10 Predictions for #PostEvangelical America...

I strongly believe that it will be difficult to quantify in the next few years the degree to which the divided though largely active support of Donald Trump's bid for the presidency among conservative Christians and Evangelicals will accelerate the post-Christian reality of the US. This includes the emergence and expansion of the "nones" and the "dones."

The unhealthy and unholy allegiance of conservative Christianity with conservative political parties and institutions has done great harm to the church and to our society. Whether we look to the emergence of this unholy alliance and its (not so subtle) racist overtones, or the ways in which this alliance has too often had negative affects on the poor and vulnerable


DISCLAIMER: I of course recognize that this is by no means a fair portrait of many who still choose to identify as Conservative or Evangelical. While that may be the case, and a number of these people are my friends, I am suggesting that the people whom our culture identifies with this ideology and movement will experience the fallout that I am articulating in these predictions.


So here are my ten predictions about #PostEvangelical America and the state of Conservative Christianity (and the Church more generally) moving forward after this presidential election...

The loss of political power by domination or alienation will hasten the speed with which the United States becomes a post-Christian culture.

There are plenty of voices that are clearly reminding us that this is true. Robert P. Jones, The End of White Christian America is certainly one of the most talked-about articulations of this reality. But this can also be seen in the ways in which the demographics of conservative/evangelical communities are rapidly. The divisiveness (even within traditional stalwarts of theological conservativism) that has been on display will only accelerate this already inevitable trend.  

Those who find themselves no longer able to align themselves with the angrier, more exclusive version of Evangelicalism will shift quickly. 

The last decade has shown unprecedented decline in denominational loyalty, particularly among younger people. The ethical and political orientations, particularly of millenials, will not insulate congregations and traditions from this impending ideological exodus. 

The recovery of postures of generosity and diversity will continue to become less and less viable. Evangelicals will devour their own. 

This can be seen in the ways that evangelicals have dealt with the candidacy of Donald Trump or more culturally-oriented events like the recent comments of Jen Hatmaker about same-sex marriage and the attenuating categorical black-listing fallout. With no space for diversity or generosity towards difference the only remaining postures are rabid defense and destruction of the Other. 

People (particularly Millenials) of faith (the #PostEvangelical kind) will either find or create new Christian communities together, or leave Christian community entirely.

This is seen most clearly in the emergence and rapid expansion of the "Dones." But research has consistently shown that while faith is important to millenials, it is the church that is struggling to find its place in their lives. It seems to me that we can expect both of these trends to accelerate moving forward. 

This means that the (long-term) future of the church in the US will be much more communal, less institutional, and more progressive. 

This shift will occur for a number of reasons: (1) Millenials (now the largest generation on the planet) have a general suspicion of institutions, including religious ones. (2) Millenials crave (and seek to cultivate) real, meaningful community. (3) Our society is becoming more progressive, and (4) This is the general trajectory of theological reflection towards greater diversity, inclusion, and concern for questions and systems of justice in light of oppression and injustice (e.g., Liberation Theology, Postcolonial Theology, Queer Theology, etc.).

Churches who remain in the Evangelical camp will feel forced to double down on theological positions with vigor (or venom) to stem their own decline. 

While this is not true across the board (there are some notable exceptions in sometimes surprising places), it seems to me that this is inevitable. With the shrinking demographics of conservative Christianity (particularly the fundamentalist and evangelical varieties, which are not always distinguishable), one of the primary mechanisms of institutional perpetuation is to begin to assume an isolationist position that focuses on the maintenance of current adherents and their families. This has been an important pattern for sometime, and will only accelerate as we move further into the post-Christian culture. 

This doubling-down will result in their eventual demise (even if they continue to exist), because they are losing their children (and have been for some time). 

This trend has been measured for some time now, and shows no signs of slowing down. But it is also demonstrated in the ways in which those (particularly millenials) within evangelicalism are embracing more progressive positions despite their ecclesial settings. 

For the church as a liberating, inclusive community of people from all walks of life, this imposed exile will be a generative reality. 

While in the short-term this kind of expulsion/exclusion will be painful, it is my contention that those who leave and/or are pushed out will find that the new spaciousness provided by their new ecclesial location will be freeing and beautiful. This is already the kind of world that millenials are actively working towards, and if they can do so within Christian communities, it seems likely to me that they will do just that. 

The Christianity that will remain in the next generation (though smaller) will be more generous, more active in its pursuits of justice, and more inclusive. 

This can be seen even within the evangelical tradition itself, though I think that this kind of posture will find more momentum and energy in traditions outside of conservative/evangelical faith going forward. 

The reality and the accelerated emergence of the #PostEvangelical world in the US is actually Good News for the church and for the world.

My experience has been that the church of the future will be radically different, but that it will be better for having lost its place of (economic and political) power and privilege. It will be liberated to be itself, a liberating, revolutionary force of love, that embodies mercy, justice, and inclusion in a world that so desperately needs it. 


Perhaps we might find that the death of "Christian America" will lead to the one thing that Christians have always been able to draw hope from in dark times… RESURRECTION. 

Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology (An Invitation to Explore)...

Emmanuel Levinas confronts us with a fundamental question about the ubiquity and ferocity of trauma and human suffering in the world in the wake of the Holocaust:

Is humanity, in its indifference, going to abandon the world to useless suffering, leaving it to the political fatality - or the drifting - of the blind forces which inflict misfortune on the weak and conquered, and which spare the conquerors, whom the wicked must also join? Or, incapable of adhering to an order - or to a disorder - which it continues to think diabolic, must not humanity now, in a faith more difficult than ever, in a faith without theodicy, continue Sacred History; a history which now demands even more of the resources of the self in each one, and appeals to its suffering inspired by the suffering of the other person, to its compassion which is a non-useless suffering (of love), which is no longer suffering 'for nothing', and which straightaway has a meaning? At the end of the twentieth century and after the useless and unjustifiable pain which is exposed and displayed therein without any shadow of a consoling theodicy, are we not all pledged - like the Jewish people to their faithfulness - to the second term of this alternative? This is a new modality in the faith of today, and also in our moral certainties, a modality quite essential to the modernity which is dawning.
Emmanuel Levinas, Useless Suffering, p. 164.

A young boy in an ambulance after being pulled from the rubble following an air strike in Aleppo.

The world of the last century has witnessed an unfathomable concentration of trauma and human suffering. Two World Wars, genocide, hunger, poverty, abuse and neglect, disease, and an innumerable volume of personal or communal traumas which have been lost to history or held in secret. One thing is clear: Simple answers and "business as usual" is not only insufficient, but is immoral. It is time, as Levinas reminds us, for a "new modality" that moves away from the "explanations" of theodicy to the "suffering [with] inspired by the suffering of the other." But this shift, particularly from the grounding of Christian faith requires language and practices that for most believers simply do not exist. We simply lack the language and practices to respond in meaningful and generative ways to the sheer volume and ferocity of trauma and human suffering in the world, in our communities, in our churches, and within our own lives and the lives of those closest to us. 

The theological commitments and practices necessary to engage in the world as it really is will require a deep and pointed look at the Tradition we have received and the ways in which these things have (mis)shaped the church and its capacity to respond to trauma and human suffering. However, we will also discover that there are deep resources buried and obscured within the Tradition that provide powerful and redemptive tools for contemporary life in the world.

This November and December I want to invite you to join me in an exploration of the ways in which the Christian faith can respond faithfully and redemptively to a world that is so profoundly (mis)shaped by trauma and human suffering.

On Sunday mornings at 9:30 at the Dayspring Church of Christ I will be guiding us through the realities of trauma and human suffering, the history of the development of the Christian Tradition in response to these realities, and the theological commitments and practices moving forward that will enable the church to be God's healing presence in the world. This work, this joint commitment, this embodiment of the most fundamental convictions of the Christian faith culminate in what I describe as a Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology.

Each week, as part of our discerning together we will engage in two practices: A form of Lectio Divina and an exercise in theological reflection. The goal in both of these practices is to examine the ways in which we hear and think about Scripture and to contemplate the ways in which our theological values and commitments shape (or misshape!) our faith and life together and for the world.

Here is what we will explore each week of this series together: 

WEEK ONE: The Grammar of a Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology (Nov. 6th)
Drawing on some of the insights and metaphors of Joe Jones' marvelous systematic theology, A Grammar of Christian Faith: Systematic Explorations in Christian Life and Doctrine we will begin to explore the kinds of language that will be necessary and informative for our time together. Particularly we will explore the meanings (or range of meanings) for terms and constructions like Moral Agency, Imago Dei, Sin, Ecclesiology, Trauma, Trauma-Formed, and Trauma-Informed. This week will enable us to get our bearings and to mark out the boundaries of our expedition in the Christian Tradition together.

WEEK TWO: A Trauma-Informed Account of Sin and Salvation, Part 1 (Nov. 13th)
Here we will explore the ways in which we might talk about the impingement of the Powers of Sin and Death upon human persons and communities. We will explore the ways in which the Christian Tradition has offered accounts of sin, particularly within the Augustinian tradition, that ignore or marginalize the most ubiquitous and malformative variety of sin: not sin done by us, but sin done to us. This expanded vision will enable us to think about how this reality pushes back on language that we use to describe God's saving work in the world, particularly for those who suffer.

WEEK THREE: A Trauma-Informed Account of Sin and Salvation, Part 2  (Nov. 20th)
Now that we have established a more meaningful account of the ways that the Powers of Sin and Death impinge upon human persons and communities we will turn our attention to how this changes our language about salvation. In conversation with the fourth-century theologian Gregory of Nyssa we will explore and discern how we talk about the redemptive work of Jesus Christ and the fate of human persons. We will especially focus on the ways in which suffering has the capacity to complicate or compromise an individual or community's capacity to respond appropriately to the Triune God in history.

WEEK FOUR: The Trauma-Formed Tradition (Nov. 27th)
After exploring a deeper grammar of sin and salvation that is trauma-informed we return with clearer eyes to see the ways in which the Tradition itself has been trauma-formed. In other words, we will see some of the ways in which the history and practices of the church illustrate that the church has been more profoundly shaped by its experiences of trauma and human suffering than it has been responsive to those experiences. This is not a condemnation or dismissal of the Tradition; far from it. It is instead a testimony to the (mal)formative power of trauma and human suffering from which even ecclesial communities (and entire traditions!) are not immune. Together we will see this in an exploration of the Book of Common Prayer, the Revised Common Lectionary, and the commentary of John Calvin on a subset of the Psalms of Lament.

WEEK FIVE: The Ecclesial Turn: Theological Commitments (Dec. 4th)
Having sketched out together the fundamental shape of a Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology and the impetus for it (the Trauma-Formed Tradition), here we will explore three of the fundamental theological commitments that serve as the foundation of the theological model that I am proposing. In this session we will explore the ways in which our commitments about coercion and violence, the nature of the Atonement, and the ultimate destiny of human persons enable us to move into an embodied life in the world which is actually (for some, for the first time) Good News. 

WEEK SIX: The Ecclesial Turn: Embodied Practices (Dec. 11th)
This week we will have already come on a long journey together through church history, through the development of doctrine in the Tradition and the ways that language and practices have shaped our lives and our imaginations together. In this session we will turn our attention to the enrichment of concrete practices in our embodied, ecclesial communities. I will be helping us to think about how this Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology enables us to think more deeply and meaningfully about the practices of Baptism, Eucharist, and Confession.  

WEEK SEVEN: A Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology in the World (Dec. 18th)
Here we want to explore the ways in which the church should live in the world after our vision and theological reflection are sharpened by being Trauma-Informed. What does it mean to be an ecclesial community that enters into the suffering of others and there find our mutual salvation? How might the church think about the ways in which we are called to confront systems of marginalization, oppression, and violence? And finally, we ask what does it mean to live in a world where trauma and human suffering is unavoidable but should not be met merely with resignation? This will enable us to think of a Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology that is committed to a particular kind of solidarity, resistance, and resilience. 

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(December 25th at Dayspring will be a special time of fellowship and celebration during the class time.)
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WEEK EIGHT: The Public Life of a Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology with Q&A  (Jan. 1st)
Briefly I want to give some insights into the ways in which a Trauma-Informed Ecclesiology gives shape to the public life and witness of ecclesial communities and Christian persons. Not only do these theological committments fundamentally reorient our ecclesial language and practices, but they transform the way that we live and act in the world. I will help us to think about, for example, some of the ways in which this influences the way that followers of Jesus should think about public policy, missions, and life for/with the marginalized and the oppressed. We will conclude this week with an lengthy Q&A time to help you explore further the materials and proposals that I have presented in this ongoing series. 

