Grid Blog for International Women’s Day: Hammer-Time
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This is not a complicated post. It is not eloquent or finely nuanced. It is simple, straightforward, and hopefully very clear. You do not need to try to read between the lines. I’m telling it to you straight. This is a call to action—a request for people who find themselves in my story to become vocal.
I live in Seattle. I am an ordained, seminary-trained minister. I will tell you up front that I have a generous theology and a generous life. I have an unapologetically postmodern hermeneutic, firmly established egalitarian views, and a very open house. I am unashamedly Jesus-y. I love the guy, body and soul. I’m also desperately in love my parish and its people. I care about how the church-at-large treats the people I live near and with. Combine these two loves—a love of Jesus and a love of place—and it naturally follows that things done here in Jesus’ name, they matter to me—not only an ideological level, but on a personal level. Living and ministering here is deeply personal to me, and it is out of that personal space that I write today.
Let me tell you a story.
The Rabble Rousing Woman
A few years ago a woman came to me for advice. She had been attending Mars Hill, a local mega church with a hip style and a gifted preacher—Mark Driscoll. After becoming a regular member there, she had decided to leave. She was looking for a new place to land. Word had gone around that I was a good person to turn to if you were looking for a new church. I was ready and willing to hear what a person was looking for, and to help that person find a match—even if it wasn’t with my own community. I asked her why she was looking for something new and she told me a story. She had a run in with Mark Driscoll; while she and her husband where trying to work it out with him, Mark told her husband, in no uncertain terms, that he’d better shut his wife up or he (Mark) would shut her up for him. The woman’s offense? In the course of a discussion with other church members she had mentioned that she wanted to work part-time when she and her husband had children.
How about another story?
MAN and wife
My alma mater is Seattle Pacific University and sometimes one of my former SPU bosses calls on me to host a table at a career night, or mentor a group of students, or be a guest lecturer in a class on vocational theology. During one of my temporary teaching stints I got to know a handful of female students and became a mentor to one of them. This young woman found herself without a church home. Why? She had been attending the popular and trendy Mars Hill when a sermon came down the pipe that she just couldn’t hang with. Mark Driscoll had decided to stop calling marriage “marriage.” It would now be referred to as “taking a wife.”
And still another tale….
A Student’s Confusion
Students at SPU continued to attend Mars Hill, and continued to struggle with the way roles for men and women were being portrayed. One student at SPU came to me with a concern. Mark had preached that women who wanted to have children should not take out student loans because they would then burden their husbands with their debt load when they stopped working to stay home with the kids. Wasn’t there another role? Wasn’t there another way? Couldn’t this young woman pursue the education she craved, fulfill a work role she would thrive at, and become a mother? Did the Bible require her to make a choice between higher education/work and motherhood?
After several women in a row contacted me trying to find a church that was both culturally current and allowed for equity for both men and women, I decided to contact Mark. I emailed him suggesting that we get together. No one church is the right fit for every person—perhaps we could join efforts to help women who found they didn’t “fit” at Mars Hill find a place where they could worship and deepen their relationship with God? “Don’t bother,” a former Mars Hill woman told me, “He won’t respond.” She was right. He never did.
Up until now, I was going to keep all these stories to myself. My mentor and the man who ordained me, Pastor Ed Cook, always told me “your brother is never your enemy.” So I stayed silent. My female colleagues stayed silent. My male colleagues stayed silent. Mark’s former buddies at Emergent stayed silent. We let sleeping dogs lie. Then this happened….
We find a hammer
A local colleague and I were in mourning. We were telling each other stories of the wounded women who had left Mars Hill and found shelter in our church communities. We were sad, and stymied, and afraid for the other young men and women who were being taught such falsehoods about their very being. We were wondering, what, if anything we could or should do to thwart this man’s influence over our community, especially among young twenty-something men and women. My colleague—a wise and experienced woman—said to me, “I recently heard someone quote Billy Graham. He said that one of the ways he had succeeded in ministry over the years was to never publicly criticize another brother’s ministry.” There was silence for awhile as we took that in. Billy. Graham. I mean, if you’re going to listen to anybody, Billy Graham’s a pretty qualified choice. We parted with a sigh and a feeling of disempowerment.
Then, we got a cartoon in the mail.
First I laughed. Then, I got convicted. I called my colleague. “We have a hammer. Are we going to use it?” I issued a call for a grid blog on gender equality for International Women’s Day. Men could write. Women could write. Any topic about gender equality was game. But if they were interested, could women in Seattle write about what it is like to live in a city under the influence of Mark?….
The thing is, this isn’t a difference over worship style, or a debate about the appropriate size for a church. Those are style differences. This isn’t even a peripheral theological debate, such as a disagreement over whether or not you should baptize infants. This, this “women’s” issue—women’s freedoms, women’s roles, women’s voice—this is a justice issue, a gospel issue.
When a woman is told she has to limit her potential so a man can realize his—that’s injustice.
When God-given gifts of leadership are denied because of someone’s gender—that’s injustice.
When men are told they must carry all the authority and all the responsibility for family and organizational decisions—that’s injustice.
When women are threatened verbally and treated as inferior—that’s injustice.
And God wants justice—oceans of it. Fairness—rivers of it.
I’ll admit, I’ve been afraid. I’ve been afraid to say anything contrary about Mark Driscoll and his institution. I’ve been afraid of his column in the Seattle Times, his titles, his affluence, the power of his charisma and his money and the shear numbers of followers. I been afraid of the kind of vitriolic and inflammatory response he’s fired at my friend. And I’ve been afraid of the endless comments in my blog and email from the numerous and vocal Driscoll defenders. I’ve been afraid of the time and intense energy drain that comes with responding to those defenders. I’ve been afraid of the costs that come with fighting for equality and working for justice. But looming larger, above all these fears, was the fact that I didn’t want to treat my brother like an enemy.
Then I realized two things. First, you can disagree and not be an enemy. (To claim otherwise is a tool for silencing contrary ideals.) Second, justice costs. Once again, my favorite prophet Bono was my inspiration when he said in his address to the national prayer breakfast on Africa, “This is not about charity in the end, it is about justice, the good news yet to come. … It’s annoying; justice and equality are mates… And equality is a pain in the ass.”
Equality is a pain in the ass. “neither male nor female…” this gospel reality, it will cost us. It costs. So does justice. So does kingdom. So does speaking out, this telling of stories. But it’s required, and for me, it’s obedience.
Mark Driscoll is a very powerful man in Seattle. He was listed as one of the 25 most influential people in Seattle magazine. In an era where religion reporting is rare, he has the powerful position of being a religion columnist for the Seattle Times. He heads up one of the largest, most financially affluent churches in the city. He trains hundreds of young men to follow in his footsteps through his male-only church planting institution, Acts 29. And he uses that power to oppress women and to actively teach discrimination to anyone who will listen to his powerful, charismatic voice.
I live in his city. I live with his fall-out. This is part of my story. And I own my story. It is mine to tell. But, when someone is firmly convinced of the subjugated role of women, women have no hearing with that person, their voice is removed. I cannot access Mark, and if I could, I doubt he could or would hear me. But I do have a voice, and there are those who can hear it.
So I take my hammer, the only hammer I have—my voice—and I begin the dismantling by building something new. I build a memorial. I tell my story. I tell the story of my sisters. You add your stories, and together we build an ebenezer.
Will you change? Will you leave? Will you stay and speak out? Will you pray for restoration? For healing? For justice? For shalom?
You have a hammer. Dismantle the dysfunction. Build something new. Let justice roll.