Guest Post: Failing to Learn from History
Today's guest post comes from my friend, Heretic Husband. Heretic Husband blogs anonymously because he writes about his former church and his extended family. He lives at an undisclosed location in the Northeastern United States with his long suffering wife of eleven years, two daughters (aged four and eighteen months), and cat. He enjoys writing stories, writing computer software, and making people laugh. Today, he bring us a post about how not listening to women can cause churches to repeat mistakes.
When I saw that Dianna was asking for guest posts about women and theology, I almost didn’t respond. Not because I didn’t want to write about the subject, but because I didn’t think I had much to say.
I don’t have any interest in examining the Bible’s view on women (and even if I did, bloggers like Dianna and Rachel Held Evans have done a much better job of that). I’m not a woman, so I can’t write about personal experiences of discrimination. For crying out loud, I’m a straight, white, married, middle class, cis gendered male. I can even pass as Christian if need be. I’m about as privileged as you can get. I’ve never been discriminated against, and probably never will.
However, when I mentioned this to my wife, she thought I should definitely write a post. She told me that people like me who are in positions of privilege need to speak out for those who are not .
Great, but that still left me without much to say. Because, my thoughts on women and theology can be summed up thusly:
Really, this is still an issue, folks? In 21st century America? We’ve got a female Secretary of State, female astronauts, female CEOs, female Congresspeople, female police, female soldiers...theological equality between men and women in the church should be a no brainer.
You see? That’s not much of a post, unless one is on Facebook. I could condense it down to a tweet with a little effort. I mean, I don’t even have an argument, really. I don’t have an argument for why seat belts are a good idea, or why pizza is delicious, either. For the same reason - I never thought I would need one.
So I’m not going to make an argument. I’m going to tell you a part of my story (and my wife’s story).
Until recently, my wife and I attended a fairly typical evangelical church. This church experienced many problems with its leadership, all of whom were men (except, of course, for the children’s minister). Women in this church are allowed to fill many roles.
Just don’t ever call them leaders.
About a year ago, the church began experiencing problems with the pastors. First, one was found to be having an affair, and upon investigation, it turned out to be his second affair. Another was divorced by his wife. A third was in some kind of “inappropriate relationship” with his secretary. We were assured it wasn’t sexual. The secretary was fired. The pastor in question lawyered up and refused to take any responsibility. He still has his job.
When news of the affair broke, the head pastor (not the one having the affair) told the small group leaders and their wives personally. He also said that he was going to be very upset if anyone told him that they had seen this coming. No one had seen this coming, he told us. No one.
Only he was wrong, you see. People had seen this coming.
Unfortunately, they were people with vaginas.*
There were toxic patterns evident in the church’s leadership. This became apparent when an internal investigation team was formed to see if the pastor having the affair had had other affairs with women of the church in his past (this is what brought the previous affair to light). The team was made up of members of the church (both men and women).
Most of the people who noticed the patterns were women. The problem was, they didn’t feel comfortable talking to the male leadership of the church. They were afraid of being seen as gossips or troublemakers.
I don’t claim to speak for women, but I know that I wouldn’t have had the same fears. Most Christian men I know wouldn’t either. That’s not a judgement on women, it’s a judgement on how men in the church treat women.
Even after multiple crises, the leadership still doesn’t see the need for change. The head pastor did eventually invite some women to talk about the possibility of female elders, but the discussions went nowhere. He just couldn’t see any examples of female leadership in the Bible (those were his exact words).
A church consulting firm was brought in and recommended some changes (I’m not privy to what they were, or if one of the suggestions was female leadership), and the pastors have already said that some of the suggested changes won’t be happening.
I think the leaders honestly do see the need for women to have a voice. They just don’t know how to let them have a voice without giving them any authority.
Because that’s not possible. But they don’t see that.
When I was a co-leader of my small group, we had a meeting about how to give women more of a voice in the small group ministry. The entire time, we danced around the subject that no one wanted to discuss:
Why was I the co-leader of my small group? Why wasn’t the leader’s wife the co-leader?
And why were there no small groups led by women?
The problems in this church might have happened even if women did have an equal voice. But that’s not the point.
The point is that women need a voice. And within a patriarchal church, the only way that can happen is if the men already in authority give it to them (unless the women seize power in a bloody coup, which probably wouldn’t be super Jesus-y).
I don’t know what it’s going to take for that to happen. I was really hoping that the disaster at my former church would be enough. But it wasn’t.
It’s been said that those who do not learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Luckily, the leaders of my former church don’t need to learn from history because they think they are doing things God’s Way. Never mind the fact that there’s been intense debate throughout history (sometimes armed debate) on what God’s Way actually is.
If I had faith, I would pray for something to happen, for God to do something. Instead, I’m doing something about it by telling this story. It’s a small something, to be sure. But I don’t know what else to do. Telling stories is what I do, and I will continue to do it. Even if it makes some people angry.
*Editor's note: not all people with vaginas are women, but in this case, specific cisgender women are being referred to.