An Associated Press photo of priests intervening in riots in Kiev in January of 2014. (via Huffington Post)

It is not the interpretation of love as an ideal, a heavenly power, or as a commandment, but of love as an event in a loveless, legalistic world: the event of an unconditioned and boundless love which comes to meet man, which takes hold of those who are unloved and forsaken, unrighteous or outside the law, and gives them a new identity, liberates them from the norms of social identifications and from the guardians of social norms and idolatrous images. What Jesus commanded in the Sermon on the Mount as love of one's enemy has taken place on the cross through Jesus' dying and the grief of the Father in the power of the spirit, for the godless and the loveless. Just as the unconditional love of Jesus for the rejected made the Pharisees his enemies and brought him to the cross, so the unconditional love also means enmity and persecution in a world in which the life of man is made dependent on particular social norms, conditions, or achievements. A love which takes precedence and robs these conditions of the force is folly and scandal in this world. But if the believer experiences his freedom and the new possibility of his life in the fact that the love of God reaches him, the loveless and unloved, in the cross of Christ, what must be the thoughts of a theology which corresponds to this love? In that case it is a love which creates its own conditions, since it cannot accept the conditions of lovelessness and the law. Further, it cannot command love and countermove. As its purpose is freedom, it is directed towards freedom. So it cannot prohibit slavery and enmity, but must suffer this contradiction, and can only take upon itself this grief in protest. That is what happened on the cross of Christ. God is unconditional love, because he takes upon himself grief at the contradiction in men and does not angrily suppress this contradiction. God allows himself to be forced out. God suffers, God allows himself to be crucified and is crucified, and in this consummates his unconditional love that is so full of hope. But that means that in the cross he becomes himself the condition of this love.
Jürgen MoltmannThe Crucifed God

(White) Reflections on Marching with #BlackLivesMatter

On Sunday I joined more than 2,000 of my brothers and sisters in a march and rally for #BlackLivesMatter in Oklahoma City. I went in solidarity with my sisters and brothers who experience systemic racism, discrimination, and oppression because they are black. This experience is completely foreign to mine, and is never something that I can "understand." It is merely a reality that I oppose in the name of the Triune God on behalf of my black fellow-bearers of the Image of God. 

The gathering was large, hot, incredibly organized, peaceful, and perhaps most importantly, unapologetic in its demands for justice and the cessation of violence. 

As a straight, white, married, middle-class man, this would seem to be the place where I would feel out of place. And at a different time in my life I wouldn't have been antagonistic to such a gathering, but I would have been uneasy. But in this movement, if you are human, you are family. I saw an incredible level of care, mutual concern, and respect for others. When counter-protestors showed up the rally was stopped. The leaders assumed the microphone and reminded everyone that they had a right to be present, that we were here for our cause, and that the OKCPD and others who were there to serve and protect would resolve the situation. Level-headed, respectful, and even acknowledging our differences. Just one of the many moments where the fruits of the Spirit were on full display. There was intimate care and concern to accommodate anyone who wanted to be present. Water was donated and chilled in advance, a medical staff was on hand for heat exhaustion, chairs were brought for the elderly, disabled, and pregnant women. Each time someone would succumb to the heat the entire gathering came to an immediate halt until the medical team was able to arrive. We sat in silence and solidarity with our brothers and sisters who were with us no matter the toll on their bodies. 

Some have commented to me through social media (though interestingly not in person!) that their opinion of #BlackLivesMatter was that it was divisive and potentially explosive (and a couple even suggested it was racist!). While there were a couple of moments early on where some individual tempers flared (and rightly so at such hatred and injustice!!) they were quickly reminded by their fellow participants that such behavior was contrary to our mutual commitment to solidarity, peace, and lasting, life-changing transformation of our community, city, state, and nation. 

The proof of the effectiveness of our gathering can be seen in a post in the #BlackLivesMatter Facebook event page by one of the counter-protestors who made his presence very well known early in the rally...

As someone who was standing in solidarity with my black sisters and brothers, and who witnessed firsthand this gathering of compassionate, articulate, and unapologetically peaceful and honest people, I offer three observations about my personal experience and my perception of the #BlackLivesMatter movement as a whole. 

Sunday's ‪#‎BlackLivesMatter‬ rally was peaceable, compassionate, and unapologetic about calling for and proposing tangible, practical actions and policies to address systemic racism. 

To suggest that this movement is divisive, racist, or condones/welcomes/encourages violence against police or anyone is else is either allowing a third-party to define their narrative or has other more problematic commitments. 

The power of #BlackLivesMatter is that it is not a movement of (only) black persons.

I was joined Sunday by people of every race, straight and LGBTQ, Muslims, Christians, Jews, and people of no faith. Young and old, rich and poor. State legislators, pastors, activists, rabbis, imams, moms and dads and little children. 

As a theologian, I saw absolutely NOTHING yesterday that was contrary to the fundamental commitments of the Christian faith. (With the exception of the hateful counter-protestors, who all unfortunately, identified themselves as Christians!) 

I heard prayers offered for the cessation of violence and hostility, uncompromising calls for justice, affirmation of those in law enforcement (and countless hugs, handshakes, and cold water given to officers), and a level of kindness, compassion, and concern for those around them that I have only witnessed in the immediate aftermath of tragedies. The exception here is that these are the normal actions of #BlackLivesMatter, not the exception. 

For those who still wish to malign the movement, or to call into question my unapologetic participation in it I have one important question for you: What are you are doing to make the world less violent, less racist, less unequal, less prejudiced, and more just, more safe, and more beautiful? 

If you are actively involved in doing something to these ends then I imagine that we have a great foundation from which to have these very complex, life and death conversations. Our Christian witness demands it. 

9 Reasons Why My Faith Compels Me to Say #BlackLivesMatter

I have not been afraid within my social media space to say #BlackLivesMatter, or to speak about the longstanding racism within my own religious tradition. But the events of this last week have brought the conversation of racism, prejudice, and violence to a new frenzy unseen in my lifetime. 

DISCLAIMER: I am speaking for myself (and only myself) when I articulate "why my faith compels me to say #BlackLivesMatter."
I believe that there are compelling theological reasons for this commitment, and in response to these I continue to strive to embody my faith "with fear and trembling." (Philippians 2:12)

But I feel like it is important, as a contribution to a very important (and very complex) conversation, to explain why my faith compels me to say #BlackLivesMatter. And why it compels me to not only say something in my social media space, but in my faith community, and publicly within my city and state. So here are 9 reasons (though there are a number of others) why my faith compels me to say #BlackLivesMatter...

Because the Triune God, revealed most clearly in the person of Jesus Christ, is deeply concerned and committed to the cause of the oppressed and the marginalized, and this is the actual, real lived experience of millions of my black sisters and brothers. 

Hear the words of Isaiah the Prophet...

“Shout it aloud, do not hold back.
    Raise your voice like a trumpet.
Declare to my people their rebellion
    and to the descendants of Jacob their sins.
For day after day they seek me out;
    they seem eager to know my ways,
as if they were a nation that does what is right
    and has not forsaken the commands of its God.
They ask me for just decisions
    and seem eager for God to come near them.
‘Why have we fasted,’ they say,
    ‘and you have not seen it?
Why have we humbled ourselves,
    and you have not noticed?’
“Yet on the day of your fasting, you do as you please
    and exploit all your workers.
Your fasting ends in quarreling and strife,
    and in striking each other with wicked fists.
You cannot fast as you do today
    and expect your voice to be heard on high.
Is this the kind of fast I have chosen,
    only a day for people to humble themselves?
Is it only for bowing one’s head like a reed
    and for lying in sackcloth and ashes?
Is that what you call a fast,
    a day acceptable to the Lord?
“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
                                                                                              (Isaiah 58:1-7, NIV)

Because black lives are disproportionately affected the prison industrial complex. 

In 2010 blacks were incarcerated at more than FIVE times the rate of whites. While blacks accounted for only 13% of the US population they made up 40% of the incarcerated population. This is despite the lack of a comparable disparity in the rate of crimes committed between whites and blacks.  

Because black lives are disproportionately targeted by police for stops, searches, violations, and arrests. 

This can be seen for example in the experience of Philando Castile had been pulled over 31 times and hit with 63 charges. And the stop for a broken tail light that resulted in his death has been challenged by at least one eye witness. And the whole reality of "Driving While Black" has been substantiated for a long time and the literature continues to grow affirming not only that it is true, but that in many communities it is worse than ever.

Because our nation and its economy were literally built on the backs and bodies of black lives.

Our nation would never have become the economic powerhouse that it is today without the institution of slavery. Many of the fundamental icons of our nation were built with slave labor including the U. S. Capitol, the White House, and vast networks of railroad lines

Because black lives are disproportionately affected by poverty and economic oppression.

Data shows us that poverty for black communities and black families is very different than poverty for white americans. This is no mere coincidence, it is the "architecture of segregation."

Because black lives are harmed by the race-based and historical trauma of American society. 

There is a growing body of literature that demonstrates the psychological toll of racism, which is complicated all the more by the historical traumas of slavery, Jim Crow laws, the prison industrial complex, and many of the other things I have already cited. 

Because black lives are oppressed by systemic and institutional inequalities in education. 

There is marked disparity in education funding, discipline, and even course offerings. This comes with profound psychological consequences at all stages of life. (Check the data for your own community here.)

Because black lives are disproportionately destroyed by the so-called "War on Drugs."

At its inception, in its implementation, and its ongoing ethos, the War on Drugs was designed to crush the lives of black persons, families, and communities. 

Because churches continue to be some of the most segregated institutions in the United States. 

The racial disparities in churches are sharper than their surrounding culture. This is not helped by the high response rate of people who report that their churches are "sufficiently diverse" and did not need to pursue further racial integration. Martin Luther King Jr.'s words still ring true "that eleven o'clock on Sunday morning is one of the most segregated hours, if not the most segregated hour in Christian America.

As a follower of Jesus I am called to live in a way that speaks up for those who are abandoned, who are oppressed, who are consciously crushed by the principalities and powers. And the call of the Christian faith is to join in the liberating work of God in the world. I am called to use my voice as a middle-class, white, straight, married, educated, male to cry out for justice, for reconciliation, for the Kingdom of God to come on earth as it is in heaven. It is for this reason that I say...

#BlackLivesMatter

God Is With Us, If We Are With Them...

“This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.
This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.”
(Luke 22:19, 20, NIV)

Christians have argued for millennia about what exactly this means that the bread and wine “are” Jesus’ body and blood. And I certainly don’t want to rehash that discussion here.

But I do want to make a proposal:

Those who come and receive the “body and blood” of Jesus in turn become the body of Jesus in the world.

So it isn’t necessarily about what happens to these items, as it is about what happens to us, and in turn, to the world. The Apostles Paul and John remind us of this:

"Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it."
(1 Corinthians 12:27, NIV)
"In this world we are like Jesus." (1 John 4:17, NIV)

But it is all too easy for the church to think that this [the church building] is the place where we come to meet God, like the Temple or the Tabernacle of the Hebrew Bible. The Apostle Paul abruptly reminds us:

"The God who made the world and all that is in it, the Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands, nor is he served by human hands because he needs anything. Rather it is he who gives to everyone life and breath and everything."
(Acts 17:24-25, NABRE)

This is not to suggest that God is not here, quite the contrary. The Triune God is here, but God’s presence is among us in order that God may send us out. Because God “does not dwell in sanctuaries made by human hands,” instead, he dwells among those who suffer, those who struggle, the oppressed and the poor, the sick and the lonely, the forgotten and the left behind.

God is in Greystone Upper Elementary School where children are being left behind because of their economic status and their race,
God is with the women and children who experience abuse and neglect,
God is at Children's Hospital where illness destroys the bodies of precious little ones,
God is with the senior citizen on a fixed income, who is more lonely than they are poor, 
God is with LGBTQ persons who are ostracized and harmed or murdered because of who they are,
God is in the prisons who are filled with people who are traumatized, victimized, and criminalized,
God is with those who feel excluded or unwelcome here, in our church,
God is with the single mother struggling to make ends meet month after month after month,
God is in the streets sleeping under the stars in the heat, in the cold, in the rain, and in the snow,
God is with the depressed and the hurting, the alienated and the suicidal, with the people who don’t have it all together, and with those who have nothing together,

And God is with us, if we are with them.

