They believed in complementarian theology- Peggy Wehmeyer –

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First came sexual harassment scandals in powerful evangelical pulpits. Then the movement’s best-known female Bible teacher, Beth Moore, charged church leaders across the country with widespread misogyny. And now the president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth has been fired for religious chauvinism that pressed abused women to stay with their husbands and a rape victim to forgive and drop charges against her perpetrator.

“The terrible swift sword of public humiliation has come with a vengeance,” warned one powerful church leader, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary President Al Mohler. He added that the story’s not over.

I should have seen it coming. I’m one of millions of American women who converted to evangelical Christianity because of its life-changing promise of hope and healing. The problem is that some of the men in leadership have used the Bible to mask a patriarchal misogyny. That’s what’s driving today’s #MeToo church movement. A whole host of leaders, like fired seminary president Paige Patterson, have silenced and marginalized the voices of women for decades. And that leaves my faith family morally compromised.

I had wanted to dedicate my life to full-time ministry since becoming a Christian in college. The Jesus I met at the University of Texas was a revolutionary who inspired his followers to usher in the kingdom of God, fight for justice and give up your life to save it — whether or not you were a woman.

I thought I could learn how to do that at Dallas Theological Seminary (DTS). The people closest to me didn’t understand. The dean of my journalism school shook his head in bewilderment, my sorority sisters whispered, “She’s joining a convent,” and my parents, who unsuccessfully hired a psychiatrist to have me “deprogrammed,” cut me off financially.

I reached Dallas in my tattered Toyota station wagon, broke, alone but unafraid. Each morning when I woke up in this new place, I knelt in the dark, closed my eyes and cranked up Handel’s Messiah, singing along, “Prepare ye the way of the Lord; make straight in the desert a highway for our God.”

At 21, all I knew about DTS was that it produced great Bible teachers and had a job opening for a writer. I grabbed it. Too broke to enroll, I slipped into any class I could audit, attended chapel whenever I could, and begged for audiences with theologians whose teaching I devoured.

When at last I earned enough money  to enroll as a student, I discovered something troubling: The master of theology program, the one that prepared students for leadership in the church, was off-limits to women. That came home to me one day after a New Testament class. A few men approached me outside the room.

“You don’t plan to preach to a mixed audience, do you?” they asked.

My answer: “I just want to study the Bible,” I said. “I don’t know how I’ll use it yet.”

I learned at seminary that many biblical texts could only be understood in the context of ancient Hebrew culture, and that made sense to me. What confused me was that the harsh passages prohibiting women from leadership — in church and at home — were the ones taken literally.

The limitations of my future in a church led by men should have become apparent early on. My female hero of the faith, Elisabeth Elliot, wife of martyred missionary Jim Elliot, had been invited to campus. When she rose to the chapel pulpit to speak to the students, almost all male, a group of them walked out in protest. Preaching to men presumably gave her authority over them, and that was forbidden.

Did I challenge the system? Hardly. As a young Christian, I accepted the teachings of seasoned theologians. I agreed that the Bible was inspired by God and that its truths transcend culture. What I struggled to understand was which Bible passages were to be taken literally. After all, no one was suggesting we should have slaves and make them obey their masters, a command listed in the same place where women are told to submit to their husbands. What if the seminary leaders had it wrong? What if Jesus and his apostles actually elevatedwomen who were treated deplorably in their day?

When I asked about the heroic women of the Bible, like the prophet Deborah, who led her people into battle, or Queen Esther, who stood up to a king and saved the Jews, I was told that God used women to lead only when men failed to step up to the plate. We were God’s backup plan for weak-willed men. And to quote Paige Patterson, our role in church and at home was “to be submissive in every way.”

Almost all of the seminary students and professors treated me with respect and kindness, so I didn’t resent the limits placed on my role as a woman. I trusted the intentions of church leaders. They believed in complementarian theology, which gave men primary leadership in the church and home.

That affected the shape of my life. By my fourth year at DTS, I was doubting my own instincts about what career path to take. My only brush with leadership in the church came when two outlying professors offered to train me, on the condition that our meetings stayed under wraps. After hours, I slipped into their offices to learn how to interpret Scripture, outline a sermon, and deliver it with flair. Larry Moyers and Mike Cocoris were traveling evangelists. When they took me on a preaching circuit to East Texas, only they could teach in the sanctuaries. My sermons were restricted to women who met on the peripheries of the church.

At seminary, I felt like a racehorse lunging at the starting gate, waiting for the bell to sound, with no track ahead of me. And then I stumbled into wide open space: a job opening at a local TV station, where career restrictions had everything to do with skill and nothing to do with gender.

