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Further Reflections on Gender and the Church

by Christy Hildebrand and Jordan Senner
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Further Reflections on Gender and the Church

Christy: Last week, Andrew Tsai continued a discussion on gender roles (started by Travis Black and Lydia Crutwell), expressing his concern over the level of emotionalism encountered when discussing gender equality with fellow Regent students, and suggesting that perhaps some of Regent’s teaching on gender equality may be partly to blame.  He suggested that such teaching promotes an expectation, especially among female students, of gender equality as a right to be sought within their churches, causing these same students to then feel victimized by church experiences dishonouring to this right.  Andrew offered Scriptural role models (the prophets, Jesus, the apostle Paul) as exemplifying a Biblical tradition of holding individual rights loosely and stoically standing firm in the face of persecution.

I would like to agree that I am personally challenged by Jesus’ embodied example of how true power responds to those who wound, and that this example convicts me of my tendency toward grasping and insisting on my rights, even at the expense of the other.  At the same time, I question the apparent equating, in Andrew’s article, of emotion-laden response with the taking on of a mentality of victimization.  I would assert that the Scriptural role models Andrew cited demonstrate a tradition of very strong emotional response when God’s people were understood to be living out a less-than-true identity.  Surely we can agree that the prophets spoke out with strong emotion against perceived unjust practices of God’s people, that Jesus spoke with strong emotion toward religious leaders that he perceived as not teaching a true definition of what it means to be the people of God, and that the apostle Paul became so emotional as to suggest that people incorrectly teaching circumcision as a requirement to being the people of God go the whole way and castrate themselves.

Thus, I would suggest that for students and faculty who perceive a need for the presence of both male and female in order to truly reflect the image of God, and who would then assert a need for both male and female representation within godly leadership in order for that leadership to truly reflect God’s image, the church is precisely the place where our tradition calls them to speak up.  It would seem that Scripture responds strongly to the image embodied by God’s people here on earth, since distorted theology and practices are understood as presenting a false image of God to the world.  Scriptural tradition itself calls us, as the body of Christ, to hold and to express high expectations regarding how our theology and practice embody the fullness of Christ. If the prophets, Jesus, and Paul were willing to bring on themselves the persecution they so firmly underwent, precisely because of their insistence on speaking out emotionally against distorted theology and practices within the people of God, then how can we do any less than honour the courage of those also attempting to call the church today to a truer expression of identity – regardless of whether we agree on theology?  Perhaps as a Regent community, we could honour the women and men among us who, having been hurt by experiences of gender inequality within the church, have chosen to speak out rather than taking on the role of silent victimization.

Jordan: Picking up on Christy’s comment regarding holding and expressing high expectations, I also question the article’s exhortation to “lower your expectation of how other people should treat you.”  I simply think that it needs more nuance.  It seems to me that the Church is called to be holy as our God is holy and to love one another as God in Christ has loved us.  The Church should always be striving to more faithfully live this calling, and, therefore, there is some sense in which we should expect to be loved and treated as fully human within the Church.  Yet there is no doubt a balanced to be maintained: while the Church (and any individual member within it) should never relinquish its high calling and standards, we should always it in tension with the reality of the sinfulness of the Church.  The Church is not perfect, for the fullness of the kingdom has not yet come; we live in the “already” and “not yet” period of history – God’s kingdom has been inaugurated, but not yet consummated.  People will inevitable experience sin, pain, and brokenness within the Church, but this does not legitimate a lowering of one’s expectations.  Rather, the Christian response to a disrespecting of one’s full humanity within the Church (or anytime people sin against one another) is not a lowering of one’s expectations but an offer of forgiveness to a brother or sister.  Confession and forgiveness should be the primary marks of the Church prior to the consummation of the kingdom.

The reality is that we are all at Regent as part of a much larger journey than simply seeking to answer theological questions (important as this is!).  Our time at Regent is simply one phase of a life-long journey of seeking to live more fully human lives that faithfully reflect and participate in the life of the true human, Jesus Christ.  A major part (if not the first step) of learning to live a more fully human life is naming the reality of one’s past and coming to grips with the brokenness of one’s story.  I believe this naming process has many phases and includes many different emotions; we need not be threatened by this process but should seek to create a safe place for people to experience the fullness of this process and the healing touch of Jesus within it.  May we journey together, bearing one another’s burdens.