God through the Prophet Isaiah tells us:

“Is not this the kind of fasting I have chosen:
to loose the chains of injustice
    and untie the cords of the yoke,
to set the oppressed free
    and break every yoke?
Is it not to share your food with the hungry
    and to provide the poor wanderer with shelter—
when you see the naked, to clothe them,
    and not to turn away from your own flesh and blood?
Then your light will break forth like the dawn,
    and your healing will quickly appear;
then your righteousness will go before you,
    and the glory of the Lord will be your rear guard.
Then you will call, and the Lord will answer;
    you will cry for help, and he will say: Here am I.
“If you do away with the yoke of oppression,
    with the pointing finger and malicious talk,
and if you spend yourselves in behalf of the hungry
    and satisfy the needs of the oppressed,
then your light will rise in the darkness,
    and your night will become like the noonday.
The Lord will guide you always;
    he will satisfy your needs in a sun-scorched land
    and will strengthen your frame.
You will be like a well-watered garden,
    like a spring whose waters never fail.
Your people will rebuild the ancient ruins
    and will raise up the age-old foundations;
you will be called Repairer of Broken Walls,
    Restorer of Streets with Dwellings.

                                                              (Isaiah 58:6-12, NIV)

The Triune God is here to meet you, to make you into his agents of reconciliation in a world that needs so desperately the perfect love that casts out fear. Come and receive his body, broken for you, and his blood, poured out for you that you may go and find God where he is waiting for us to meet him.

Thank you Father, for love for us and for your Son, who died and rose again for us and for the whole world, in the power of the Holy Spirit.   
Amen.

Awaiting that Day: A Meditation on Death, Lament, and the Possibility of Hope

Today I will join hundreds of other people in remembering something that no one wants to be true, the loss of a child. My dear brother in Jesus, Pierson, was more than just a little boy. His family has rightly described him as a superhero, and this is exactly what he was. A resilience and energy that could only come from some secret ability. A capacity and desire to live life to the fullest, even when it was complicated by an enemy that never left his side. A smile (when you didn't get a growl, which still made you smile) that lit up a room in unforgettable ways. A quiet soul, until he opened up, and then there was no place for you to speak. 

I was not nearly as close to Pierson as so many, and yet he has left an indelible mark on my life (and countless other people can say the same). One memory I will always cherish stands out:

Kris was throwing an event for the children's ministry at church last summer and was hosting an art party. Pierson was there painting his heart out, making sure that every color received ample use. But the adult size table, plus the easel on top made it quite a stretch to reach the top of the canvas for my little friend. Before you know it, he was sitting in my lap and we were collaboratively painting a masterpiece on my canvas. I would imitate his every move. He thought it was hilarious. He would put the back of the paintbrush just under his lower lip while he considered the next color. I would do the same, and a virtually simultaneous sigh of consideration would emerge. I must say, it was a brilliant work, and I couldn't have done it without him. He took the painting home. I took that memory with me and will never forget it. 

In my academic work I focus especially on questions of trauma, human suffering, and death. What is the Christian response to these things and how can Christians understand what God has done in Jesus as Good News in a world filled with so much pain? One might think that someone who has devoted their life to the exploration of these questions would have something meaningful to say at a time like this. But in many ways, I am at a loss for words. 

I have spent the last six months trying to think of "what I would say" to people who find themselves in this place, who are trapped in their circumstances and suffering and who want nothing more than to be delivered, to find hope. When Pierson died we told our boys and tried to create a space for them to process that their friend would be absent in a way they had never experienced before. We asked if they had any questions, which they did, and we did our best to answer them. Then my youngest asked this question:

"When God remakes the world, will Pierson be there?"

"Yes," we told him, "yes he most definitely will." But hope for the future is an incomplete solution to the reality that he has died. Christians believe this because we understand that death (the result of the Powers of Sin and Death) is an enemy. Not only is it an enemy, but it is one that Christians believe has been broken in the death and resurrection of Jesus and will ultimately be defeated when the Triune God makes "all things new". 

This dissonance, that Christians have hope, and that death is a terrible thing which the work of Jesus is in the process of overcoming, has given me a new appreciation for the richness of lament. 

Lament in Scripture is most often associated with the subset of the book of Psalms classified as lament psalms. Within this group there are subsections of various styles and contents. (For a great book about this see Glenn Pemberton's Hurting with God: Learning to Lament with the Psalms.) Here is what I am learning in this season about lament:

Lament is not sadness, or grief, or anger. It can be any of those things and more. But at its core, lament is a witnessing to God of the ways in which our lives in the world are not as they should be. They are sometimes a form of protest, or a plea for deliverance, or an accusation of injustice. In the end, they all in their own particular way say, "The world isn't supposed to be like this."

My children should be wearing their superhero shirts today because they are playing with Pierson, not because they are gathered to remember his life which was taken from him. The innocent shouldn't suffer, and frankly, no one should. Christians understand this because we await a renewed world in which grief and pain and death are no more. And the gap between the world we await and the world in which we live brings us pain and longing and even hope. 

I have full confidence that the God who raised Jesus from the dead and who broke the power of sin and death in the cross and resurrection will make all things right in the end. Tonight I will join millions of Orthodox Christians around the world as we shout Christo Anesti! (Christ is risen!). And we will join our voices in the liturgy that has sustained the church for centuries:

Let God arise, let his enemies be scattered; let those who hate him flee from before his face!

Christ is risen from the dead, trampling down death by death, and upon those in the tombs bestowing life
.

This is the day which the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it!

It is this hope to which we cling on days like this. The hope that Christ has defeated death and is the giver of life. But what do you say? How do you speak to what did happen, not what we hoped would happen? The following is where I have arrived in reflecting on the loss of my dear brother in Jesus, Pierson. This is my testimony as I gather with others today to lament to God and confess my hope in the resurrected Son of God:

I believe that on that Day, when the Triune God remakes the world, that death and suffering will be no more. And on days like this, I wish that Day was yesterday. Christo Anesti! Maranatha!

The Church as Field Hospital

Continuing in response to the question: Holy Father, can you tell us how the desire to proclaim a Holy Year of Mercy was born? Where did the inspiration come from? (pg. 5)

I believe that the decision came through prayer, through reflection on the teachings and declarations of the Popes who preceded me, and by thinking of the Church as a field hospital, where treatment is given above all to those who are most wounded. A Church that warms people’s hearts with its closeness and nearness. (8)

What would it look like for the church to serve as a field hospital that genuinely and immediately cares for the "most wounded"? Who would we look to serving and helping? And how would this affect and even reshape the church?

I have spent some time here speaking about one group of people: Victims of Child Sexual Abuse in Churches of Christ. (And in an ironic and infuriating turn of events, it was announced this morning that, as of now, the Vatican is not compelling its bishops to report sexual abuse to the governmental authorities.) I have also in a recent presentation offered an initial reflection about the nature and scope of trauma and human suffering.

But I want to return to this question: What would happen to the church if its life was oriented towards the most wounded in the world (and within their own communities of faith)?

I think the answer is three-fold:

(1) The church would be absolutely devastated. The consequences of decades and centuries of indifference, denial, and ignorance would usher in an unimaginable disorientation as we faced head-on the ferocity and ubiquity of suffering.
(2) The church would be forced to rearticulate the ways in which God responds to human suffering and what the life, death, and resurrection mean for this "new" reality. My hunch is that traditional constructions of sin and salvation would be found to be insufficient. (Forgiveness doesn't do anything for trauma and human suffering!) This would be an important, yet difficult and disorienting work.
(3) The church would be enabled to become the place where redemption in its fullest and truest sense was radically and publicly on display. This is the reason that despite the pain and disorientation that would inevitably result from the turn to the "most wounded", that it would be transformative for both the church and the world.

And how is this done? The last line from Francis says it all...

A Church that warms people’s hearts with its closeness and nearness. (Pope Francis)

A Time for Mercy (Ash Wednesday)

In response to the question: Holy Father, can you tell us how the desire to proclaim a Holy Year of Mercy was born? Where did the inspiration come from? (pg. 5)

Yes, I believe that this is a time for mercy. The Church is showing her maternal side, her motherly face, to a humanity that is wounded. She does not wait for the wounded to knock on her doors, she looks for them on the streets, she gathers them in, she embraces them, she makes them feel loved. And so, as I said, and I am ever more convinced of it, this is a kairos, our era is a kairos of mercy, an opportune time. 

...

Pope Benedict XVI also spoke of this in his teachings: “Mercy is in reality the core of the Gospel message; it is the name of God himself, the face with which he revealed himself in the Old Testament and fully in Jesus Christ, incarnation of Creative and Redemptive Love. The love of mercy also illuminates the face of the Church, and is manifested through the Sacraments, in particular that of the Reconciliation, as well as in works of charity, both of community and individuals. Everything that the church says and does shows that God has mercy for men.” (pgs. 6, 7)

It takes little imagination to recognize that for many in the US, the church is not synonymous with mercy. Even less is the God in whose name followers of Jesus act often characterized as one of mercy. That the church sees fit to call for a time in which its maternal side, the side that nurtures and heals, that loves and restores (although these are not by any means exclusively feminine traits!) is perhaps an indication of how far removed from our everyday life and language and practice this posture has become. 

But I think that Pope Francis has brought us to an important place in today's reflection by juxtaposing the call for the church to be merciful and the identification of the very face of God revealed most clearly in Jesus as one of mercy. Perhaps it is here that we find the "gap", the dissonance that has brought us appropriately to the time of Lent. It gave me great pause to recognize that while I wholeheartedly affirmed what Francis said...

"Mercy is in reality the core of the Gospel message; it is the name of God himself, the face with which he revealed himself in the Old Testament and fully in Jesus Christ, incarnation of Creative and Redemptive Love." (Pope Francis) 

I must confess that I was in a very real sense surprised by this assertion. Not surprised in the sense that it was unexpected or strange, but surprised in that this particular articulation of the way that God presents himself to his Creation as mercy had never really entered my mind. Love? Absolutely. Power? Of course. Grace? Yes. But mercy? There was the surprise and the confrontation. 

"Everything that the church says and does shows that God has mercy for men." (Pope Francis)

It is all too easy for followers of Jesus to say with our words that the church is the "hands and feet of Jesus", and that we are "ministers of reconciliation" (2 Corinthians 5:18-19), and yet with our practices, our common life together as a community of believers to say God has mercy for us.

And so we enter into this season of Lent, of awakening, of repentance, of transformation asking that God will enliven within us a desire to experience and embody the mercy of God, the very face of God and the core of the Gospel message, on behalf of the whole world. 

Yes, I believe that this is a time for mercy. The Church is showing her maternal side, her motherly face, to a humanity that is wounded. She does not wait for the wounded to knock on her doors, she looks for them on the streets, she gathers them in, she embraces them, she makes them feel loved. And so, as I said, and I am ever more convinced of it, this is a kairos, our era is a kairos of mercy, an opportune time. (Pope Francis)

It is indeed an opportune time to join God in his work in the world to save, to love, to heal, and to redeem. And all of this flows from God and through us in the unfolding and immeasurable mercy of the God who has revealed Godself to us in Jesus Christ.

Now to him who by the power at work within us is able to accomplish abundantly far more than all we can ask or imagine, to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus
to all generations, forever and ever. Amen. 

(Ephesians 3:20-21, NRSV)

The Name of God is Mercy (An Introduction)

As we begin the Lenten season and I begin my exploration of Pope Francis' wonderful book The Name of God is Mercy I wanted to just briefly introduce the text and offer an initial taste of what can be expected. 

Each day through Lent I will be reflecting on an excerpt from this wonderful conversation between Pope Francis and Andrea Tornielli, a veteran Vatican journalist. This book is the transcript of a long conversation between Tornielli and Francis. It is filled with pastoral and theological reflection as well as moving stories that were formative for the man who has since become one of the most beloved and recognized religious figures in the world. It details his own experiences as a priest, and the formative moments which have led him to call the church to a deep and meaningful season of reflecting on and seeking to embody, what for Francis is the fundamental attribute of God, mercy.