Before I could take the job and clear my seminary desk, a prominent professor called me to his office. I remember standing with him outside the pastoral ministries department when he asked me the ultimate question for a follower of Jesus: “What is God’s will for your life?”

By now I knew the answer he wanted. “To get married and have children,” I said. “But God hasn’t led me to marry yet. Until he does, I’m going to go out and make a difference in the world.”

What he said next felt like a curse, and it would haunt me for years. “Peggy, if you leave Christian work for a career in the secular media, two things will happen: You’ll lose your faith, and it’s unlikely any Christian man will want to marry you.”

I was speechless. To lose my faith was to lose my life compass. To miss marriage and children would be to miss God’s highest calling for a woman.

I took the risk and I left seminary to be a copywriter for WFAA-TV in Dallas. Within a year I was named the first television religion reporter in the nation. I covered the FBI siege of the Branch Davidian cult compound in Waco and the first terrorist attack on the World Trade Center. We tracked the rise of the Mormon church in Texas and reported on all the major Southern Baptist Conventions, including the ones where the embattled Patterson led the conservative takeover of the denomination. I interviewed Patterson countless times in the ’80s and ’90s.

Like many women my age, I managed all of it while married and raising two children, but it wasn’t my church that supported me in the herculean task of juggling family and work.

For support later in my career, I pulled together my own small community of women from both coasts. We met each week for a decade by speakerphone, talking and praying about everything from how to integrate our faith at work, to raising our children, to discerning the will of God.

Rarely did I seek out my pastor for counsel, but once, during a rough patch in my marriage, I did. He urged me to follow the Bible verse that tells women to be “like Sarah, who obeyed her husband, Abraham, and called him her lord.”

So why did I remain an evangelical? This community had introduced me to Jesus and helped me build a relationship with a personal, loving God whom I could trust.

I held onto my faith and my evangelical family even as my secular career ramped up. When the call came from New York, my 5-year-old daughter, Hannah, was click-clacking her Big-Wheel across our kitchen’s hardwood floors. The voice on the other end sounded uncannily like that of my broadcasting hero.

“Hello, Ms. Wehmeyer? This is Peter Jennings at ABC News, and I have two questions for you,” he said. “Is it true that you cover religion? And are you willing to make a major life change?”

“Yes. And maybe,” I answered.

Months later, Jennings and ABC received a rush of publicity for hiring me as the first religion correspondent in the history of network news.

Soon Christian leaders wanted me on the covers of their magazines and speaking in their college chapels. But I was careful about when and where I spoke personally about my own faith. For me, the highest calling of a journalist was to separate my personal bias from the stories I covered. It was because of my faith, not in spite of it, that I could distance my personal beliefs from my reporting.

But Christian colleges were having a serious problem. More than half their student bodies were made up of women, and this generation of evangelical women wanted futures that included robust professional careers. Who would mentor and lead them? Wheaton College, the “Harvard of Christian colleges,” pressed me to be that person. The school chaplain called to tell me the president of the college was proud of my work and struggling to find female role models for their students. Wouldn’t I please reconsider their request to speak in chapel?

“Who’s your president?” I asked.

It was the same theologian, who 20 years earlier, as a professor at DTS, had told me to throttle back and find a husband.

I agreed to speak in the Wheaton chapel, only after I was no longer reporting on religion. I stepped into the pulpit where Billy Graham and countless high-profile male ministers had preached and looked out at a sea of young female faces. I purposely singled out the Wheaton women:

Young women: Hear me now.

Trust your own deepest convictions and let no one else overwhelm the quiet pull of God on your life. You’re the one who will come home every day to your choices.

And do not limit what God wants to do with your life. Why would you narrow his plan to include only marriage and family? These are high callings, but for both men and women.

The student body responded with a standing ovation, but the president promptly accused me of fueling a feminist fire. The discussion it roused on campus led one Wheaton student to call me several years later.

Like me, this young woman had committed her life to following Jesus. It had led her to the South Side of Chicago, to four years in some of the nation’s most dangerous neighborhoods with Teach for America. Now she was frustrated because her time in the classroom had taught her that education held only part of the answer for children and families whose lives were riddled with poverty, violence and drugs. She wanted to tackle spiritual poverty too.

“The church is the best place to address both the economic and spiritual vacuum in people’s lives,” she told me. “I want to study theology and become a minister so I’m better equipped to help people who struggle.”

If this had been just any young evangelical woman, I might have counseled her, “Go for it, but it’s going to be tough.”

But the words came from my own daughter, Hannah, the one who was in kindergarten the day Peter Jennings called. The one whose crib I had knelt at in the dark, asking God to give her strength for whatever challenges she would face as a woman.

