One of the most difficult questions for me in the last five or so years has been what to do with the issue of women in ministry. On the one hand, I’ve been an enthusiastic participant in the broader evangelical community, and I’ve felt frustrated toward the polarizing exchange of monologues that sometimes seems to occur between the self-identified “egalitarian” and “complementarian” camps. On the other hand, I have felt frustrated with the silence of my more local Christian communities regarding this issue. For the sake of interdenominationality or keeping the peace they have kept quiet. Much good has resulted, but perhaps also some harm.
Last weekend, my seminary sponsored a screening of the film For the Bible Tells Me So, tracking the stories of several families as teenage and adult children came out as LGBT. The most famous story was that of Gene Robinson, the gay bishop in the Episcopal Church, the first ever in the Anglican Communion. After coming home, I was doing a little more research on Gene and came across a video with this quote:
“We will stand up and say, this is who we mean to be, because together we have discerned this is who God is calling us to be. And then the communion will have to deal with us. But we are not going to sacrifice LGBT people anymore on the altar of unity.”
While I have not figured out what precisely to think of the many issues surrounding homosexuality and the church (though I will say that I’ve finally come to a point that I feel I must support civil unions without significant reservations), I really respect what Gene is saying here, an echo of how I often feel about women’s issues.
Unity is important. So important. I don’t want to de-emphasize that at all. I’m not looking to demonize other Christians or pretend we can get along without each other or without dialogue.
On the other hand, I agree with Gene that when/if we finally come to feel convicted that a certain way is for-certain where God is leading us, why should we hold back? I think of the evangelical response to slavery in the South. While I wouldn’t encourage any abolitionist church to cut all ties with apathetic or pro-slavery churches, I would encourage them to take a strong stand for what they believed was right, not to leave it forever nebulous. Timing and attitude matter so much in such a response, but I do think we can’t always just say, “You believe X, I believe Y, but things are fine between us, let’s focus on unity.” I think sometimes it’s legitimate to say, “You believe X, I believe Y, and while I still want to be friends, I do think this is a serious issue with only one right answer. And we obviously disagree about that that is. But I have to move forward in pursuing what I think God is calling me to pursue.”
When we should move from open discussion and attempts to avoid alientation (say, within a denomination or other community) into the bulk of the leaders/people taking a stand is pretty fuzzy.
But at some point, I do think that those that believe in women in ministry have to just say it. (Something InterVarsity, for example, is somewhat hesitant to do.)
And at some point, I think those that believe in LGBT ordination also have to take a stand. To do nothing less, I think, is exactly what Gene says: sacrificing (your perception of) righteousness before a marginalized people and before God to appease others.
And I don’t think compromise was ever what Christian unity was supposed to be about.
(But this tension–between unity and advocacy–is not an easy one to manage with love and humility!)