The following is a brief excerpt from the preface to the reader that will give you a taste of what is still to come...

The Holy Year is a consequence of this message and the centrality it has always had in Francis' preaching. On March 13, 2015, while I was listening to the homily of the penitential liturgy at the end of which the Pope would announce the proclamation of the exceptional Holy Year, I thought how wonderful it would be to ask him a few questions that focused on the theme of mercy and forgiveness, to analyze what those words mean to him, as a man and a priest. I was unconcerned with getting a few punchy phrases that might become part of the media debate around the Synod of the Family, which often felt like a king of match between fans of opposing teams. Without getting caught up in the casuistry, I liked the idea of an interview that would reveal the heart of Francis and his vision. I wanted a text that would open doors, especially during this Holy Year, when the Church wants to show, in a very special and even more significant way, its face of mercy. 

The Pope accepted my suggestion.  This book is the fruit of the conversations that began in his lodgings in Saint Martha's House in the Vatican on a muggy afternoon last July, a few days after his return from a journey to Ecuador, Bolivia, and Paraguay. With very little advance notice, I had sent ahead a list of topics and questions I wanted to cover. I arrived with three recording devices. Francis was waiting for me sitting at a table with a Bible concordance on it and some quotations from the Church Fathers. You can read the contents of our conversations in the pages that follow.

I hope that the interviewee will not be offended if I reveal a backstage episode that I find particularly telling. We discussed the difficulties of acknowledging ourselves as sinners, and in the first draft I wrote that Francis asserted, "The medicine is there, the healing is there -- if only we take a small step toward God." After reading the text, he called me and asked me to add "or even just the desire to take that step." It was a phrase that I had clumsily left out of my summary. This addition, or rather, the proper restoration of the complete text, reveals the vast heart of the shepherd who seeks to align himself with the merciful heart of God and leaves nothing untried in reaching out to sinners. He overlooks no possibility, no matter how small, in attempting to give the gift of forgiveness. God awaits us with open arms; we need only take a step toward him like the Prodigal Son. But if, weak as we are, we don't have the strength to take that step, just the desire to take it is enough. It's already enough of a start for grace to work and mercy to be granted in accordance with the experience of a Church that does not see itself as a customs office but as an agent that seeks out every single possible way to forgive. (xviii-xix) 

A Lenten Journey of Mercy: An Invitation

I want to invite all of you on a journey into the season of Lent. This is a term that is foreign to most in Churches of Christ and other non-liturgical churches. But it is an important, historic, and formational component of the Christian faith, and one that deserves our attention. Joan Chittister writes in her wonderful book The Liturgical Year: The Spiraling Adventure of the Spiritual Life describes Lent like this:

Lent is a call to renew a commitment grown dull, perhaps by a life more marked by routine than by reflection After a lifetime of mundane regularity and unconsidered adherence to the trappings of faith. Lent requires me, as a Christian, to stop for a while, to reflect again on what is going on in me. I am challenged again to decide whether I, myself, do truly believe that Jesus is the Christ--and if I believe, whether I will live accordingly when I can no longer hear the song of angels in my life and the star of Bethlehem has grown dim for me.
Lent is not a ritual. It is time given to think seriously about who Jesus is for us, to renew of our faith from the inside out. It is the moment when, as the baptismal waters flow on every Easter Vigil altar, we return to the baptismal font of the heart to say yes once more to the call of Jesus to the disciples, "Come and see" (John 1:39). It is the act of beginning our spiritual life all over again refreshed and reoriented. (pg. 111)
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Often times Lent involves abstaining from certain foods or pleasures. It is a season for reflection and repentance. Surrendering these things is intended as stimulus for this kind of formative season. (For one example, here are the fasting rules for the Orthdox Church in America.)  Many people choose something that is a luxury and surrender it for this season. Some choose food or drink (chocolate, alcohol, caffeine, sugar, etc.), others choose services or experiences (manicure/pedicure, secular music, television, etc.). No matter what they choose, at the end of the Lenten season (at Easter) the fast is broken in celebration of resurrection and we return to our regular consumption. 

CONFESSION: For a number of years I engaged in this kind of fasting. Often it involved giving up caffeine and carbonated drinks. And while I never went through a Lenten season without successfully fasting from these things, it was Easter Sunday that exposed the frailty of this spiritual exercise. Without fail, before arriving at church Easter Sunday to celebrate the resurrection, there was a large, caffeinated, carbonated drink already gone. The practice of self-discipline was concluded with an explicit, intentional act of (over)indulgence. Something was amiss. 

And so in the last couple of years I have worked to "give up" something for Lent that I cannot recover. I have sought to surrender my ignorance or indifference to a group of people or issue. In 2014 I surrendered my ignorance of the realities of mass incarceration and its disproportionate impact on communities of color. Through reading, documentaries, and planned experiences I sought to form myself in ways that made me aware and empathetic to those who's life is shaped by these realities. In 2015 I plunged into the realities of child abuse and neglect. I sought to move from issues to making this problem no longer a distant reality for some, but a reality which I seek to actively confront and prevent. 

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In 2016 I want to be formed, and invite you to be formed, not towards a specific group or situation, but to be formed in a specific way. I want to invite you into a deep and meaningful exploration of mercy

This year I want to write through and reflect on the powerful new book by Pope Francis, The Name of God is Mercy. This book is a casual conversation between Francis and a veteran Vatican journalist about the embodiment of the Year of Mercy. While directed specifically at The Catholic Church, it's structures, practices, and values, it offers an insight into the ways in which the larger church can seek to embody the love and mercy of God. 

It is for this reason that I wish to write and reflect on this book explicitly as a Protestant and within the Church of Christ tradition. I think there are important things to be learned from this text and from their practices and postures, but there are also a number of contributions that our place in the Christian Tradition can provide. 

So I hope you will join with me as we launch into an exploration of what it means to be people who are shaped by a God who is known by his mercy.

 

God's mercy can make even the driest land become a garden, can restore life to dry bones. ... Let us be renewed by God's mercy, let us be loved by Jesus, let us enable the power of his love to transform our lives too; and let us become agents of this mercy, channels through which God can water the earth, protect all creation and make justice and peace flourish.

-- Pope Francis, Easter Urbi et Orbi message on March 31, 2013

A Micro Political Theology for 2016...

NOTE: I have been wanting to write something like this for a while now, partially because I find that it would be so helpful in the wonderful world of social media to have a copy/paste response and also because I think that this is an area in which the church is most often in the position of embarrassing itself in the eyes of contemporary culture. (But that rant is for another post.) For all of my friends who are not professing members of the Christian faith, this is not to devalue your opinion at all, but to seek to remedy a problem that is so prevalent as to be beyond the need for demonstration. Your voice matters, but I would ask that your explicit moral beliefs guide your political decisions, not the other way around. 

So what I want to offer here is a Micro Political Theology (MPT) and then lay out some implications and consequences that will guide my engagement and the engagement I allow in my social and online spaces about politics. But first my MPT:

We are to love our neighbor as our self.

Jesus says how we treat others, especially the poor, vulnerable, and enemy, is how we treat him.

The politics of Jesus trump all other politics.


So here are the implications and consequences for how I engage and will moderate my personal, social, and online spaces about politics...

  1. I will seek to explicitly articulate the ways in which the article/issue/policy/candidate is connected to (or in conflict with) the fundamental commitments of my Christian faith, which includes but is not limited to the three elements of this MPT.
  2. I will expect that everyone who engages in response/rebuttal/affirmation of any article/issue/policy/candidate also explicitly articulate the ways in which their response is motivated by their Christian faith. Failure to do so is the result of one of two problems: (1) You haven't actually thought about the article/issue/policy/candidate in relation to your faith, or (2) You have allowed your politics to either supersede or even dictate your theological commitments. Both of these things are unacceptable for mature followers of Jesus. 
  3. I will seek to manage, and when necessary, correct my tone in order to mitigate the capacity to alienate, marginalize, or harm. This is my attempt to take seriously the words of the Apostle Paul: "Love does no harm to its neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law." (Romans 13:10)


The Christian Outrage Machine: A Counter-Proposal

This is a mini-lecture/presentation that I shared today at Oklahoma Christian in a chapel service, and while certainly not everything that could be said is here, this is a good start I hope to a new way forward...


Maybe you've heard that there are some people in the world who say stupid things. This is complicated by the fact that those who agree with them and those who oppose them typically respond by saying their own kinds of stupid things. 

Two examples that have been cascading through the Christian outrage machine that is the Internet have been Donald Trump's call to ban Muslims from entering the country along with creating some kind of database requiring registration and increased surveillance. This could include Trump suggested the closing of some Mosques and the blocking of US citizens from returning home if they visit nations associated with radicalization. 

To pour water on the grease fire, Jerry Falwell Jr., president of Liberty University, a school at the center of conservative, though some would say fundamentalist, Christianity, suggested that students follow his example in carrying concealed weapons on campus. The university even provides a free course to acquire your licensure. He suggested that in doing so the school could defend themselves from terrorists. He ended his "sermon" (which never quoted Scripture by the way) by suggesting that these measures would help to "end those Muslims" if they ever came to Liberty. 

My first reaction to both of these stories was... NOT APPROPRIATE FOR CHAPEL AUDIENCES.

My second reaction was condemnation. And so I took to the place of reason and dialogue,of good faith and good will to express my rejection of these ideologies: Facebook. 

I signed a Change.org petition asking Church of Christ universities to collectively condemn this rhetoric, I posted a meme about the "liturgical bankruptcy" of Evangelicalism. (Yes, theologians post crap like this.) And believe it or not, I did NOT feel better. In fact, I felt worse. 

Because I found myself in conflict with two fundamental convictions of my Christian faith that I hold dearly and struggle mightily to embody. 

That every human being is made in the image of God...even Donald Trump. That I am called to love my neighbor as myself. 

What does it mean to be made in the image of God? 

Often times people appeal to the capacity to think and reason or to create and to understand the world in which we live. While this has some credence it doesn't make sense of our experience with everyone. Not all human beings contain this kind of capacity, and yet we would quickly affirm that they too are made in the Image of God.

What if the Imago Dei is instead the capacity not to understand God, but to reveal God? 

What if the vision of speaking of us as eikons is that we contain capacity to point beyond ourselves to who God is? 

I want to suggest that the Imago Dei is this:

That each and every human being has the capacity to reveal something about God in an unique and irreplaceable way. 

This is not to say that I cannot learn the same thing about God somewhere else, but that I cannot learn it in this unique and "God-breathed" way from anyone else. And that there is something about God that I can experience, and that particular experience can come through you and only you. 

This is why the Imago Dei imbues each and every human being with inestimable value and worth. This is why it is fundamental to the Christian faith that dignity, honor, and most importantly love be shown to all people. 

Even Donald Trump. Even Christian university presidents who call people to take up weapons in the name of Jesus.

But this brings me to the second conviction that I hold, and which for me, is currently the most difficult text in all of Scripture:

Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, "You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet"; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law. (Romans 13:8-10, NRSV) 

Another translation articulates that last line like this:

Love does no harm to its neighbor; therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. (NIV)

I had condemned what Trump had said... My belief that all people her the Image of God and my love of neighbor led me to do that. I rejected the suggestion of Falwell that Christians take up weapons to "end" anyone... My belief that all people her the Image of God and my love of neighbor led me to do that.

But I had also done all of this, in the name of my Christian faith, with an utter disdain for those two image-bearing neighbors of mine. 

In my attempt to fulfill the law, I had undermined it entirely. And this is not a tension easily resolved. 

Karl Barth in his commentary on Romans, which is incredible, comments on this passage:

Therefore—Love worketh no ill to his neighbor. Love is the good work by which evil is overcome (12:21). Love is that denial and demolition of the existing order which no revolt can bring about. In this lies the strange novelty of love. In the cycle of evil unto evil, of reaction to revolution, it plays no part. Love is the inversion of all concrete happening, because it is the recognition of the pre-supposition that lies in every concrete event. Love, because it sets up no idol, is the demolition of every idol. Love is the destruction of everything that is—like God: the end of all hierarchies and authorities and intermediaries, because, in every particular man and also in the ‘Many’, it addresses itself, without fear of contradiction—to the One. Love does not contradict; and therefore it cannot be refuted. Love does not enter into competition; and therefore it cannot be defeated. ... If, therefore as a protest against the course of this world, I cease to love, I thereby simply—do not love God, offer no sacrifice, and do not renew my mind (12:2). This is the relentless, impelling, earnestness of the command of love; and—Therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.
— Karl Barth, The Epistle to the Romans, 496-497

So what are we to do? How are we to learn how to live and to love in this way? 