“Hannah!” I said, “What are you thinking? Women can’t be leaders in the church. You’ll be beating your head against the wall.”

Painful memories — many stories I had never told Hannah — rushed to the surface. I tried every way I could to shut down my daughter’s dream, but she wouldn’t have it.

“You got to be a pioneer in television, Mom. Why can’t I be one in the church?” she argued. “You’re the only one discouraging me from taking this path. My own mother!”

I’ve heard it said that dreams and visions blocked in one generation can surface in the next. I had spoken harsh words to spare my daughter from the pain I knew by heart. What I failed to account for were the changes she already was a part of.

In recent years, a few evangelical seminaries have reconsidered their interpretation of Scripture on women. Now some of them allow for women’s ordination. A groundswell of leading evangelical churches, where women now serve as pastors and elders, reflect that shift. The theology on women’s roles at places like DTS hasn’t changed, but more than four times the number of women are enrolled there than when I was a student.

Last year, I was worshipping at the church I now attend in Dallas, where former President George W. Bush and his wife, Laura, are members. As worshippers walked to the altar to receive communion, I watched the Bushes kneel at the rail. A young minister in robes approached the table with a chalice of wine and bread in her hand.

The same world leader I’d once peppered with tough questions about faith was now being led in his faith by my daughter, Hannah.

This fall, the story comes full circle. Hannah will begin seminary, one that prepares women for every facet of ministry. She’ll learn, as I did, that Jesus was a revolutionary, not just in the ways he taught us to love but in the ways he liberated and dignified women in a culture that treated them like second-class citizens. While Hannah works and studies, I’ll help care for her 1-year-old daughter, Eliza, a name that translated from the Hebrew means “God is faithful.”

Peggy Wehmeyer is a writer in Dallas and a former news correspondent for WFAA and ABC News. She wrote this column for The Dallas Morning News. 

 

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Honest Questions to Ask About Some Christians’ Vitriol – Nick Lear

June 4, 2018
Section: EthicsDaily.com’s Latest Articles
My hope is that an honest effort to consider and answer these questions might just help us (Christians) to be more aware of our own behavior, Lear writes.

There are times when I read what another Christian has written or said, and I wonder whether I am reading the same Bible as them because I can’t justify their behavior based on what I read in my Bible.

Now, I realize that in writing this column I am opening myself up to an accusation that I am making judgments about other people, and that’s something Jesus said we should not do.

So, I am writing this in the form of open questions based on my observations rather than accusations against anyone in particular. And I am writing this to Christians; the rest of you can relax.

I ask these questions of myself as much as anyone else, and if I am being honest, I am uncomfortable with some of my own answers. As always, I am not suggesting that I live a fully sorted life as a follower of Jesus, but I want to be open to his Spirit’s transformational prompting.

Where in the Bible does it say that it’s right to use unpleasant, vitriolic and hateful language against someone with whom you disagree?

Doesn’t the Bible say that the way people will know we are followers of Jesus is by the way that we love one another?

How can it be right that Jesus said that the greatest commandment was to love God and the second one was to love others, yet some comments that Christians have posted online about fellow believers and some behavior between Christians appear to be devoid of love and full of hate?

And how are some of the hideous comments made against those who don’t claim a Christian faith showing them what God’s love and grace are like?

Where does it say that it’s OK to condemn someone for interpreting the Bible differently from you by denouncing them as “unbiblical,” which presumably means the denouncer has absolute confidence that their interpretation is entirely “biblical” and there’s no chance they could be wrong?

Wasn’t Jesus regarded as “unbiblical” in his day?

Where does the Bible tell us that we should consider ourselves better than others, using our superiority to tell them how and why they are wrong, and we are right?

Why do Christians spend so much energy arguing about relatively trivial things like doctrinal differences and not spend as much time and energy tackling poverty, injustice and conflict?

Jesus spoke much more about the use of and love of money than he did about doctrine, didn’t he?

Given how much Christians have been forgiven, and how much Jesus said we should forgive, how come some of us find it so difficult to apologize to other Christians when we are wrong and ask for forgiveness?

Is admitting we are wrong so difficult?

I realize this is rather an incendiary post, and it really isn’t my intention to have a go at anyone in particular.

My hope is that an honest effort to consider and answer these questions might just help us (Christians) to be more aware of our own behavior and open us up to God’s Spirit changing us to become more like the Jesus we follow.

Nick Lear is a regional minister of the Eastern Baptist Association in the United Kingdom. A version of this article first appeared on his blog, Nukelear Fishing, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @NickLear.

