This side of the Cross

I’ve been thinking about how to tell the “rest of the story”, especially what has been happening since I was interviewed for RoE. Before and during the time of the interview, we (my husband Tom and I) were reasonably certain we would be transitioning away from active ministry in Mexico. The reasons have little to do with my disenchantment regarding the status of women in ministry. In fact, I had greater freedom to minister as the Spirit led in Mexico than ever before.

I have come to believe that the ‘gender wars’ in the church merely reflect some very root issues about how little our perception of self and each other has changed for those who are in the church compared with those who are not. Sadly, inside of the fellowship of believers (which we call church) many have continued to base our sense of identity on and gain our value from externals such as gender, roles, power, appearances, and performance. We read the Bible through a filter fashioned outside of Christ, rather than reading God’s word backward, through the Cross.

In the last chapters of RoE, Jim talks about the issue of power. He may very well be right! I don’t know why men – or women- do the things they do to hurt each other, but I have some ideas about roots of our actions.  I know that I no longer feel powerless, or that men (or women) have power over me. They only have power to control me if I give them that power.  I do believe that if men and women would learn to see ourselves as having been crucified,  yet living by faith in the one who gave himself for us, we would quit looking at each other with such suspicion. Women would no longer feel forced to adopt aggressive (and perhaps threatening) postures in order to do what they are called to do. And men would no longer feel threatened by capable and called women. These responses are born out of fear, not out of love. Each would find his or her identity in Christ and in identification with Him. The indwelling Spirit knows neither male nor female. We are both, together, the image of God. Christ is about reconciliation – bringing back together what was torn apart in the “fall”:  exchanging the flesh way of seeing self and others for the crucified and resurrected way of experiencing life.

No, I don’t have this whole thing completely “sorted”, but learning these truths has changed much about how I see myself and the gender dilemma. I do not feel oppressed. I also do not feel like I have to be part of a traditional institutional model of church. The church is much bigger than that. She is much grander and more beautiful than any prefabricated rituals or traditions. (Please do not read what I am not saying – the rituals are not wrong in themselves, but it’s far too easy to worship the rituals and let them become idols – surrogates for real relationships with Father and with each other.)  I do believe in fellowship and deep sharing (koinonia) with other believers in the Body of Christ. I do believe that we need each other. Conversely, when we go to another expecting to have and striving to get our needs met from the other, we are doomed for disappointment if not disaster. Only Father in Christ through the Spirit can meet my needs.  I am free to give love without demand to others. There is no power struggle in love. And there is no love in a power struggle!

So, where am I? I think we (my hubs and I) are on the verge of ‘joining’ a local church. I am hesitant because I do not want to shackle myself to a rigid set of man-made-doctrines or practices any longer. I expect we’ll stay on the fringes for a while. We know that God is moving in our hearts and lives and we may well ‘start something new’ with respect to ministry. I suppose that means I am moving from “resigned from” to re-signed. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove, or that I have to prove anything! We are learning how to come alongside others to encourage them as they discover what they really exchanged (or could choose to exchange) at the Cross. Our whole language is changing!

I keep saying “our”…. Just for the record, my husband is not threatened by the fact that I work in the professional world, one that is traditionally a “man’s world”, (but at the same time has always been open to women: one of the earliest pioneers was a woman.) He’s my biggest cheerleader as I pursue a seminary degree. He doesn’t try to control me, and I don’t think I am better than he in any way. We don’t have many power struggles after 35 years of marriage – but we do share a lot of love.


This side of the Cross — 7 Comments

  1. Laura, thanks for sharing what’s happened since your book interview! It sounds like you and your husband are in an exciting, hopeful place in your lives.

    In the churches and parachurch ministries I was involved in, my leaders had spiritual authority over me: that was how the organizations/communities were set up, it wasn’t that the leaders were going beyond their stated responsibilities. That was one reason I left – I decided that I was only going to give trained professionals authority over me. With my diagnosis I couldn’t afford to be in a situation where I was ‘under authority’ to people who were not trained professionals. Not only were they not trained professionals in medical mental health issues, they were not even trained in ‘people skills’ per se. Which is one thing which greatly disturbs me about Christian leaders – they are dealing in areas they have never been properly trained in. Knowing the Bible doesn’t mean you have good people skills.

    I used to believe that the Holy Spirit in them would be enough but…in practice, that wasn’t enough, for whatever reason.

    Um, yeah, this turned out to be more about me than you, I guess. But anyway I do appreciate your thoughts on power and control and fear and love and very much agree.

    • That’s quite fine, Helen. We are all on unique journeys. The problem, as I see it, wiht being in authority over, or being under authority isn’t really even scriptural. We give people authority over us… and there are appropriate places and areas of our lives for that. But I don’t see in scripture where anyone other than myself is accountable to God for my spiritual condition. As I see it… my responsibility “my part” is to surrender to the indwelling Spirit.
      The second problem, as I see it, is those who would weild authority over use use it as control and to exercise some kind of power over us. This is an abuse of authority. In fact, i do not even believe that this is authority, but rather human, fleshly acting on old indwelling sin patterns of desire to control, born out of a need to obtain personal satisfaction or worth from that ability. True (spiritual) leaders earn that position not by exerting control or power, but by walking faitfully submitted to the Indwelling Spirit. Even outside of Christianity, leadesrhip can be “positional” (do what I say because of my ‘rank’) or “earned” (I do what you say because I’ve learned to respect your abilility to lead me to achieve a common goal,etc.)
      I ramble. But your post stirred up some thoughts. Well, more than thoughts- beliefs.

  2. Laura, in the version of the Bible I used to read, being under the authority of leaders was referred to, for example:

    Have confidence in your leaders and submit to their authority, because they keep watch over you as those who must give an account. Do this so that their work will be a joy, not a burden, for that would be of no benefit to you.” (Heb 13:17 NIV)

    So it’s hard for me to say the concept is not at all scriptural.

    However, the way ‘authority’ is interpreted is key and I agree with you that it can’t mean ‘be a control freak’. I like Jim’s and your comments about empowering others. I wrote one time about, if there is any _doubt_ about women Christian leaders, wouldn’t it be better to take the risk of being wrong in giving women too much leadership rather than being wrong in giving them too little? Wouldn’t that be a better mistake to have made in one’s life?

    But clearly that’s not the way lots of male leaders see things.

    • I suppose defining “authority” would be in order here. And “have confidence”…. It seems to me that the writer of Hebrews knew the character of these leaders, and was urging confidence because they had shown themselves faithful in their authority. We talked about God’s work in our lives last night… and that His language is the language of invitation. Now if God is the ultimate authority, and he is constantly inviting not forcing, should we submit to someone who is asking more from us than God? It’s somthing to think about! Thanks for your thoughts, Helen.

      • BTW.. i’ve been thinking about this some more. I don’t have much trouble submitting to authorities that God has placed in my life – I have more trouble with folks who assume authority over me (or anyone) because of a role or a title.

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