I believe we must rediscover the meaning of one thing: Mercy. 

The words of the prophet Hosea, picked up again by Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew:

Go and learn what this means, "I desire mercy, not sacrifice." (Matthew 9:13, NRSV) 

Pope Francis has called for this year in the Christian calendar to be a Jubilee of Mercy. A year in which the church learns to embody the mercy of God in the world. 

I want to leave you with he prayer that Pope Francis has written to usher in this new year, which just began last week. It seems to me that if we ever needed a year of Mercy, it is now.

Lord Jesus Christ,
you have taught us to be merciful like the heavenly Father,
and have told us that whoever sees you sees Him.
Show us your face and we will be saved.
Your loving gaze freed Zacchaeus and Matthew from being enslaved by money;
the adulteress and Magdalene from seeking happiness only in created things;
made Peter weep after his betrayal,
and assured Paradise to the repentant thief.
Let us hear, as if addressed to each one of us, the words that you spoke to the Samaritan woman:
“If you knew the gift of God!”

You are the visible face of the invisible Father,
of the God who manifests his power above all by forgiveness and mercy:
let the Church be your visible face in the world, its Lord risen and glorified.

You willed that your ministers would also be clothed in weakness
in order that they may feel compassion for those in ignorance and error:
let everyone who approaches them feel sought after, loved, and forgiven by God.

Send your Spirit and consecrate every one of us with its anointing,
so that the Jubilee of Mercy may be a year of grace from the Lord,
and your Church, with renewed enthusiasm, may bring good news to the poor,
proclaim liberty to captives and the oppressed,
and restore sight to the blind.  

We ask this of you, Lord Jesus, through the intercession of Mary, Mother of
Mercy; you who live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit for ever and
ever.

Amen.

Mother's Day (A Sermon)

This is a "sermon" that I preached back in 2012 when I was still in full-time ministry. It was my attempt to move beyond the typical Mother's Day sermons that focus exclusively on those women who have had children and raised them well. I do not think that this is intentional in many churches, but for many women this is a day that is more painful than any other, and this is what I sought to mitigate in the small way that I could. I read this sermon verbatim as it is written here...

Saint Augustine and his mother Saint Monica.

Saint Augustine and his mother Saint Monica.

Monica, mother of Augustine, prayed for years that her brilliant but undisciplined son would be saved. When she sought the counsel of her priest, he listened as she poured out her heart of love and her intercession for this prodigal. At the conclusion, the priest said, “Go on! Leave me alone. Live as you are living. It is not possible that the son of such tears should be lost.” (I think when a mother’s prayers arrive in Heaven, they go to the head of the line. When Hannah gave birth to her baby, she was so thrilled that God had heard her prayers, she named the child Samuel—literally, in the Hebrew, it means: “Heard of God.” His very name proclaimed that God had heard his mother’s prayers!)

Some of you know the Augustine story. Monica prayed that he would not go to Rome, which was then such a wicked place. But he slipped away and went anyway…and came to Christ there.

Monica is quoted as saying the following in Augustine' s Confessions:

Such things was I speaking, and even if not in this very manner, and these same words, yet, Lord, Thou knowest that in that day when we were speaking of these things, and this world with all its delights became, as we spake, contemptible to us, my mother said, “Son, for mine own part I have no further delight in any thing in this life. What I do here any longer, and to what I am here, I know not, now that my hopes in this world are accomplished. One thing there was for which I desired to linger for a while in this life, that I might see thee a Catholic Christian before I died. My God hath done this for me more abundantly, that I should now see thee withal, despising earthly happiness, become His servant: what do I here?”

In many ways I feel totally unable to speak about the special role that we honor today, Mothers. 

This is in part because I know that being a mother is more complex, more complicated, and more difficult than most of the sermons I ever heard about this day growing up. 

So what I want to do briefly is look at a couple of ways that motherhood is spoken of in Scripture and then take up the ancient practice of Christian preaching which is offering a blessing on a special occasion. 

Paul writes to Timothy of the influence of his mother and grandmother in the formation of his faith…

I thank God, whom I serve, as my ancestors did, with a clear conscience, as night and day I constantly remember you in my prayers. Recalling your tears, I long to see you, so that I may be filled with joy. I am reminded of your sincere faith, which first lived in your grandmother Lois and in your mother Eunice and, I am persuaded, now lives in you also. (2 Timothy 1:3-5)

Jesus speaks about those who lose family to follow Jesus and participate in the Kingdom of God…

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. (Mark 10:29-30)

Paul describes what has been true for many people down through time…

Greet Rufus, chosen in the Lord, and his mother, who has been a mother to me, too. (Romans 16:13)

I do not wish to pretend that motherhood is easy, or painless, or simple and straightforward. I do not want to pretend that everyone in the room has had great experiences with their own mother's or that there aren't regrets and hurts from being a mother as well. Life is more complicated than that, the world is more broken than that, and the church needs to be more honest than that. 

But what I do wish to say is that the God of the Universe is a good God, that he is love and mercy and redemption and grace and power and wisdom and compassionate. 

That no matter your experiences, no matter your choices, no matter your shortcomings, regrets, failures, or victories… God loves you and we thank God for you. 

Down throughout church history it has been customary to offer blessings on special days. These blessings typically hold three things in common.

(1) They are specific to the occasion that they address.
(2) They seek to acknowledge the complexity and realities of life in relation to God.
(3) They seek to point us back to the one who makes all things possible, Jesus Christ. 

I have spent some time looking at various blessings written down through the centuries and this is the blessing that I have composed for this special occasion… Mother's Day:

A BLESSING ON MOTHER'S DAY

To mothers, both biological and adopted, connected by blood and by experience, torn apart by circumstance and sometimes by choices…

To those who have given life both in birth and in formation, to those who have lost life before birth and before old age…

To those who have done what only mother's can do, 

To those who have been "the perfect mother" and to those who live with regrets, 

To those who are close to their children, and to those who feel like they are a million miles away, 

We bless you today, on this day, Mother's Day. 

To those women who have given birth to a child this year, 
     We celebrate with you the gift that God has given. 

To those who feel the pain of children long desired but never received, 
     We grieve with you the too often secret pain you have borne.

To those who have experienced miscarriage, failed adoptions, and kids who have run away, 
     We mourn your loss and ask for your forgiveness when we have been silent or even worse, indifferent.

To those who have longed for children, but for whatever reason have been unable to have them, 
     We love you and we are sorry for the times that we have failed to be sensitive in our words and actions. 

To those who have been "mother's" to others who are not their children, 
     We need more people like you both in the church, and in the broken world in which we live.

To those who have close and meaningful relationships with their children, 
     We celebrate this day with you and thank God for his grace.

To those who have complicated, painful, or non-existent relationships with their children, 
     We sorrow with you and thank God for his grace, while we pray for redemption and reconciliation.

To those who have close relationships with their own mother, 
     We thank God for that intimacy. 

To those who have suffered at the hands of their mother, 
     We acknowledge you and love you as our own. 

To those who lost their mothers whether recently or so many years ago, 
     We mourn with you today.

To those who have experienced weddings, graduations, and the general experiences of growing into adults, 
     We are proud of you for coming through them with grace.

To those who have gone through school tests, medical tests, emotional tests, and tests of patience with your children, 
     We are encouraged by your patience, your faith, and we stand with you as these will continue to arise. 

To those who will have an emptier nest this year, 
     We both celebrate and cry with you. 

To those of you who long to be better mother's, 
     God's grace will provide and we will commit to you as well. 

To those who long to make things right with your children, 
     Remember that God's redemptive power can cross any boundary, any brokenness, any pain. 

To those who struggle with their children today, 
     Remember that even the young Jesus almost gave his mother a heart attack on more than one occasion.

To those who feel like all they do is struggle and experience stress and frustration, 
     Remember your investment is never in vain, and that God uses your faithfulness to change the world.

To those who are bursting with pride today both with their mothers and their children, 
     We celebrate with you today.

For those of you who struggled to get out of bed this morning, who would rather be at home because of the pain of this day, 
     We love you and are encouraged by your faithfulness. 
     We pray that we may be more sensitive and more proactive in being a blessing to you and yours. 

To the men in the room, love your wife and love your mother's as Christ loved the church. 
     Give yourself not as "the husband" or as "the son" but more deeply than that as a servant of Jesus Christ. 
     Don't let today be the only day you do the dishes, help with the kids, or say kind things to grandma. 
     Recognize that your wife and mother and grandmother are made in the image of God, 
          They are precious to him, they are like his mother or grandmother or bride. Honor them as such.

To the women in the room, we thank you for who you are and what you mean to us as individuals and to this church. 
     We would not be who we are and where we are if it was not for you. 
          We haven't always done a good job of honoring you, thanking you, appreciating you. 
          We haven't always loved you as you have loved us. 
               For that we ask for your forgiveness and grace. 
     May we be people who honor and encourage and bless you from this day forward for whom God has made you, precious children of God. 

"The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace."

And in the words of the Hebrew writer...

"Now may the God of peace, who through the blood of the eternal covenant brought back from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, equip you with everything good for doing his will, and may he work in us what is pleasing to him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen." (Hebrews 13:20, 21, NIV)

The State of the Churches of Christ: A Case Study

Photo taken at a small Church of Christ in rural Arkansas.

Photo taken at a small Church of Christ in rural Arkansas.

The 2015 Directory of Churches of Christ in the USA has recently been published with the first copies releasing any time now. As is typical, it is often an opportunity for reflection on "the state of the church". In 2008 the Christian Chronicle had a year long series about this question: "Are We Growing?" They again returned to the question in 2012: "By the Numbers: Growth & Decline of the Church". 

Too often the conversation about the "current" situation (whether that is 1945, 1980, 2008, or now) breaks down in one of two ways:

Response from the "Conservatives": (A caricature to make a point)
If people would simply stick to the "old paths" and stop going after all the new and unscriptural innovations we wouldn't be in this mess. We used to be (in the glory days of the 1940's and 1950's) the fastest growing group in America (which by the way, this has been debunked by one of the most thorough and theologically conservative members of our tribe, Flavil Yeakley in his book "Why They Left: Listening to Those Who Have Left Churches of Christ".) Short answer: Blame it on the liberals and the heretics. Diagnosis: Our decline is empirical proof that faithfulness = the faithful remnant. Remember, "narrow is the way!" 

Response from the "Liberals": (A caricature to make a point)
If people in the Churches of Christ weren't so dogmatic, legalistic, and fundamentalist our children wouldn't be leaving and our churches shrinking. If we could get past our oppression of women, lack of talk about grace, and fascination with living in Mayberry we wouldn't be in this mess. Short answer: Blame it on the conservatives and hypocrites. Diagnosis: Our decline is empirical proof that the "conservatives" are killing the church. That decline = vindication. Remember what Jesus said to the Pharisees!

If you disagree with my analysis just go follow the comments section on this article posted yesterday at the Christian Chronicle: "165,000 fewer souls in the pews: Five questions to consider".  

Perhaps though there is a third response that has begun to more regularly emerge. One that isn't necessarily alarmist or that points the finger at those on the opposite side of the relatively small theological spectrum within Churches of Christ. 

It goes something like this:

We are living in a post-modern, post-Christian society in which all "churches" (meaning denominations other than the Churches of Christ) are shrinking. 

So we look for numbers that are "worse" than ours, or show that we are weathering just as well as other traditions who are not growing. We attempt to be dismissive by saying, "Times are tough. That's life. It is unavoidable." Ultimately, these people, perhaps attempting to be peacemakers, or in varying degrees of denial are trying to tell us: It's bad, but it's not that bad.

The 2015 directory this year contains information on all the known Churches of Christ in the United States. It is the best attempt to give a comprehensive and accurate assessment of the Churches of Christ in America. 

The Christian Chronicle reports it this way:

In the last quarter-century, total membership has fallen to 1,183,613, according to the 2015 edition of "Churches of Christ in the United States," published by Nashville, Tenn.-based 21st Century Christian. 