Christy: Last week, Andrew Tsai continued a discussion on gender roles (started by Travis Black and Lydia Crutwell), expressing his concern over the level of emotionalism encountered when discussing gender equality with fellow Regent students, and suggesting that perhaps some of Regent’s teaching on gender equality may be partly to blame.  He suggested that such teaching promotes an expectation, especially among female students, of gender equality as a right to be sought within their churches, causing these same students to then feel victimized by church experiences dishonouring to this right.  Andrew offered Scriptural role models (the prophets, Jesus, the apostle Paul) as exemplifying a Biblical tradition of holding individual rights loosely and stoically standing firm in the face of persecution.

I would like to agree that I am personally challenged by Jesus’ embodied example of how true power responds to those who wound, and that this example convicts me of my tendency toward grasping and insisting on my rights, even at the expense of the other.  At the same time, I question the apparent equating, in Andrew’s article, of emotion-laden response with the taking on of a mentality of victimization.  I would assert that the Scriptural role models Andrew cited demonstrate a tradition of very strong emotional response when God’s people were understood to be living out a less-than-true identity.  Surely we can agree that the prophets spoke out with strong emotion against perceived unjust practices of God’s people, that Jesus spoke with strong emotion toward religious leaders that he perceived as not teaching a true definition of what it means to be the people of God, and that the apostle Paul became so emotional as to suggest that people incorrectly teaching circumcision as a requirement to being the people of God go the whole way and castrate themselves.

Thus, I would suggest that for students and faculty who perceive a need for the presence of both male and female in order to truly reflect the image of God, and who would then assert a need for both male and female representation within godly leadership in order for that leadership to truly reflect God’s image, the church is precisely the place where our tradition calls them to speak up.  It would seem that Scripture responds strongly to the image embodied by God’s people here on earth, since distorted theology and practices are understood as presenting a false image of God to the world.  Scriptural tradition itself calls us, as the body of Christ, to hold and to express high expectations regarding how our theology and practice embody the fullness of Christ. If the prophets, Jesus, and Paul were willing to bring on themselves the persecution they so firmly underwent, precisely because of their insistence on speaking out emotionally against distorted theology and practices within the people of God, then how can we do any less than honour the courage of those also attempting to call the church today to a truer expression of identity – regardless of whether we agree on theology?  Perhaps as a Regent community, we could honour the women and men among us who, having been hurt by experiences of gender inequality within the church, have chosen to speak out rather than taking on the role of silent victimization.

Jordan: Picking up on Christy’s comment regarding holding and expressing high expectations, I also question the article’s exhortation to “lower your expectation of how other people should treat you.”  I simply think that it needs more nuance.  It seems to me that the Church is called to be holy as our God is holy and to love one another as God in Christ has loved us.  The Church should always be striving to more faithfully live this calling, and, therefore, there is some sense in which we should expect to be loved and treated as fully human within the Church.  Yet there is no doubt a balanced to be maintained: while the Church (and any individual member within it) should never relinquish its high calling and standards, we should always it in tension with the reality of the sinfulness of the Church.  The Church is not perfect, for the fullness of the kingdom has not yet come; we live in the “already” and “not yet” period of history – God’s kingdom has been inaugurated, but not yet consummated.  People will inevitable experience sin, pain, and brokenness within the Church, but this does not legitimate a lowering of one’s expectations.  Rather, the Christian response to a disrespecting of one’s full humanity within the Church (or anytime people sin against one another) is not a lowering of one’s expectations but an offer of forgiveness to a brother or sister.  Confession and forgiveness should be the primary marks of the Church prior to the consummation of the kingdom.

The reality is that we are all at Regent as part of a much larger journey than simply seeking to answer theological questions (important as this is!).  Our time at Regent is simply one phase of a life-long journey of seeking to live more fully human lives that faithfully reflect and participate in the life of the true human, Jesus Christ.  A major part (if not the first step) of learning to live a more fully human life is naming the reality of one’s past and coming to grips with the brokenness of one’s story.  I believe this naming process has many phases and includes many different emotions; we need not be threatened by this process but should seek to create a safe place for people to experience the fullness of this process and the healing touch of Jesus within it.  May we journey together, bearing one another’s burdens.