30 May 2019

Out of order

Nothing alarms the patriarchs like a woman preaching.

Just a quick review of recent versions of this debate: After seeing several recent social-media exclamations along these lines -- "Churches where women preach are false churches" -- I sat up and took notice when one of my theology feeds brought me Owen Strachan's article, "Divine Order in a Chaotic Age: On Women Preaching."

A few days later came this thread from preacher and teacher Beth Moore:
In the comparatively sheltered world of Quakers, maybe it's easy for some of us to minimize these debates as unrelated to us. It's particularly easy for me, being male and an adult convert. Beth Moore conveys some of the agony and grief and betrayal that would be frighteningly easy for me to miss completely. This would not be right, because we are in the same larger family of faith, both spiritually and historically -- and because we bear a testimony to challenge that larger Christian family, just as they challenge us in other areas of theology and discipleship.

Without brushing aside the specific debate within the Southern Baptist Convention and similar communities, I'm fascinated by a prior concern that I see in the Strachan article: the yearning for order.
Order is not incidental to Christian doctrine; order is central. God is the maker and ruler of all things; the creation is distinct from him, yet exists by the super-sustenance of his Son (Colossians 1:17); the world in which we dwell is not characterized in fundamental terms by randomness and disorder, but by divine design.
A few sentences and selected scriptures later, we have the implication of "order" for the dispute at hand: men must always shepherd women, not the other way around. Men lead, and women appreciatively follow and support, and instruct the younger women; thus has it ever been among those who Stand On the Word:
It is not man who has “fixed” the word of God, and written it in the sky. By God’s own hand and mind, there is order in the home; there is order in the churches; there is order in the world God has made.
Whenever I encounter this kind of reasoning, it often seems to pose a stark choice: either it's this kind of order, or none at all. One recent anti-egalitarian blog post quoted Abraham Kuyper:
Finally Modernism, which denies and abolishes every difference, cannot rest until it has made woman man and man woman, and, putting every distinction on a common level, kills life by placing it under the ban of uniformity.
(In Kuyper's defense, the same lecture included his Calvinist denunciation of "...not merely all open slavery and systems of caste, but also all covert slavery of woman and of the poor.")

This chain of biblical logic cuts short any discussion of the actual fact that the Scriptures were not "fixed" and "written in the sky" by God alone; they were assembled, edited, and ratified by a very human process. It's a process that we trust because we know the same Holy Spirit that guided those editors and assemblers. When we study the Bible reverently and prayerfully, we in effect receive the sacred texts NOT as some kind of occult oracles but as a legacy of the Body of Christ.

We receive that legacy with our brains fully functional even as our spirits eagerly await what the Holy Spirit has to tell us through those words. All new believers, every new generation, must ratify the Bible for themselves. Nobody can claim that the Bible magically translates or interprets itself, or imposes some eternal order of church politics with iron logic that trumps all human participation. Mind and Spirit must always collaborate. The outcome, the division of labor among us, is not controlled by any church bureaucrat, no matter how coercive their allegedly biblical rhetoric.

We don't have to choose between the vision of order represented by Southern Baptist complementarians and the caricature of disorder and uniformity that they sometimes present as the dangerous alternative. Early Friends raised a vision of "Gospel order" that agrees completely with Southern Baptists on the main point: God is a God of order, not of disorder. It's in the next steps -- leadership and discipleship -- that things tend to diverge.

