Pay Dirt in Chapter 2

I once prayed, as a new Christian, that God would change my heart so that I could accept my place as a woman in the Kingdom – a place that I was not experiencing as one of mutuality, egalitarianism or wholeness for women. I cried buckets as I prayed, but I was ready to accept God's answer. Such was my fervor that I donated my extensive collection of feminist writings, including feminist theologians like Mary Daly and Rosemary Radford Ruether. But I wanted to believe rightly and do rightly for God. My prayer was an offering that said, “Lord, where I need to change – change me.”

Then I went outside and got in my car to drive to work. I put in a tape that I had been listening to over and over again – “Conversations” by Sara Groves. What I heard was “I know that you tore the veil so I could sit with you in person.” Then I heard, “No, Karen. I broke those barriers, tore those veils. There are no second-class citizens in my Kingdom.” And I was comforted and transformed, if still dismayed for the loss of my books. Chapter 2 – Jesus and God B – reminded me of this early episode in my life as a follower of Jesus, an episode that threatened to sink my nascent faith and one that had been a barrier to my conversion for over 25 years.

In Chapter 2 I think that McLaren begins to hit some pay dirt. Though the chapter begins with more protestations about his inability to adequately describe Jesus, and his discomfort with those who think that they can, his clear statements regarding the nature of God as being beyond gender categorization really rang true with me.

That said, as a person who was steeped in feminist theory prior to my conversion to Christianity it raises a warning flag for me that a thing I find so obvious would need to be so flatly stated in this book (and in italics no less). Have the lessons of the last 30+ years of feminist theology, the ordination of women in other mainline denominations, not to mention the spiritual and social contributions of first wave feminists in the mid-1800’s and early-1900’s, been so ignored by the Evangelical Church that such a statement even needs to be made? Apparently so.

This is another of those things that keep the unchurched from full communion with the Body of Christ. We can read that God created man and woman in his image just as well as anyone else and we can’t then understand how the church backs into such policies as “the headship of the male,” or “the submissiveness of a woman to her husband,” or the lack of female leadership in the church in general.

I think I’m beginning to understand what McLaren is doing with this book. He’s acknowledging that the voice of the Evangelical Church is, for all intents and purposes, the face of Christianity that most people in the U.S. see, and that, if his brothers and sisters in Christ want to be ambassadors for the faith, they better get a better handle on what that faith really entails. As an unchurched friend of mine asked me yesterday after having heard Jimmy Swaggert’s quote regarding his intent to kill any gay man who looks at him that way, “I don’t understand how he can say that? Isn’t it counter to the teachings of other religious leaders and of Christ?” Bingo, buddy! But that’s the Evangelical Church, fringe element though he may be.

It takes a pretty high level of abstraction to divorce one’s perceptions of who Jesus is, and who we can be if we are in relationship with him, from the examples we see of other Christian’s lives. And that is why it is so important for us to live in ways that do not seem to be diametrically opposed to the teachings of our faith. So, preach on Mr. McLaren. Here’s praying for ears to hear.


jen lemen said...

well said, karen. i'm wondering how this chapter hits those of us with evangelical orientations that still struggle deeply with women's roles in the church. or don't struggle, for that matter, and find headship the only option. we promise not to bite if you speak up. i'm just wondering, how do you take this chapter?

Paul said...

Could it be the result of Evangelicals tending to interpret the Bible literally? Think about it, the Bible was written in a patriarchal society. Much of the writings are most likely influenced by that. It seems to me (for what that's worth) that most teachings in the Bible that are not the result of cultural influence deal primarily with moral issues, so I ask, is having a woman pastor immoral? Could it be that this teaching was culturally influenced? That leads me ask, why did Jesus appear as a man? Would the culture 2000 years ago allowed for a woman to be a prolific leader like Jeses was? What about today? If Jesus appeared today, would Western culture accept a prolific woman, or would he 'have' to appear as a man as well?

Anonymous said...

I just discovered AGO on the recommendation of a friend. He called me right away after finishing it and said "this guy (McLaren) is right where you are!" I've been saying similar things to the content of this book for years but my ideas have been inchoate, nascent and coelescing. McLaren has given magnificent voice and gentle guidance to my intellectual, theological and philosophical mentations. I can't get enough of this book and it and McLaren's thought will feature promenently in my future thought, ministry and praxis.

Having escaped from many "isms" and venturing down generous orthodoxy's path (and even before that), I looked at the role of people in relation to one another in various churches, ministries and movements and I closely watched women in ministry. I also watched and thought about my own ministry as I watched women in ministry. It occured to me that there are many things that I can do well, as well as any woman of equal skill and experience and vice versa. I also occured to me that there were many things for which a women minister would be much better suited to do than me and vice versa. I cannot imagine any Christian kingdom which could not benefit from all the creative, powerful and positive spiritual work skilled women in ministry have to offer.

Rev. Matt