When Satire Cuts Deep…

My friend Eddy posted an interesting list the other day…you can see it here.

It has elicited a range of responses from several folks – laughter, anger, tears, depression, rage, angst…lots of stuff comes up when the topic of women in leadership in the church comes up.

It’s curious how satire brings so many emotions and thoughts to the surface. Think of what you will of these responses, but the feelings everyone has are all real. Real feelings come from real experiences, real experiences come from real life.

Make no mistake, trying to interpret who is right and wrong in this conversation is not the way to go about thinking here. That usually goes the way of defensiveness, and many folks in this conversation seem to follow the much-maligned coaching strategy that the best defense is a good offense.  Colin Hansen’s insight’s from CT are precious regarding this: “But what will it gain the kingdom if one side wins the debate but we all forfeit the culture?”

Some people think that comment is morally or doctrinally relativistic, that I’m trying to bring everyone to the table to be heard. Some will quote some scriptures. Others retort with their scriptures. But we hurt others and are hurt when we neglect the way of love when working out the issues that I believe God knowingly left ambiguous in order to trust the body of Christ to pursue the way of love together in reflecting his image as male and female.

I’m a young white male (well, I still have something left to my twenties) in who serves in an evangelical collegiate campus ministry. Within the campus ministry I serve, the typical student or staff is neither white nor male. As I’ve heard their stories, and engaged in conversation, I’ve been saddened because the incidents aren’t isolated but are part of the fabric of the American church today.

At the same time, I know whenever I walk into a conversation along these lines, I know I’m being silently judged by what camp I’m in, how insensitive or sensitive I am to the plight of Christian women in leadership, how much of a man I am, what scriptures I quote, my stories, etc.

In other words, I’m walking on eggshells. And I’m typically an equal opportunity offender, so I’ll probably be making a lot of scrambled eggs from the following thoughts…

When one removes gender as the exclusive requirement for biblical leadership, what becomes the basis for leadership in the church? Honestly, I think many of us men have really struggled with this in evangelical circles, because men in the church are used to entitlement and assume because we just “show up” women will follow us. We assume that since we’ve arrived, we should be followed.

And that is wrong. And it is arrogant. And it is presumptuous.

When leadership is based on the presence of certain genitals, it castrates the high calling of leadership in which we are called not to have certain parts, but become part of Christ. Literally, we are to be more and more fully “in Christ” according to Paul’s most repeated phrase, which is far more more demanding than anything I’ve ever tried in my life. Running a marathon, working a 100-hour week or a 24-hour day, sacking a quarterback, splitting a few cords of wood, backpacking for days in the wilderness, or hitting a 1-2 curveball in the right-center gap for a triple – all of these “manly” activities I’ve performed are quite easy compared to becoming more like Jesus.

Men, do you ever wonder why God incarnated himself in our gender? We do have an advantage here over our sisters – I think God graciously gave us clarity on this one. We do know that what it means to be a “godly man” is personified in the God-man, Jesus. So stop thinking that Jesus is like some spiritual first century Hulk Hogan or buying into John Eldridge’s lacking Wild at Heart theology that becoming a man is about getting in touch with your recklessness. I love God’s creation as much as anyone, but my masculinity is not defined by my capacity to be “wild.”

When we do this, we make God in our own image…and that is really, really bad. It’s called idolatry. God calls it sin. And when we impress this distortion of God on someone else, it gets worse. It’s called oppression. And we’ve historically oppressed women in the church, and we need to repent. That’s what it means to be manly – to own up to sin and resolve to become more a man of God, like Jesus, the God-man.

At the same time, we are in a time where there are fewer and fewer men in the church. As a man committed to the church, I’m deeply concerned. I see fewer and fewer mature Christian men. And I’m not just sad; I’m embarrassed. I get more embarrassed when I read comments men make regarding reclaiming masculinity in the church through shallow thought and superficial practice.

But honestly, I’m just as embarrassed by women’s response to the lack of men in the church. In my circle of friends, women can go the way of nagging and complaining to the point of exhaustion with veiled accusations under the subject heading, “where are the men?”

As a single man in the church, I’ve encountered various experiences of being considered a project (someone who can be made into a woman’s ideal man), a predator (someone looking for his next date), or a patriarch (someone who can be a good male role model for the kids in church), and rarely just a person trying to connect with God and others. Welcome is often a word that is far from most men’s experience in the church these days.

I was speaking with a Christian woman in church who wanted to talk with me about her husband. I took a cue from a pastor I heard and told her that I would prefer to talk with her husband first without her description of him. In other words, I will talk with her, or her husband, but I would not talk with her about her husband.

Talking with her about her husband would not give me the opportunity to meet him first on his ground and extend him the grace he needs; taking her cues, I’d be the enlisted as “Mr. Christian Fix-it guy” to all of her problems with her project husband.

Unfortunately, she declined the opportunity. I still wonder why…

Welcome is not the experience most men feel in today’s church; anxiety regarding our failures and shortcomings is, apathy regarding the applicability of the church in our lives is a close second. Men struggle with grace because most of us live lives are predicated on achievement. Walking into a place where we are told where we lack is not welcoming, however true it may be.

And sadly, I’m just as embarrassed by women’s mudslinging, catty, caricatured, “you-go-girl” responses regarding the issue of leadership. I’m sorry for the double standard that women face, and it is wrong. That’s why I’m trying to fight it so that women have a place at the table for their voice to be heard. But for those of us who are trying, it’s hard enough to advocate when women in leadership who provide foolish fodder and ridiculous rhetoric for men as confirmation of their existing prejudices. The way of love is lost, and we’re reduced to a cheap substitute.

In the words of Cuba Gooding, Jr. in Jerry MacGuire, “help me help you.” Don’t stoop to their level. You are no better than they when you do.

I know I’ve probably offended equally here, but that is the point. We all are in need of grace. Both genders have our junk that we bring to the table in this conversation, and the way of love means we need to own up to our issues.

Can we find the way of love together?

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May 2008

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