In Lloyd Lee Wilson's summary,
The Quaker understanding of gospel order stems from an understanding of Christ's role as the restorer of the original relationship between the Creator and creation. By this view, Christ reconciled creation with the Creator, and by so doing enabled everyone who believes in Christ to enter into a new relationship with God. It was (and is) the responsibility of Christians to live in this gospel order, both out of the desire to do God's will, from the joy that being in that right relationship brings, and as a testimony to the rest of the world about the gospel. (Essays on the Quaker Vision of Gospel Order.)
However we might understand our eviction from the original Garden of Creation in Genesis, Christ reconciles us with the Creator, and enlists us in the Lamb's War to bring this good news of reconciliation and restoration to everyone, confronting all bondages in the process -- including those bondages imposed under color of presumptuous church authority. There is a definite order here:
  • God as creator
  • Christ as our reconciler and redeemer
  • You and I, equally, as the church gathered around him, learning from him what reconciliation means, and working out together our division of labor in living a reconciled life and extending the invitation far and wide.
There is no rigid formula, biblical or otherwise, that tells us in detail how to do this division of labor. The Bible records God's promises and our ancestors' checkered record in receiving and believing those promises. It is full of cautionary tales illustrating that record, including our nasty habits of lording it over each other! It is an incomparable storehouse of ethical and prophetic principles -- and the costs of ignoring those principles. It records how the first generation of Christians came to understand that their good news was for everyone everywhere. It assures us that the Holy Spirit remains with us to comfort and lead, and that the community has all the spiritual gifts necessary to accomplish a Spirit-led division of labor.

Our resources also include our church's memories of learning over centuries what it means to participate in God's order. We Friends have been experimenting and recording our results for many generations, so we have stories about what Quaker discipleship actually looks like in different circumstances and cultures. We also know we must be honest about our failures and our too-frequent lack of sufficient boldness. We are learning the signs and wonders (nonviolence, simplicity, equality, truth-telling, decision-making based on group prayer and discernment, and so on) that bear our testimony of reconciliation to the world.

Recording ministers. Photo: Judy Maurer.
Finally, we have each other. This past weekend, our Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting of Friends gathered in Canby, Oregon, for our annual sessions. Around 200 of us made significant decisions for the future of our new church association with tenderness and care for all. We recorded five ministers (four women and one man), certifying in our minutes that we have witnessed their public ministry and testifying that they represent us well. We have no paid staff at the yearly meeting level, our presiding clerks constantly emphasize that they serve us, not the other way around ... and I can honestly say that everything I saw was done in good order.

Reality check: Compare these admittedly oversimplified correlations of attributes:
  • Anti-egalitarian order: men in authority over everyone else; coercive, non-negotiable leadership styles
  • Gospel order: equality in leadership; decisions made through whole-group discernment
Which of these paths seems strangely similar to the ancient and corrupt patterns of worldly power, and which seems more consistent with Christian conversion and redemption?

A related post: Gospel order revisited.

A letter from Dan Evans about Saturday's funeral for Rachel Held Evans, and about the reality he finds himself in. Saturday update: The streaming video of the service remains available at that page. Nadia Bolz-Weber gave the sermon. centered on John 20:1-18.

Speaking of the Bible, another volunteer in Arizona goes on trial for helping immigrants survive desert conditions.

An interview with Christy Wimber on the church and its attitudes to healing.

Progressive AND orthodox... post-boomer religion and the resurrection. (Thanks to Fleming Rutledge for the link.)

Newly opened Nobel and CIA files reveal more about the 1958 Literature award to Boris Pasternak.

Orwellian? Roskomnadzor holds a seminar for regional journalists on how not to run afoul of recent Russian legislation.

Christone "Kingfish" Ingram is coming back to the Waterfront Blues Festival this July. You can hear why that makes me happy:


kfsaylor said...

Through the appearance of the immanent Presence of the Life itself in itself, I am come of the process of participation and identification with either of the two constructs (highlighted at the end of your piece) which you reflect upon as Gospel-order. There is a different Gospel-order not of the nature of those outward constructs. In the different way, Gospel-order is in and through the direct experience of immanent inherent Being enthroned upon the conscience and consciousness and wherein neither a patriarchal nor a equalitarian order is of regard. Gospel-order is the substance itself ruling and guiding without reference to any man, women, or group of men and women. In this gospel-order the ministration of human relationships and interactions through people and the institutions they build and nurture is come to an end and replaced by the inshining Life itself which is sufficient in itself to minister human relationships and interactions.

Johan Maurer said...

Hi, Keith! Thanks for commenting.