That's down 100,443 souls - or 7.8 percent - from a total membership of 1,284,056 in 1990...

Add in unbaptized children and spouses of members, and the numbers are even more stark: The "adherents" figure stood at 1,684,872 in 1990. That number has dropped to 1,519,695, a decline of 165,177 souls — or 9.8 percent — the 2015 directory reveals.

Meanwhile, the total number of U.S. congregations has slipped to 12,300, down from 13,174 in 1990. That means a net loss of 874 churches in the last quarter-century — an average of 35 per year. 

In the same 25-year period, the nation's total population rose to an estimated 320 million, up from 250 million in 1990. That's an increase of 70 million — or 28 percent.


So while the US population is soaring (70 million in the last 25 years) we are caught in the midst of a marked decline. But a quick glance at the numbers still causes many within our tradition to not feel a great sense of alarm. 

This is where this case study comes in...

Churches of Christ in the United States 2015 has posted the overall numbers by state from their most recent addition.

The statistics for Oklahoma are a helpful test case...

State of Oklahoma

Population: 3,878,051
Congregations: 569
Members: 56,528 (Defined in the directory as baptized individuals)
Adherents: 74,208 (Defined as both baptized and unbaptized individuals)
Attendance: 56.027 (Defined as average Sunday morning attendance)

Here are a few important and initial observations:

  • Churches of Christ in Oklahoma are common, particularly in rural areas. With congregations in all 77 counties there is significant "presence" throughout the state. 
  • On any given Sunday, 1.44% of Oklahomans are attending a Church of Christ. 
    • As context the ratio is the following in these surrounding states: Arkansas (2.21%), Tennessee (2.52%), and Texas (0.88%). 
  • The gap between membership (56,528) and adherents (74,208) is 17,680 or 23.82% of all adherents. Presumably, many of this number are children.
    • (From another source but still relevant) The average age of people in the Churches of Christ is approximately 54 with slightly more than 25% being college graduates. This means that the rate by which our tradition will grow merely by the growth of families will continue to rapidly decline. 
  • The general average size congregation in Oklahoma is just over 98 people. (Attendance divided by the number of congregations.)

This last number, that the average size of a congregation is approximately 98, would cause many to breathe a sigh of relief. A congregation of nearly 100 should be economically sustainable, large enough to have some form of eldership/leadership, and able to have a meaningful presence in their community. 

But the reality should be much more sobering...

I want to demonstrate this by looking at the size of four congregations located in the two primary metro areas in Oklahoma and their attendance. This radically reshapes the way we think about the "State of the Church" in Oklahoma. It is my hunch that these same kinds of results will be more or less true across the country where the Church of Christ has any real presence. 

Here are the four churches: Memorial Road Church of Christ (OKC, OK), Edmond Church of Christ (Edmond, OK), North MacArthur Church of Christ (OKC, OK), and Park Plaza Church of Christ (Tulsa, OK).

According to the most recent weekly bulletins posted on their website their attendance for the last Sunday or February was as follows:

  • Memorial Road Church of Christ - 2,175
  • Edmond Church of Christ - 1,182
  • North MacArthur Church of Christ - 511
  • Park Plaza Church of Christ - 1,395
  • Total Attendance: 5,263

These numbers are important for a number of reasons:

  1. These four congregations comprise 9.25% of all church attendance in the State of Oklahoma while making up 0.7% of the congregations in the state. 
  2. The average size of these four congregations is 1,316, which is more than thirteen times the size of the average congregation, each. 
  3. Simply removing these four congregations from the list produces the following results:
    1. Attendance: 50,764
    2. Number of Congregations: 565
    3. General Average Size: 89.84 (down form 98,5)

When all the data is processed (which will have to be a project for another time) my hunch is that we will discover the following results:

  • That less than 25% of the congregations in Oklahoma more than 50% of the attendants. 
  • That the average size of a congregation in a rural community (let's define this as a community with a population of less than 10,000 people) is closer to 40. 
  • That the number of congregations that are one (or two) funerals, fights, or withheld contributions from folding would be troubling. 

The implications of this are enormous for a lot of reasons. Here are few worth discussing...

How should our schools that train ministers react to the reality that many of the established congregations in Churches of Christ will struggle to financial support a paid minister? (This might be particularly of interest to people training for "extra" ministries like youth, college, and family ministry which typically require that person to be additional ministry staff.)

How might larger, more established churches aid and support these struggling congregations, and when necessary, help them to close their doors with dignity and thanksgiving for what God has done?

What kind of church do we anticipate leaving for our children and for our communities?

Might this kind of perspective on the gravity of our situation embolden us to make important and sometimes painful decisions for the sake of our local congregations?

There are so many other questions to be explored, but I believe that it is time to recognize that in some ways, the Churches of Christ are not sick with the flu, but possibly considering hospice care. 

But take heart, the Kingdom of God cannot be overcome. And as people who once knew what it meant to be "Christians only, not the only Christians" that is not a bad place to be. 

 

The World was Not Worthy of Them: Martyrdom, Resurrection, and the Death of Death

I have found myself deeply conflicted in the last few days after news broke of the martyrdom of 21 Egyptian Coptic Christians earlier this week. A whole range of emotions and reactions have moved in and around me as this photo has burned itself into my memory. 

  • What kind of people are capable of such acts of depravity and wickedness? What has become of the Image of God in them that this is even possible?
  • What would be my last words before my gruesome death?
  • Does the way of Jesus as the Prince of Peace mean anything to people who have so aligned themselves with the powers and principalities that they can commit such acts?
  • Why do the churches I know worry about the sound system and the thermostat when our brothers and sisters are being martyred? 
  • More seriously, why do I care about those things too?
  • How do I speak to my kids about this in a way that is honest, redemptive, and that equips them to live in a world where not only such things happen but that they are public, blatant, and unavoidable?
  • How should my family and my children respond to the people of Muslim faith who are our neighbors, my children's classmates, and our fellow human beings?
  • Why doesn't God just go "Old Testament" on these people and save us all the death and heartbreak?
  • What does it say about my own heart that my knee-jerk reaction for justice is the suffering and destruction of someone who is as valuable in the eyes of God as myself or my wife and children?
  • How should these martyrs be remembered in my own life, in my family, and in my church? 
  • How does this shape foreign policy, domestic policy, and the way in which I live among my neighbors?
  • Why does the church seem so deafeningly silent?

I have tried, as I feel emotionally capable, to hear some reflections of these and other questions. Jonathan Storment has written a piece that has moved me this week. Miroslav Volf has reminded me that my distance from those people is not nearly as far as I would like to think. And the brilliant, even if long and complex account from The Atlantic by Graeme Wood reminds us that answers and solutions are not easy to come by. 

And while all of these questions and emotions have been swirling inside of me I have been drawn back to a text from the book of Hebrews:

They were put to death by stoning; 
they were sawed in two;
they were killed by the sword. 
They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, 
destitute, persecuted and mistreated —
 
THE WORLD WAS NOT WORTHY OF THEM.
(Hebrews 11:27-28a, NIV)

It is undeniable that the world was not worthy of them. But what is left without resolution at the moment is the reaction of those who follow the same Lord who was on the lips of these men as they were martyred. 

I was moved at the story reported over at Christianity Today about the way in which the families of those who were martyred were reacting to the loss of their fathers, brothers, husbands, and fellow believers...

Beshir Kamel thanked ISIS for not editing out the men's declaration of belief in Christ because he said this had strengthened his own faith. He added that the families of the ex-patriate workers are "congratulating one another" and not in despair: "We are proud to have this number of people from our village who have become martyrs," he told the programme.
He said: "Since the Roman era, Christians have been martyred and have learned to handle everything that comes our way. This only makes us stronger in our faith because the Bible told us to love our enemies and bless those who curse us."

This is a remarkable response to an experience that is in many ways beyond words. 

But perhaps this is the problem. 

The word where we get the English word martyr is the word that we often translate as witness

But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.” (Acts 1:8, NIV)

There has been a tendency at different times in the history of the church to value martyrdom above all other things. In fact, at different times in Christian history, there have been those who teach others to actively pursue situations and outcomes which would result in their martyrdom. We think back to the early Church Father Tertullian whose statement, "We multiply whenever we are mown down by you; the blood of Christians is seed." has evolved into the powerful sentiment: The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church. 

And this is undoubtedly true. The surrendering of one's life for the sake of the gospel is the most powerful testimony to the reality of the Kingdom of God on earth. It defies explanation, it destroys the power of the oppressor and the perpetrator, it transforms a gruesome death into a moment where the life of God is made manifest for all to see. The Hebrew writer is correct: The world is not worthy of them. 

There is a level of conviction, a deep, visceral commitment that the Gospel is in fact true, that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again that is necessary to live the kind of life that can be lost. And as a part of a culture that fears death and the unknown, it is increasingly difficult to live our lives as people who are martyrs/witnesses, who embody the reality of the resurrection, and who celebrate the death of death. 

CHRISTUS VICTOR - A Rant-Poem of Sorts by Josh Graves

I know that many people feel powerless about how to respond to the martyrdom of these 21 men, to the millions of people who have been murdered or displaced or traumatized, who may still be alive but are living a real-life hell, due to war, famine, poverty, sex trafficking, forced labor, genital mutilation, forced marriages, AIDS, malaria, ebola, loneliness, depression, anxiety, fear, child abuse, domestic violence, sexual abuse, cancer, PTSD, and envy and hatred of their neighbor. 

How can we possibly live well in a world filled with so much death, so much suffering, so much hell, so little redemption, so little relief, so little escape from the pain, the anxiety, the loss, and the inevitability of our own death?

The answer that many of us who claim to follow Jesus is this:

We are witnesses who have seen in our own lives and who believe that in Jesus there is both resurrection and the death of death. 

We believe that not only does death not have the final word, it has an expiration date. 

Not only do we believe that death cannot destroy us, we believe that we will be alive in a way in which death no longer has power over us, and when that day comes, we, together with all of God's people will be witnesses of the death of death. 

We believe that we are learning what it means to give our lives away because we have been given new lives, ones that cannot be taken from us by violence, by illness, by age, by tragedy, or by death itself.

We believe that in Jesus Christ, death is doomed. 

And that is a reality that no one, no power, no circumstance, a no kind of death can take away.

Churches of Christ: Quick to Speak and (Too Often) Absent to Listen...

A screenshot of the metrics on my website for the days after I originally posted An Open CONFESSION to the Churches of Christ

The last couple weeks have been interesting here. I typically write for a handful of people who actually read my writings. My writing for me is usually more a cathartic experience that enables me to try and articulate something that has been on my mind for quite a while. Most of my writings never leave the draft folder, either because I don't think they are of the kind of quality that I expect of myself, because they are underdeveloped, or sometimes even because they should never be made public. 

So a couple of weeks ago when I wrote An Open CONFESSION to the Churches of ChristI expected that the few readers that I have might read it, but I ultimately didn't care. It was important for me to attempt to articulate what I was feeling in the wake of all the nasty, uncharitable, character maligning that I was reading. Now, that post has been read by more than 45,000 people, by far the most "popular" thing I have ever published here. (I say "popular" because you don't need to spend long in the comments to see that it really wasn't all that popular.) But it was what happened after that in the following days that has fascinated me. 

I spent a couple of days trying to respond to each and every comment submitted. I wanted to make clear that there was no bait-and-switch here. That people of all convictions on this issue (and any other that I discuss here) are welcome to hold to and even advocate their understanding of a particular issue, granted that they do it in a way that is honest, loving, and seeks to address the issue without maligning one's character or fast-tracking their eternal destiny. (You should see the private emails from people unwilling to post their comments on the blog. "Glorious" I tell you.)

Then I began to repost an edited version of some work I had done previously on 1 Corinthians 14:34-35. This is one of the "trump cards" that is often played in this conversation. It is one of the texts people run to in order to say, "There is no conversation...it is forbidden. Move on. Stop talking about it. Repent of your wrong interpretations.)

Side Note: If you (actually) read 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in any English translation you will see that the text says absolutely nothing about teaching or preaching. It speaks only to learning. This in itself, is a great illustration of how we (mis)use texts in order to fit our already pre-determined interpretive positions.

