What kind of academic institution are you running here?

I was asked a rather disturbing question in an interview recently.

I was asked “When teaching, how do you both teach and protect the faith of the students in your class? Specifically, how do you protect the faith of godly young men who do not believe women can be in ministry and will likely struggle with females in class who think this is possible?” The unpacking of the question went on to include me, in that I am female, and might actually make a young man uncomfortable having me teach in a position of authority. Ultimately the question was clarified to ask how do I skillfully teach a class, not harm the male students or even push them to a point of questioning what they have been taught about roles of men and women in ministerial leadership and state that it is good and right for them to not believe in women in ministry while standing before them as a woman in ministry.

I think the person asking thought it was rather innocuous. In hindsight, this one question revealed a tremendous amount about the person and consequently the institution asking.

So I'm curious just what this interviewer was thinking teachers do, specifically teachers of theology and ministry. I can appreciate not wanting someone whose agenda was to destroy the faith of young people. But to frame a class around not harming a specific category? This would even have made more sense to me had the person followed with a question about the balance of protecting young women in class who did feel called to ministry and may struggle with the men in class who disagree. But this didn't happen. There was also no concern for what this may do to me as the professor AND a woman in ministry.

The lunacy of this question was that it was posed not by a random peripheral person, or even someone just curious. It was posed by the one charged with casting the vision and protecting academic freedom. There was an immediate assumption that I was going to dismantle the faith of others which is annoying enough itself. The more troublesome assumption is that students can't handle anything beyond affirmation of what they already believe. That students are not mature enough to listen, discern, discuss and have their faith deepened by actual scholarship. Frankly, this person painted the students to be fragile boys who couldn't handle anything outside of their already existent worldview.

We do a disservice to young people when we refuse to pose controversial topics or present a variety of views as valid. We breed future ministers who fail in reflective practices for fear that their precious theological glass houses will shatter. We dishonor God when we treat young people as if they are pathetically fragile in the name of preservation of faith. Assuming these same young people are created in the image of God… That god too is fearful and unreflective.

I am not interested I dismantling faith. I am however interested in helping young people, men and women, to be in ministry for the long haul able to draw strength in the face of diversity and new ideas.

 

Men AND Women

The Christian blog world lit up this past week with posts and comments all centering around a post by Jared Wilson on The Gospel Coalition web site. Long story short, Wilson wrote a statement about male authority which allowed for a reading advocating marital rape. He later posted an apology / clarification that he was advocating the exact opposite of how it could legitimately be read. He still advocates male authority in church and family but does not advocate marital rape. Ok, that can happen when you intend one thing and it is so clear in your own mind that you don’t even notice the other message present.

Beyond the egregiousness of what was originally posted is the stark reminder of how difficult it is within the Chrisitian community to be an advocate of women AND men. It seems easier to pit one sex against the other rather than to celebrate both. It’s the ultimate both/and versus either/or debate.

I’ve had a lot of affirmation over the years. I thought I found my place serving where I was wanted. I gravitated to ministries where being a woman was either celebrated or a non-issue. I have also been in places which gave a lot of lip service to being in favor of women in ministry but in reality liked the progressive exterior and still treated women differently, and by differently I mean poorly. These are some of the same people who speak and write on being pro-women.

Thankfully, I do have many, many experiences where the question of a woman in leadership is not even an issue. I have just finished a beautiful week serving as a co-pastor with my good friend Nick Palermo at a camp for teens with disabilities. We spent the week looking at unlikely people God set in place regardless of the junk the world names as desirable. We intentionally had a male and female speaker, preached from the Old and New Testaments, chose Biblical characters who were male and female. We never said it, but modeled throughout the entire week the worth of both sexes. It was an incredible experience. One where we were not only open to the Holy Spirit, but by design made room for the Spirit’s leading.

I can hardly believe on many days that women in leadership is still a topic of conversation. I am so glad that I have moved to places of service where both men AND women are celebrated! I’m done with those who proclaim equality but merely offer lip service, and with those who highlight their “inclusiveness” by including a token woman within a male dominant community so that they may feel like or demonstrate that they are inclusive.

Really? Are we still having this conversation?

The answer is yes, and we need to keep having it. Some of you, male and female, will be told again that you are wrong to advocate equality. Some of you will go places you think are safe only to find out later that someone feels threatened, or is a hypocrite or doesn’t have the courage to stand up for what he or she believes. Hang in there! You are not crazy! God longs for us to work together in ways where both men and women are celebrated.