I read your comment carefully several times, and I'm still missing something. "Gospel order is the substance itself ruling and guiding...." How is this different from what I described as group discernment? I do understand that the two constructs are simplified for the sake of making a point, and nobody actually lives exactly by one path or the other; but how does the "inshining Life" manifest itself other than among people who have agreed to live and organize together by that Life?

I think the egalitarian vision remains important because even prophets and mystics can be drawn into ancient patterns of power and privilege. In the ideal case, the pure conscience illuminated by the Life makes all other distinctions fade into the background, but today bondage is still very real. Furthermore, even those who have been totally released from that bondage have an obligation to testify to the world -- in terms that the world can understand -- that freedom is possible, and here is a community that has experienced that reality, and here are some outward signs that show what we mean.

kfsaylor said...

Response Part One

Hello Johan,

This is an important discussion. I will respond to the second paragraph to address the questions in the first.

Your first sentence suggests egalitarianism is important as a corrective to being "drawn into ancient patterns of power and privilege. Many of those people (whether prophet, mystic, and anyone) who are come out of the process (reflective thought or mirrored consciousness) of identification with and participation in outward political, religious, social, and economic intellectual constructs, institutions, and people who nurture them, to rule and guide human relationships and interactions, do not turn back again into mirrored consciousness as a corrective for their behavior. There is a different way. That is, those to whom, through the appearance of inherently sustained conscience and consciousness (the inshining Light), it is discovered that there is a different way than the process of reflected or refracted thought to rule and guide their relationships, very often they do not turn back again to the reflective process (for example, identification with egalitarianism or the intellectual constructs of "power and privilege") to inform their actions and interactions with people. Rather, the direct experience of the relative motion and impulse of inherently sustained conscience and consciousness (the inshining Light) is in itself the corrective or encouragement relative to a particular action. Practically speaking, for many of us who are out of the distinctions of the reflective process, the increase, dimming, or stasis of inherently sustained consciousness itself in itself guides our actions. So that, if during a particular action, the inshining Light upon our consciousness fades, it is the fading itself that is the corrective and which brings back into an increased experience of inherently sustained Light and the resulting behavioral correction. The outward form of egalitarianism or patriarchy and the underlying reflective process, are of no regard. For many people including myself, to go back into the reflective process and to identify with outward intellectual constructs like egalitarianism, patriarchy, power, and privilege to guide and correct our interactions, manifests a coming out of or dimming of the direct experience of a conscience informed by and a consciousness illuminated in inherently sustained being in the Light itself. The corrective is to wait upon the relative increase of the motion or impulse of the inshining Light to rule a particular action or behavior in general.

kfsaylor said...

Response Part Two

Concerning the second sentence. It is true that there are many people, by their own admission, whose conscience and consciousness are guided and informed by the reflective process in their relationships. I will not assume what you mean by the reflected form "Ideal." I will only say, there are many people (both past a present) who through the impulse of the inshining Light upon the conscience and consciousness, experience being that is come out of or is coming out of the very process of identification with and participation is outward political, religious, economic, and social, intellectual constructions, institutions, and the people who nurture them to guide their relationships and interactions with people. This experience very real too. Mine is to bring this experience forward to encourage others to whom this experience is discovered, relatively speaking.

Concerning your third sentence. I do not share your conscience relative to the outward construct "obligation." It is the motion and impulse of the inshining Light itself in itself in my conscience and consciousness that guides me, not the sense of obligation others may feel. If your conscience is guided a certain way, that is well. However, I do not look to the obligations others feel, to inform my conscience and consciousness, I rest in and wait upon the substance itself. Likewise, it is against my conscience to led others into the process of looking at other people or a community of people as "outward signs" relative to "freedom." Mine is to testify to the direct experience of the freedom of the Life itself in itself enthroned upon the conscience and consciousness of all people, without regard for the reflective process of identification with people and participation in community. In the Life itself, it is discovered to me a conscience guided by and consciousness illuminated in inherently sustained being, without regard for persons or institutions.

Thank you for your your conversation. None of this is intended to suggest that you or anyone should share this experience. It is not mine to judge others or to trample upon the prerogative of the inshining impulse of the Life itself in itself working in the conscience of other people.