But the thing that I noticed that was so stunning was this:

Thousands of people stopped by the share their reaction to the rather open-ended confession that I had posted and a small, small, small fraction of them actually stayed to engage in an exploration (whether or not they agreed with my conclusions) of the actual biblical text. 

This is what I have called in my academic work, The Silencing of the Voice of Dissent. (I have an enhanced form of this paper originally delivered at the Stone-Campbell Journal Conference in 2013 being prepared for submission for publication.) This is the phenomenon in which groups, individuals, and perspectives in any religious tradition that are aberrant experience a threefold movement from marginalization, to removal/expulsion/silencing, to a revisionist history to deny that they (whoever that is) were never a part of that religious tradition. This is exactly what has happened in the Churches of Christ. 

And in this season, where this conversation is re-emerging we are learning two things that I think are the result of the kind of paradigm that I suggested in that paper:

  1. Most people in our tradition are fundamentally unaware of the diversity that has long been a part of our movement on this question, even in our beginnings, and that a number of women made massive contributions to our movement and to the Kingdom of God as preachers, teachers, and missionaries. 
  2. We find ways in our revisionist history to also make sense of the present. This is why we have single women as missionaries all over the world who can serve "over there" but could never do so at home. We are able to learn from, read, and even share with our congregations the insights of women from books and other resources though it would be "sinful" for the author herself to get up and do so. 
  3. And finally, in order to authorize the revisionist history we must draw the lines even harder than they were before. This is why we don't allow women in many Churches of Christ to do things in our worship gatherings that they were clearly doing in the first century church, such a reading Scripture and praying! 

I think that this issue in the Churches of Christ has the potential to be more fragmentary than any in the history of our particular branch of the Stone-Campbell Movement. In my opinion there are three reasons for this:

  1. As a movement, we have become so polarized, and for so long have abandoned or maligned others within our tribe that have significant and sometimes important interpretive differences that we simply don't know how to speak to one another. 
  2. Our (unhealthy in my opinion) focus on congregational autonomy has translated into an extreme sense of isolation unless there emerges a common enemy. This means that the possibilities of constructive, generative engagement of people with different interpretive understandings of any issue is excruciatingly limited. 
  3. These things simply take time, and our culture, our churches, and our lives simply aren't willing to make that kind of sacrifice that is fundamental to the hard work of asking serious questions about God, the church, and the life that we live together for the sake of the world. 

Is it possible? With God all things are possible. Will it be difficult? Absolutely. Will it happen? I don't know. But if there is a movement that has the resources within its own history to have these kinds of engagements with one another and who are unwilling to be merely the next denomination (yes, I used the "D" word) to break up over theological issues... it is the Churches of Christ. 

Maybe we should take to heart one of the fundamental statements from Alexander Campbell as our marching orders for the near future:

"The spirit of all reformation, is free discussion."
-- Alexander Campbell

#SilentCofC: It's (Past) Time to Have This Conversation

Today it was announced that another former minister in our tribe was arrested on charges of child sexual abuse. The victim reported to investigators that the abuse occurred over a period of years as she was living with the family as a foster child. 

The simple truth is this... 

This is not the first time that revelations like this have come out in the Churches of Christ. 

But maybe, this is finally the time that we can have some constructive conversation and tangible action about this problem in our tribe. 

Here is the series that has resulted so far from myself and a number of highly qualified guest contributors...

#SilentCofC: Child Sexual Abuse and Churches of Christ

This is the introductory post of the series covers the following: 

  • The prevalence of child sexual abuse,
  • The particular realities of this problem in communities of faith,
  • Myths about child sexual abuse
  • Notable incidents of CSA in Churches of Christ

#SilentCofC: Our Theological Assumptions About Children are Dangerous

Here I begin to explore the consequences of the way in which children are sidelined in the life and practices of the church. I suggest that our "segregation" of children minimizes the ability to expose children to positive adult interaction and increases the likelihood of predators engaging our children. 

#SilentCofC: Autonomy and the Culture of Silence

Here I explore this fundamental challenge and risk to one of our most celebrated "values": hat congregational autonomy has served to enable sexual predators to move from congregation to congregation with impunity. 

#SilentCofC: Church Practices for Prevention (Guest Post by Dr. David Duncan)

David Duncan, minister at the Memorial Church of Christ in Houston, offers an insight into some of the strategies and expectations that are in place in the congregation he serves to protect children and prevent abuse. 

#SilentCofC: The "Victim" and the Church (Guest Post by Dr. Ron Clark)

Ron Clark, church planter and minister at the Agape Church of Christ in Gresham, Oregon brings an insightful post about how the church should think about and respond to victims of abuse. 

#SilentCofC: The Trust Deception (Guest Post by Jimmy Hinton)

Jimmy Hinton is the minister of the Somerset Church of Christ in Somerset, Pennsylvania. He leads a ministry called Church Protect which is born out of his journey to help churches after his own father's conviction (a former Church of Christ minister) of child sexual abuse. This is his personal narrative and warning about the ways in which trust is too easily earned and kept in our churches when it comes to protecting our children. 

#SilentCofC: Changing Our Response (Guest Post by Gina South)

Gina South is the State Director for the Alabama Network of Children's Advocacy Centers and former professor of Criminal Justice and Legal Studies at Faulkner University. She offers a number of tangible ways that our churches can move from secretive and fearful to proactive and bold in our protection of our children. 

#SilentCofC: The Mission - A Story of Abuse from the Mission Field

A first-hand account from a missionary (identities have been obscured to protect the innocent) about the uncovering of an abusive individual from their supporting congregation abusing a child on the mission field. This is their struggle with the confrontation and the fallout from their supporting church. An important narrative that is not unique to our tribe, but that no longer allows us to think of it as a problem only in other Christian tradition. 

There is more to be said and more to be written, but for now, this is a resource for all churches who are serious about protecting their children. 

We cannot remain silent any more. 

Addressing FAQ's and FRO's about Gender Equality in the Church, Part 1

Arguing for Jesus.jpg

In this ongoing series of posts I want to begin to address some of the FAQ's (Frequently Asked Questions) and FRO's (Frequently Raised Objections) to the full participation of women in the life of the church. I want to accomplish this by creating an initial guide for conversation. It will function something like this:

    (1) The Frequently Asked Question or Frequently Raised Objection
    (2) A brief, initial answer that provides a "trajectory for dialogue" of 150 words or less.
    (3) When helpful, some questions designed to provide pushback or nuance to the FAQ or FRO. 

    This is by no means intended to be an exhaustive, detailed, or academic response to these issues that are commonly raised in these conversations. It is meant primarily as a place for common language and direction to emerge. This conversation is complex and explosive enough that perhaps such a resource will allow for concentrated and mutually enriching conversations to emerge. If you want an extensive list of materials (including articles, books, and multimedia) check out my Gender Equality Resources Page or other resources for this conversation in Churches of Christ like Gal328.org and 1Voice4Change.

    So, in no particular order, we begin some of the FAQ's and FRO's regarding the full participation of our sisters in the life and practice of the church.

    Frequently Raised Objection:

    Why are we even having this discussion? The Churches of Christ have never allowed women to teach or serve in positions of leadership.

    That the Churches of Christ have "always" thought this way is a myth.

    We have forgotten about many of the great women in our tradition who both advocated and modeled great leadership as they sought to be obedient to their calling. Included in these are women like Jane Campbell McKeever (sister of Alexander Campbell) who was the President of Pleasant Hill Seminary for 25 years and was a conductor on the Underground Railroad. Nancy Towle who had a 14 year ministry including addressing the general assembly of The Christian Connexion, one of the largest organizations in the early days of our movement. We would also look to Silena Moore Holman and her engagement on these issues with David Lipscomb in the pages of the Gospel Advocate. Or there is Sarah "Sadie" McCoy Crank who "organized or reorganized 50 Christian churches, led in the building of 18 houses of worship, baptized approximately 7,000 persons, and conducted 1000 funerals." (Christian Standard 84 [Nov 6, 1948], p. 734).

    Frequently Raised Objection:

    If we allow women to lead in the church there won't be a place for the men. If women lead, men will leave.

    This objection relies on a number of unsubstantiated assumptions. (1) That the full participation of women somehow "excludes" men. (2) That the spiritual ability and maturity of men to lead in the life of the church is dependant upon the silence and lack of participation by equally gifted and mature women. (3) That there is no possibility that men and women can serve alongside one another in the church without one gender (either men or women) being excluded.

    Such an objection would not be reasonably made in other aspects of life. "If we have women serving in government or business or medicine or academia it will discourage men from..." This objection collapses under the weight of its own ideas.

    Frequently Raised Objection:

    There are no examples in the New Testament of women serving in capacities of leadership.

    As an initial response to this questions let's use Ephesians 4:11-13 as our guide: "So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ." (NIV)

    In the New Testament women explicitly serve in the following capacities:

         Apostle - Junia (Romans 16:7)

         Prophet - Phillip's Daughters (Acts 21:9), Anna (Luke 2:36-37)

         Evangelist - The Women at the Empty Tomb (Matthew 28:1-10; Mark 16:1-8; Luke 24:1-11; John 20:1-18)

         Pastor/Teacher - Priscilla (Acts 18:24-28)

         Deacon - Phoebe (Romans 16:1-2)

    Any of the "restrictive passages" in the New Testament (e.g., 1 Timothy 2:8-15 and 1 Corinthians 14:34-35) must be read in light of the explicit mention of women serving in these capacities in the New Testament, not the other way around.

    1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: "Silence", "Submission", and "Disgraceful"...

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    We have arrived at that part of our study of 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 in which we are going to take a closer look at three of the terms that perhaps have the most "punch" behind them. I use the term "punch" because I have seen these terms used in two very different, yet equally destructive ways. First, I have seen them used to beat down Godly women into a place of subordination (which in my view is different than submission), of inferiority, and of inadequacy. Conversely, I have seen these words thrown around to be dismissive of church leaders, Scripture, and ultimately of God himself as paternalistic and sexist. So what do the terms "silence", "submission", and "shameful" in 1 Corinthians 14:34-35 mean?

    We start, as we have throughout this series by looking at the text itself to try and understand what Paul is getting at in this passage...

    34 Womenshould remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV, emphasis on the terms we will examine.)

    So how do we go about understanding more clearly what these words mean? We are going to take two approaches to understanding these terms that Paul utilizes in this passage: (1) We will look at the context and how these terms are used by Paul elsewhere in 1 Corinthians, and (2) we will attempt to understand the meaning of these words from two standard Greek tools, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature (BDAG) and the Theological Dictionary of the New Testament (TDNT).

    So first let's look at the terms themselves, followed by an understanding of how they are given context and meaning from within 1 Corinthians itself.

    SILENCE

    34 Womenshould remain silent in the churches. (NIV)

    The term here for "silent" is the Greek word sigao (σιγάω). In this text it is a 3rd person plural imperative. This means that it is a command for "those women". This can be seen in a variety of different translations of this sentence from Paul. The portion of each translation in bold italics is the translation of this one term.

    34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. (NASB)

     As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. (ESV)

    34Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. (KJV)

    34 Women should be silent during the church meetings. (NLT)

    34 Womenshould remain silent in the churches. (NIV)

    (I have already tried to demonstrate that the connection of "in all the churches" does not belong with this unit of thought about the silence of women. For more on that look to the post in this series here.)

    So what does Paul mean here by silence? Is Paul suggesting that these women should be completely silent in every form and fashion during the public worship of the church? Or is there something else going on here? We will look to the context to help us better understand what Paul is getting at here...

    We have three clues that Paul is not giving a blanket command for total silence in the assembly (not that I am aware of any churches that actually practice the total silence of women in the assembly). 

    (1) Paul has already said that women were praying and prophesying in the assembly and that they should be mindful of how they do it (1 Corinthians 11:2-16)

    (2) This command came from Paul because the (married) women (with believing husbands) were being disruptive in asking questions in the assembly. (1 Corinthians 14:35)

    (3) This is the same term that Paul uses this same term twice earlier in the immediate context...

    28 If there is no interpreter, the speaker should keep quiet in the church; let them speak to themselves and to God.

    29 Two or three prophets should speak, and the others should weigh carefully what is said. 30 And if a revelation comes to someone who is sitting down, the first speaker should stop.   

