Last night to finish out the inter-spiritual day of the Seeds of Compassion gathering, Jim Henderson asked us to host a reception at the Vineyard. We had a bit of a party. The band led by Kelly Carpenter was awesome. My experience with Jim is he is like Oprah, he loves to give people a voice…he had a couple of hours and a bunch of people he wanted to give “stage” time. He planned several short, 20 minute segments. He asked me to lead a conversation with Rob Bell about women in ministry.
The night began with Rob sharing thoughts from his new book. I think Eugene has a good synopsis here.
Next up was our conversation. Let me begin by saying I had a conversation with Rob in the afternoon about where I wanted to go with the conversation. I told him I was going to introduce the idea through the lens that for those that have changed their theological position we had to now look at how to do the structural changes to give women access. I asked him if he would agree that when you are dealing with structural change you are dealing with “who” holds the power in the systems you are trying to gain equilibrium …he agreed. I then asked him if he would agree that in our church tradition (Evangelical) or post Evangelical that power lies with white males…to which he totally agreed. I asked him if he would be comfortable with me “naming” the power structure and more specifically pointing out that he was a person within the system with power and influence to which he said he was cool with.
When the conversation happened, I found Rob to be nothing but kind. He told his story. When he stepped into a pastoring Mars Hill Bible Church (not Mars Hill Seattle) and how at the time they had an all male eldership. The church held the theological position that women could not hold positions of authority. Rob studied the issue and came to the conclusion that their view was theologically wrong. He changed it, lost elders and folks that did not agree left the church. Today there are women in all areas of leadership in the church. Rob did a great job communicating his heart and what he had done in his own church to empower women in every level of leadership. He said that he used to hear the old argument that there are two sides to this theological position but now he says there are not two sides, if you hold to the position that oppresses (probably my word) women you are just wrong.
When I asked him how he could use his influence beyond his local church to give women space he seemed to not fully connect. I gave him the example of how Jim Henderson tries to include women in every event that Off the Map hosts. Sharing the stage or the mic is a way to change the systemic issue of the male echo chamber in most corners of the Christian church. I asked him if he could use his influence to give women a voice in the same way as he has access to a very large stage.
He told another story of a young girl in his church and then he told me that we (women) should not go where we are not welcome. That last statement sounds different then what he said. He was saying, you are too sacred, don’t waste your time where the door is not open, which I totally get.
My point wasn’t so much that (I think this is where the disconnect happened, I probably was not clear enough) I wanted to go places women were not welcome as it was that women seeing other women in visible areas of leadership is vital to change the system. At the point I knew we were not going the same direction (not because we were adversarial) I changed gears and introduced a young woman from Canada. Jen is in her 20’s, single and the lead pastor of a Four Square Church ( a denomination stared by a woman) in Powell River B.C. She intentionally moved into low-income housing and works part-time at Starbucks. She is a smart, thoughtful leader that is truly serving Jesus in the way He has called and gifted her. Jen’s story was a great illustration of the point I was trying to make. Almost all of her mentors were and are male. She doesn’t have a problem with that, but she would like a few females as well…she just didn’t know where to find them.
I believe we need men and women working together to bring leadership in the body of Christ. I told Rob I wasn’t interested in women’s initiatives that did not include men. For me this is about a theology of the Kingdom. Men and women working together in every level of leadership in the church. IMHO women’s initiatives made up of only women tend to ghettoize women.
After our segment I had a conversation with Rob and his friend in the hall. We talked about several issues related to women. He thought our time went well. As we were talking a man approached us and thanked us for the conversation. He said his wife was called to be a church planter but they were in a denomination that would not allow it. He was encouraged by our talk that she needed to be able to pursue her calling. Now this is what I am talking about. If men that hold power would include women, women like Jen who can say what they are doing, women who are writers, church planters, scholars, etc. I know that something will be set in motion when men and women hear the stories.
I appreciate Rob having the conversation and being part of the solution. I think he is brilliant. I applaud Jim Henderson for always thinking about how to make space for women.
It was fun to meet Doug Pagitt, I’ve heard a lot about him. He was kind enough to let me use his rental car for the day. I met so many interesting people yesterday. It was a great party and now…I need to get some sleep and come tomorrow catch up on course work.