all the contradictions between the real God and the god of the pulpit. My eventual conversion to the Catholic Church intensified these questions.
I remember, not too long after my conversion, that I asked Him if He hated women. It seemed to me, based on what I had seen and known, a fair question. It still does.
I don’t always or even often get direct answers to my prayers. But I got one then. I don’t want to describe it in a blog, since it was a heart to heart experience of breadth and power, but I’ve known ever since that anyone who preaches and teaches violence and harm to women is not of God.
It is as simple as that, and I would guess that a similar insight may very well be what is driving Tony Jones to make his call for separating from those churches that don’t live up to his understanding of how women should be treated. I will never fault anyone who evinces a genuine concern for the welfare of womankind.
I will, however, offer a bit of advice. That advice is to slow down and go back to the God of love Who made us all and use Him for a reference.
This is advice I should take myself. I can get pretty riled up over issues and come across far harder and more inflexible than I actually am. I’ve been thinking about that after reading Pope Francis’ Evangellii Gaudium. It’s a convicting document. I say that in the best sense possible.
So, my advice to Tony and all the other Tonys reading this, is the same advice I’m trying to give myself: Slow down and go back to the God of love. You know the one. Go back to the God Who made women in His Image and Who loves us with a love that, if you’ve ever experienced it, you have no words to describe.
Go back to Him and realize that He’s leading each of us Who tries to follow Him by the hand, each at our own pace, like precious little children. He is gently guiding us toward a time when we will be able to do more than just accept that love that defies description. He is leading us to an understanding and a conversion so deep and so real that we can pass that love on to one another.
I am not going to argue with Tony about the things that trouble him. I will, however, point out that the answer to our differences is not schism. It is love.
Go back to God, Tony. Ask Him if He hates these other Christians who you find so confoundingly unkind to the female half of the humanity He created.
The answer will change you from top to bottom.