    (1 Corinthians 14:28-30, NIV, emphasis marking the usage of the same term)

    The BDAG tells us that this term sigao (σιγάω) in 1 Corinthians 14 is defined as "to be silent" with two sub-definitions: (1) "say nothing, keep still, keep silent" and (2) "stop speaking, become silent". 

    It seems that the best way to understand this term here as Paul uses it fits in line with either (or both) of these sub-definitions. The women Paul is addressing were to stop asking questions in the assembly. But in this passage that is all that Paul is commanding them to do. 

    SUBMISSION

    34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. (NIV)

    The term here for "submission" is the Greek word hupotasso (ὑποτάσσω). In this text it is a 3rd person plural passive imperative. This means that it is a command for "those women". This can be seen in a variety of different translations of this sentence from Paul. The portion of each translation in bold italics is the translation of this one term. 

    34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. (NASB)

    34...the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. (ESV)

    34 Let your women keep silence in the churches: for it is not permitted unto them to speak; but they are commanded to be under obedience as also saith the law. (KJV)

    34 Women should be silent during the church meetings. It is not proper for them to speak. They should be submissive, just as the law says. (NLT)

    34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. (NIV)

    Both the TDNT and BDAG define this usage of the word hupotasso (ὑποτάσσω) as the "subordination or submission of oneself". As we look at the context of this unit of thought we see that this makes sense. We find that this same term is used in the preceding paragraph to talk about prophets...

    32 The spirits of prophets are subject to the control of prophets. (NIV)

    Both uses of this term in 1 Corinthians 14:32, 34 give us clear examples of those being addressed (prophets and married women with believing spouses) being commanded (let's not forget this) to silence themselves in an act of submission. (This is the same term used of Jesus submitting himself to his parents in Luke 2:51.)

    The New American Standard captures this nuanced meaning of the term here with the context in mind...

    34 The women are to keep silent in the churches; for they are not permitted to speak, but are to subject themselves, just as the Law also says. (NASB)

    SHAMEFUL

    This term has been a great source of confusion to many (or at least to me). 

    34 Womenshould remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)

    Why is it disgraceful? In English this term has a range of meanings such as "shameful" and "scandalous". Is this what Paul was getting at here? That it is scandalous and a cause for shame when a (married) woman speaks (asks questions) in the church assembly?

    The TDNT narrows the definition of this term in 14:35 to "'that which is disgraceful' in the judgment of men" and the BDAG defines this term as "pertaining to being socially or morally unacceptable or shameful". Both of these definitions are applied both to the passage in question (14:34-35) and the other use of this term in 1 Corinthians in 11:6. 

    2 I praise you for remembering me in everything and for holding to the traditions just as I passed them on to you. 3 But I want you to realize that the head of every man is Christ, and the head of the woman is man, and the head of Christ is God. 4 Every man who prays or prophesies with his head covered dishonors his head. 5 But every woman who prays or prophesies with her head uncovered dishonors her head—it is the same as having her head shaved. 6 For if a woman does not cover her head, she might as well have her hair cut off; but if it is a disgrace for a woman to have her hair cut off or her head shaved, then she should cover her head. (1 Corinthians 11:2-6, NIV)

    The usage of this term in this passage and in 1 Corinthians 11:6 help us to understand that this term "disgraceful" carries the idea of this particular activity (short hair or speaking in the assembly) as something that is socially or culturally unacceptable. 

    In other words, if it is "sinful" (which is not the idea that Paul is suggesting here in 14:35) for a woman to speak in the assembly then it is equally "sinful" for a woman to have short hair. The first example is obvious to most (1 Corinthians 11:2-16), and so we should take care to be consistent in our interpretation of the passage at hand. 

    SUMMARY

    34 Women should remain silent in the churches. They are not allowed to speak, but must be in submission, as the law says. 35 If they want to inquire about something, they should ask their own husbands at home; for it is disgraceful for a woman to speak in the church. (NIV)

    Paul in this passage is commanding these women to choose two separate but connected actions in the public assembly of the church. First, he is telling them to stop asking questions in the assembly and second he is telling these married women to choose to submit themselves to the expectations of the community of faith. Both of these actions are motivated by the cultural reality that was present in Corinth. Paul commands these responses from these women because it was culturally inappropriate for this to be happening. 

    Paul is commanding these women to forgo (for the time) their ability to ask questions and to be sensitive to the expectations of the entire congregation. As we will see in a future post this fits in perfectly with the entire context of 1 Corinthians 11-14 and especially the immediate context of 1 Corinthians 14. 

    Stay tuned as we wrap up this series asking the question: Is this a universal command or a cultural, specific situation that Paul is addressing?

    1 Corinthians 14 and the Silence of Women: Cultural and Historical Background...

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    One of the first things that we must understand about this text before we look into the cultural and historical background is just exactly what is going on here.

    What is the problem that Paul is addressing with this prohibition of women (married women with believing husbands) speaking in the church?

    So again, as we will do throughout this series, we look first at the text itself.

    33For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.   

        As in all the churches of the saints, 34the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (ESV)

    The ESV here does a good job illuminating for us the problem that Paul is addressing. The issue here is not that these women (a particular subset of the women at the church in Corinth) were teaching, preaching, gossiping, or talking to men that were not their husbands (although these have all been suggestions made by scholars and church leaders alike). What does the text say?

    35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. (ESV, emphasis mine)

    The text appears to imply that Paul is taking issue with these (married) women asking questions in the public worship/assembly.

    Now for most of us this is an entirely foreign idea. This is because when we think about the public assembly (a.k.a. Sunday morning or whenever else you might have a "worship service") the sermon or message is rarely (if ever) interactive.

    In other words, the one delivering the message/sermon gets up and gives a lecture/sermon with little or no engagement with the members of the congregation. There is certainly not (in my experience) a time for engaging questions during the sermon. 

    But what we have to recognize is that our worship services, especially around the idea of preaching/teaching is much different than what we would have found in the church in Corinth to which Paul gives this prohibition to the married women with believing husbands.

    To understand why this (married women asking questions in the public assembly) would be a problem it is important for us to understand three seperate yet interconnected elements of the historical and cultural background of this passage and the world in which they lived: The value/prominance of women, the education (or lack thereof) of women and the predominant teaching style of the day. 

    VALUE AND PROMINENCE OF WOMEN IN THE 1ST CENTURY GREEK AND ROMAN WORLD

    To learn about the prominence and value (or lack thereof) of women in the 1st century we will look at four men who are rough contemporaries of the New Testament. Plutarch (46-120AD), Philo of Alexandria (20BC-50AD),  Josephus (c. 37-100AD), and Cicero (106-43BC) help us to understand the prevailing views of women and their abiliities to learn.

    Cicero writes

    "Our ancestors, in their wisdom, considered that all women, because of their innate weakness, should be under the control of guardians."

    Philo of Alexandria writes:

     Market-places and council-halls and law-courts and gatherings and meetings, where a large number of people are assembled, and open-air life with full scope for discussion and action – all these are suitable to men in both war and peace. The women are best suited to the indoor life which never strays from the house.... Organized communities are of two sorts, the greater which we call cities and the smaller which we call households. Both of these have their governors; the government of the greater is assigned to men under the name of statesmanship, that of the lesser, known as household management, to women (Special Laws 3.169-70).

    Josephus, when talking about the role of women (especially in marriage) writes:

    "But, then, what are our laws about marriage? That law owns no other mixture of sexes but that which nature hath appointed, of a man with his wife, and that this be used only for the procreation of children. But it abhors the mixture of a male with a male; and if any one do that, death is its punishment. It commands us also, when we marry, not to have regard to portion, nor to take a woman by violence, nor to persuade her deceitfully and knavishly; but to demand her in marriage of him who hath power to dispose of her, and is fit to give her away by the nearness of his kindred; for, says the Scripture, "A woman is inferior to her husband in all things." (Against Apion, Book 2.25)

    (By the way that quote from Scripture is found nowhere in Scripture.)

    Plutarch has some of the following advice for married women...

    ...a virtuous woman ought to be most visible in her husband's company, and to stay in the house and hide herself when he is away.

    A wife ought not to make friends of her own, but to enjoy her husband's friends in common with him.

    Not only the arm of the virtuous woman, but her speech as well, ought to be not for the public, and she ought to be modest and guarded about saying anything in the hearing of outsiders, since it is an exposure of herself; for in her talk can be seen her feelings, character, and disposition.

    Not exactly a picture of women that would go over very well in 21st century America you think?

    EDUCATION OF WOMEN IN THE 1ST CENTURY ROMAN AND GREEK WORLD

    As we have seen in some of the quotations just mentioned one of (if not the primary) role of women was to give birth to children and manage the household. Women in the first century Gentile world were typically educated (whether formally in schools or at home is of some historical debate) until their arrival at the age of marriage. For Greeks this was typically 14 and for Romans it was 16-18. Men on the other hand were educated well into their 20's and married around the age of 30. It was important for a man to be well educated in order to be a fully functioning citizen, for women, who obviously had a different place in life and in society, this formal education was not nearly as important.

    STYLE OF TEACHING IN THE 1ST CENTURY ROMAN AND GREEK WORLD

    The most influential individual on the nature of teaching in the first century Greco-Roman world was none other than Socrates (469-399BC). His style of teaching came to be known as the Socratic Method.

    (Side note: I like the Socratic method as a teacher. I fully employ the first two of these three elements of his method and understand the value of all three for teaching. This is not a slight to Socrates, but it is an excellent window into the cultural background of this passage, as we will see shortly.)

    There are three elements to the Socratic method of teaching.

    (1) Learning is directed primarily by a balance of question and debate.

    (2) The goal was to strengthen your position or understanding of an issue or topic by engaging with people of other views and perspectives.

    (3) Only advanced were allowed to ask questions and debate with the teacher.

    By the way, this is not even a purely Gentile idea. We see something almost identical in the rules for participation in the Jewish Sanhedrin (Tosefta Sanhedrin 7:10) as well as in the writings of others like Plutarch (On Listening to Lectures)

    So now we must come back to the text itself to reframe what we have observed thus far...

    33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace.   

        As in all the churches of the saints, 34 the women should keep silent in the churches. For they are not permitted to speak, but should be in submission, as the Law also says. 35 If there is anything they desire to learn, let them ask their husbands at home. For it is shameful for a woman to speak in church. (ESV, emphasis mine)

    The problem here is that these (married) women are asking questions in the assembly and are therefore being disruptive and doing what is "shameful".

    Certainly the problem for Paul is not that they want to learn!! The issue therefore must be the way in which they are going about learning.

    Remember the third rule of the Socratic method: Only the advanced students are allowed to ask questions and debate with the teacher.

    In the eyes of the present culture in the 1st century and also in formal education who would be the advanced students and who would be the novices? The obvious answer is that the men would be considered the advanced students, and the women the novices.

    Therefore, it would be inappropriate or "shameful" (we'll look more closely at this term in the next post) for a (married) woman to publicly ask a question of the teacher.

    ISN'T THIS SEXIST OR AT LEAST DEGRADING TO MARRIED WOMEN?

    In our culture this passage could certainly be understood that way. But here is what I think Paul is doing...

    The asking of questions by these married women in the public assembly (a cultural "no-no") was having two damaging effects: (1) These women weren't learning and (2) their was division/conflict in the congregation. So here, Paul has negotiated a culturally-sensitive while still innovative solution. These women will choose to submit to the cultural expectations of their day, and their husbands will be responsible for their spiritual development and growth at home. The tension in the congregation has been relieved and the woman's attempt to learn has also been made successful. 

    The idea that husbands would be concerned about and willing to help in the education of their wives (in any fashion) was extremely progressive for the culture in which Paul writes this letter. This is not a "backwards" solution that holds men up as superior and women as inferior and unimportant. Instead, this solution keeps the peace in the community of faith and values the desire of these women to learn alongside their husbands. 

    SUMMARY

    So, in this post we have seen that the issue occuring here in Corinth is not that women are attempting to lead or to take over, but that they are violating the cultural boundaries in their approach to learning. This helps us make sense of the immediate context:

    33 For God is not a God of confusion but of peace. (ESV)

    And it also helps us make sense of the larger context (all of 1 Corinthians 14) which revolves around the idea of public speech being beneficial for the congregation instead of a distraction or source of confusion or offense.

    There is much more to cover in this passage as we press on in the next post with a couple of translation questions about the terms "silent", "submission", and "shameful". Stay tuned...