Field Notes from the Schism

Field Notes from the Schism November 29, 2013

We had a wonderful Thanksgiving. If you’re here in the States, I hope you did, too. As usual, I baked pies — pumpkin, pecan, and sour cream raisin — as well as roasting the auxiliary turkey on the grill, with great success. It was also a day away from the Internet, which is always good for the soul. Today, I’m taking my sons on their first-ever pheasant hunt — just two hours at a game farm, but they’ll get the chance to see what it’s all about.

In between, however, I thought I’d get down some random thoughts about what’s happened here on the blog in the last week.

1) One never knows when a post will go viral. I suppose there are some bloggers who have a formula for it that more-or-less works, but I don’t. I can’t seem to make it happen. But, on occasion, it does happen.

2) As of today, it’s been one year and one day since another viral post, “Where Are the Women? That post was a totally different deal altogether. It was written quickly, almost absentmindedly, on a day that I was trying to get out the door. A year later, some people still seethe with anger over that post and the ensuing commentary. In spite of their ongoing anger at and demonization of me, the number of women commenters on this blog has continued to climb. I’m thrilled with this development, and it’s made this blog a better place.

3) Unlike that post and another viral post, last Friday’s “Schism” post provoked criticism from both sides. (No substantial criticism from my right came on the last two viral controversies, only from the left.) This, I’ve got to say, is gratifying. Not that I mean to “poke” both conservatives and liberals, but that the issue of women’s roles in the church (and society) are still of great interest to both sides. More than any other post I’ve written, it seems the Schism post catalyzed a great deal of thoughtful commentary in many places.

4) If I may overgeneralize, the liberal/feminist criticism seemed to be primarily this: as a man, you shouldn’t call for a schism over women’s issues. Only women have the right to do that. Fair enough. There are, indeed, voices out there who keep saying that allies on any number of social issues should shut the hell up and do only one thing: make room for the marginalized voices. The problem with this kind of reasoning is twofold: 1) it assumes that communication is zero-sum game, which it’s not. That is to say, there’s not only so much talking that can be done on a issue of justice. Instead, the more voices the better. And 2) it misunderstands the nature of the blogosphere. The blogosphere (and Facebook and Twitter) is, at least in part, a meritocracy. That’s not to say that there aren’t also power and privilege at play. There are. But thankfully, the internet has an equalizing effect on communication, and that’s good, because it’s made room for marginalized voices that were previously unheard. So I will continue to share my platform whenever possible, both here on the blog and, even more significantly, at the conferences that I produce.

5) The conservative/complementarian criticism was conflicting. Half said, “Tony, you’re wrong, we don’t think that women are ontologically different than men, we just think that God ordained different roles for each gender.” The other half said, “You’re damn right that women are ontologically different! That’s why God ordained different roles for each gender.” The ambivalence of the conservative argument just shows how much work conservatives still need to do on gender issues. When the presence of one or two Bible verses trumps so much other logic, it reveals a very unsophisticated hermeneutic.

6) The slavery analogy, while harsh, was appropriate. A century-and-a-half ago, slaveholders argues that Africans were ontologically inferior to Whites (3/5’s human, etc.). There are all sorts of ways that we justify holding the positions that we do. Back then, people used the Bible, they compared Africans to monkeys, and more. We look back now with horror and disgust, as we should. And people a century from now will look back similarly on the church for holding retrograde views on women.

7) The church is lagging. In almost every other sphere of human endeavor in the Western world, women are seen as men’s equals. This is true in principle, though in practice it takes time to implement. Even the U.S. military, not exactly a bastion of progressive values, women are now considered ontologically equal to men, even in combat. This is a dramatic change from, oh, about 10,000 years of human history. As long as parts of the church (conservative evangelical, Catholic, and Orthodox) refuse to accept women’s equality in all aspects of ecclesial and social life, the church will be seen as retrograde.

8) This is about ecclesiology. I’ve written two books on ecclesiology, so my views are public. I don’t particularly like ordination or denominations. And I’m a fierce Congregationalist, so I think that every local congregation is the Body of Christ, complete, and that each local congregation should have complete autonomy. Since that’s not going to happen anytime soon, I will continue to advocate for women’s equality in the existing bureaucratic structures that dominate Christianity.

9) Friends matter. While others were tweeting at me and writing blog posts for and against me, Sarah Cunningham was calling me, texting me, and emailing me. We pushed through disagreements and misunderstandings, and what resulted was a public contribution to the dialogue that has been universally praised. Again, thanks to Sarah for her friendship and commitment to me in this.

10) I am grateful. Yesterday at 6am, before the holiday merriment started, I went to the health club for a pre-feast workout. There, in the quiet of an empty gym, I reflected on what I’m grateful for. Overwhelmingly, the answer was clear to me: I am thankful for readers of this blog, for interlocutors in public and private. I get to do what I love, which is write theology, and to have great and life-giving conversations — via the internet and in-person — with so many great people.

So thank you. Thank you for reading, for engaging, for arguing, agreeing, disagreeing, tweeting, commenting, posting, and reading. I am truly humbled and grateful that we’re all in this together.

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