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Say Something Nice Sunday June 3 Join the Movement

On June 3, all churches, all denominations and all faith groups are encouraged to join in the celebration of the 12th.  Say Something Nice Sunday. Originating at First Baptist Church of Charleston, South Carolina, the movement has gained followers from almost every denomination across the US and some in the UK.

The Rev. Marshall Blalock, president of the South Carolina Baptist Convention, and The Most Reverend Robert E. Guglielmone, Bishop of the Catholic Diocese of Charleston, have both endorsed the program. There is nothing to buy.

Why Have a Say Something Nice Sunday? The simple answer is that words are powerful. Words have the power to build or destroy. Words have the power to heal or wound. With our words we have the power to build up a Christian community or to destroy it.

Nowhere are words more powerful than within the church. “The Word became flesh and dwelt among us.” Words take on a life unto themselves. Once they are given life they are on their way for good or evil.

This special day is an opportunity to build the community of faith, strengthen relationships and heal old wounds. Our national discourse has become so strident and even in religious circles the rhetoric is often far from Christ-like. In Philippians 1:27 we read, “Let your conversation be as it becometh the gospel of Christ.”

This is a day to say thank you to those who make our lives better just by being a part of them. This is a day to recognize those who contribute to our lives in specific ways. This is a day to apologize for words spoken in frustration, anger or disappointment.

One suggestion in addition to the main sermon is to use it as a theme for the Children’s Sermon as Robin Boston will do at the Circular Congregational Church in Charleston.

Mitch Carnell, Chair of the Ecumenical Committee said, “One day is one day, but perhaps we can stretch it to two days and then just maybe if we encourage one another and ask for God’s help, we might change the world!”

Free materials are available at www.fbcharleston.org. Click on Messages/Resources at the top of the page. Scroll down to Say Something Nice Sunday. There is also a Say Something Nice Day for secular celebration on June 1 every year.

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Loren Mead, author, teacher, and priest, has died – Great Loss – Good Friend*

 by 

Born in Florence, South Carolina, on February 17, 1930, Loren B. Mead, graduated from the University of the South, and later earned an MA from the University of South Carolina.  After teaching in the Wil Lou Gray Opportunity School for Adults for two years, Loren attended Virginia Theological Seminary and received his Masters in Divinity in 1955 and was ordained an Episcopal priest.

He was an educator, consultant, and author who worked to strengthen religious institutions, especially of local congregations. Mr. Mead collaborated with lay people, clergy, executives and bishops, teachers, and others committed to ministry.  A pioneer in congregational studies, he brought together the methods of organization development consultation and applied research for working with congregations.

Born and raised in the segregated South, Loren worked for racial justice and reconciliation throughout his career. Besides marching with a delegation of white pastors in support of Martin Luther King after the death of Medgar Evers, he played a leading role in the desegregation of Chapel Hill.

As an author, he published four best-selling books on the future of the church; The Once and Future Church (1991), Transforming Congregations for the Future (1994), Five Challenges for the Once and Future Church (1996), and Financial Meltdown in the Mainline? (1998).  In addition to a number of articles and chapters in edited works, he is also the author of New Hope for Congregations (1972), Critical Moment of Ministry: The Change of Pastors (1987), The Whole Truth(1987), and More than Numbers (1994).  His most recent book, The Parish is the Issue refocused on his work with congregations as the future direction.

 

In his work with churches, Mead developed a number of resources on the role and work of the interim pastor, the use of conflict management, clergy stress and burnout, concepts of change and development in congregations and their judicatory systems, training methods for executives and bishops.  He was concerned for the personal, professional, and spiritual development of lay and clergy leaders, and especially for the creative possibilities for churches and leaders at moments of transition in role.

 

Mead’s work with the Alban Institute was informed by his career in the parish ministry. After serving in several parishes in North and South Carolina, as well as the UK, until the then Presiding Bishop of the Episcopal Church, John Hines, asked him to direct that denomination’s experimental “Project Test Pattern” for a three-year period.  In 1974, Mead founded the Alban Institute, Inc., developing its national, multi-denominational network of research, publishing, education, and consulting.

 

Mead later received honorary degrees from the University of the South, Virginia Theological Seminary, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale,  and The Episcopal Divinity School.  In 1999, he was named the fifth recipient of the Henry Knox Sherrill Medal by the Episcopal Church Foundation.

Mead’s work lives on in the church. Alban at Duke Divinity, the successor to the Alban Institute, continues his agenda of research and consulting. Institutions like the interim pastorate and the Consortium of Endowed Parishes continue to express the concern for the life of local religious communities that was the heart of his professional vocation.

*Loren offered me great help when my own Church life was shaken.  I first met him at the Chautauqua Institution in New York State. He influenced me for the rest of my life.

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